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Mark Abel: Home Is a Harbor & The Palm Trees Are Restless

Mark Abel: Home Is a Harbor & The Palm Trees Are Restless

World Premiere Recordings


Abel, M:

Home Is a Harbor (opera in 3 acts)

Jamie Chamberlin (soprano), Ariel Pisturino (soprano), Babatunde Akinboboye (baritone), E Scott Levin (baritone), Janelle DeStefano (mezzo-soprano), Jon Lee Keenan (tenor) & Carver Cossey (bass)

The Palm Trees Are Restless (song cycle)

Five Poems of Kate Gale

Hila Plitmann (soprano)


La Brea Sinfonietta, Benjamin Makino

Such words could also describe this stunning new release: Home is a Harbor, Mark’s first opera. And a wondrous bonus in this two-disc set is his latest song cycle, The Palm Trees are Restless (Five Poems of Kate Gale). Both works are prime examples of Abel’s hard-hitting signature style that couches often biting social commentary in a unique musical fusion that combines the depth and sophistication of classical music with the in-your-face impact of rock.

Many of the wonderful singers who graced his previous releases are also members of Home Is a Harbor’s marvelous cast. Palm Trees gets a superlative performance from Grammy-winning soprano Hila Plitmann, known for her work with top contemporary composers, including her husband, Eric Whitacre. Since a veteran of the Afghanistan war is a key character in the opera’s story, Delos will donate a portion of album sales revenue to Veterans’ organizations, beginning with Cathay Post No.384 of the American Legion.

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Delos - DE3495

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Adams, J: I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky

Adams, J: I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky

Opera with a libretto by June Jordan


Jeannette Friedrich, Lilith Gardell, Darius De Haas, Jonas Holst, Martina Muhlpointner, Markus Alexander Neisser & Kimako Xavier Trotman

The Band of the Holst-Sinfonietta, Klaus Simon

“John Adams's stylistic range is vast, yet even in such a diverse output, I Was Looking at the Ceilingand Then I Saw the Sky (1995) stands apart. Conceived, in the composer's words, as 'a Broadwaystyle show', it draws its musical inspiration from popular song, moving from doo-wop to gospel, from pop ballad to the blues. The text, a poetic piece of social and political commentary by June Jordan, introduces us to seven young Angelenos whose intertwined lives are transformed by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. There's no recitative, no spoken dialogue; the story is told through song and ensemble. This posed a problem when Nonesuch issued a composer-conducted recording of excerpts in 1998, cutting seven of the 22 vocal numbers. Here, Naxos gives us the complete score.
It hard to state that the narrative flows a whole lot more smoothly when the show is heard in its entirety. There are still quite a few jarring gaps, although one certainly gets a better sense of the characters as well as a heightened sense of drama. Missing from the Nonesuch recording, for example, was the crucial post-earthquake scene involving Tiffany, Mike and Rick – the score's longest number.
As for the performance: the Freiburg-based Holst-Sinfonietta Band plays its intricate part with tightly coiled energy for conductor Klaus Simon; the mostly German cast copes reasonably well with the different American dialects (only Lilith Gardell's Tiffany fails to convince); and although the women's voices can turn shrill Adams Opera when pressed, all the singers sound fresh and youthful. Indeed, Martina Mühlpointner may not have the extraordinary tonal richness of Audra McDonald (Nonesuch) but her wideeyed rendition of 'Consuelo's Dream' – one of the piece's prettiest and most effective numbers – is also deeply affecting. Not all the songs in Ceiling/Sky are as successful as this one but I'd guess that there's enough here to make this daring experiment in American musical theatre attractive to more than just Adams's fans.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

Penguin Guide

Rosette Winner

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Naxos American Classics Opera Classics - 8669003-04

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Adams, J: Nixon in China

Adams, J: Nixon in China


Robert Orth, Maria Kanyova, Thomas Hammons, Marc Heller, Tracy Dahl, Chen-Ye Yuan, Melissa Malde, Julie Simson & Jennifer DeDominici

Colorado Symphony Orchestra & Opera Colorado Chorus, Marin Alsop

A longtime collaborator of John Adams and champion of his music, Marin Alsop directs this live recording of Opera Colorado’s 25th Anniversary Celebration production of Nixon in China, presented at Denver’s new Ellie Caulkins Opera House during the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention, and featuring an internationally recognized cast.

Alice Goodman’s epic libretto and John Adams’s distinctive music weave together a colourful fabric of actual events from President Nixon’s historic visit to the People’s Republic of China with intimate examinations of the opera’s real life characters.

The spectacle, drama, humor and pathos of this masterpiece remain as compelling today as when the opera was premièred in 1987.

“[The] performance, brilliantly conducted by Marin Alsop and delivered by a strong cast led by baritone Robert Orth in the title role… Alsop, a proven master of Adams’ style both early and late, led a dynamic performance… Conducting the Colorado Symphony, she shepherded her forces nimbly.” San Francisco Chronicle concert review

“…Alsop balances rhythmic drive with careful pointers to Adams's later, more lyrical achievements… Robert Orth gives a remarkable sung impression of the president's speaking voice… Tracy Dahl (Madame Mao) and Maria Kanyova (Pat) comfortably outshine their boyish predecessors.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2009

“Marin Alsop might not topple de Waart off his default top-spot, but she does provide a strikingly different performance that forms a worthy counterpoint to his...here you hear the machinery of Adams’s writing: bright, alert, lucid, occasionally thin, but brilliantly textured.” Andrew Mellor, bbc.co.uk, 21st December 2009

“…Marin Alsop is the persuasive conductor of this live recording from Opera Colorado's 2008 production. Robert Orth is powerful yet detailed in the title-role, and Maria Kanyova sings the neurotic Pat Nixon with great intensity. Tracy Dahl is strong in Madame Mao's coloratura, and there are good performances from Thomas Hammons (Kissinger) and Marc Heller (Mao Tse-tung)...” Gramophone Magazine, December 2009

“Alsop has this music in her very being, and her version is cast from strength. Robert Orth is a strong Nixon and his wife Pat is intensely and sympathetically characterized by Maria Kanyova. But Tracy Dahl steals the shows in her sympathetic portrayal of Madame Mao, particularly in the coloratura of the closing Act. An unforgettable set.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

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Naxos American Classics - 8669022-24

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Askin: Eisenhans!

Askin: Eisenhans!


Branko Samarovski (narrator) Wilfried Zelinka, Martin

Mairinger, Theresa Dlouhy, Ulla Pilz & Andreas Janowitsch (vocal soloists)

German composer Ali N. Askin (born 1962) has had a genre-spanning career -- being Frank Zappa's assistant, collaborating with Heiner Goebbels and other leaders in new music, and extensive work in television and theater -- and the eclecticism of his background is reflected in his music. The score for "Eisenhans!" (Iron John), his chamber opera for children based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, is child-friendly and lighthearted. It is mostly tonal, with strong folk, pop, jazz, and rock elements in its songs, with a little of Stravinsky's "L'histoire du soldat" to add spice. A quartet of violin, keyboards, percussion, and string bass provides the witty accompaniment. The music is sometimes simplistic, but always skillfully put together, and it's frequently clever enough to appeal to adults. The libretto, by Helga Utz, a director of Vienna's Taschenoper, which premiered the opera, sticks pretty closely to the Brothers Grimm, although its tone is lighter, and the feminine presence is more pronounced than in the original. A narrator plays a large part in moving the story along, with musical interjections by the characters, and the whole enterprise feels more like a musical than an opera. The singers perform with vivid characterization and high energy; bass Wilfried Zelinka as Eisenhans and mezzo-soprano Ulla Pilz are especially effective. The sound is nicely balanced, but a little close and loud, with a made-in-a-studio-in-front-of-microphones ambience. The target audience is evidently German-speaking children; the opera is sung in German and the booklet includes the libretto in German, but with no translation. Stephen Eddins, All Music Guide

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Col Legno - WWE1CD20802

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Barber: Antony & Cleopatra

Barber: Antony & Cleopatra

world premiere recording


Esther Hinds & Jeffrey Wells

Spoleto Festival Orchestra, Christian Badea

This is the premiere recording of Samuel Barber's Antony & Cleopatra, written for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966. Along with Vanessa, it is one of the peaks of Barber's output and one of the great American operas. Though it is rarely staged, this recording allows us to enjoy the fruits of Barber's accomplishment: the glamour of much of the vocal writing, particularly for Cleopatra; the richness, colour, variety and imagination of the orchestration; the sureness of the workmanship; the sense of the theatre; and the emotional power of its finest moments. An essential acquisition for anyone interested in the evolution of American opera.

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New World - NW80322

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Barry, G: The Importance of Being Earnest

Barry, G: The Importance of Being Earnest


Barbara Hannigan (Cecily), Peter Tantsits (Jack Worthing), Joshua Bloom (Algernon), Katalin Károlyi (Gwendoline), Hilary Summers (Miss Prism), Alan Ewing (Lady Bracknell), Benjamin Bevan (Lane/Merriman), Joshua Hart (Dr Chasuble)

BCMG, Thomas Adès

This release was made possible thanks to the generosity of trusts, foundations and individuals who donated to our 2013 Opera Appeal, the other two releases being Judith Weir's The Vanishing Bridegroom and Harrison Birtwistle's Gawain.

The Importance of Being Earnest was jointly commissioned by the LA Philharmonic and the Barbican in London, and received its world premiere staging at Opéra national de Lorraine à Nancy in 2013.

Two further productions were staged the same year at the Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, and on tour with NI Opera.

The Importance of Being Earnest received a 2013 RPS Award for Large-Scale Composition.

‘The world now has something rare: a new genuinely comic opera and maybe the most inventive Oscar Wilde opera since Richard Strauss's Salome more than a century ago.’

The Los Angeles Times Gerald Barry's riotous opera brings out the savagery beneath the genteel Edwardian manners of Wilde's play: its score includes gunshots, whistling and speaking from the orchestral players, marching boots, and the smashing of 40 dinner plates, while its characters – among them Lady Bracknell sung by a bass and Cecily by a stratospheric soprano – shout at each other through gales, quote Schiller's Ode to Joy (in German) and make polite conversation through megaphones.

'It’s all completely bonkers, but I went in grumping and came out grinning. What more can you ask?' The Telegraph

“In the Barbican, the sheer size of the hall seemed to dilute the impact of Barry’s fabulously inventive score, with its machine-gun delivery of great swathes of text, ricocheting instrumental lines, and surreal references...On disc, all those can be enjoyed, the sheer virtuosity with which Barry puts it all together appreciated” The Guardian, 25th September 2014 ****

“Barry treats Wilde’s words cavalierly, yet he presents an irresistible portrait of buttoned-up English stereotypes on the edge of madness, panic, rage and despair. Highlights are Alan Ewing’s (bass) Lady Bracknell and Barbara Hannigan’s Cecily.” The Times, 27th September 2014 *****

“Barry magnifies the fizzing quality into a relentlessly high-wire act that has the audience relishing the stamina of the performers, here under the needle-sharp control of ringmaster-in-chief Thomas Ades.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“The mind boggles as to how any singer can manage to memorise and execute Barry’s fiendish vocal parts, but Adès’ cast more than rises to the challenge. It’s a true ensemble effort, though if pushed to pick a stand-out performance, the pyrotechnics of soprano Barbara Hannigan as Cecily are pretty unbeatable.” Opera Now

“Alan Ewing and especially Barbara Hannigan (in plate-smashingly good form) are superb, and conductor Thomas Adès keeps everything moving along at a cracking pace. Buy it for your handbag.” Classical Music *****

“Surely this is not only the best operatic treatment of Oscar Wilde since Salome, but also one of the few absolutely essential operas of the last 20 years...This performances features at least three ideal incarnations: Barbara Hannigan's cut-glass Cecily, Peter Tantsits's spot-on Jack and Hilary Summers's true-contralto Miss Prism, who hits every note asked of her.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2015 *****

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - October 2014

BBC Music Magazine

Opera Choice - January 2015

BBC Music Magazine Awards 2016

Opera Finalist

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NMC - NMCD197

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Gerald Barry: The Intelligence Park

Gerald Barry: The Intelligence Park


Barry, G:

The Intelligence Park

(opera in 3 acts)


Set in 1753, (although the music is not fashioned on that of the era) the story is an old-fashioned ‘opera-seria’ on the subject of conflict between head and heart, duty and inclincation, based around a composer who falls in love with a castrato.

“The Intelligence Park has worn well, with a score that has all the energy, quirky humour and vertiginous changes of mood and direction that we have come to associate with Barry's music. Whether it’s dynamics or emotional intensity, Barry takes everything to extremes and this performance, with Richard Jackson as the composer, countertenor Nicholas Clapton as the castrato and Angela Tunstall as the love interest, is wonderfully theatrical.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2005 *****

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Berge, H: Gagarin

Berge, H: Gagarin


Grex Vocalis, Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation Studio Choir, Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, Håkon Berge

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Berkeley, M: Baa Baa Black Sheep

Berkeley, M: Baa Baa Black Sheep

A Jungle Tale


Malcolm Lorimer, William Dazeley, Ann Taylor-Morley, George Mosley, Eileen Hulse, Henry Newman, Fiona Kimm, Philip Sheffield, Mark Holland, Clive Bayley, Paul McCann, Brian Cookson

English Northern Philharmonia, Chorus of Opera North, Paul Daniel

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Berkeley, M: For You

Berkeley, M: For You

Libretto by Ian McEwan


Alan Opie (Charles), Christopher Lemmings (Robin), Rachel Nicholls (Joan), Helen Williams (Antonia), Jeremy Huw Williams (Simon) & Allison Cook (Maria)

Music Theatre Wales, Michael Rafferty

For You is a new opera that brings together the music of composer and BBC Radio 3 presenter Michael Berkeley and Booker-prize winning author Ian McEwan. This gripping tale of love, lust and obsession centers on the composer and prodigious womaniser Charles Frieth (Alan Opie), and the tragic consequences that his selfish actions cause him and those around. Although essentially dark, there are moments of irony, wit and humour throughout the opera. Soaring vocal lines, intricate ensemble piece, and imaginative instrumental writing make this an electrifying work.

Live Reviews:

“For You is a dark opera worth waiting for” Evening Standard

“… a dazzling and taut chamber piece which gives passionate way to Bergian lyricism while referencing both Britten and Richard Strauss in its airy, word-driven vocal lines.” The Independent

“This is pithy, witty stuff: McEwan skewers these characters to his blackly comic canvas in typically concise fashion. ... Berkeley’s palette—all fevered chromaticism, suspenseful ostinatos and fierce but eminently singable vocal lines—is a heady concoction.” The Times

“an absorbing and effective black comedy of rare narrative clarity, accompanied by some skilfully wrought music ... Berkeley’s score is confident, lively, and clever” Daily Telegraph

“Michael Berkeley and Ian McEwan's new opera deals frankly with themes of age and ego, obsession and suspicion...It's a tangled web worthy of Pinter, and Berkeley's palette switches smoothly between the first scene's knotted "lust for newness" to the vibes, harp, strings and horns which evoke the wife's frailty.” The Independent, 3rd September 2010 ****

“...it bristles with wit and lyricism, while giving other composers and librettists a lesson in how to drape operatic tradition in modern clothes....Alan Opie’s Charles makes a strong centrepiece, and the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble responds vividly to Michael Rafferty’s baton.” Financial Times, 17th September 2010 ***

“Rafferty’s cast make great efforts to cut through the clamour and make the drama clear. The composer character, one Charles Frieth, may be odious times ten, but Opie invests him with such personality that you can see why the man holds such sway...Rachel Nicholls and Helen Williams are equally vivid as Frieth’s latest flame and his hospitalised wife. If you like your operas dark and prickly, For You may just be for you.” The Times, 24th September 2010 ***

“Berkeley’s third opera (2008) is a brilliant, dark psycho-comedy...The music, conducted here by Michael Rafferty, is energetic, deftly coloured and carefully balanced, allowing the excellent voices, including Alan Opie’s Frieth, to make their due mark.” Sunday Times, 3rd October 2010 ****

“...the skilful MTW ensemble honour[s] Berkeley's rich orchestral invention and Alan Opie, as the monstrous Charles, lead[s] the six singers who relish every syllable of McEwan's dark, pithy text.” The Observer, 3rd October 2010

“Berkeley’s score is lively, abrasive and strongly crafted...the performance (recorded live) is focused, with excellent orchestral playing and a strong central performance by Alan Opie.” The Telegraph, 5th October 2010 ***

“it gains in consderable range and depth as it goes, tapping into the libretto's edgy humour and finding a bittersweet lyricism that gets below the skin of these troubled characters...the 14-strong Music Theatre Wales Ensemble plays with virtuoso skill under conductor Michael Rafferty” Gramophone Magazine, December 2010

“Opie [captures] the complexity of Freith's character through nuanced phrasing and a broad tonal palette...[Rafferty] tackles Berkeley's highly organic yet tightly structured score with precision and gusto...For You is a welcome addition to the operatic repertoire and deserves repeated performances. This superb recording should go some way to ensuring that happens.” International Record Review, January 2011

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Signum - SIGCD208

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