Presto News - 20th May 2013
Cecilia Bartoli sings Bellini’s Norma
When I heard whispers last year that Cecilia Bartoli was recording the title-role of a major opera, I’ll confess that Bellini’s self-immolating Druid priestess wasn’t the first thing that sprang to mind: the Italian mezzo has spent the past half-decade unearthing forgotten baroque repertoire, so I’d expected something eighteenth-century (Handel’s Cleopatra, perhaps?), or a world première recording, rather than one of the greatest of all bel canto operas. There’s also the small matter of voice-type: Bartoli’s dark, small, astonishingly flexible voice defies conventional vocal categories, but like most people I’d always thought of Norma as a true soprano role, and a reasonably dramatic one at that (it’s often been associated with singers who specialise in Puccini, Verdi, or even Wagner rather than Bartoli's Handel and Vivaldi).
Cecilia Bartoli and Sumi Jo
Well, I stand corrected on both counts: this new recording is the product of as much research as any of Bartoli’s recent baroque excavations, as she and conductor Giovanni Antonini have gone back to the original manuscripts and accounts of the very first performance in order to present a version of the opera as close as possible to what Bellini would have heard in 1831, rather than viewing the score as a precursor to verismo and the high-cholesterol operas of the later nineteenth century. There are a few textual differences from the ‘standard’ version of the score – original modulations are restored, meaning that some sections take place in a slightly lower key – but the most significant feature of this new, period-instrument Norma is the vocal casting. Like Bartoli, the original Norma was a mezzo with a strong upper register rather than a bona fide soprano, whilst the role of Adalgisa (the young acolyte who unwittingly steals the heart of Norma's Roman lover) was taken by a light soprano rather than a mezzo as is often the case today. Replicating this original balance, Antonini has cast the Korean coloratura Sumi Jo (known for stratospheric roles like the Queen of the Night) as Norma’s rival, whilst the celebrated Rossini tenor John Osborn is Pollione, the man who loves them both.
So, how does it all work? Quite beautifully. I’d forgotten what a compelling vocal actress Bartoli can be and what a keen sense of dramatic pacing she possesses (she hasn't recorded a complete role on CD since 2008). She sings Norma entirely on her own terms, without pushing her instrument to emulate any of her illustrious predecessors, and whilst listening I simply couldn’t imagine the role sung in any other way. Certainly she doesn’t open up at the top as thrillingly as a singer like Montserrat Caballé, but she works the text with mesmerising clarity, and her characteristic quick vibrato (not to all tastes, I know) flags up the character’s neurotic intensity rather than her stoical grandeur. It took me a minute to adjust to the blend of voices in the long duet with Adalgisa simply because it’s so unusual to hear the darker voice on top, but she never overwhelms her lighter-voiced colleague and for once Adalgisa truly sounds like the young, innocent foil to Norma’s volatility. Osborn is splendid, too: again, his voice is far slimmer than many Polliones on disc (both Pavarotti and Domingo sang the role at one time) but he has plenty of heroic ‘ring’ when needed, as well as the tonal glamour to be a believable love-object.
If you don’t already have this opera on disc, this is entirely compelling on its own terms; if you already own one of the older sets, it makes for a fascinating contrast.
Cecilia Bartoli (Norma), Sumi Jo (Adalgisa), John Osborn (Pollione), Michele Pertusi (Oroveso), Orchestra La Scintilla, International Chamber Vocalists, Giovanni Antonini
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Katherine Cooper - email@example.com
20th May 2013
Wagner: Das Rheingold
Tomasz Konieczny (Wotan), Christian Elsner (Loge), Iris Vermillion (Fricka), Günther Groissböck (Fasolt), Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Alberich), Andreas Conrad (Mime), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Marek Janowski
This is the seventh release in PentaTone’s successful Wagner Edition and the first one in the Wagner Year. Das Rheingold is the first release of the cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. The other three Ring recordings will follow in the course of 2013.
Prokofiev: Piano Sonatas Vol. 1
Peter Donohoe (piano)
Peter Donohoe is no stranger to the Prokofiev Sonatas, having been asked by the publishers Boosey & Hawkes to prepare the definitive edition of the scores for them in 1985. This first volume of the complete sonatas was recorded at Southampton University’s Turner Sims Concert Hall on their magnificent Steinway Grand, which Peter considers ideally responsive to the composer’s demands, both technically and musically.
JS Bach: The Transcriptions of Concertos by Vivaldi
Sophie Yates (harpsichord)
This recording brings together all the arrangements for harpsichord by Bach of instrumental concertos by his Italian contemporary Antonio Vivaldi, adding those of one concerto each by the brothers Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello. They are performed by Sophie Yates who has made a series of solo CDs for Chandos, many of which have won international awards. She has been described by Gramophone as ‘hugely talented’ and by BBC Music as playing ‘with exceptional poise’.
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Alice Coote (mezzo), Burkhard Fritz (tenor), Netherlands Philharmonic, Marc Albrecht
Das Lied is considered the most personal of Mahler’s works. It represents a synthesis of the two great pillars in Mahler’s oeuvre, the symphony and the song. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra has a splendid reputation for its Mahler performances.
Mercadante: I due Figaro
Antonio Poli (Il Conte di Almaviva), Asude Karayavuz (La Contessa), Rosa Feola (Inez), Annalisa Stroppa (Cherubino), Mario Cassi (Figaro), Eleonora Buratto (Susanna), Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini & Philharmonia Chor Wien, Riccardo Muti
Thanks to the commitment of Maestro Riccardo Muti and under his direction, the opera in two acts 'I due Figaro' saw its first modern staging in Salzburg, then in Ravenna. Live recording from Teatro Aligheri, Ravenna, in June 2011.
La Fanfare Wagnérienne: The Extraordinary Lost Collection of Paul Gilson
Guildhall Brass, Eric Crees
Composed between 1896 and 1909, these pieces by the neglected Belgian composer, Paul Gilson, were written for a group formed at the Brussels Conservatoire called "La Fanfare Wagnérienne". The music has been edited by Eric Crees from the original scores, and is performed here for the first time in over a hundred years.
Charles Daniels (Orfeo), Faye Newton (Euridice), Emily Van Evera (Messaggiera), Clare Wilkinson (Speranza/Proserpina), Curtis Streetman (Caronte), Christopher Purves (Plutone), Taverner Consort & Players, Andrew Parrott
Celebrating their 40th anniversary, Andrew Parrott and his Taverner Consort & Players offer a magnificent recording of the world's first operatic masterpiece, Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. Befitting such an outstanding recording, the 2-CD set is luxuriously packaged with extensive notes and the complete libretto with English translations in a 52-page booklet.
Strauss, R: Ariadne auf Naxos (DVD)
Renée Fleming (Ariadne/Prima Donna), Robert Dean Smith (Bacchus/The Tenor), Sophie Koch (Komponist), Jane Archibald (Zerbinetta), Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann
Filmed live in Baden-Baden by the veteran director Brian Large, Renée Fleming makes her debut in the role of Ariadne together with fellow key Strauss interpreters Sophie Koch and Christian Thielemann.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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