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Diana Damrau: Recital at Baden Baden & Documentary 'Diva Divina'
From the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Fleur des blés (André Girod)
Claire de lune (song)
Apparition - song (1884)
Arabesque No. 1
Impromptu No. 6 in D flat major for harp, Op. 86
Après un rêve, Op. 7 No. 1
Clair de Lune, Op. 46 No. 2
Sérénade toscane Op. 3 No. 2
Les berceaux, Op. 23 No. 1
Adieu, Op. 21 No. 3, from Poème d'un jour
Notre amour Op. 23 No. 2
Lied der Suleika, Op. 25 No. 9
Der Nussbaum, Op. 25 No. 3
Die Lotosblume, Op. 25 No. 7
Er ist's! Op. 79 No. 23 (Eduard Mörike)
Widmung, Op. 25 No. 1
Nichts, Op. 10 No. 2
Freundliche Vision, Op. 48 No. 1
All mein Gedanken ... Op. 21 No. 1
Wiegenlied, Op. 41 No. 1
Die Nacht, Op. 10 No. 3
Morgen, Op. 27 No. 4
Kling! Op. 48 No. 3
Ständchen, Op. 17 No. 2
This DVD, centered on the dazzling German soprano Diana Damrau, complements a ravishing recital with a fascinating documentary.
In March 2013, Damrau achieved “a daring victory” (in the words of the New York Times) when the Metropolitan Opera witnessed her first-ever performances of Verdi’s La traviata. In recent years she has made the transition from glittering, stratospheric roles such as Mozart’s Queen of the Night and Strauss’ Zerbinetta to lyrical heroines of greater emotional complexity, such as Gilda in Rigoletto, Adina in L’elisir d’amore and Lucia di Lammermoor. A series of triumphs at the Met have made her a favourite singer in New York – as she is in other leading opera houses around the world.
In the documentary, Diana Damrau – Diva Divina, the soprano explains that, when she was just 12 years old, it was La traviata (in Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish 1982 cinematic version) that inspired her to make a career in opera. The documentary, directed by Beatrix Conrad, follows Damrau over the course of nine months, covering operatic performances and rehearsals in Geneva, New York, Paris and Munich, recitals, recordings and the arrival of her first child, Alexander.
The recital, filmed at the impressive Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, pairs Damrau with the French harpist Xavier de Maistre in an exquisite selection of songs by Schumann, Fauré, Debussy and Strauss. Among the best-loved items in the programme are: Schumann’s ‘Widmung’; both Fauré’s and Debussy’s settings of Verlaine’s poem ‘Clair de lune’; Fauré’s ‘Après un rêve’; a harp arrangement of Debussy’s piano Arabesque No 1; Strauss’ ‘Morgen‘ and ‘Ständchen’ and, among the encores, the famed Bach-Gounod ‘Ave Maria’.
In the course of 2013, Damrau and de Maistre will also perform together in concert seasons in Washington D.C., Paris, Geneva, Lyon, Reykjavik, Hamburg, Munich and London and at festivals in Menton, Gstaad, Schwarzenberg and Grafenegg.
Reviewing the performance in Baden-Baden – for which the audience joined Damrau and de Maistre on the stage, rather than being distanced from them in the expansive auditorium – the Badische Neueste Nachrichten wrote of Damrau as a recitalist “whose vocal material and abilities as a storyteller approach perfection”, while the Badisches Tagblatt said:” Damrau’s diction is a pleasure, her vocal flexibility amazing. She sings phrases with ample breath, while her nuanced shadings create subtle changes of mood from song to song.” Die Rheinpfalz described the “gentle, sometimes ethereal tones of the harp” as being in perfect harmony with the “exceptionally subtle and detailed vocal art of the soprano … particularly exceptional are the delicate tracery and colours of Diana Damrau’s singing. Her shaping and accenting of the text is meticulous, her phrasing is of great sensitivity and her dynamics are richly nuanced, yet her song performances are never mannered, rather always full of lyrical feeling.”
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One Roman emperor is not enough for conductor Emmanuelle Haïm. After Julius Caesar in Handel’s opera –recorded for Virgin Classics DVD at Paris’ Palais Garnier with Lawrence Zazzo as Giulio Cesare and Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra – she now brings a ruler of less illustrious reputation: Nero (Nerone) in Monteverdi’s sensuous and cruel story of love, ambition and politics, L’incoronazione di Poppea.
This production, recorded in 2012 at the exquisite opera house in Lille, is by the French director Jean-François Sivadier; he was also responsible for La traviata in 2011 at Aix-en-Provence, a staging which starred Natalie Dessay and can be seen on a Virgin Classics DVD.
In Poppea, Sivadier takes a relatively minimalist approach, with the characters in an eclectic mixture of modern and Ancient Roman dress. Nerone, here an almost punk-like figure, with peroxide blond spiky hair, is portrayed by star countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic, who has recently enjoyed major successes with his Virgin Classics recordings of Vinci’s rare opera Artaserse and a recital programme Venezia. Cencic has already appeared on a Virgin Classics DVD of Poppea, conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm’s mentor William Christie, recorded in Madrid and released in 2012, but there he played Poppea’s discarded lover, Ottone, a role taken in Lille by British countertenor Tim Mead. Poppea herself is sung here by the glamorous Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who won Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition in 2010 and is a former member of William Christie’s academy for young singers, Le Jardin des Voix.
Speaking of his approach to the opera, Jean-François Sivadier has said: “Nero’s court is cut off from the world, a place ruled by terror and paranoia, a family in which each member is full of ambiguities. I wanted the audience to be constantly aware of the interdependence of all the characters: each event takes the course of history in a new direction; it is like a chain of chemical reactions between bodies that are sensitive to the slightest change.”
As the French newspaper Les Échos wrote: “The excitement, the passions, the impulses and the hatred to be found in this Shakespearean story are all the more intense [for the sobriety of Sivadier’s approach]. Sonya Yoncheva has no trouble seducing both Nerone and the audience, thanks to her voluptuous roundness of voice and physique. A feline lover, she knows how to flash her claws when she wishes to depose her rival Ottavia, the unhappy woman who, in Ann Hallenberg, finds an interpreter as superb for the nobility of her singing as for her expressions of sorrow ... Max Emanuel Cencic portrays a Nerone who is in thrall to his senses while remaining the pitiless master of his court. Emmanuel Haïm takes the colours and dramatic nuances proffered by her ensemble, Le Concert d’Astrée, and distributes them to fine effect. She takes an active role in Monteverdi’s triumph.” Classica magazine, meanwhile, wrote that: “Emmanuelle Haïm and Le Concert d’Astrée, in fine form, breathe amorously hot and cold over Jean-François Sivadier’s intelligent production, which, typically, favours living beings over decor.”
“[Haim leads with] a fine sensitivity towards the urgent, tensile springiness of the melodic lines; and a superb handling of the instrumental forces...The title role here is taken by the suitably voluptuous Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva who has admirable technique and tone” BBC Music Magazine, August 2013 ****
“Cencic has the range to bash out Nerone's highest notes, and the occasional histrionic high passages and over-the-top delivery suit Nerone's brattish character. Ann Hallenberg's jilted Ottavia and Tim Mead's Ottone...are vocally and dramatically outstanding.” Gramophone Magazine, August 2013
“The play-within-a-play a la Brecht eventually recedes and the opera turns specifically into itself, up until very near the end...[Cencic] is one dangerous, hyperactive, dishevelled Emperor...[Haim's] way of colouring a scene rarely fails her.” International Record Review, September 2013
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Philippe Jaroussky: La voix des rêves
Greatest Moments on Concerts
Philippe Jaroussky, described by Germany’s Die Zeit as “the Apollo of countertenors’, stands out among his many talented contemporaries as much for the soprano-like beauty of his tone as for the elegance and insight of his interpretations and his adventurous and erudite approach to repertoire – whether unearthing neglected scores by little-known composers or venturing beyond the Baroque into the 19th and 20th centuries.
Established as one of Virgin Classics’ bestselling artists, Jaroussky, now aged 34, has been honoured three times in the Victoires de la Musique awards in his native France and has also received Germany’s most prominent music prize, the Echo Klassik. His diverse achievements are saluted in two new collections on Virgin Classics – the 2CD set “The Voice” and the DVD and Blu Ray “La Voix des rêves: Greatest moments in Concert”.
“LA VOIX DES RÊVES - Greatest Moments in Concert” (available on DVD & Blu Ray) features video footage from a number of occasions and venues – including items from a concert given among the crystal chandeliers of the splendid Galerie des Glaces in the palace of Versailles, and works by Handel and Vivaldi performed in another jewel of French Baroque architecture, the sumptuously decorated Chapelle de la Trinité in Lyon. Also included are exclusive interviews an array of fellow musicians: Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Emmanuelle Haïm, Christina Pluhar; Jérôme Ducros, Quatuor Ebène, Gautier Capuçon, Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Renaud Capuçon.
Jaroussky and his appeal were aptly summarised in a recent profile in the French magazine Balthazar: “Philippe Jaroussky alternates between opera and recitals, bringing his sensual, graceful voice and matinee idol looks, and this has made him a key star of classical music. But his recordings also reveal a skilled musicologist who has revived numerous forgotten artists like the castrato Carestini [and the composers] Johann Christian Bach and Caldara. Jaroussky simply glows. Anyone who has had the opportunity to meet him will find it hard to forget his enthusiastic conversation and his magnetic gaze.”
The singer made his passions clear in an interview with Crescendo magazine, revealing that “I don’t like being told I have the ‘voice of an angel’, because that would just mean that it sounds pretty and takes people out of themselves … I want to be able to evoke more human emotions too: sorrow, despair, jealousy.” Speaking to the leading French newspaper Le Monde, he went into more detail on his philosophy as a maturing singer: “Ten years into your career, you reach a certain level of purity in your approach. You are always set on improving – strengthening your high notes, your low notes, your projection or your expressivity – but you also accept what it means to be an artist.”
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The Enchanted Island
Joyce DiDonato (Sycorax), David Daniels (Prospero), Danielle de Niese (Ariel), Placido Domingo (Neptune), Luca Pisaroni (Caliban), Lisette Oropesa (Miranda), Layla Claire (Helena), Elizabeth DeShong (Hermia), Anthony Roth Costanzo (Ferdinand), Paul Appleby (Demetrius), Elliot Madore (Lysander)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera, William Christie
A showcase for – and a love letter to – a century of amazing music” is how the creator of The Enchanted Island, Jeremy Sams, described this spectacular operatic pasticcio of music by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, Purcell and others. Premiered at the Metropolitan in New York on New Year’s Eve 2011, it stars Joyce DiDonato, David Daniels, Danielle de Niese and Plácido Domingo, and is conducted by William Christie.
New Year’s Eve 2011 brought the world premiere at New York’s Metropolitan Opera of a spectacular and star-studded opera, The Enchanted Island. With a story based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it was not the work of contemporary composer, but instead drew on works by figures of the Baroque era – Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, Purcell, Campra, Ferrandini, Leclair and and Rebel. Devised by the British writer, librettist and translator Jeremy Sams, the piece revived the 18th century tradition of the pasticcio, taking arias from a variety of different sources and setting them to a new libretto.
If the work itself was an exotic hybrid, the cast comprised thoroughbreds. The leading roles were assigned to Joyce DiDonato as the sorceress Sycorax, David Daniels as the magician Prospero, Luca Pisaroni as Sycorax’s son Caliban and Danielle de Niese as Prospero’s spirit aide Ariel, while, making a special appearance as King Neptune and rising from the watery depths of the ocean to the bubbling strains of Handel’s Zadok the Priest, was the indefatigable Plácido Domingo. Meanwhile, a cornucopia of rising talent filled the roles of the opera’s six young lovers – Lisette Oropesa, Layla Claire, Elizabeth DeShong, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Paul Appleby and Elliot Madore – while the conductor was that established master of baroque opera, and an essential figure in the Virgin Classics catalogue, William Christie.
The sumptuous production, designed by Julian Crouch and blending 18th-century theatrical techniques with advanced video projections, was by Phelim McDermott.
Handel is the dominant figure among the composers enlisted by Jeremy Sams, and The Enchanted Island repurposes numbers from his operas (including Alcina, Ariodante, Partenope, Semele, Tamerlano and Teseo), his oratorios (Hercules and Judas Maccabaeus) and his cantatas.
The New York Times described the opera as an ”inventive concoction” and a “fanciful, clever and touching pastiche”, while the Associated Press found it “irresistibly entertaining. It's a light-hearted romp with enough fizz to send a dozen champagne corks popping.” Among the praise for the singers, the New York Times spoke of David Daniels’ “transfixing blend of melting sound and forceful delivery and the Financial Times described how “Joyce DiDonato cackled, curled and soared with virtuosic flair in the bitchy-witchy spasms of Sycorax”; the Wall Street Journal felt that “the best moments came from Ms DiDonato, a tragic heroine adrift in a sea of comedy.”
Jeremy Sams, writing about The Enchanted Island in The Guardian in January 2012, a couple of weeks after its premiere, said: “On New Year's Eve, we opened at the Met. The production, by Phelim McDermott, is sumptuous, and the cast quite simply the finest in the world. As for the piece, well, many New Yorkers have taken it to their hearts. Purists have been suitably and predictably outraged. My only hope is that it should be seen for what it is: a showcase for – and a love letter to – a century of amazing music.”
“The singing from Danielle de Niese, David Daniels and Joyce DiDonato is stellar...William Christie conducts magisterially.” The Observer, 21st October 2012
“an all-you-can-eat operatic buffet...Daniels's hauteur, Oropesa's sweetness and Pisaroni's loneliness lend this frothy fantasy some fibre, while DiDonato's transformation from dreadlocked hag to anguished parent to triumphant cougar packs a hefy emotional punch.” BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2012 ****
BBC Music Magazine
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Giulio Cesare, the most popular of Handel’s operas, is named after the great Roman emperor, but its most memorable character is Cleopatra. In this production by Laurent Pelly from Paris’ splendid Palais Garnier, the role of the Egyptian queen is assumed for the first time by Natalie Dessay, described by the Telegraph as “a supreme vocal enchantress”.
Giulio Cesare is the opera that, over the quarter century, has led the vigorous revival of interest in Handel’s works for the stage. Now in the repertoire of theatres around the world, it offers a dazzling array of dramatic situations and moods – with music to match – and the seductive and captivating character of Cleopatra exemplifies its (to quote Shakespeare) “infinite variety”.
Natalie Dessay chose to make her stage debut in the role of the Egyptian queen at Paris’s Palais Garnier, an opera house of legendary splendour and beauty and, seating an audience of less than 2,000, well suited to the intimacy of baroque opera. Dessay had already recorded all the character’s arias for Virgin Classics with conductor Emanuelle Haïm (catalogue number 5099990787225), who was also in charge of the performances at the Palais Garnier in early 2011. “Every note is as clear and lustrous as a freshly polished crystal chandelier,” said the Toronto Star of the soprano’s recorded performance, while the Telegraph (UK) enthused that “Dessay proves a supreme vocal enchantress”.
She proved a svelte physical enchantress, too, in the staging by Laurent Pelly – who, notably, directed Dessay in the sparkling production of Donizetti’s La Fille de régiment that was seen in London, New York and Vienna and released on DVD by Virgin Classics (catalogue No. 5099951900298). His witty and stylised conception of Handel’s opera was described thus by the Wall Street Journal: “The curtain opens on the vast storeroom of an Egyptian museum, stuffed to the rafters with statuary and paintings, crates and frames. As a guard reads his newspaper, a statue of Julius Caesar comes alive – plaster gray from top to toe, including his Roman soldier's garb. Caesar bursts into song, and sculpted heads and busts aligned on storage shelves follow suit, singing along in chorus. We're off into the wacky world of director Laurent Pelly's new production of Handel's 1724 Giulio Cesare at the Paris Opéra ... there is never a dull moment.” The newspaper went on to praise the excellence of the cast: “not just the stellar Ms. Dessay but also counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo as Caesar, mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan as Cornelia and especially mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Sesto”.
In The Sunday Times (UK), Hugh Canning, an enthusiast for Handel’s operas, wrote that: “At the end of Act II, Cleopatra has one of Handel's most sublime arias, the great G minor lament ‘Se pietà di me non senti’, and Dessay sang it as well as I have ever heard in the theatre. She is an artist who understands the synergy of notes and text.”
“finely managed and skilfully delivered by a strong team of singing actors. None more so than Natalie Dessay's Cleopatra, maybe past her first flush of vocal youth but still looking glamorous and singing with considerable technical and expressive command. Lawrence Zazzo's Caesar matches her...Many good things, then, not least in Emmanuel Haïm's conducting” BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2012 ***
“this is a radical production in that, instead of American oil barons or Bollywood dancers moonlighting in Vegas, the characters look surprisingly like ancient Romans and Egyptians. Zazzo's outstandingly imperious title-hero is the best sung and acted countertenor performance of the part I've encountered...Haim's admirable pacing and sensitivity for shapely phrasing are offset by convoluted continuo intruding during recitatives” Gramophone Magazine, December 2012
“Dessay brings real star quality to the part of Cleopatra, and Isabel Leonard is similarly inspired as Sextus; both project plenty of fire into their faster arias, and both are suitably plangent in their slower ones...Haim and her musicians do a good job by the score” MusicWeb International, December 2012
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With Joyce DiDonato as Cinderella capturing all hearts – not just Prince Charming’s – Massenet’s enchanting, sophisticated retelling of the classic fairytale makes its debut at Covent Garden in a charming and witty production by Laurent Pelly.
The Cinderella story seen through the eyes of the belle époque, Massenet’s Cendrillon was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1899 and its gorgeous score embraces pathos, pastiche, broad humour, subtle eroticism and sheer magic.
Neglected for much of the 20th century, this entrancing and often surprising opera has found a firmer place in the repertoire over the past 30 years. In Summer 2011 its debut at London’s Royal Opera House was built around mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, who first took on the title role at the Santa Fe festival in 2006; there, as at Covent Garden, the staging was by French director Laurent Pelly, celebrated for his production of Donizetti’s La Fille du regiment with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez (Virgin Classics DVD 5099951900298).
The décor is inspired by a venerable volume of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales bound in red morocco leather, and the dominant colours are white, black and crimson, though mauve is chosen for the body-hugging gown worn by the voluptuous, capricious Fairy Godmother of Eglise Gutierrez as she scales spellbinding coloratura heights.
Joyce DiDonato,“singing the title-role with all the gleaming tone, pellucid projection and smiling warmth for which she is justly celebrated” (Daily Telegraph), brings a touching simplicity and honesty to her portrayal of the downtrodden daughter. The New York Times found her performance “thoroughly enchanting. She won sympathy for the girl’s plight at once, and her exquisite articulation of the repeated phrase “Vous êtes mon Prince Charmant” in the first love duet — surely the opera’s most ravishing moments — was flawless.” Her Prince, whose fin de siècle world-weariness evaporates when he meets his true love, is sung en travesti by another mezzo, Alice Coote, described by the Financial Times as “the most perfectly elegant Prince Charming ... she sings with glorious fullness and confidence”.
The only principal role sung by a man is Cendrillon’s good-hearted, but ineffectual father, Pandolfe, portrayed here by bass-baritone Jean-Philippe Lafont, a mainstay of the opera scene in France, but here making his Covent Garden debut. His gentle character hardly stands a chance against his armour-plated wife, the formidable Madame de la Haltière, here embodied in flamboyant vocal and physical style by Polish contralto Ewa Podles: her cavernous lower notes shake the Royal Opera’s foundations, while her opulently padded derrière sweeps all before (and behind) it.
“Pelly's production has a style all of its own...DiDonato is winning in Cinderella's smiles and tears, though vocally a little edgy. But she's well ballasted by...Alice Coote, who is intense and incandescent - the star of the performance. Also in a class of her own is Ewa Podles, as a suitably parodic stepmother.” BBC Music Magazine, July 2012 ****
“the cast is a strong one. Joyce DiDonato brings star quality to the title-role...Alice Coote [is] in simply stunning form, pouring out a stream of molten mezzo ardour...Ewa Podles brings her ten-ton cannon of a contralto to bear as Madame de la Haltiere...de Billy's sparkling style makes him an ideal conductor for Massenet and he obtains first-rate orchestral playing.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2012
“Vocally, Coote and DiDonato have very different mezzo qualities so that they blend well in duet, while retaining their individual timbres...Bertrand de Billy leads a highly sympathetic reading of the score...revelling in the pomposity of the court dances while conjuring magic in the duets.” International Record Review, July/August 2012
“the strong colour of [DiDonato's] distinctive mezzo comes into its own in this role...her wide-eyed delight at her magical transformation is lovely to see and hear... The chorus are fully signed up to the tongue-in-cheek humour of the piece and de Billy conducts the orchestra with all the lightness of touch that the piece needs.” MusicWeb International, August 2012
“Laurent Pelly's suitably magical 2011 production from Covent Garden fields two of today's greatest lyric mezzos in the lead roles: Joyce DiDonato is the wide-eyed heroine and trouser-role specialist par excellence Alice Coote all brooding intensity as her Prince Charming. Special mention for the indomitable Polish contralto Ewa Podles as the Wicked Stepmother.” Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical, April 2014
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The culmination of a three-year Monteverdi project led by conductor William Christie and director Pier Luigi Pizzi at Madrid’s Teatro Réal, L’incoronazione di Poppea brings a potent blend of sex and politics, high drama and comedy. Leading the cast are Danielle de Niese as Poppea, Philippe Jaroussky as Nerone, Max Emanuel Cencic as Ottone and Anna Bonitatibus as Ottavia.
William Christie – the French-based American conductor, best known for his work with his ensemble Les Arts Florissants – started 2012 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, conducting The Enchanted Island, a spectacular new pastiche featuring music by Handel, Vivaldi and other composers,.
Here, he conducts an operatic performance recorded in 2010 at Madrid’s Teatro Réal: Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, with its potent Ancient Roman blend of sex and politics, high drama and comedy. “William Christie’s achievement with Les Arts Florissants is enormous,” wrote Spain’s leading newspaper, El País. “With 17 musicians playing period instruments, he evoked a veritable orgy of nuances, subtly created atmosphere and showed a perfect sense for the accents of the piece.” Poppea proved an apt culmination to Christie’s three-year project mounting Monteverdi’s three operas in Madrid with the Italian director Pier Luigi Pizzi, whose productions are always notable for their elegance and beauty.
Performed in a new edition of the Venetian version of the opera by the musicologist Jonathan Cable, Poppea features a starry cast. Playing the upwardly mobile temptress of the opera’s title is the glamorous American soprano Danielle de Niese, who, in the words of the New York Times, is “seductive enough to woo gods as well as mortals”. She made her international breakthrough at Glyndebourne as another legendary siren of the First Century AD – Cleopatra (in Handel’s Giulio Cesare). In an interpretation described as “overwhelming” by El País, the capricious Emperor Nero (Nerone) is embodied by French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky – in a role very different from the last operatic Roman he took on for Christie, the titular saint in Landi’s Sant’Alessio (Virgin Classics DVD 5099951899998). The brilliant Croatian countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic is a frequent sparring partner for his French colleague – not least in a recent Virgin CD of duetti da camera conducted by William Christie – and in Sant’Alessio he played Jaroussky’s mother (!); here he plays Nerone’s rival for Poppea’s love, Ottone, while Nerone’s discarded wife, Ottavia, is sung by the Italian mezzo soprano Anna Bonitatibus, described by Forumopera as “an incandescent Ottavia who vouchsafed a superb example of singing and of theatre”.
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Recorded at Aix-en-Provence in 2011
Natalie Dessay (Violetta), Charles Castronovo (Alfredo), Ludovic Tézier (Germont), Adelina Scarabelli (Annina), Silvia de la Muela (Flora Bervoix), Manuel Nunez Camelino (Gastone de Letorière), Kostas Smoriginas (Barone Douphol), Andrea Mastroni (Marchese d'Obigny), Maurizio Lo Piccolo (Dottor Grenvil)
London Symphony Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Louis Langrée (conductor) & Jean-François Sivadier (stage director)
Natalie Dessay made her first European appearances as Violetta in La traviata in a new production by the French director Jean-François Sivadier at the 2011 Aix-en-Provence Festival. This DVD captures her intense performance in the company of American tenor Charles Castronovo as Alfredo and French baritone Ludovic Tézier as his father, Giorgio Germont. “Her theatrical impact is devastating,” wrote the Financial Times.
With this new production of La traviata at the 2011 Aix-en-Provence Festival, Natalie Dessay made her first European appearances as Verdi’s Violetta, a pinnacle of the soprano repertoire. She made her debut in the role in 2009 at the Santa Fe Festival in the US, and subsequently sang Violetta in Japan. Dessay’s 2011-12 season will include La traviata at the Vienna State Opera (in this Aix-en-Provence production by French theatre and opera director Jean-François Sivadier) and the New York Metropolitan.
Violetta makes tremendous demands on a singer, both vocally and dramatically, and signals Dessay’s transition from lighter coloratura roles to the more full-blooded lyric repertoire. “I’m tired of playing weeping girls,” she told the French magazine Télé 7 Jours, “Violetta is a real woman. That makes a nice change!” The change was clearly successfully achieved: describing Dessay’s performance, the Financial Times wrote that “her theatrical impact is devastating”.
Sivadier’s production was staged in the open air, in Aix-en-Provence’s exquisite Théâtre de l'Archevêché with its huge spiral staircases, medieval arches and 18th-century wings. The stage décor was minimal, the simple costumes evoked the 1940s or 1950s, and the prime focus was on intense characterisation.
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
“Her age and silvery voice may not in theory be suited to playing Violetta. But try believing that after Ah, fors’è lui or Addio, del passato, emotional pinnacles scaled with tremendous, tender subtlety. There’s also plenty to relish in the bloom and finesse of the London Symphony Orchestra” The Times, 16th March 2012 ****
“This is one of the most truthful and moving realisations of Verdi's La Traviata I could ever imagine...such is its intelligence in focusing on the essentials of the characters and the action that one is repeatedly knocked sideways...Dessay is exceptional throughout, not just physically but vocally; she realises Verdi's notes with insight as well as technical command. Charles Castronovo's impetuous, intensely vulnerable Alfredo is equally fine.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2012 *****
“This turned out to be the most moving reading of Violetta I have ever seen. ..Argue about the 'sound' if you like, but there's no chance that you won't be touched by her overall performance. Charles Castronovo's Alfredo is just right: ardent, embarrassingly young and shy at the start, his tone warm and Italianate...Louis Langree's conducting is controversial; it's almost too classical...Both sound and picture are superb.” International Record Review, July/August 2012
“Dessay really rises to considerable histrionic heights and draws in the watcher to share in Violetta’s agonies of despair, brief hope and then despair again. Her total involvement blurs the odd moment of thin or unsteady tone...Castronovo as Alfredo sings with ardent lyricism and pleasing tone.” MusicWeb International, June 2012
BBC Music Magazine
DVD Choice - May 2012
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Production by Bartlett Sher; recorded in 2011
In spring 2011, the first-ever performances at New York's Metropolitan Opera of Rossini's Le Comte Ory brought standing ovations and critical-acclaim. The spectacular trio of Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau and Joyce DiDonato ignited vocal and theatrical fireworks.
Le Comte Ory tells the story of a libidinous and cunning nobleman who disguises himself first as a hermit and then as a nun ("Sister Colette") in order to gain access to the virtuous Countess Adele, whose brother is away at the Crusades. The 2011 Met production was directed by the Tony Award-winning Broadway director Bartlett Sher, who in recent years has also staged Il barbiere di Siviglia and Les Contes d'Hoffman for the Met. Sher presented the action as an opera within an opera, updated the action by a few centuries and giving the costume designer, Catherine Zuber, the opportunity to create some particularly extravagant headgear. Juan Diego Florez starred as the title role while Diana Damrau plays his love interest, Countess Adele, and Joyce DiDonato was in breeches as his pageboy Isolier. The trio had appeared in Sher's production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia.
The New York Times praised "the terrific cast", citing Damrau's "lustrous, agile coloratura soprano voice, and charisma galore" and describing how DiDonato, "who sang with plush sound and impeccable passagework, sent top notes soaring and conveyed all the swagger of a smitten page."
The Financial Times named Florez, "a bel-canto paragon virtually without peer. He attacks and/or floats top tones with laughing ease, phrases with slender grace and exudes charm even when impersonating a singing nun". The Wall Street Journal said: "It was a treat to hear Mr. Florez navigate the vocal extremes of the role, popping out high C's while adopting a rascally but winning demeanor."
Conducted with verve and finesse by Rossini specialist Maurizio Benini, the production also features the stylish French baritone Stephane Degout as Ory's bibulous conspirator Raimbaud (quite a change from his previous Met role - Debussy's gentle Pelleas), charismatic Italian bass Michele Pertusi as the Count's long-suffering Tutor, and, formidable as Adele's housekeeper Ragonde, the Swedish dramatic mezzo Susanne Resmark.
“Sher's production is wise, witty and completely faithful to the spirit of the piece...Damrau is peerless, giving a bravura comic performance made from winks and nudges, heavy theatrical sighing and a heaving bosom. Rossini's music might have been written for her diamond-bright coloratura and gravity-defying top notes. Joyce DiDonato is equally fine...And who could ask for a more winning Ory than Juan Diego Florez?...Delicious.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2012
“Not since Juan Oncina at Glyndebourne in the 1950s has there been a singer better able to cope with the phallocentric Count's stratospheric billings and cooings than Juan Diego Florez. Diana Damrau, a coloratura possessed of breeding as well as presence, makes a superb Countess Adele, and the irrepressible Joyce DiDonato gives a properly testosterone-fuelled performance...Benini directs the Met's Rolls Royce pit band with brisk efficiency.” Gramophone Magazine, July 2012
“What a cast the Met has put together!...[Florez is] handsome, sly and tonally easy...[Damrau] acts with just the right oxymoronic ladylike lust...there seems to be nothing [DiDonato's] voice cannot do and she moves as if she owns the stage...Benini managed to keep the many disparate parts together and leads with great consideration for the singers.” International Record Review, June 2012
“The purity and lightness of Flórez’s voice is astounding...If we ever hear another Ory as good as this then I’ll be very surprised... the sheer security of [DiDonato's] tone is a marvel to behold...Damrau has less form in the bel canto repertoire, but she takes to the virtuoso role of the Countess like a duck to water.” MusicWeb International, July 2012
“the Met have assembled a real dream-team here. Diana Damrau’s fulsome Countess exudes an almost Carry-On-style naughtiness under her regal veneer, Joyce DiDonato is swashbucklingly ebullient as the Count’s page and Juan Diego Flórez...is all rakish insouciance...Shades of Blackadder and Monty Python? Undoubtedly. Scintillating singing and knockabout good fun? See my previous answer.” Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical, 9th April 2012
Usually despatched in 3 - 4 working days.
Tosca, in Luc Bondy’s headline-making production, opened the New York Metropolitan’s 2009-10 season. The charismatic Karita Mattila takes the title role with Marcelo Álvarez, a classic Latin tenor, as her lover, Cavaradossi.
This production of Tosca opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2009-10 season, the first to be programmed entirely by the house’s General Manager Peter Gelb, who, as the New York Times explains “has been on a campaign to make the house a place for theatrically daring productions with dramatically compelling casts”.
The work of Swiss-born Luc Bondy, named by Opera News as “one of the opera world's most respected stage directors”, this production – igniting Tosca‘s potent mix of sex, politics, music and religion – contrasts starkly with its predecessor at the Met, a traditional spectacular first staged by Franco Zeffirelli in 1985. According to the Los Angeles Times: “Bondy updated the story of a diva, her lover and the lecherous chief of the secret police from 1800 to a decadent Rome in the early 20th century. Cavaradossi paints a topless, fetching Mary Magdalene, which Tosca in a fit of jealousy slashes with a knife, in a cathedral that looks more like a grand Fascist assembly room.”
The title role is taken by Karita Mattila, “an artist defined by her ability to take risks – emotionally, vocally, temperamentally” (Opera News). The striking blue-eyed blonde from Finland became a sultry dark-eyed Roman brunette and brought “shimmering power, incisive attack, pliant lyricism and emotional honesty to her performance. … In Act III, when she tells Cavaradossi of having stabbed Scarpia to death, she leapt to a high C of ferocious intensity, then plunged down two octaves, mimicking the thrust of the knife into the villain’s gut.” The New York Times went on to praise her Cavaradossi, Marcelo Álvarez as “a true Puccini tenor, with warm, throbbing, supple phrasing and some triumphant top notes, including a defiant high A sharp when he sang “Vittoria” at the news of Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Marengo”. “A very accomplished and dark Scarpia” (The Guardian), Georgian baritone George Gagnidze completed a cast which, as the New York Times reported, “received enormous ovations”.
Conducting this performance, and replacing an indisposed James Levine, was American maestro Joseph Colaneri, who has regularly taken charge of Italian repertoire at the Met since 2000. As Opera News said: “The combined effect of the Met chorus and orchestra remains a thing of wonder.”
The Met’s high-definition video broadcasts of opera now regularly draw audiences to more than 1000 cinemas in over 40 countries, and – beyond their compelling technical quality – capture the full drama of the performance with sophisticated shooting techniques inspired by Hollywood.
“[Mattila's] extraordinary sense of theatre makes her compelling to watch, whether she's sexually teasing Marcelo Álvarez's fervent Cavaradossi in church, or attacking George Gagnidze's perverted Scarpia with a violence that borders on the pathological. Bondy keeps Puccini's specified period (1800), but also views the work as prophetic of 20th and 21st-century political violence.” The Guardian, 9th December 2010 ***
“This performance is of the new production by Luc Bondy, the most striking feature of which is the austerity of the designs...the production is pretty self-explanatory: the pervasiveness of pain, primarily physical but also psychological, is underlined throughout...[Gagnidze] is an extraordinarily repulsive Scarpia, surrounded by even more repellent sidekicks” BBC Music Magazine, January 2011 ***
“The Finnish diva is such a 150 per cent communicator that you forget her limitations and succumb to her stage temperament: this DVD is well worth watching just for her hysterical (both senses) performance...Luc Bondy’s staging upset some New Yorkers by poking gentle fun at Tosca convention...but it gets my vote by skirting most of the clichés.” Financial Times, 7th January 2011 ****
“At full force, [Gagnidze's] voice thunders out in an interpretation that shows the thuggish side of Scarpia...Alvarez brings strength of voice to his role...[Mattila] creates a multi-hued Tosca, with touches of humour displayed once or twice, and shows the vulnerability of the woman...[Levine's] replacement Joseph Colineri holds it together well” International Record Review, January 2011
“Karita Mattila makes a compelling Tosca...Marcelo Alvarez is a passionate Cavaradossi and George Gagnidze booms meatily as Scarpia.” Classic FM Magazine, February 2011 **
Usually despatched in 3 - 4 working days.