In Auxiliary Input, Andrew Anderson, a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library, reviews classical and opera recordings, including by local organizations. We hope to tie them to local performances by guest artists with various orchestras and chamber music organizations.
If you have a recent or upcoming recording to suggest, email editor Mark Lowry at email@example.com.
A Te, O Cara: Stephen Costello sings bel canto
Stephen Costello, tenor, with Constantine Orbelian and the Kaunas City Symphony
Delos Records DE 3541
Released Nov. 26, 2018
Philadelphia-born lyric tenor Stephen Costello is well-known in the DFW area for, among other things, his 2006 professional debut in Fort Worth, as Rodolfo in La bohème, as well as his creation of the role of Greenhorn in Heggie's Moby-Dick with the Dallas Opera in 2010. Of more immediate interest, he'll be singing Don José in Dallas' Carmen, running through Nov. 4. And, far from least, less than two weeks after the final performance of Carmen, he'll make his solo album debut on the Delos label with A Te, O Cara, featuring performances of selections from the bel canto literature (available here). The album's release date very nearly corresponds to the first anniversary of the passing of Costello's friend and colleague Dmitri Hvorostovsky, to whom the album is dedicated.
Not surprisingly, this is mostly an album of selections from Donizetti—two selections each from Le fille du régiment and L'elisir d'amore, one each from Lucia, Anna Bolena, Don Pasquale, Don Sebastiano, and La favorita-with Verdi's "Parmi veder le lagrime" from Rigoletto and Bellini's "A te, o cara" from I puritani breaking up the Donizetti monopoly. I'm tempted to refer to half the album as obligatory, since many of these are numbers that even I know, and I'm not a bel canto specialist.
Predictable, their inclusion. What's surprising is how much I enjoy Costello's performance of them. Like other great vocalists, he has the ability to take the familiar and put his stamp on it. For example, at the album's center is the familiar "Una furtiva lagrima," Nemorino's aria from Act II of L'elisir d'amore. I don't think I have ever had my breath taken away by the initial "una" the way I have with this performance. And I'm always glad that the transition to the major mode happens twice, because it's so compositionally simple—not to say de rigueur—yet handled beautifully. But here, because Mr. Costello brightens his tone a little in advance of the mode change, it's even better than usual.
I especially appreciate Mr. Costello's inclusion of the Donizetti numbers which are the least familiar to me: "Spirto gentil" from La favorita, and "Deserto in terra" from Don Sebastiano; these two--along with the aria from Rigoletto, which I always forget is from Rigoletto until some tenor starts singing it—are, for me, like Donizetti's unjustly neglected B-sides, lesser known gems which are here performed to perfection.
The only "wait a moment" arises at the conclusion of the selection from Act I of Don Pasquale, Ernesto's duet with his uncle. To be precise, the two notes of the tenor line that precede the final A-flat (F-flat and E-flat) after more than a dozen listenings, sound a hair lower than they should, at least to my ear.
Mr. Costello's accompaniment in these 11 selections is ably provided by the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra conducted by Constantine Orbelian, both of whom were associated with Hvorostovsky in last year's release of Rigoletto, and Orbelian seems to have been a favorite collaborator of the late baritone. So it's especially fitting that they are part of this auspicious and touching debut album.
Hector Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini (CD)
Gregory Kunde (Cellini), Patrizia Ciofi (Teresa), Joyce DiDonato (Ascanio), Jean-Françoise Lapointe (Fieramosca), Laurent Naouri (Balducci), Chœr de Radio France, Orchestre national de France, dir. John Nelson
Warner Classics 0190295689728
Release date: May 4, 2018
This Warner Classics reissue of a 2004 Erato release, a live recording from December of 2003—the first recording of the original Paris version of the opera—has every right to claim the term "important." It earns that right via inclusion of some of the numbers that were either originally used and then scuttled or were written for other productions after the original production closed in Paris.
This is the first time I've run into such a historically comprehensive recording, and I can see how someone listening to the recording without first reading the included booklet (which features a scholarly essay, also comprehensive but never dry, by Hugh MacDonald, along with notes on the recording by David Cairns and conductor John Nelson) might come away with wrong ideas about how the opera's story goes: first we hear the original Paris version of the opera, then—after the end—comes more of the opera, an appendix of numbers that Berlioz clearly intended for one performance occasion or another. Certainly, these would not fit if performed in their originally intended place in the opera (they'd either be redundant or incomprehensible), but an unprepared listener could get confused (I was).
Even a confused listener will get a kick out of this recording, though (I do). It has a lot going for it. For one thing, the cast is even more interesting than that of the Naxos video recording (see review below this one). Gregory Kunde's Cellini comes across as a more complex, interesting character than Osborne's, an accomplishment due in part to Kunde's smoother delivery (he has a marvelous voice that sounds like it belongs to a 40-year-old, and I'm looking forward to seeing him on the Winspear stage in March as the Chevalier des Grieux in Puccini's Manon Lescaut). Joyce DiDonato, who plays Ascanio, Cellini's 13-year-old (male) apprentice, threatens to steal the show every time she opens her mouth; her air "Cette somme t'est due" is so good it's scary (I hope I haven't worn track 17 of disc 1 down to nothing).
Patrizia Ciofi's Teresa seems a more vulnerable character than does Mariangela Sicilia's (Teresa on the Naxos DVD), perhaps by virtue of her voice's timbre—although the difference I hear could have more to do with the quality of my listening equipment for the two formats. And if Laurent Naouri is not perfect this time, it's not his fault; he's a superb actor and singer, but these talents seem wasted on this recording's Balducci, Teresa's father. As the villain Fieramosca (whom he played on the Naxos DVD) he could—and did—act up a storm, and his singing was impeccable. It's a pity that performing Balducci to perfection doesn't grant him as many opportunities to show all that he can do.
Even though this cast, along with one of the best orchestras and choruses around—conducted by a Berlioz expert—is set down here in a live recording, every detail of Berlioz's complicated score shows up beautifully, including the ophicleide solo (now I want to reread Berlioz's orchestration textbook, and pay attention this time). None of the vividness of the score is lost, and the Roman carnival music is beyond exhiliarating.
If your aim is to listen to Benvenuto Cellini, choose this one. If you want to see it, you'd better go with Naxos.
Hector Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini (DVD)
Terry Gilliam (Stage Director), John Osborn (Cellini), Maurizio Muraro (Balducci), Laurent Naouri (Fieramosca), Mariangela Sicilia (Teresa), Michèle Losier (Ascanio); Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder, Dir.
Release date: May 4, 2108
Let's start with a joke: What's the plural of Benvenuto Cellini? Choose the best punchline: A. There's no plural for Benvenuto Cellini—some say one is too much; B. Cellini is already plural—the singular is Cellino; C. Who cares if it's plural? It's a singular opera, nevertheless; or, D. None of the above—all these punchlines stink.
You may have thought May of 2018 was a weird month, even if you couldn't put your finger on exactly why. I think it was because, in a world where decades go by with no recordings of Hector Berlioz's first completed opera, two were released in the same month. I'll begin with the more obviously sexy of the two: the DVD recording, released on the Naxos label (available here), of a composite film made from two performances in May of 2015 at the Dutch National Opera and Ballet in Amsterdam.
This video recording of Benvenuto Cellini has a lot going for it. It has a wild man for its stage director, Terry Gilliam, one of the best-known political science majors that LA's Occidental College ever produced, and if you know his work at all—he has done a few films you've probably heard of—you'll agree that any opera that he might direct has every right to claim a superior visual aspect, even over-the-top. The recording has a great cast, too: the standouts are American tenor John Osborn as the title character, who nails everything he sings, and French baritone Laurent Naouri, who is absolutely perfect as Cellini's rival, Fieramosca (but is Naouri ever less than perfect?). The Rotterdam Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Mark Elder, does a great job with Berlioz's often outlandish score, as does the Chorus of the Dutch National Opera (and the chorus has plenty to do in this work).
The story is taken from Cellini's autobiography. Well, it's not exactly taken from the book, but the main character has the same name and occupation. The only part of the opera with any substantial basis in the book is the casting of the statue of Perseus, an episode that takes up most of the opera's second act. Practically everything else Berlioz got from elsewhere or just made up, including Cellini's love interest (he is in love with Teresa, the daughter of the Pope's treasurer), his rivalry with the sculptor Fieramosca, and Cellini's murder of Pompeo. Berlioz wrote, rewrote, unwrote and unrewrote the music for the story, first marketing it as a comedy, then as a drama with comedic elements. The result for us is the core of an opera with generally accepted essentials and some surviving Berlioz material that, for one reason or another, Berlioz (or someone else—Franz Liszt among them) added or cut.
In this videorecording of Benvenuto Cellini, however, some of the generally accepted music is missing. Some sections were cut to give the opera a more humane running time, but there's some music that's missing by virtue of being difficult to hear (like the ophicleide solo during Pierrot's/Pasquarello's cavatina), and that's really too bad. Furthermore, some cuts may seem insignificant (like portions of the transitional material—Gilliam refers to it as "playout" material—at the end of Balducci's opening number) but in fact have a great deal to do with pacing, a matter on which Gilliam and Berlioz evidently disagree. Still, you get a video recording of an opera because you want to see it and because you value the entire—video plus audio, or perhaps vice versa—experience, so perhaps we should be willing to accept some musical sacrifices for the privilege of seeing it.
And there certainly is a lot to see. Wild hairdos, crazy costumes, manic sculptors, and insane sets—part Piranesi, part Time Bandits—but all in all, it really works. It makes me wish a video recording of Gilliam's opera-ization of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust were more readily available than it is. As things now stand, I believe this is the first commercially available visual record of Gilliam's operatic-design talents. The first of a long line, I hope.
» Andrew Anderson is a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. He holds a bachelor's degree in music composition from Baylor University, a Master's degree in music composition, and a Ph. D in music theory from the University of North Texas, and an MLS from Texas Woman's University.
» Auxiliary Input now appears on the fourth Friday of the month in TheaterJones.
PREVIOUSLY IN AUXILIARY INPUT
- February: A recording by composer Adam Schoenberg; and a Fort Worth Symphony recording from 2016 of works by Lutoslawski and Brahms, the latter arranged by the other Schoenberg
- March: Two volumes of a set of Wagner music transcribed for solo piano by Peruvian pianist Juan Guillermo Vizcarra; and two albums of songs by Fauré and Flegíer, both featuring bass Jared Schwartz
- April: Releases from pianist/composer Marc-André Hamelin
- May: Jaap van Zweden with the Hong Kong Philharmonic; and the DVD release of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach
- June: Houston Symphony's March release of works by Dvořák; the Fort Worth Symphony's 2016 recording with pianist Vadym Kholodenko on Prokofiev's Concerto Nos. 2 and 5; and two 2015 recordings of pianist Alessandro Deljavan on works by Chopin
- July: A 2015 recording from Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal featuring a piece by composer Sam Moussa, which the Dallas Symphony will perform in September; the second volume of Alexandre Tansman piano music played by Danny Zelibor; and the much-talked about The Lost Songs of St. Kilda.
- August: Cliburn Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo; pianist Marc-André Hamelin performing Feldman's For Bunita Marcus; and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra on Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.
- September: A release by local outfit Ensemble75; a 2015 release of early music called Love & Lust; and a new recording by the North Texas Wind Ensemble of the University of North Texas in Denton.
- October: A recording of Liszt songs featuring Jared Schwartz, bass, and Mary Dibbern, piano; harp music by Emily Levin of the Dallas Symphony; and a Finnish recording of works by Sibelius, featuring conductor Hannu Lintu
- November: A DVD recording of Mark Adamo's Becoming Santa Claus at the Dallas Opera in 2015; Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life at Houston Grand Opera in 2016; and the 2016 performance of Du Yun's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel's Bone.
- December: A Lithuanian recording of Verdi's Rigoletto featuring the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Nadine Sierra; a stellar recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring; and pianist Peter Froundjian's Christmas Piano Music.
- January: A themed album from pianist Emanuele Arciuli; recordings of Haydn works for the baryton, and the early orchestral works of Bohuslav Martinů
- February: Anderson listens to the live recording from the Dallas Opera's world premiere of Great Scott, a recording of early orchestral works by Martinů, and Morton Feldman's For John Cage (1982).
- March: Menahem Pressler plays works by Debussy, Fauré and Ravel; The Dallas Chamber Choir has a new album out; and Dallas Symphony Principal Bassoon Ted Soluri has recorded transcriptions of opera arias, with help from pianist Valerie M. Trujillo.
- April: No column
- May: The Hong Kong Philharmonic's Siegfried, conducted by Jaap van Zweden; Jacob Nydegger plays Hendrik Andriessen; and Kyle Gann's microtonal compositions.
- June: Two UNT music professors perform Anton Eberl; the JACK Quartet playing John Luther Adams
- July: A new recording of music by North Texas composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez, and a look at composers Frank Martin and William Grant Still.
- August: Carl Nielsen works featuring clarinetist David Shifrin; a reissue of Stewart Goodyear's Complete Beethoven Sonatas.
- September: We review recordings of works by composers Ann Southam, Ruth Gipps, and Julie Giroux, the latter by UNT Symphonic band.