12 December 2007
The prospect of braving thronged malls during the commercial maelstrom of the festive season is a powerful deterrent to many. Conversely, painless window shopping in cyberspace can be seriously hazardous to one’s budget. Taking a stress-free stroll down the endless isles of Amazon.com, one is liable to find oneself salivating within minutes over a new recording of Don Giovanni – or any number of choice items that threaten to bust your resolve to stay in “just-looking” mode. Before you know it, you’re liable to be nudged down the slippery slopes of temptation by a notice urging you to “Order it in the next 17 hours and 53 minutes, and choose Express delivery at checkout.”
It’s all so easy, particularly when one’s email regularly serves up “If you bought this, you’ll love the following” notes from that cunning mind-reader lurking behind the scenes at said Amazon. Well it’s the season to be giving and receiving, so I am adding my bit with a couple of random suggestions that might lure you into making a hole in your pocket to good effect.
Virgin Classics’ new recording of Handel’s early oratorio, Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Enlightenment) offers a memorable aural feast on first listening, and it’s one that begs repetition. Baroque specialist Emmanuelle Haïme renews her collaborative ties with France’s reigning coloratura soprano, Natalie Dessay, in this 2CD set. The singer crowns her account of the allegorical role of Beauty with her heart-stopping singing of the work’s sublime closing aria “Tu del ciel ministro elettro”. The experience leaves one enveloped in silence for minutes after the last note has died away. Dessay keeps good company with velvet-voiced Swedish mezzo Ann Hallenberg as Pleasure, and the lustrous Italian contralto Sonia Prina as Enlightenment.
Well worth investigating too on the Virgin label is Mme Dessay’s account of Bellini’s La Sonnambula, recorded in 2006 in tandem with a series of concert performances in Lyon and Paris. I played this recently for South African violinist Marc Uys, who had been disappointed at not getting to hear the soprano as Lucia at the Met during her triumphant, sold out New York season.
I was heartened by this exacting musician’s rapt response to the piercing simplicity of the performance of the Bellini opera on record, with that endless flow of glorious melody, so often decried by jaded orchestral players. Bellini’s unique gift blossoms afresh in this recording, the first to be made using Ricordi’s new critical edition of the Bel Canto master’s works. With lyric tenor Francesco Meli an outstanding Elvino and Carlo Colombara an appropriately seductive sounding Rodolfo, the work is conducted with passion, integrity and unswerving style by Evelino Pidò.
In the authentic grand opera stakes, Opera Rara’s all-or-nothing account of Dom Sebastien, Donizetti’s final stage masterpiece composed for Paris, begs investigation too. As with the Bellini, this is based on concert performances, here captured at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in September 2005 and issued this year. This has one of Britain’s leading operatic conductors, Mark Elder, showing his paces with unflagging commitment during this marathon event (3 cd’s). A fabulously endowed star cast is headed by the Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti in the title role and Bulgarian mezzo Vesselina Kasarova as its Prima Donna, with baritones Alistair Miles and Simon Keenlyside bringing lustre to their performances. Collectively they give this darkly Romantic yet seldom heard score its best chance of lift off in the record industry.
And mention of Don Giovanni above was not arbitrary. Hot off the press is Harmonia Mundi’s new recording of the much recorded work by Belgian counter tenor-turned-conductor, Rene Jacobs. Typically of this radical thinker’s current Mozart cycle of late operatic masterpieces, the work is presented here stripped of generations of veneer. Judging by the samples accessible online, the results can be controversial but make for compelling listening. This writer has every intention of succumbing to temptation in the near future.
[Republished courtesy of The Mercury newspaper]