WAGNER’S SIEGFRIED

 

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Who doesn’t love those hefty Wagnerian preludes and instrumental passages that precede and link the scenes of his operas? The three that lead to the first and second and third acts of Siegfried are among his best, and they help set the mood of things to come in this SIEGFRIED, the third chapter of Wagner’s Ring, a recent release of NAXOS.

We then have to slug through three long – make that very long – acts that feature various lengthy conversations between the deformed Mime and his ward, Siegfried, between the Wanderer and Mime, between the Wanderer and Alberich (here the sonorous Werner van Mechelen), and, best of the lot in Act three, between the Wanderer and Siegfried.

And hardly a set piece is in sight save for a couple of lovely soliloquies for the Wanderer, here sung by the indispensable Matthias Goerne with a larger than life sound yet characterized with the vulnerability of a deeply humanized god about to be fallen.

During those hours we get a quick Cliff Notes review of leitmotifs to remind us of who’s who and what’s what and what has led to what at this point in Wagner’ monumental tetralogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen.

You will have to wait to hear the New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill open up  in the forging scene at the end of act one. Once he does you will hear one of the best heroic tenor voices before the public today.

As in the previous two operas of the tetralogy which I have thus far reviewed out of order, Jaap von Zweden crafts an architectural vision of this epic which he translates into a magnificent musical construct with the committed work of the remarkable Hong Long Philharmonic.

The producer-engineer, Phil Rowlands does a miraculous job of recording this live in two sessions in January of 2017.

Wagner sets yet one more hurdle before us that makes it hard to engage emotionally or at least sympathize with the male characters in the third opera of his Ring: they are all morally-compromised, deceitful, self-serving creatures. Alright, Siegfried is not a bad guy, but he is a bumbling fool.

Finally in Act three: Brunhilde, who other than the quickly-in-and-out-of-the-earth Erda (the fine mezzo-soprano Deborah Humble) is the only female voice Wagner provides to bring comfort to our ears from the excess of basses and baritones and character tenors and heroic tenors that people this opera.

Happy to trade her horse-riding, warrior saving duties for a life as a human woman enriched by love, the character of Wotan’s favorite daughter calls for one of those once-in-a-great-while voices.

Heidi Melton is the real deal.

But you will have to wait until the end of the four hour opera to get an idea of what I mean. She can spin out Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich, ewig in süss sehnender Wonne, Wagner’s sublimely beautiful melody which he elsewhere uses in the Siegfried Idyll, while husbanding her plentiful vocal resources only to then open up full throttle for the ending duet with Simon O’Neill as her partner in decibels and sensitivity.

I will listen to those final scenes again just to be blown away by Melton’s voice and O’Neill’s.

As you have by now gathered, Siegfried is not my cup of mead. But with Melton’s melting sound to bring the evening to a big ending I will happily pay the price of admission and try to stay awake through the first two thirds of this Siegfried.

Next up and, I know, out of order: Die Walküre.

Rafael de Acha

http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

TWO BY MENOTTI

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This past March, a group of young opera singers gathered together in the beautiful Italian City of Modena to work under the auspices of Modena Bel Canto (https://www.modenabelcanto.it/) and with the tutelage of the great Bulgarian soprano Raina Kabaivanska.

As a product of several intensive weeks of work they recorded two chamber operas of Gian Carlo Menotti: The Telephone and The Medium.

It is with delight that one welcomes this Brilliant Classics recording featuring a cast of gifted early-career singers, with Flavio Emilio Scogna helming the Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana and Giovanni Caruso is the singer-sympathetic engineer.

A resolute melodist with a modernist bent but a confirmed believer in tonality, Menotti endured for the best part of his career the scorn of the dodecaphonic camp and the disdain of critics, while regardless being all along one of the most audience-friendly and successful composers of operas between 1936 and the early 1950’s.

Changing tastes replaced his with lesser works of dubious merit and a shorter shelf life, but his early operas, including both The Telephone and The Medium (first given in 1946) and the larger-scale The Consul (1950) continue to be produced on the stages of music conservatories and regional opera companies in America.

In the role of Madame Flora, the Latvian mezzo-soprano Julija Samsonova-Khayet delivers a vocally and dramatically powerful performance that shows the potential of a major career. Marily Santoro is a lovely Monica, and in The Telephone, Elizabeth Hertzberg and Lorenzo Grante are a charming Lucy and Ben.

Wonder what’s next in store for these young artists…

Rafael de Acha

A MASKED BALL

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Verdi got a commission from the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1857. He was to write an opera to be premiered a year later during the Neapolitan Carnival. The composer then secured Antonio Somma to provide a libretto for what had been Verdi’s lifelong dream: an operatic setting of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

After a few months of work, practicality prevailed, and both composer and librettist turned their sights to an easier subject matter: an opera about an 18th century Swedish king, victim of an assassination.

But this was Italy in 1858, and the Austrian censors stopped Verdi’s project demanding another subject matter or at the very least a change of time and place. They wanted something more remote, just in case any Italian patriot got the wrong idea.

Déjà vu Rigoletto.

So the Swedish King became the Governor of Boston in Colonial America, and the opera had its premiere in 1859. Verdi described this rocky journey from Stockholm to Boston as one of the low points of his musical travels, and these days the opera is staged in its Swedish setting, which Verdi much preferred.

I have no idea of what the time and place are meant to be in Johannes Erath’s surrealist staging for the Bayerisches Staatsoper, now available on a UNITEL DVD.

From the look of the set and costumes one might conclude we are in an unnamed European country in the late 19th century, or possibly in the first decade of the 20th.

We can guess time and location  from the top hats and cutaways of the male members of the chorus, even though some of the male principals don Don Corleone outfits straight out of The Godfather.

The costumes for the two female principals (Oscar is a pants-role) come from different eras: Ulrica, described in Somma’s libretto as a hag, is here given an evening gown with a plummeting décolletage. Amelia, here played by the ever elegant Anja Harteros is given modestly subdued Edwardian gowns.

There is a unit set with a giant staircase going nowhere, lots of shadowy corners, a giant disappearing and reappearing King-size bed where Riccardo likes to conduct both his kingly and carnal businesses in an appliquéd dressing gown.

There’s a large dummy which the King likes to put to work at key moments, such as in Di tu se Fedele. There are white globes meant to symbolize the Earth that everyone gets to play with.

These are largely the facts as much as one can be factual in describing the visual elements of a production. For a better idea, the reader may want to look on line at some of the photographs of this production and make up his or her mind.

The big guns cast members certainly know what they are up to vocally, starting with the wonderful Piotr Beczala in the demanding role of Gustav III. Verdi conceived this tenore di forza role for Gaetano Fraschini, who had scored a success as Manrico years before.

Beczala who has so far in his carefully managed career steered clear of the more dramatic Verdi parts here reveals himself as a Verdian tenor of the first order. And he can act convincingly the role of the conflicted ruler in love with the wife of his best friend.

Anja Harteros can and does sing just about anything and does so with stylish and vocal assurance, her Amelia being no exception. She stops the show twice: first with an impassioned Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa, and later with a moving Morrò, ma prima in grazia. With her tall figure and jet black hair she looks great, and SHE acts her assignment with conviction her assignment.

The part of Renato is sung by the vocally and dramatically impressive George Petean. From his first entrance, beautifully capped by a gorgeous Dalla vita che t’arride to his formidably sung Eri tu, the Rumanian baritone convinces one that he is a rightful heir to the great dramatic baritone crown earlier worn by his compatriot Nicolae Herlea.

Okka von der Damerau is a vocally light though visually stunning Ulrica. Sofia Fomina is a pert Oscar with plenty of voice. Zubin Mehta conducts idiomatically.

Rafael de Acha

FEEBLE-MINDED OPERA

 

PICTURED: PARSIFAL ABOUT TO TAKE A BATH… ROSINA AND LINDORO BY A PHONE BOOTH…EUGENE ONEGIN MEETS CARMEN’S GYPSIES…

Throughout more than sixty years of opera-going, opera recordings-collecting, opera-singing, opera-directing, and opera-producing this listener has been blessed to see and hear some wonderful productions and been subjected as well to quite a number of feeble-minded, ego-driven directorial dribble.

I speak not only of The Curse of Regietheater first imported to the US by a number of European regisseurs to then be picked up and aped by American directors and funded by clueless donors. I also include in my diatribe the products of several homegrown directors who have found fertile ground for their sorry experiments on the stages of several opera houses in America, a few of which are led by men and women who have legitimately earned their stripes as arts administrators.

So, what were they thinking?

Criteria regarding what artistic proposals to approve and which to reject leave much to be desired in today’s world of concept staging.

Thus, the widely maligned 20 Million + MET Ring, with its malfunctioning Machine and its Science Fiction costuming limps on until that day far into the future when the ill-fated exercise in staging nonsense finally pays for itself.

I recall with dread the Aida when the poor tenor playing Radames got water-boarded at the end of Act IV.

And then there’s the Traviata we all remember and most of us loathed – the one, you know, with the entire chorus – sopranos and altos included – dressed as male fans of Violetta in tuxes… You know… the one with all the clocks…

Or how about the Tosca they pulled off the rep in a hurry… You now the company and you know about the fallout after chunks of the audience walked out at the sight of the baritone playing Scarpia having a threesome with some ladies of the night after masturbating in the middle of Santa Maria dell Croce…

Davanti alla Madonna!

Why there was even a local production of Bernstein’s Candide set in a janitor’s room that climaxed (I’m not making this up) with a fight with rolls of toilet paper tossed by the cast at each other just in time for Make Our Garden Grow.

Anyone out there remember the MET’s Jack-in-the-Box Peter Grimes?

You name it we’ve all been there and lived through it.

And that’s just here in the States. Good luck if you can snag a pair of tickets to any Bayreuth or Salzburg production between now and the end of time and even more good luck to you if you do, because there’s no telling what kind of experience you will get in today’s world in which real Brunhilde’s and Siegfried’s and Wotan’s and even Don Giovanni’s are as rare as hen teeth wwile egotistical directors are a pfennig a dozen.

So, should we then be content to settle into our favorite recliner at home and put on the Victoria de los Angeles/Henri Legay Manon and close our eyes and visualize our own staging in 18th century costumes in the Paris of Prévost’s time?

I, for one, prefer my opera live and seen and heard, so I will wait with hope in my heart for the next MET HD of La traviata.

I hear the singing is really good.

Rafael de Acha

JOHN OSBORN SINGS FRENCH ARIAS

DE3532Cover-768x768In the DELOS CD A Tribute to Gilbert Duprez (DE3532) American tenor John Osborn pays homage to the 19th century French tenor Gilbert Duprez (1806-1896), creator of many roles- Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia among them.

Listening to Osborn’s fine singing of rarities from the French repertoire is a pleasure. In sound and in approach he is similar to several favorite tenors of mine, all three, like Osborn, lean of voice and utterly elegant in style: Henri Legay, Alain Vanzo, and Léopold Simoneau. But Osborn’s is a voice destined for bigger roles than those associated with those three artists.

Similar to the beefier French dramatic tenors of the Belle Époque, John Osborn has the needed meat on the bone to take on Arnold’s Asile Héreditaire, with a row of effortless high C’s in the cabaletta that follows the aria.

Oh, and speaking of effortless, take in the top E in alt at the end of Oui, j’irai dans leur temple from Donizetti’s Les martyrs (https://youtu.be/IZx4zDGczjM )

Osborn can also spin out a seamless legato in two Donizetti gems: Seul sur la terre from Dom Sébastien, and in Ange si pur from La favorite.

His French is entirely unaccented, and his elegant musicality unimpeachable – both boons in this particular repertoire.

The ubiquitous Constantine Orbelian is a perfect singer’s conductor, and he leads the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra with stylistic authority.

Vilius Keras and Alexandra Keriené are the highly capable producer-engineers.

The well-written accompanying booklet by Lindsay Koob, Anne Maley and David Brin provides good information and sensible translations of the lyrics.

NAXOS again keeps the bar high by tapping into unexplored corners of the vocal repertoire. My thanks!

Rafael de Acha
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ADDENDA:

César Vezzani (1888-1951) a Corsican with a mix of French and Italian blood flowing in his veins, belies all our misconceptions about how French tenors are supposed to sound. Just listen to his Rachel, quand du Seigneur (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXnUpmlShUs) Vezzani must have been an impressive Eléazar in his prime.

Then there’s Augustarello Affre (1858-1931), very much a rare specimen: a French heroic tenor. Hear him in an old acoustic recording of O paradis from Meyerbeer’s L’africaine (https://youtu.be/_tA3rDLRyRk), and if you can ignore the scratchy recording  you will perhaps agree with this listener that this is a remarkable voice.

There are others. Give two minutes of your time to check out Léon Escalaïs
(1859-1940) in Je veux encore entendre from Verdi’s Jérusalem (https://youtu.be/WShV5QDHTwQ)

Finally enjoy Georges Thill’s (1898-1984) electric recording of Ah fuyez douce image from Massenet’s Manon. (https://youtu.be/ZR-Nw-nIHHU)

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Hvorostovsky: Songs of War, Peace and Sorrow

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Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky announced to the world in June 2015 that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. That ailment would take his life at the age of 55, less than three years after the terrible news.

After undergoing treatment for his malady the Russian baritone defiantly resumed his performance and recording schedule. It seems to be nothing short of miraculous that this artist could summon the energy and resolve to record this album of excerpts from Russian operas during October of 2015, barely four months after the terrible news.

In the DELOS (DE3517) CD Dmitri Hvorostovsky Sings of War, Peace and Sorrow the artist delivers an impressively artistic product that adds one more triumph to his recorded legacy.

And it is not only Hvorostovsky’s attention to the textual and musical details of this music that astounds this listener, but the riveting sound of a true dramatic baritone at the height of his vocal powers.

The selection of arias – altogether six extended ones – is unpredictable. The album has six tracks, each dedicated to a scene from several operas off the beaten path, even for Russian Opera.

Hvorostovsky sings the entire opening scene from Prokofiev’s War and Peace, a mid-20th century work that still inhabited the Russian Romanticism of the previous century. The role of Prince Andrej is really more that of a bass-baritone, but Hvorostovsky sings it with his usual big-voiced expressivity.

Joining him in the scene, soprano Asmik Grigorian and mezzo-soprano Irina Shiskova both make a strong impression.

O Mariya, Mariya! from Tchaikovsky’s rarely seen Mazeppa again showcases Hvorostovsky in an impassioned declaration of mature love. Robert’s aria from the same composer’s Iolanta is also a description of love, but that of a young man speaking to his best friend. In both we hear Hvorostovsky’s legendary top voice and elegant musicality.

Tomsky’s Tri karty from Pikovaya Dama is a chilling narrative that Hvorostovsky handles with the skill of a great actor, assisted by two Russian colleagues: Igor Morozov and Mikhail Guzhov.

In Yesli b milyye devitsy Hvorostovsky lightens the mood with a folksy ditty about the birds and the bees and the girls sung by the cad Tomsky.

Hvorostovsky saves the big vocal and musical guns for the end, singing the final scene from Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon. As the object of his demonic affections, Asmik Grigorian and countertenor Vadim Volkov as his heavenly rival make the scene come alive.

How tragic that much as Hvorostovsky wanted to perform some of these rarities on stage no enterprising opera company inside or outside of Russia ever mounted Mazeppa or The Demon for him, let alone the huge War and Peace. Many of us did see him as Yelevsky in Pikovaya Dama and in the title role of Eugene Onegin and we will cherish those memories.

As is always her trademark, DELOS’s Carol Roenberger assembled a world class artistic and technical team with which to surround Hvorostovsky. Finest in this fine list, Constantine Orbelian leading the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia and the Helikon Opera Chorus, provides immense support to his star. Genaddy Papin flawlessly engineered the project.

Rafael de Acha

http://www.RafaelMusicotes.com

PURE GOLD RHEINGOLD

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It’s been over a month since I received and reviewed the superb NAXOS Gotterdammerung and here I am, about to write in a retrograde fashion about the NAXOS Das Rheingold, a TWO-CD prologue to the trilogy that makes up Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Having listened to the opera in which all the bad business, double dealings, betrayals, murders, compromises, and incestuous relationships that plague the sixteen hours of music drama that make up Wagner’s most ambitious undertaking begin to go south very quickly, one begins to get a sense of what it is that Wagner has up his sleeves by listening to Das Rheingold.

Exposition…Development…Recapitulation… The three structural cornerstones of most music written during the two or so centuries leading up to the composition of Wagner’s Ring anchor his musical and dramatic battle plans. And clocking in at approximately two and one half hours, Das Rheingold, goodness knows, has a lot of exposition in it.

All those long stretches of dialogue set to music with no arias or ensembles in sight cause this listener to grow weary. Throughout the opening scene between the Rhinemaidens and Alberich, the second scene between Wotan and Fricka and Freia and Fasolt and Fafner, the next scene between Alberich and Mime and Wotan and Loge, and the fourth and final scene involving all the gods and dwarfs and giants and nymphs in this cast we get overexposed to exposition that leaves little room for flights of lyricism.

In this, Wagner’s first true Gesamtkunstwerk the most compelling element often turns out to be for me the orchestral sections, and since I am familiar with the plots of this and the following Ring operas and can follow the German libretto reasonably well, I always end up looking forward to the orchestral passages.

The opening Prelude with that primordial C Major drone, the short ascent to Wotan’s territory up in the clouds, the subsequent descent to Nibelheim with its pervading ostinato figures of hammering on anvils can tell the story more concisely in a show me don’t tell me manner than many of the lengthy conversations between mythological figures, with no humans within earshot.

And that is one reason why I can sit through the entire Act I of Götterdämmerung riveted by the dysfunctional and oh-so-human negotiations between Gunther and Hagen and Gutrune and Siegfried and the defrocked and now human Brunhilde and at the end of one hour and twenty minutes wonder how the time flew so fast. And that’s just one act in a four-hour opera.

But I digress.

As was the case with Götterdämmerung , the cast, orchestra and conductor of this Rheingold are pure gold.

At the epicenter of the principals, Matthias Goerne is a Wotan to be reckoned with: commanding, conflicted, complex, vocally-ideal, with a ringing baritone top voice and the necessary low notes when needed. His Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge reminds this listener of the young Hans Hotter’s.

The wonderful mezzo Michelle De Young is a vibrant Fricka who vocally and dramatically gives as good as she gets in her verbal spats with her husband.

Helming the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden pulls together all fourteen cast members and his orchestra and delivers a superb reading of Wagner’s score, greatly enhanced by the engineering of Phil Rowlands.

Up next and past the already reviewed Götterdämmerung, we’ll visit Siegfried, an opera in which the humans give the gods what they have coming.

Rafael de Acha

ISABEL LEONARD

untitledIsabel Leonard has risen to prominence among a new generation of singers who travel comfortably from the Opera stages of America and Europe to the concert platforms of major orchestras. She is also a sensitive recitalist, as demonstrated by the concentrated attention and care she gives, hand in hand with her top-notch collaborative pianist Brian Zeger, to the collection of Spanish songs by Mompou, Falla, Montsalvatge, Lorca, Granados, and Sanjuan, which DELOS released three years ago under the title PRELUDIOS (DE3468).

Ms. Leonard’s voice is that of a lyric mezzo, with a lovely timbre, plenty of flexibility, and the capability of changing colors at will to serve both text and music. And she has the comfort and confidence at both ends of her range to achieve spectacular results, as witness her frequent descents into an earthy chest sound reminiscent of that of Spanish cantejondo singers, and her ringing high note at the end of Granados’ Gracia mia.

But the dusky color of her voice is unarguably that of a mezzo-soprano, and the instrument sounds sizeable enough to hint at things to come in the rising career of this singer. I would not be surprised to learn that she is adding Carmen to her repertory of Rossini, Mozart and Handel heroes and heroines.

Heavens knows that her Latin looks and her dramatic instinct would serve her well in a role originally created by Celestine Galli-Marié, and later recreated by the great Spanish mezzo-soprano Conchita Supervia, neither of whom were dramatic mezzo-sopranos.

Or, here’s a fervent wish: a revival of the long-neglected Mignon of Ambroise Thomas, with Isabel Leonard in the title role.

The CD comes with insightful notes by Susan Youens. Adam Abeshouse perfectly produced and engineered it.

Rafael de Acha

STEPHEN COSTELLO

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Gilbert Duprez… Adolphe Nourrit… Domenico Donzelli… names associated with the glory days of Bel Canto, when the likes of Rossini, Auber, Meyerbeer, Bellini, and Donizetti were writing operas in which great tenors paraded themselves before enraptured audiences that waited for the next God-given high C, D or E before going back to spying with their lorgnettes on those seated in the adjacent box at the Paris or Rome opera house.

And if we could only communicate up in Elysium with the hapless composers who kept all those tenors gainfully employed and taught them their music and massaged their egos we would hear some terrific tales of hubris and idiocy. But no, we can’t. Nor can we get a remotely accurate idea of what they sounded like, no matter what Stendhal and other critics of the time may say and wax poetic about Duprez et Compagnie.

We can and do listen to some re-mastered acoustic and electric recordings by turn-of-the-century greats and later still legends – Caruso, Gigli – and later throwbacks – Bonci, Schipa – who sort of sounded like the greats of the Bel Canto Age must have sounded when at their best.

But those are just approximations.

So it was with high expectations that we sat down to listen to the young American tenor Stephen Costello’s CD A Te, O Cara (DE3541) recently released by DELOS after having been beautifully recorded at Kaunas Philharmonic Hall in May of 2017, with Constantine Orbelian impeccably and idiomatically leading the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra.

Stephen Costello does not give away his sound by the pound. He is an intelligent, sensitive, highly musical singer who fastidiously pays attention to the text and the dynamic markings of the music he sings in this recording. His sound is luscious, his technique unimpeachable, his artistry beyond question.

The only aspect of this album I question is the choice of some of its repertory.

This fine tenor’s instrument is not the kind of voice for which Donizetti wrote either his La Fille du Régiment or his Elisir d’amore, or his Don Pasquale. Costello’s sound is clearly that of a lyric spinto tenor barely in his mid-30’s yet well on his way to taking on some of the big Puccini and Verdi roles.

Proof of the pudding: Costello’s Parmi veder le lagrime far exceeds this listener’s expectations. So does his Edgardo in Fra poco a me ricovero. In both the sound is substantial, yet never beefy, but utterly masculine and elegant.

Close your eyes and you’d swear you were hearing the young, pre-vocal debacle Di Stefano. I did.

La favorita, Don Sebastiano, Anna Bolena come from a different vocal universe than the comic Donizetti operas do. So does Bellini’s I puritani. In the excerpts from each of those included in this CD, Costello nails the legato, the top notes, the style, the variety of colors. The singing is unfettered and exciting. And there is never a hint of faking or backing off from vocal cliffhangers.

I look forward to more Costello. Maybe in his next CD he can include some of the heroic Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots… Le Prophète… L’Africaine…) and spice things up with some early Verdi rarities.

For now I am delighted to re-discover the promising young tenor I first heard in a Cincinnati La traviata some five years ago, now blossomed into a major player in the vocal scene.

Rafael de Acha

Songs of Exaltation and Exile

thIn 1492 Columbus discovered America, and those Jews who had not been forcefully converted to Christianity or had been tortured to death and burned at the stake in public killings called Autos de Fé, were expulsed from Spain, bereft of their possessions, but firmly holding on to their greater earthly treasures: their culture, their language, their customs, and, most important, their spiritual beliefs.

Off they journeyed, spreading out far and wide all over the Mediterranean, southward into North Africa, eastward to Greece and Turkey, where they settled and eventually integrated into their host communities although not wishing to be assimilated at the expense of a loss of ethnic identity.

An old Spanish saying says it best: “Juntos, pero no revueltos” (together but not scrambled).

What better safeguard from cultural corruption is there than preserving one’s mother language – the Ladino tongue, spoken by the Jews of Spain centuries ago and still spoken, written and read among Sephardic Jews!

The sum total of the songs of the Sephardim is a treasure trove of lyric poetry and a repository of melodic strains the world over, and Countertenor Yaniv d’Or and the one-of-a-kind Ensemble Naya have made it their mission to preserve these gems by performing and recording them in several CD’s.

In Exaltation (Naxos 8.573980), Eyal Leber, Amit Tiefenbrunn, Marvin Dillmann, Erez Mounk, Murat Cakmaz, Nadav Ovadia, and Bari Moscovitz put to wondrous work the classical guitar, the flamenco guitar, the viola da gamba, the didgeridoo, the shofar, the ney, the psalterium, the theorbo, and an assortment of percussion instruments to joyfully take us on a journey of celebration that travels musically to 13th century Christian Spain, to 16th century France and Italy, to Libya, to Turkey, and on to our time.

In lesser hands this assemblage could have amounted to a tuneful grab-bag, but the peerless Ensemble Naya turns it into a memorable artistic experience.

In both Exaltation and in Ladino, Ladino (Naxos 8.573566) the Ensemble Naya expands to include a superb group of players of Baroque instruments from Amit Tiefenbrunn’s Israeli group Barrocade, including Alon Portal, Sonia Navot, Shlomit Sivan, Thomas Boysen, Jacob Reuven, Adi Silverberg, Yizhar Kershon, Gilar Dobrecki, Shai Kribus, and Tiefenbrunn.

Surprisingly eclectic, the group opts to include Violeta Parra’s Gracias a la vida, and Albeniz’ Asturias – two most welcome choices in a collection of music about displacement in the Jewish, Christian, and Moslem worlds.

When many a singer of his range often adopts a straight, vibrato-less vocal emission in order to achieve accuracy in the very difficult repertory in which countertenors sing, the peerless Yaniv d’Or utilizes a full palette of vocal colors, switching in chameleon-like fashion from the simplicity required by the medieval Cantigas de Santa Maria to the Early Baroque sobriety of Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Se l’aura spira, to the folk-inflected flavor of Manuel de Falla’s Nana.

Quite extraordinarily, d’Or never falters technically, landing always squarely on pitch, rising and falling evenly throughout his range, agile and supple in all passagework, and fully committed to the texts in the multiple languages in which he sings.

Both these CD’s are marvelously engineered, and come with excellent liner notes. My request: next CD, please include translations of the songs.

Rafael de Acha