TEN OUTSTANDING 2017 CD’s

Time was when Angel Records, RCA Victor, Deutsche Gramophon, Columbia, Cetra, Melodya and a few other major labels had all four corners of the classical recording industry. Gradually some went away, others diversified into a number of non-classical genres, and many moved lock, stock and barrel to cheaper and greener European pastures.

Gradually, enterprising artists took the bull by its musical horns and became self-producers, keeping company with a handful of visionary little companies that could and would take risks producing recordings by early career artists. Nowadays even some symphony orchestras have taken up the role of producers of their own recordings.

The following are my favorite Classical CD’s from the year 2017. I hope they will become the favorites of many collectors. They are almost with one or two exceptions self-produced by the artists themselves or through the efforts of labels like Navona Records and Divine Art.

We miss, no doubt, the giant record stores the likes of Tower Records or the little neighborhood hole in the wall record shop where you could find just about anything you wanted, including “pirate” recordings of the rare and the odd.

But to make up for their absence there is the convenience of shopping on line and the instant gratification of downloads. Enjoy!

The random order list:

Rigoletto – Verdi, opera – Dimitri Hvorostovsky, baritone, with Sierra, Demuro, Mastroni, Volkova – Delos
Johann Sebastian Bach Cello Suites – Richard Narroway, cello – Sono Luminus
Pasión – Beatriz Boizán, piano – http://www.beatrizboizan.com
¡Acentuado! – Yuri Liberzon, guitar – http://www.yuriguitar.com
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Piano Works – Alfonso Soldano, piano – Divine Art
The Operatic Pianist’ (A Night at the Opera) – Andrew Wright, piano – Divine Art
Stewart Goodyear Ravel – Stewart Goodyear, piano – Orchid Classics
Age of Indulgence – Les Délices, Early Music Ensemble – (www.lesdelices.org )NavonaRecords
Canción – James Meade, guitar – http://www.JamesMeadeGuitar.com
Fantasias – Rupert Boyd, guitar – http://www.LittleMysteryRecords.com

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Rigoletto – Verdi – Delos, 11/110/17 release. The City of Kaunas (Lithuania) Orchestra and the men of the Kaunas State Choir, under the baton of Constantine Orbelian bring out all the Italian flair and all the subtleness of Verdi in a recording with one of the great Verdi baritones of our time, Dimitri Hvorostovsky. Surrounded by the lovely Gilda of Nadine Sierra, tenor Francesco Demuro, the impressive bass Andrea Mastroni, and mezzo-soprano Oksana Volkova, this is still the baritone’s show, and the silver-haired Russian walks away with it in what sadly turned out to be his last recording

Richard Narroway

In a boldly self-asserting move, the young Australian cellist Richard Narroway has recorded all six of the Johann Sebastian Bach Cello Suites. The double CD (SLE-70010) by Sono Luminus is not merely another one among dozens of recordings of these works, but a very fine debut by an immensely gifted young musician soon fit to keep company with some of the greats that preceded him.

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Pasión is the right title for the debut CD of Cuban-Canadian pianist Beatriz Boizán, a young keyboard artist who plays with genuine passion and utmost musical intelligence seventeen compositions by Spanish and Latin American composers. Self-produced, and available directly from the artist at http://www.beatrizboizan.com this is a sampler of classical and crossover music, ranging from Lecuona, Soler, Ginastera, and Albeniz to the underepresented 19th century Cuban virtuoso Ignacio Cervantes.

acentuado

Yuri Liberzon, a Russian-born, American guitarist does not sit on his laurels: less than a year after another release, he is out with his fresh off the press ¡Acentuado!, an in-depth look at the music of Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine Nuevo Tango master whose creations must be played with “duende”- the Spanish term for playing with fire in the belly, which Liberzon certainly does. As a teaser, check out his website: https://www.yuriguitar.com. There you will find links to a couple of this album’s tracks and, what’s better, you’ll be able to order either an MP3 download of it or a hard copy.

alfonso soldano

Italian pianist Alfonso Soldano has dedicated years to researching, studying and performing the extraordinarily varied piano music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The results of his labors can be enjoyed in Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Piano Works. Nicely packaged by Divine Art, splendidly engineered by Christian Ugenti, intelligently annotated by Attilio Cantore and, most important, played to perfection by Soldano on a Steinway concert grand piano, the album is a winner.

night at the opera

Were it not for the life-long musical efforts of Scottish pianist Andrew Wright, The Operatic Pianist’ (A Night at the Opera) would have not been made. But love is not only what is at play in this Divine Art CD but, rather, the pianistic prowess and large scale musicianship of Wright. In an age in which the “intellectualization” of concert programs (Wright’s choice of words) has subjected the concertgoer to many hours of numbing sameness, these arrangements of operatic music of Liszt, Meyerbeer and Bellini will provide superb entertainment to both Opera lovers and those who  think of it as a guilty  pleasure.

goodyear

In Stewart Goodyear Ravel, a CD from Orchid Classics the pianist Stewart Goodyear takes the listener on a 68 minute journey that spans Jeux d’eau, Sonatine, Miroirs, Gaspard de la Nuit and Pavane pour une Infante defuncte. Stewart keeps us enthralled with his technical wizardry, wordly elegance, and his uncanny ability to color sound in a myriad ways. All the while one senses that this artist is ever at the service of the composer, not as an obliging servant but as a knowing collaborator who understands in this instance the quirky unpredictability of Ravel’s music.

Age-of-Indulgence-Cover-Art-700x713

Just on the outside chance that you may have never heard of François-André Philidor, Michel Blavet, or Jean Pierre Guignon, allow the superb group of Baroque specialists that call themselves Les Délices (www.lesdelices.org ) to introduce you to the delectable music of these three French masters in Age of Indulgence. Let me entreat you to seek out this treasure and purchase it from http://www.NavonaRecords.com, whether digitally or in hard copy. You’ll thank me for it.

Jmes Meade

Throughout the album Canción, the young Cincinnati guitarist James Meade amply demonstrates impeccable musicianship, profound musicality and a complete technical command of his instrument. Those qualities, married to the straightforward engineering and lovely packaging of Canción, augur well for the future career of this exceptional guitarist. The album may be purchased directly from the artist at http://www.JamesMeadeGuitar.com

FANTASÍAS

Last January and out of the proverbial blue, I received on the mail Fantasias, a CD available from http://www.LittleMysteryRecords.com, featuring Rupert Boyd, a young Australian-born, New York-based guitarist in a varied recital of music by Piazzolla, Falla, Villalobos, and several other composers. I put it on to play, and it was well past midnight that, after twice listening to the album’s 19 tracks, I wrote, as I do now encouraging all lovers of guitar music to buy a copy of this gem of an album by a fast rising young  artist.

Rafael de Acha 12/8/2017

MUSIC IN CINCINNATI: JANUARY-JUNE 2018

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PREVIEW OF MUSIC IN CINCINNATI: JANUARY-JUNE 2018

This is not a comprehensive preview; it just highlights some of the events given by a few of the many musical organizations that operate in Cincinnati. The dates of performances given here are usually the first or second of two or more. For precise details it’s best to go to the various websites listed here:

CCM – College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati http://www.ccm.uc.edu or call 513 556 6638

Symphony Concerts, Chamber Music, Jazz Concerts, Musical Theatre, Opera, Voice and Choral concerts, Solo Recitals, Ballet, Drama featuring students, faculty and guest artists in four different venues in hundreds of performances every year in one of America’s great arts schools. Among the highlights of this year are a rare recital appearance by star tenor Stuart Skelton and a staging of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar

concert:nova – http://www.concertnova.com

An eclectic and unpredictable producer and presenter of anything in music as long as it falls way outside the box. They are all over town this year for their performances and even offering free tickets to anyone under 35 for some of their events. Watch their website for updates and, while you are there, check out their late night series.

CSI – Cincinnati Song Initiative http://www.cincinnatisonginitiative.org

A one of a kind musical organization presenting outstanding young pianists and singers in several recitals every year focusing on the blend of words and music that go into making an art song. This year they have a look at some Shakespeare set to music and they add to their regular line up of concerts several free-admission ones in libraries around Cincinnati.

CSO – Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra http://www.cincinnatisymphony.org                               or call 513 541 1492

One of America’s oldest symphony orchestras presents a full season of concerts featuring internationally renowned artists. This second half of its 2017-2018 season features appearances by several pianists, among them heavyweights Garrick Ohlson and Jean Yves Thibaudet, various guest conductors, including Sir Andrew Davis, and the unusual: bassist, Owen Lee. The repertory tends to be largely Romantic German and Russian, with rarely a foray into the French or the Southern European, which seems to be what its largely baby-boomer audience wants.

MAY FESTIVAL – http://www.mayfestival.org 513 381 3300

An important two-week line up of concerts focusing on choral music whose roots go back to the 1870’s. This year, the May Festival begins a new era under the baton of Juanjo Mena, who will helm two out of five major concerts that will include Verdi’s Requiem (with James Levine on the podium, health permitting) and Handel’s Messiah (with countertenor David Daniels and tenor Matthew Polenzani among the soloists)

MFAS – Music for All Seasons http://www.MusicSeasonsCincinnati.com

A five-year old concert series that focuses on music for voice and instruments, featuring early career singers and instrumentalists in an intimate setting in one of Cincinnati’s grandest mansions. One not-to-be-missed concert in February, jointly presented with the Wagner Society of Cincinnati brings back soprano, Shareese Arnold to pace herself through several Rachmaninoff songs and a trio of Wagnerian showstoppers.

MMC – Matinee Musicale Cincinnati http://www.matineemusicalecincinnati.org                      or call 513-231-0964

A revered, century-old organization that presents four recitals every season, featuring nationally-recognized instrumentalists and singers, with this year’s coup being the Cincinnati recital debut of Metropolitan Opera star mezzo soprano, Jamie Barton.

SALON 21 – http://www.salon21.org

One of Cincinnati’s youngest musical organizations presenting several one-hour concerts every year that combine music, wine tasting and socializing in a variety of unconventional settings. This plucky little group has all the markings of a winner that targets primarily the elusive, hard to get into a concert millennial generation.

JANUARY

CSO – Sat. Jan 6, 2018 at 8 p.m. in Music Hall – Sir Andrew Davis, conductor; Garrick Ohlsson, piano – Bach, Beethoven, Goosens
CSO – Fri. Jan. 12, 2018 at 8 p.m. in Music Hall – James Conlon, conductor; Jennifer Frautschi, violin – Schubert, Mahler, Mozart
SALON 21 – Thu., Jan 25 at 7 p.m. in the Weston Art Gallery – Explorations in Improvisation – Ben Tweedt, jazz piano – program to be announced
MMC – Friday, January 26 at 7:30 pm at Memorial Hall – Jamie Barton, Soprano program will be announced
CCM – Friday, Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. Corbett Auditorium – Mark Gibson, conductor; James Tocco, piano – W. Schumann, Bernstein – Bernstein Festival Concert
CSO – Sat. Jan 27, 2018 at 8 p.m. at Music Hall – Louis Langrée, conductor; Owen Lee, string – bass; Beethoven, Koussevitzky, Bartók

FEBRUARY

CSO – Friday, Feb. 2 at 11 a.m. in Music Hall – Juanjo Mena, conductor; Javier Perianes, piano – Shostakovich, Mozart
MFAS – Sunday, February 11 at 2 pm in Historic Peterloon – Shareese Arnold, soprano; Amy Lassiter, cello; Christina Lalog Seal, piano; Kimberly Daniel, actor Schubert, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Wagner, Liszt
concert:nova – Monday February 12 at 8 p.m.
At the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Intimate Letters – Soloists: Julianna Bloodgood, Aimée Langrée. Music: Leoš Janáček
CMM – Sunday, February 18 at 3 p.m. in Memorial Hall. — Julian Bliss, clarinetist. Program will be announced.
CCM – Friday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. in Corbett Auditorium – Fun and Games Philharmonia Orchestra & Ariel Quartet – Bernstein, Adams, Stravinsky
CSO – Saturday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. – Louis Langrée, conductor; Jeffrey Kahane, piano – Ravel, Prokofiev, Stravinsky
MMC – Sunday, Feb. 18 at 3 p.m. in Memorial Hall – Julian Bliss, clarinetist Program will be announced
CCM – Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. in Corbett Auditorium Prestige Series
Stuart Kelton, tenor
CCM – Thursday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. in Corbett Auditorium – Jesus Christ Superstar
CSO – Saturday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. in Music Hall
Juraj Valcuha, conductor; Simone Lamsma, violin – Strauss, Bernstein, Korngold
CCM – Sunday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. – Lenny and Friends on Broadway
Philharmonia Orchestra and Musical Theatre performers – Excerpts from Bernstein’s Broadway shows

MARCH

CSO – Friday, March 2 at 8 pm in Music Hall – Marek Janowsky, conductor Bruckner, Wagner
SALON 21- March 8 in the Weston Art Gallery – Musica pro Femina
Brianna Matzke, piano – Contemporary piano music by women composers
CSI – Sunday, March 11 at 3 PM in First Lutheran Church, Cincinnati
As You Like It – Music inspired by the words of William Shakespeare
CCM – Thursday, March 22 at 8 p.m. – Puccini Triple-Bill
CSO – Friday, March 23 at 8 p.m. in Music Hall
Louis Langrée, conductor – Strauss, Mozart

APRIL

CSO – Friday, April 6 at 8 p.m. in Music Hall
James Gaffigan, conductor; Inon Barnatan, piano – Barber, Rachmaninoff
MMC – Sunday, April 8 at 3 pm – Yolanda Kondonassis, harp, and Jason Vieaux, guitar
CSO – Saturday, April 14 at 8 p.m. in Music Hall
Louis Langrée, conductor; Karen Gromyo, violin – Prokofiev, Beethoven
CSO – Friday, April 20 at 11 a.m. in Music Hall
Christian Macelaru, conductor; Jean Yves Thibaudet, piano
Bernstein, Ives, Gershwin
MFAS – Sunday, April 29 at 2 p.m. in Historic Peterloon
Alan Palacios, tenor; Melisa Bonetti, mezzo-soprano; Eben Wagenstroom, piano
Purcell, Bizet, Falla, Chapi, Granados, Saint-Saëns, Mozart, Bernstein

MAY

SALON 21 – May 3 – Collaboration with Art of the Piano and Awadagin Pratt featuring competition winner Matthew Lenahan. At the Weston Art Gallery
CSO – Friday, May 11 at 11 AM (season closer)
Louis Langrée, conductor; James Ehnes, violin – Beethoven, Brahms
SALON 21 – May 17 (season closer) Wayside Winds with the Sextet for Winds and Piano by Poulenc. At the Mercantile Library at the Weston Art Gallery
MAY FESTIVAL – May 18, 8 p.m. – Requiem Mass – Verdi At Music Hall May Festival Chorus; James Levine, conductor; Michelle Bradly, soprano; Ekaterina Semenchuk, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Polenzani, tenor; bass: TBA
MAY FESTIVAL – May 19, 8 p.m. – Mass – Bernstein At Music Hall
May Festival Chorus; Robert Porco, conductor; Kevin Vortmann, celebrant
MAY FESTIVAL – May 22, 3 p.m.
At the Basilica of the Assumption
May Festival Chorus – Gabrieli, Bernstein, McMillan, Rheinberger
MAY FESTIVAL – May 25, 8 p.m. – At Music Hall
May Festival Chorus; Juanjo Mena, conductor; David Daniels, countertenor
Bernstein, Gabrieli, McMillan, Ravel
MAY FESTIVAL – May 26 8 p.m. – At Music Hall – Messiah – Handel
May Festival Chorus; Juanjo Mena, conductor; Robin Johannsen, soprano;
David Daniels, countertenor: Barry Banks, tenor; José Antonio López, baritone

Happy Listening!

Rafael de Acha

MUSIC FOR ALL SEASONS HOLDS A SILENT AUCTION TO BENEFIT CCM

GUITARAs some of you, dear readers may know, next Sunday December 3 (at 2 PM) Music for All Seasons will be presenting its annual Holiday concert, the second of four in its 2017-2018 lineup.

The participating artists are all current or former COLLEGE-CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC faculty members, CCM graduates, and performers with strong ties to CCM and to Music for All Seasons.

There will be Classical, Broadway, Jazz, Bluegrass, and Traditional music from around the world, performed by this outstanding group of vocal and instrumental artists.

In addition to turning over 100% of tickets sales for this and all of our concerts to CCM for its Scholarship Fund and for its undergraduate program, Opera d’Arte, we will be holding a SILENT AUCTION to additionally benefit CCM and its programs.

We will have items that range from artwork by James Slouffman, Anna VanMatre, Johannes Bjorner and Virginia Cox to tickets to arts events, concerts, opera, ballet, museums, and restaurants around town.

And that’s not all. There will be designer jewelry by Linda Ellis, hand-crafted Santa Claus figures, CD’s by James Meade, Kim Pensyl, and Rick VanMatre

You might even get to bid on a private at home concert by the wonderful young guitarist James Meade. Many of the items for auction will make perfect holiday gifts.

We are giving you a heads up to come as early as one hour before the concert, so that you can view the items that we will be auctioning and place your bids. Once the concert begins the bidding will be closed and the results of the auction will be announced at intermission.

You will be able to pay (CASH OR CHECK ONLY) for your items then and we will have them ready for you to take home at the end of the concert and the reception with the artists that follows it.

We are immensely grateful to all of the persons and businesses that have contributed to this auction and to the artists who have generously donated their services on this occasion to help make the event a great success. And, of course, we are grateful to you, our loyal audience and supporters.

FOR RESERVATIONS EMAIL US AT: MUSICSEASONS@ZOOMTOWN.COM

Many of our  readers from countries outside the United States may not know much about the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.  Students from more than 32 countries are part of CCM’s student body. At CCM they study instrumental and vocal music, dance, theatre crafts, acting, and specialize in Opera, Musical Theatre, Classical Music, Jazz and a myriad other programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

A world-class faculty of master teachers works closely with the students in both classrooms and studios, rehearsals and in over 1,000 performances and special events given in several different state-of-the-art performance venues each year.

The city of Cincinnati and its many arts organizations with which students can collaborate, provide additional opportunities for CCM students within the City of Cincinnati and the greater Southern Ohio/Northern Kentucky areas.

The number of CCM graduates who find employment in various areas of the arts is impressive. At one time or another as many as four dozen Musical Theatre CCM graduates can be seen on the Broadway stage.  24 CCM alumni currently perform in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Young Artists Opera programs around the country have many CCM graduates in their ranks, from which many young singers then move on to regional, national and European careers in Opera.

Diverse career paths that reflect the diversity of interests and specialization of CCM students include Music Education, where many CCM graduates find employment right after graduation, Theater Design and technology, and Arts Administration.

So it is with pride that Music for All Seasons donates all proceeds from  its concert ticket sales to the artistic treasure that CCM is.

Rafael de Acha

 

THE MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS OF 2017

FROM MY POV: THE MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS OF 2017.

Yes, I know, it’s a bit early for end of year lists. But we’re not planning much concert-going this December, not with all the parties and dinners coming up!

No doubt about it, for an urban area of its size, Southern Ohio has an amazing number of musical organizations that keep us all happily attending concerts and operas all year long. Here are my most memorable musical performances from the year 2017.

 eckart Three concerts in August showed the talent and versatility of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, which, under its brilliant new conductor, Eckart Preu has never sounded more cohesive and assured.

ran dank Camille Saint-Saëns would have been delighted with Ran Dank’s bravura playing of his Second Piano Concerto for the CCO this past summer. The young pianist gave a masterful performance of this leviathan, mining every note for clarity rather than speed, and for quality rather than quantity of sound.

 kara shay In the Dayton Opera’s production of Menotti’s The Consul, conductor Patrick Reynolds helmed a cast that any company anywhere would be fortunate to assemble. With the maestro leading the Dayton Philharmonic with commanding assurance, and the hugely gifted stage director Gary Briggle obtaining naturalistic, cohesive and believable performances from his cast, and soprano, Kara Shay Thomson singing up a storm as Magda Sorel, this was world class opera, if you asked me.

th Cincinnati’s Music Hall reopened after an extensive renovation and much improved acoustics with a gala concert that featured the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, led by Louis Langrée. In a heartfelt curtain speech Langrée announced the finale: Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. In the same way that Bernstein’s opus closes with a resolution to “build a house and make its garden grow,” the Maestro expressed his hope “that this newly-built home will be a similar garden, where great music will thrive and flourish.” I fully agree.

thI3GI0IAG The story of the fatally flawed love between two giants of 20th-century art was brought to life in the Cincinnati Opera production of Frida, a new work with music by Robert Xavier Rodriguez, book by Hilary Blecher, and lyrics and monologues by Migdalia Cruz. Director José María Condemi boldly fleshed out the relationship between Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, obtaining high-octane results from the excellent baritone Ricardo Herrera and soprano Catalina Cuervo, both of whom delivered memorable career-defining performances.

maxresdefault The CCM Philharmonia opened the 2017-2018 Concert Season at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music recently-renovated Patricia Corbett Theatre with Mark Gibson brilliantly conducting a tour de force program that included Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute, Brahms’ Symphony no. 3 in F, and Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony. Many a professional orchestra would envy how this top-notch student ensemble sounds.

th30X32O22 Stewart Goodyear played a memorable recital as part of The Art of the Piano Festival at CCM, encompassing Bach, Gibbons, Beethoven, Ravel, and Liszt. Goodyear is awesome in technical dexterity, always unfailingly musical and stylish, balancing the impulses of a warm heart with the counsel of a cool brain. The audience would not let him leave, not even after a marathon two-hour recital.

untitled There usually are one or two CD’s in my PO Box every time I go to the post office to pick up my mail. Most recently there was a double CD album from Delos. I was thrilled to see it was Dimitri Hvorostovsky’s first recording of the title role of Rigoletto. It turned out to be his last: the Russian baritone succumbed after a long battle with brain cancer. He died last night, at age 55. Still reeling from the news, I offer Dmitri Aleksandrovich  a respectful salute: Прощай, Дмитрий Александрович, ты ушла от нас, но память о твоём искусстве будет жить вечно!

Rafael de Acha     11/22/17

HVOROSTOVSKY’S RIGOLETTO

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Hvorostovsky’s Rigoletto
When Verdi’s Rigoletto finally premiered at Venice’s La Fenice in 1851, Verdi’s go-to baritone, Felice Varesi had to be shaken out of his stage fright by the composer himself, who literally gave him a kick in the pants and a shove onto the stage so that Varesi could make his first entrance and utter his first line: “In testa che avete, Signor di Ceprano?”

Since then, baritones have been putting stage fright aside, avoiding being shoved on stage, and actually lining up to test their mettle with Verdi’s great creation.

The first recording of this opera made and issued in the era of the long playing discs would be, to the best of my knowledge, Leonard Warren’s 1950 RCA album, which this writer sort of grew up with, listening to and showering while singing La donna e mobile along with Jan Peerce. Since then, there have been historical re-issues with Cesare Formichi, Giuseppe Danise, Riccardo Stracciari, and Lawrence Tibbett in the title role, and beyond those vintage “oldies” several mid-to-late 20th century recordings sung mostly by Italians, of which some were great Verdians, notably Giuseppe Taddei, Tito Gobbi, Ettore Bastianini, Rolando Panerai, Piero Cappuccilli, Renato Bruson, Giorgio Zancanaro, Leo Nucci, and Paolo Gavanelli.

Before and after Warren, other Americans: Lawrence Tibbett, Robert Merrill, Sherrill Milnes and Cornell McNeill attempted the climb up this Mount Everest of Baritone Roles with various degrees of success. Singers of other nationalities stepped up to the plate, ranging from the Italianate sounding Rumanian baritone Nicolae Herlea, who sang it very well, to the light-voiced German Lieder specialist Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who had a go at it and should not have.

What’s all the fuss with all the nationalities, anyway? Well, from my POV, the title role of Rigoletto, perhaps more than any other Verdi baritone part we can think of, presents to its singer a set of demands that seem to be more easily met by native speakers of the Italian language, comfortable with that elusive term of Verdi’s: la parola scenica – the sung word or better, the scenic word.

A great deal of the role of Rigoletto is written in parlando utterances – half-spoken, half sung phrases that lie smack in that middle-range of C to B of the bass clef often neglected by baritones who just want to focus on the E-F-F#-G “money notes” that earn bravos from the clique in the upper reaches of the theatre. If you are a baritone and you want to sing Rigoletto, start by studying the second scene of the first act, when the jester meets Sparafucile and never goes above an Eb, and assimilate what Verdi is up to.

Verdi further raises the bar by giving the singer of this role long stretches of cantilena in the golden area of the baritone voice, for which the requirements are a good pair of lungs, clarity of vocal emission on any of the seven Italian vowels: A, E (open and closed), I, O (open and closed) and U, and seamless legato. Simple, isn’t it?

Ah, but there’s more. The part is not all that high, as Verdi baritone parts go. There’s a written F# or Gb here and there, an optional G and Ab (neither written by Verdi), but the tessitura ranges from medium high in the duets with Gilda to mostly middle-of-the-range writing elsewhere.

However, the baritone who signs on for this role better have a full palette of vocal colors and a a talent for inflecting into his sound a full gamut of emotions: biting sarcasm in the opening scene, heart-rending tenderness in the duets with Gilda, thundering anger in the Cortigiani aria in Act II. Oh, and by the way, some good acting would be greatly appreciated, which brings us round to Dimitri Hvorostovsky’s recording of Rigoletto.

Strategically issued ten days ago (November 10, 2017) by Delos, the handsomely packaged, beautifully annotated double CD shows the Siberian baritone in remarkably fine form. This is his first recording of Rigoletto, having earned his stripes with Renato (Ballo in Maschera), with Simon Boccanegra, and with Di Luna (Il Trovatore).

Hvorostovsky uses his trademark Verdi baritone “snarl” to great effect in his brief confrontation with Monterone, sung trills and all, as specified by Verdi. He then puts the cupo lid on to tamper down his trademark brilliant resonance in the encounter with Sparafucile, where at times he sounds as much like a bass as the impressive basso profundo Andrea Mastroni.

Pari siamo is delivered in a chilling, no-holds barred way, with the final high G on Ah no e follia as rock-solid as any we’ve heard. The two big duets with Gilda have Hvorostovsky sounding as fresh-voiced as if this recording had been made twenty years ago. It wasn’t. The dates of the recording sessions of this album are July 1-9, 2016. So, for those wondering about the state of the vocal health of this singer after a career-stopping bout with a brain tumor, here’s the news: he sounds as good as ever. No, better. The gravitas, the style, the masterful way with iconic phrases like “culto, famiglia, la patria…” or “Veglia, o donna, questo fiore…” are unimpeachable.

The Lithuanian team of engineers, led by producers Vilius Keras and Vytautas Kederys renders a top notch recording: the sound immediate, clear, unencumbered. The City of Kaunas Orchestra and the men of the Kaunas State Choir, under the unflaggingly energetic baton of Constantine Orbelian bring out all the Italian flair and all the subtleness of Verdi in an arresting recording.

In the principal roles, Nadine Sierra is a bright-voiced, stylish Gilda, neither in the big-girl mold of Sutherland and company nor in the songbird tradition of so many a Susanna who would be a Gilda. She sings a lovely Caro nome and holds her own in the duets with both Hvorostovsky and tenor Francesco Demuro, who sounds a bit light for the role, especially when heft and drama are called for, as in the second act’s Parmi veder le lagrime.

The supporting roles are well cast: Andrea Mastroni sounds marvelous and is both insinuating and enticing as Sparafucile. Oksana Volkova is a fine Maddalena, Kostas Smoriginas an impressive Monterone.

But this is, let’ be honest, the baritone’s show and Hvorostovsky walks away with it.

Rafael de Acha

BERNSTEIN’S CANDIDE AT CCM

bernstein

Jointly created, revised, changed, and tortured into various versions by a handful of collaborators, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide is a show that can’t make up its mind as to what it wants to be. Neither an opera nor a musical, nor a true operetta, Bernstein’s fourth Broadway show died several slow deaths in various productions after a slew of mostly bad reviews and sparsely sold performances. Yet, Candide remains to this day the object of a cult following that has either worshipped or scorned several mountings by various opera companies in the United States and England, but has always loved Bernstein’s inventive score.

Candide is as much a vehicle for good singers as any good old Gilbert and Sullivan, Johann Strauss, Offenbach or Lehár opus can be. Also needed: a top-notch pit orchestra that can take on the famous overture and several of the work’s ensembles and aria-like tunes, and a stylish staging that allows the show’s fast-paced, chaotic plot (don’t ask) to make some sort of sense, or at least entertain.

Conductor, Mark Gibson, is at the helm of the CCM production, and, as can be expected from anything he touches, delivers a quicksilver reading of Bernstein’s score, The vocal casting requirements for Candide are well within the reach of CCM’s students, including the demanding roles of Candide and Cunegonde, and in the production now on stage at the Patricia Corbett Theatre until the end of the week, the talented student cast will make your visit worthwhile.

Unfortunately, the CCM production does not rise to the level of the music making. Ranging from the grey unisex uniforms that take the place of costumes, and do no favors to the singers, to a drab unit set that asks us to suspend disbelief (the changing action travels far and wide in time and space), we are asked to fill in the blanks left vacant by director Emma Griffin and her design team. The setting for the action looks vguely like an industrial space with high clerestory windows and a couple of entrances, and its post-modern look has little to do with Voltaire’s spirit, and with Bernstein’s classically-inflected travelogue music, replete as the score is with tangos, minuets, gavottes, operatic bravura turns, and patter songs.

Key moments such as the one in Act II, when the action travels to South America’s fictional El Dorado, fall flat, instead of stunning the spectator. The few moments of true emotion, such as the final reunion of Candide and Cunegonde, just prior to the Make Your Garden Grow finale, fail to elicit an emotional response from an audience grown tired of the jokey, bluntly sarcastic tone of the production.

If only Maestro Lenny had had one single creative talent at his side, creating the perfect libretto, instead of a cadre of contributors with conflicting opinions, there would be no telling what the fate of his Candide could have been. But Harold Prince, Lillian Hellman, John La Touche, Hugh Wheeler, Tyrone Guthrie, John Mauceri, Dorothy Parker, John Wells, Stephen Sondheim and Richard Wilbur, all stuck their oars in at different times, causing the vessel to go off course. Some say that a dromedary is a horse designed by committee, and every time we revisit Candide, we come away feeling just that.

The merry music making at CCM though is more than worth the price of admission. Go listen while you still can through the end of this week.

Rafael de Acha

 

 

A celebration of the season

 

JAMES (5)

December 3, 2017, at 2:00 PM
8605 Hopewell Road, in the village of Indian Hill.
A celebration of the season with traditional, folk, bluegrass, jazz, classical, Broadway and world music,
With invited guest artists Shareese Arnold, soprano; Aubrey Berg, speaker; Kimberly Daniel de Acha, speaker; Emily Fink, vocalist; Luke Flood, piano; Katie Johannigman, vocalist; Amy Johnson, soprano; Sam Krausz, vocalist; Chloe Legrand and her Banjo Babes; Jesse Leong, piano; James Meade, guitar; Carmine Miranda, cello; Kim Pensyl, piano; Kenneth Shaw, bass-baritone; Rick VanMatre, saxophone; Daniel Weeks, tenor.
Tickets: $30.
RESERVE SEATS by email: musicseasons@zoomtown.com

VISIT OUR NEW WEBSITE: www,musicseasonscincinnati.com

Our Holiday Silent Auction will further benefit the C-CM Scholarship Fund
Choose that pand or treat yourself or someone you love

Custom-designed jewelry by Linda Ellis,
                                            Paintings by Johannes Bjorner and Jim Slouffman                      
CD’s of the artists performing in our concert,
Santas and other holiday decorations,
Memberships for arts Organizations and museums,
Gift certificates to restaurants,
and much more.
CASH OR CHECK ONLY.

 

 

 

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DESERT ISLAND OPERA BUCKET LIST

                               Apalm-trees-on-desert-island_23-2147494090

BBC MUSIC magazine’s October issue just came out. On its cover: “The 20 Greatest Operas” (fanfare). Immediately I had to look. To my surprise, the list included rarities like Janáček’s Jenůfa and less rare works like Wozzeck, but no French opera, few Puccini’s, a couple of Verdi’s, hardly any Bel Canto warhorses and amazingly (this being a British publication) no Britten!

Singers put together this list and, meaning no disrespect, singers know what they like – greatest or not – because they like to sing it. But nonetheless I was glad the list was not assembled by (horror!) critics.

Then I thought, why not ask the Facebook readers of Music for All Seasons and our followers on http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com to put together their individual lists of not twenty but ten operas without which they could not live – a sort of desert island opera bucket list.

So here’s my list. No comments needed. This is MY list. Let’s see yours. Post your comments here on the blog (rather than on Facebook) or email me at musicseasons@zoomtown.com I will select one list I like the best and offer a pair of complimentary tickets to our December 3 concert at Peteloon to the “winner”.

Rafael’s List (in random order)
La traviata – Verdi
La boheme – Puccini
Fidelio – Beethoven
La cenerentola – Rossini
The Flying Dutchman – Wagner
Peter Grimes – Britten
The Consul – Menotti
Manon – Massenet
Don Giovanni – Mozart
Eugene Onegin – Tchaikovsky

Rafael de Acha

MENG

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TONAR MUSIC (for those who still don’t recognize the name) is THE source for recordings of music for the guitar by both recognized masters, like its founder, Manuel Barrueco, and early career, up and coming young artists like Meng Su, whose name gives this TONAR CD, her first solo one its title.

Meng opens the CD with John Willians’ Avner’s Theme from the film, Munich. It is a laid back, autumnally melancholy start to a varied program that traverses several countries and eras.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco penned his Sonata Omaggio a Boccherini as a loving homage to a fellow Italian like him who, over two centuries ago had a larger success abroad than in his native Italy. Boccherini’s life-long sojourn in Spain turned into a voluntary one, while Tedesco’s choice to abandon his native Italy just as Mussolini’s racial laws were becoming insufferable was a matter of survival.

The formidable maestro went on to write extensively (film scores) for Hollywood and large compositions (concerti for Heifetz and Piatigorsky), but music for the guitar remained closest to his heart, and that heart along with imagination and elegance are present in this four-movement, sixteen minute sonata in which the 20th century Italian melodist meets the 18th century Baroque craftsman in an exquisitely played reading by the young Chinese guitarist.

Meng follows with two miniatures by the ever popular Spanish master, Francisco Tarrega: Grand Vals and Rosita, which she plays with a stylistic assurance well beyond her years.

J.S. Bach wrote his Lute Suite No. 4 in E Major. Bach’s editor calls it BWV 1006a and groups it with other suites for the (we assume) viola da braccio, an instrument which is to the guitar like one of those cousins we have never met is to some of us. The par dessus violas of the 1600’s and 1700’s or their lighter da braccio cousins were primarily bowing instruments. A guitar you strum or you pluck and or whatever else you do with it, but one does not bow it. Meng plays Bach’s technical obstacle course with complete technical command and utter musicality, as if the Leipzig master had conceived it just for her.

Sir William Walton was as English a composer as ever came walking down the country lane, so it was at first a surprise and then a source of delight to hear the Five Bagatelles that the august Brit wrote for the guitar. In this set of five playful ditties in the salon vein Meng infuses her playing with flair great fun. The album (TONAR 60701) closes with another charming composition by John Williams: Rounds.

As usual the engineering and the packaging are vintage TONAR. More about the album and its artist at MenSuGuitar.com

Rafael de Acha                    November 1, 2017

OPERA IN CRISIS

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After I opened Facebook’s memories  for today I came across a review of the MET’s HD Carmen I had written three years ago for http://www.SeenandHeard-International.com It reminded me that what plagued opera three years ago has now taken the dimensions of a crisis.

The traditional audience for opera continues to grey down. That ever shrinking audience finds most of the jerry-rigged updates of contemporary productions utterly annoying, while all the while they long for the good old days when during any New York week one could catch – here I’m just thinking of Carmen – a Shirley Verrett or a Grace Bumbry or a Marilyn Horne in the title role of Bizet’s opera, in a straightforward staging by a competent director, and led by the likes of a James Levine or a Leonard Bernstein in the pit.

As for the young audience the MET claims it’s trying to reach, it does not look like Peter Gelb is any closer to the goals he set for himself when he took over the MET over a decade ago. Taking an opera written in mid-19th century Italy and set by its librettist, even after several wrangles with the censors, in a Mantua ruled by a Duke, and transposing it into the seedy 1950’s Rat Pack Las Vegas is a silly exercise in directorial hubris: it insults the intelligence of the savvy operagoer and it fails by a long shot to appeal to the uninitiated who can make no sense of most of the directorial idiocies that pass for “conceptual” in Michael Mayer’s MET production

This year we have been subjected to a transposition of Tchaikvosky’s Yolanta from its original once-upon-a-time setting to a grim and dim mental asylum. An Aida we caught at Glimmerglass a couple of years ago had Radames waterboarded at the end of the opera. A few years ago, an Abduction from the Seraglio set on the Orient Express became a train wreck with few survivors on stage and in the ranks of the Florida Grand Opera audience that dwindled down to half after intermission.

But there are glimmers of hope. Gary Briggle’s honest, lovingly curated, flawlessly cast production of Menotti’s THE CONSUL for the estimable Dayton Opera, done tastefully on a budget but never scrimping, and set in a time and place consonant with Menotti’s original libretto, brought in a vast audience of regulars augmented by freshmen from the University of Dayton to the second of its two performances. I asked the Dayton Opera General Director, Thomas Bankston whether the students had received complimentary tickets. The answer was that the University had purchased a block of tickets to the Sunday matinee performance.

At intermission, I looked for deserters. Most of the young audience members were in the lobby of the Schuster Center. They stood around texting into their cell phones. I casually asked a few what they thought and if they were enjoying the opera. There were no snarky comments but candid responses – all positive.

As I saw the young people go back inside for the second act, I felt that there is hope for the future of Opera in our country, especially opera done with respect to the composer’s and the librettist’s original intentions. That kind of opera will reach the generation for whom opera now is as remote as the Planet Mars.

Rafael de Acha