Friday, February 24, 2017
Arturo Toscanini, asked what was required to cast Il Trovatore, is said to have replied: ‘Only the four best singers in the world’. Vienna did not quite achieve that elite distinction in its first new Trovatore of the 21st century, but it came close, breathtakingly close. It is hard to imagine there is a more moving Leonora anywhere at the moment than Anna Netrebko, visually eye-catching and vocally incomparable. She commands the stage with ease and uses her pianissimo to even greater effect than her formidable great fortes. Roberto Alagna gave his all as Manrico, sometimes more than his all, so determined was he to surmount the massed sound of two armies and an orchestra. In tender moments, notably in duet with his doomed mother Azucena, he was compassion itself. Luciana D’Intino’s Azucena walked the edge of madness across four acts while simultaneously giving the impression of being the only sane person on stage, secure in her vocal serenity. Ludovic Tezier was beyond evil as the Conte di Luna, expressing his awareness of the wrong he was doing with several shades of musical subtlety. Daniele Abbado directed with taste and discretion, setting the opera in the Spanish Civil War; Marco Armiliano conducted with an Abbado-like cohesion; and the chorus and Vienna Philharmonic orchestra were, as so often, in a class all their own. The bonus? Jongmin Park, was a flawless Ferrando, rolling out the complicated backstory without one superfluous gesture. A Vienna ensemble member, aged 30, he may well be the next great bass. When opera is this intense, you wonder why it can’t always be like this. Netrebko with conductor Armiliato. Photo (c) Michael Poehn
Daniele Abbado’s new setting of Il Trovatore, the first new production since 2001 in the house where his father was once music director, resets Verdi’s masterpiece intriguingly in the Spanish civil war. Netrebko sings Leonore. Ludovic Tézier is Conte di Luna. Roberto Alagna sings Manrico. Marco Armiliato conducts. Slipped Disc will be there.
Music director Riccardo Chailly has announced that the 2018 season with open with Andrea Chénier, starring Anna Netrebko and her husband Yusif Eyvazov. When was a major-house opera season last launched by a married pair of singers? Quiz fiends, here’s your chance.
Michaela Schuster as the Princesse de Bouillon in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH/Catherine Ashmore, 2010 ‘Acerba voluttà, dolce tortura’ is an aria from Francesco Cilea ’s 1902 opera Adriana Lecouvreur . It introduces us to the Princesse de Bouillon, the about-to-be discarded lover of the opera’s hero Maurizio. This is one of Italian opera’s most vivid depictions of tormented passion, and also a rare example of a mezzo-soprano showpiece aria in fin de siècle Italian opera. Where does it take place in the opera? ‘Acerba voluttà’ opens Act II of Adriana Lecouvreur. The married Princesse de Bouillon has arranged a secret meeting with Maurizio at the villa of her husband’s actress-lover, Mademoiselle Duclos. As she waits for her lover, she gives vent to her troubled emotions. She would be still more troubled were she to know that her husband – who jealously believes the rendezvous to be between Duclos and her new lover – is on his way to the very same villa with the actors of the Comédie Française. What do the lyrics mean? The Princess first expresses her conflicting feelings: she luxuriates in her love, but is tormented by her lover’s absence and doubts his fidelity. She then anxiously anticipates Maurizio’s appearance, and imagines that he has arrived, only to realize that all she has heard is the wind in the trees by the river. Finally, she prays to the star of the orient to shine and bring her Maurizio – if he has remained faithful. Acerba voluttà, dolce tortura, lentissima agonia, rapida offesa, vampa, gelo, tremor, smania, paura, ad amoroso sen torna l’attesa! Ogn’eco, ogn’ombra nella notte incesa contro la impazïente alma congiura: fra dubbiezza e disìo tutta sospesa, l’eternità nell’attimo misura… Verrà? M’oblìa? S’affretta? O pur si pente?… Ecco, egli giunge!… No, del fiume è il verso, misto al sospir d’un’arbore dormente… O vagabonda stella d’Orïente, non tramontar: sorridi all’universo, e s’egli non mente scorta il mio amor! Bitter pleasure, sweet torture, slow agony, quick offence, burning, freezing, trembling, impatience, fear, are kindled in a loving breast by waiting! Every echo, every shadow in the ardent night conspires against my impatient soul. Everything is suspended between doubt and desire… Eternity is measured in moments… Will he come? Has he forgotten me? Is he hurrying? Has he changed his mind? He’s here!… No, it is the whispering of the river, mingled with the sighing of the trees… Wandering star of the East, do not fade: smile on the universe, and if he is not false, guide my love to me! What makes the music so memorable? While Adriana made a serene Act I entrance celebrating her art in ‘Io son l’umile ancella’, Cilea introduces the Princesse de Bouillon to us as a very different woman, emotionally volatile and entirely focussed on romantic passion. The ferocious first section of her aria, with its agitated orchestral introduction, fortissimo (loud) opening vocal outburst, dramatic forays into the chest register and slow crescendo to a climactic high phrase on the words ‘eternity is measured in moments!’ is histrionic, almost obsessively self-focussed. And yet the Princess is also vulnerable: the quiet, delicately textured music as she imagines Maurizio approaching conveys tenderness and girlish excitement. Moreover, the dreamy lyricism of her prayer to the evening star (the aria proper; the material up to this point is arioso, between song and recitative) makes us feel her love for Maurizio is sincere, even if the dramatic, richly scored climax as she soars to the vocal heights and the ferocious fanfare-like orchestral postlude have a menacingly imperious air. The Princesse de Bouillon is Adriana Lecouvreur’s villainess, but by depicting her romantic sufferings so vividly, Cilea invites us to sympathize with her even as we fear her ferocity. Adriana’s other music highlights The opera’s best-known highlights are Adriana’s two great arias: the radiant ‘Io son l’umile ancella’ in Act I and Act IV’s melancholy ‘Poveri fiori’. Both are beautiful – as are Maurizio’s arias, particularly Act I’s romantic ‘La dolcissima effigie’ and Act III’s swaggering ‘Il russo Mèncikoff’. And Michonnet’s Act I monologue, as he watches Adriana act, is one of opera’s greatest depictions of unrequited love. But there’s much more to Adriana Lecouvreur than arias. Particularly strong are its scenes depicting the world of theatre: the busy preparations of the Comédie Française team that open Act I; the charming neoclassical ballet on the Judgement of Paris in Act III; and Adriana’s chilling monologue, using melodrama (speech over orchestral music), that closes Act III. One mustn’t forget either the almost unbearably poignant end to Act IV, as Adriana hallucinates she is the Muse of Tragedy before she dies. Classic recordings Although performances of Adriana Lecouvreur were relatively rare until recently, several recordings exist due to the popularity of the title role with sopranos. James Levine ’s 1977 Sony recording has the dream team of Renata Scotto , Plácido Domingo , Elena Obraztsova and Sherrill Milnes in the principal roles. Alternatively, Decca offers a recording with another great soprano – Renata Tebaldi – and star mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato as the rivals for Mario del Monaco ’s Maurizio. Simoniato can also be heard on a 1959 recording re-released by Opera d’Oro with Magda Olivero in one of her favourite roles as Adriana and Franco Corelli as Maurizio. Among DVDs, particularly noteworthy versions include a 1976 production with Montserrat Caballé and José Carreras , a 1989 version from La Scala with the great soprano Mirella Freni as Adriana, and The Royal Opera’s very own David McVicar production , with Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann as the ill-starred lovers. More to discover Cilea’s best-known work aside from Adriana Lecouvreur was the opera L’arlesiana , with its beautiful ‘Lamento di Federico’ (a favourite among tenors). Otherwise his output was relatively small, though die-hard fans can find recordings of his piano and chamber music. Among Italian operas of the same period, Giordano ’s French Revolution opera Andrea Chénier is an absolute must for fans of Adriana – its musical style strongly influenced Cilea – while Puccini ’s Tosca likewise features a strong, performing-artist heroine. Mascagni ’s Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo ’s Pagliacci offer interesting contrasts and similarities to Adriana in terms of style and dramatic content. And listeners keen to explore fin de siècle Italian opera further will enjoy the discs of verismo arias released by Anna Netrebko , Jonas Kaufmann and Renée Fleming , among others, and maybe also recordings of relative rarities such as Giordano’s Fedora or Zandonai ’s Francesca da Rimini . Adriana Lecouvreur runs 7 February–2 March 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona , Vienna State Opera , San Francisco Opera and Opéra National de Paris , and is given with generous philanthropic support from The Friends of Covent Garden .
Soprano Anna Netrebko is a long term favorite singer of mine. It is not only because she has a fine voice, but also because of her humor, her stage presence and the diversity of her repertoire. On this CD she sings the amazing Last Four Songs by Richard Strauss. This recording features the following tracks: Strauss, R: Vier letzte Lieder, as performed by Anna Netrebko (soprano) Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 Orchestral support is provided by the Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim conducting. • Anna Netrebko, sings Richard Strauss’ sumptuous Four Last Songs, accompanied by the Staatskapelle Berlin and Daniel Barenboim. An irresistible, all-star combination. • Netrebko is a phenomenon. The world’s best-selling active soprano and quite simply, the undisputed superstar – “la prima donna assoluta” (New York Post) – of opera today. Known equally for her poise, her sensuality and her voice’s unmistakable color, Strauss’s elegiac Four Last Songs are an exquisite vehicle for her expressive gifts: Netrebko’s first recording of these gorgeous, iconic songs. • And Daniel Barenboim: conductor, pianist, humanitarian – perhaps the world’s most complete living musician. A venerated interpreter of Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner, in many ways the music of Richard Strauss represents the cross section of Barenboim’s musical background. In 1954, the then 11 year-old Barenboim was introduced to his idol, conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. It was Furtwängler who conducted the world premiere of Strauss’ Four Last Songs in 1949. • The Staatskapelle and Barenboim also perform ‘Ein Heldenleben’, one of the most vivid and popular tone poems by Strauss, who himself was Generalmusikdirektor of the Staatskapelle a century ago. Here is Anna Netrebko, singing the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss:
Netrebko/Eyvazov/Pina/Munich RO/Armiliato (Deutsche Grammophon, two CDs) With appearances in stage productions in Vienna, Moscow and New York, as well as the three concert performances at the Salzburg festival in August, from which this recording of Manon Lescaut has been created, the title role in Puccini’s first successful opera has dominated Anna Netrebko’s schedule in 2016. Deutsche Grammophon’s rush release of these discs is presumably intended to coincide with Netrebko’s most recent performances in the role at the Metropolitan Opera.The sound (recorded in the Grosses Festspielhaus) is sometimes recessed and with so much applause retained, not only at the beginnings and ends of acts but after individual arias, too, it all seems a bit rough and ready, and musically uneven. Marco Armiliato’s conducting is rhythmically flaccid and the playing of the Munich Radio Orchestra efficient but rarely characterful, yet Netrebko’s performance makes it worth hearing. She charts Manon’s journey from the ingenue of the first act, through the flighty vamp of the second to the tragic figure of the last very surely, and makes her final-act aria the emotional crux of the opera, always with a wonderfully rich, perfectly controlled sound, even when her Italian diction is hit-and-miss. Continue reading...
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