Crowning glory

To imagine that I have anything new to say about Maria Callas’ 1957 performance of Anna Bolena at La Scala is sheer pomposity. Enough ink and pixels (along with some blood and tears judging by the fervency of the Callas Cult) have been spilled. La Scala’s Memories series has released a handsome hardcover book and CD set, commemorating the evening with the original program, essays, libretto, and plenty of pictures.

To say the least, it was an exciting night: a gala with stars, enormous sets, and a major comeback for a neglected bel canto queen. Callas was joined by Giulietta Simionato (Giovanna Seymour), Gianni Raimondi (Riccardo Percy), and Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (Enrico VIII), with Gianandrea Gavazzeni at the podium.   Read more »

Tales of an evil queen

Beethoven expressed it best when he reportedly threw Rossini shade: “Any other other style than opera buffa would do violence to your nature.” History certainly hasn’t been kind to many of Rossini’s serious works, with most languishing besides his ever popular comic masterpieces. But the ones that are produced have received the star treatment, attracting the top echelons of opera world. This 1998 concert recording of Semiramide re-released by Nightingale is no exception.

The score is embellished with enough tiny notes to put Swarovski to shame. Where Barbiere and Cenerentola allow the singers a bit of leeway for comic stage business, Semiramide simply doesn’t let up on the vocal pyrotechnics – it is set in Babylon, after all, that sin city of the ancient world. One can’t really imagine the two leading ladies could do much in terms of staging and still be standing three hours later to sustain trills in harmony. Thankfully, Edita Gruberova and Bernadette Manca di Nissa have the stamina to endure the vocal marathon, and the exceptionally clear sound captures every note. Read more »

See the pretty diva in that mirror there

The diva must be a Diva in Adriana Lecouvreur. Fact. Certainly Cilea’s music is sumptuous if not subtle, and Colautti’s libretto colorful if not always coherent. But you absolutely need a prima donna that has captivated the audience before they even enter the theatre. If the role, more often than not, is sung by sopranos at the end of their careers, it would scarcely carry much clout for a fresher-voiced unknown.

Perhaps Angela Gheorghiu is not always a perfect vocal fit for Adriana in this Royal Opera House performance from 2010, but she wears the role like a couture gown. Read more »

Mist opportunity

The story is enough of a cipher to make any regie-bent director salivate.

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Captive audience

Die Entführung aus dem Serail has been a bit of an unruly child recently, with productions by Neuenfels and Bieito dividing audiences and inspiring critics like Heather MacDonald to lengthy manifestos.

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Mountain high

Yes, the plot of Luisa Miller is a novella, and a pleasantly juicy one at that. 

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Old-fashioned wedding

If the Arthaus Musik release of Le nozze di Figaro from La Scala feels like a slouchy revival pulled haphazardly from the video vault, the singers are certainly not at fault. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo and Diana Damrau, starring as Figaro and Susanna, are bankable stars who live up to the hype. At the podium, Gérard Korsten leads serviceably, although he rarely manages to bring much excitement to the score. But the real problem is the staging, or rather in the lack thereof. 

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A 1989 production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera should have been another jewel in Herbert von Karajan’s already quite impressive crown.  A stellar cast, an impeccable orchestra, an enormous period set –the grand opera of Salzburg under his regime.  He had recently finished a studio recording with the cast, and was preparing them for the opening night.  Unfortunately, Karajan died shortly before the premiere, and as a last minute replacement, Georg Solti was flown in.  This DVD records a revival from the following year with the same cast, and any hiccups that may have occurred at the debut have […]

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Off the beaten track

If a new release of Verdi songs from Telos masquerades as a vanity project by Diana Damrau, the packaging takes the blame.  Despite a starring place on the slip cover and top billing, Damrau sings less than a third of the tracks.  It’s a pity, because she clearly found something of interest in the works she did sing. Verdi’s song output is small, and negligible in importance next to his more famous works.  Sometimes we glimpse the sweeping vocal lines, and recognize a passage that would resurface in later operas, but they never match up to his skills in larger […]

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For the birds

Die Zauberflöte is a perennial favorite with audiences, and modern productions have attracted top singers and production teams.  Yet every production struggles with the performance text, particularly with the issues of race and sex. The dreams of the Enlightenment may be lovely, but the social mores of their dreamers have not aged gracefully. Despite a message of fraternity, the poor handling of racial tensions, blatant celebration of gender inequality, and an idealized benevolent dictator sit poorly today. 

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