A plea for inclusiveness

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This past season, on Sunday April 28 the program of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was as politely planned as any I have heard then and before from our big band in town. And yes, of course, the music making was wonderful. But I wish that a flight of the imagination would point guest artists appearing in ours and in other American orchestras and our music directors in the direction of the treasure trove of the music of Falla, Granados, Albeniz, Turina, Montsalvatge, Mompou, and Rodrigo, to name but a handful of great Spanish composers from whose compositions some unpredictable programming choices could be made.

The concert opened with Claude Debussy’s Ibéria, a tryptich of orchestral pieces evocative of Spain and its music. Par les rues et par les chemins (“Through the streets and roads”), Les parfums de la nuit (“The perfumes of the night”) and Le matin d’un jour de fête (“The morning of a holiday”) depict in Debussy’s very French terms his impressions of a Spain of his very Gallic imagination.

The unresolved progressions that make up so much of Debussy’s harmonic language, the signature evanescent strains of melody that capriciously come and go, and, of course, the easily mimicked Moorish flavor of so much of the music of Spain are all there, but all put to work in a methodical, respectful manner that belies its provenance as Paris, not Seville. This is music that’s elegant, compositionally comme il faut, but lacking a true Iberian DNA.

In between, a new work for cello and orchestra by composer-conductor Mathias Pintscher was played by Alisa Wilerstein. Un Despertar (An Awakening) is based on a poem by the late Mexican poet Octavio Paz.

In the second half the CSO gave Maurice Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso to give a taste of real Spanish musical flavor. First the title: Alborada at its basic meaning: dawn, sunrise…and, in this case, the music of sunrise. The Gracioso is a buffoonish character from the theatre of the Spanish Golden Age that appears in the comedies of Cervantes, Lope and Calderon.

Here we have then a mini-tone poem – one of three in the composer’s Mirroirs in which he depicts a dreamlike scene that perhaps involves more than just the clownish Gracioso.
Ravel, please note, is not altogether a French composer, in spite of his residency and passport, but a pan-European composer who, unlike others like Rimsky-Korsakoff and Debussy and Bizet, who depicted in some of their music a storybook, sanitized Spain, instead wrote gutsy, roof-raising, sun-drenched, toe tapping, earthy music with the soul of Iberia imbuing every bar. Ravel meant to not only evoke, but to celebrate the Spain of his Basque ancestors with his music.

It is my fervent wish that the CSO should begin to expand its horizons beyond the repertoire in which it, along with so many other American symphony orchestras seems to be stuck. Let us hear some more music from outside the bread and butter box of European 19th and early 20th century’s bearded men. Let us begin to see more female and Black and Latino-Hispanic and Asian and Brazilian guest conductors up on the podium. Let us hear some more soloists of color. Add more women and Blacks and Hispanics and Asians to the rank and file of the players. Expand your Rolodex. Let us hear more music from the far reaches of the world. Let us hear more music written in the immediate, not the distant past. Let us hear more music composed outside Germany, Austria, France, England and Russia. Let us have an orchestra that looks and sounds not like some of us but like all of us.

Rafael de Acha    http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

VENICE IN MEXICO

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VENICE IN MEXICO

Stephen Sutton’s ever eclectic divine art label provided us with both the catchy title for this blog post and the pleasurable music contained in a new release of Baroque music by Vivaldi and Facco.

Facco, did I say?

Yes, I too had never heard of this most unfairly neglected of composers. Giacomo Facco was born in 1676 in the Most Serene Republic of Venice, the warmongering in-spite-of-its-title City State where composers like Vivaldi, this CD’s other and better known featured composer made their careers count for something.

But Facco chose to cast his lot farther to the South and west of the City on the Lagoon and off to Madrid he went at age 24, where he fell in the good graces of the Royal Family and became Music Master to the household of the Infante and eventually a member of the King’s household.

By a cruel twist of fate, all but a handful of the dozens of compositions penned by Facco were lost in a fire in the Royal Palace. Then, by another twist of fate – a beneficial one this time around – a set of twelve of his concerti, entitled Pensieri Adriarmonici ended up in – of all places – a nunnery in Mexico DC.

By a series of fortuitous events, Facco’s work came into the care of Mexican musicologist and maestro Miguel Lawrence, who brought together a group of the country’s finest Early Music players to record two of Facco’s and six of Vivaldi’s concerti – two of them with the exotic Mexican psaltery deputizing for the Baroque guitar for which it would have been written, and another for sopranino recorder.

The fine dozen players of the Mexican Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Miguel Lawrence, do lovely work on all eight of the concerti, featuring throughout the excellent violinist Manuel Zoghi, Daniel Armas playing with brilliance the intriguing Mexican psaltery, and Maestro Lawrence playing the sopranino recorder with panache and elegance. The obligatory Baroque continuo is strongly provided by Juan J. Puente on the guitarrón mexicano. Marieta Lazarova, Jared Ahedo, Rodrigo Martinez, Caleb Ahedo, Stanislav Ouchinsky, Connie Ruiz, and Marco Estrada are the marvelously musical members of the string section.

The CD is elegantly packaged and impeccably engineered by Pedro Wood.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Sheer Listening Joy.

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Leave it to DELOS to keep surprising us with music off the beaten path! This time the surprise is titled PIANO MUSIC OF JOHN KNOWLES PAINE (DE 3551).

The music is by a lesser known – dare I say neglected? – American composer born at a time when America was trying to figure out just what that name meant, let alone what Classical music meant. Payne, however discouraging it might have been to get his contemporaries to tolerate let alone understand what he was up to, forged ahead, first studying music with his parents – owners of a music store in Portland, Maine. From then, Payne became a pupil of Hermann Kotzchmar, a German master who encouraged the Parents of the young prodigy to allow their son to further pursue his studies in Germany.

After returning to the States in 1861, Paine, aged 22, settled in Boston, where his European training served him well as he became a respected organist, a frequent performer of his own music in the salons of Beacon Hill, a guest conductor of the BSO, and eventually the creator of the music curriculum at Harvard University, where he taught for the rest of his life.

Much like the other American music pioneers – Edward MacDowell, Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, George Chadwick and Horatio Parker – who came to be known along with him as The Boston Six, Paine was prolific, gifted, and hard working, writing uncomplicatedly accessible music that was then and continues now to be delightfully melodic. By 1906, the final year of his life, Paine must have heard the name of Schoenberg or even actually heard the music of his 1898 Transfigured Night, a composition that was breaking ground in the direction of atonality. In Paris Debussy had vastly redefined harmony with his Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. But Paine and his American pioneer friends soldiered on marching to the beat of their own personal drums tonally and melodically, as we can hear in this collection of miniatures dating back to the 1870’s.

This is by and large music written heart-on-sleeve, of a time where cares where about the honestly essential, music in which there is no agenda, no manifesto, no extra-musical baggage.

In this delightful collection pianist Christopher Atzinger plays with utmost elegance, brio when needed, gravitas when appropriate, and without a shred of condescension, there are romances, sketches, preludes, joyful ditties, even a fugue, and sad pièces d’occasion. Atzinger takes them on with bravura at his fingertips through all 65 minutes of this neatly engineered and packaged CD providing sheer listening joy.

Rafael de Acha       http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

A perfect Romeo and Juliet

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Much like its operatic cousin Faust, Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette began its initially humble stage life in 1859 at the Opéra-Comique, only to move fifteen years later to the opulent Paris Opéra, where the huge stage and technical equipment allowed for the big bones production that R&J needs and that it  is now receiving on the stage of Cincinnati’s Music Hall.

With the Cincinnati Opera chorus,the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the pit, Ramon Tebar as its conductor, great production values, and a cast of a dozen principals, this Gounod does not stint on size.

But size is not the end all in this opera, which is in fact structured as a series of intimate encounters between two characters: Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. Other characters play crucial roles in the story: the well-meaning Friar Laurent, the all too fatherly Lord Capulet, and the hot-headed Tybalt. But ultimately as told by Gounod and his librettists this is the story of two ill-fated lovers.

Making one of the best Cincinnati Opera debuts in recent memory tenor Matthew White combined in the part of Romeo vocal elegance, youthful looks, virility, and the much needed but elusive French style that is so rare to find these days. He delivered his aria Ah! lève-toi, soleil! as well as I have heard it from many tenors in years of opera-going, and he sang passionately in his duets with his Juliet.

The ever lovely Nicole Cabell returned to Cincinnati to prove that she has the perfect voice and looks for Juliet, singing her first act waltz with graceful lyricism, and acting convincingly as a giddy girl in love with love. Her dramatic and vocal journey from virginal maiden to tragic heroine within the span of the opera’s three hours was riveting.

The supporting roles in the Cincinnati production are exceptionally well sung and acted by a mix of veteran singers and newcomers, with bass-baritone Kenneth Shaw mixing good-natured bonhomie and authority as a standout Friar Laurent, singing sonorously throughout the evening.

Baritone Hadleigh Adams is a charming Mercutio, delivering a brilliantly sung Queen Mab ballad and fencing like a champion. Thomas Dreeze, an appropriately pompous Lord Capulet, colorfully sang his Allons jeunes gens to the guests at the Capulet ball. Tenor Piotr Buszewski a strong Tybalt, acted convincingly, singing well, and sporting terrific swordsmanship in the fight scene, which  was nicely staged by Gina Cerimele Mechley.

Baritone Vernon Hartman was a commanding Duke of Verona, and mezzo-soprano Reilly Nelson an enchanting Stephano. Catherine Keen (Gertrude), Phillip Bullock (Gregorio), Darian Clonts (Benvolio), and Simon Barrad (Count Paris) served their roles to perfection.

Ramon Tebar conducted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with sensitivity and authority, ever supportive of the singers and alert to the stage, eliciting superb playing from his musicians. The production exudes elegance in every department, from Mathew Ozawa’s stage direction to William Boles’ marvelous sets to Sara Bahr’s perfect costumes to James Geier’s wigs and Thomas C. Hase’s dappled lighting. Henri Venanzi obtained great work from his well-prepared chorus

This performance significantly marked to the day the 90th anniversary of the Cincinnati Opera. With a perfectly cast and staged Romeo and Juliet, Evans Mirageas‘ Cincinnati Opera once more reasserts itself as one of the top companies in North America.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Romeo and Juliet Music Hall. Cincinnati, Ohio. Music by Charles Gounod Libretto by Barbier and Carré

Cast:

Romeo Matthew White
Juliet Nicole Cabell
Mercutio Hadleigh Adams
Friar Laurent Kenneth Shaw
Count Capulet Thomas Dreeze
Tybalt Piotr Buszewski
Duke of Verona Vernon Hartman
Stephano Reilly Nelson
Gertrude Catherine Keen
Gregorio Phillip Bullock
Benvolio Darian Clonts                                                                                                                        Count Paris Simon Barrad

Production

Stage Director Matthew Ozawa
Scenic Designer William Boles
Costume Designer Sarah Bahr
Lighting Designer Thomas C. Hase
Wig & Make-up Designer James Geier
Chorus Master Henri Venanzi
Choreographer Oğulcan Borova
Fight Director Gina Cerimele Mechley
A co-production of Minnesota Opera and Cincinnati Opera. Scenery and costumes constructed by Minnesota Opera and Cincinnati Opera.
ROMEO AND JULIETTE MAY BE SEEN AGAIN THIS SATURDAY, JUNE 29, AT 7:30 PM

Stewart Goodyear serves a spicy Callaloo

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One hesitates as to what to call Stewart Goodyear’s brilliantly inventive Callaloo. I would venture Tone Poem. Goodyear calls it a Suite in his insightful and candid liner notes.

But if a label is not needed, let us just celebrate Goodyear’s new musical facet: that of composer, and enjoy his constant enterprising vitality and his proud celebration of his Caribbean roots.

The spicy 26-plus minute composition is a five-movement musical fantasy in which snippets of Trinidad’s Calypso melodic and rhythmic strains vie for the listener’s attention with a heady mix of Jamaican Mento, afro-Cuban Guaguancó, Son, Conga and Guaracha, and the inter-island Soca.

The music ebbs and flows from moments of happily frantic activity to stretches of the indolently laid-back dolce far niente that we Caribbean people lapse into after hours of hip swaying  in 90 degrees in the shade.

The superbly hip Chineke Orchestra is beautifully conducted by Wayne Marshall, and while all of its rank and file is to be saluted for their playing, a solo bow must be given to the terrific percussion section for its temperature-raising Latin drumming-on-steroids.

Callaloo is, in addition to being a lot of fun, an important composition from an immensely gifted young Canadian musician we have long associated with the long-hair repertoire he chooses for his piano concerts.

The ORCHID CLASSICS CD (ORC 100 100) includes an earlier composition by Goodyear: a youthful piano sonata into which by his own admission the 18-year young artist threw everything he could with surprisingly enticing results.

The CD’s hour long running time is partially occupied by the original band version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Goodyear and his friends give it an energetic reading at a good clip. But for me, the main event here remains what I assume may be Stewart Goodyear’s record debut as a composer to be reckoned with.

Cause for celebration!

Rafael de Acha    http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

VIOLINS OF HOPE

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Jonathan Leshnoff has a deep connection to Jewish culture. The young American composer draws inspiration for his 2017 Symphony no. 4, “Heichalos” from an ancient Hebrew text, the Heichalos Rabbasai which deals with matters of faith in a supreme being that can only be approached through understanding in gradual transitions through various “rooms” (stages) of spiritual enlightenment.

Leshnoff music, here and in the other two compositions included in the just released NAXOS (CD 8.559809) features the Nashville Symphony, conducted by Gian Carlo Guerrero, with the Violins of Hope making up the orchestra’s string section. It is intensely emotional music, brilliantly orchestrated, intrinsically melodic, yet complex structurally.

Violins of Hope is a project of concerts that utilizes vintage string instruments that belonged to Jews before and during the second world war. Many were donated by or bought from survivors; some arrived through family members. Some carry Stars of David as a decoration and as their sole identity tag.

The two-part Symphony no. 4 rejects the 19th century strictures of the Romantic symphonic format, opting instead for a fast section later contrasted with a slow, lyrical second one. Part one is titled Binah, Hebrew for understanding – its music taking on a restless ostinato pattern sustained throughout by the string section of the Nashville Symphony, that gives its rank and file a serious workout.

As if having attained enlightenment through arduous searching in part one, the second section of Leshnoff’s Fourth Symphony settles into a melodically-rich, spiritually-charged paean to a Divinity that now seems more approachable than before. The composition avoids a climactic ending, giving us calm and quietude instead.

Leshnoff wrote his Guitar Concerto in 2013, and here both its three-movement (Allegro-Adagio-Lively) structure and its gentle orchestration give Jason Vieaux’s guitar an up front and center position with which to shine against a backdrop of woodwinds and light percussion. The music is playful, the writing idiomatic and virtuosic, and the performance by Vieaux nothing short of spectacular, with the woodwind section of the Nashville Orchestra doing filigree work and maestro Guerrero keeping everyone on the same page.

Starburst is an eight-minute curtain opener, brilliant, showy, and to the point, and it provides a wonderful closing number to a delightful album of music by a significant American composer.

Rafael de Acha    http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Two neglected works by Korngold and Vaccai

I sat down to listen to Nicola Vaccai’s Giulietta e Romeo and was pleasantly surprised by the melodic richness of the score. The night before my task had been to make it unscathed to the end of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane. I did, coming away from the three-hour listening marathon asking myself what it is that makes some operas catch on and become part of the standard repertory, and what causes others to crash and burn in their premieres with no chance of salvaging any of the wreckage.

Korngold became cursed by an overbearing father, who as a music critic for one of Vienna’s leading newspapers made more enemies than readers. The sin of the composer’s father consisted of championing his son’s work and poisoning the waters inhabited by any of his son’s fellow composers. By the time Korngold’s opera escaped Vienna and made it to Germany, the critic’s guns were cocked and aimed at the composer That is too bad for there is much to commend in Das Wunder der Heliane beyond its lush post-Strauss score.

The singers, conductor and production team in the Deutsche Oper Berlin recording, issued by NAXOS as a double DVD (2.1105584-85) are good. A strong cast of heavy-weight voices led by soprano Sara Jakubiak, tenor Brian Jagde, baritone Joseph Wagner, baritone Derek Welton, mezzo-soprano Okka von der Damerau, and tenor Burkhard Ulrich share the burden. Marc Albrecht conducts the orchestra and chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. The set by Johannes Leiacker, the costumes by Barbara Drosihn,  and the staging by Christof Loy set the allegorical tale about love, life and death in a bleak contemporary world.

Now take Nicola Vacai’s Giulietta e Romeo. The opera was written around the time of Rossini while still in his apogee, and premiered in 1825 in Milan. A few years later another take on Shakespeare’s classic: Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuletti e I Montecchi, got a great deal more traction in Italy and abroad. A better work, Bellini’s opera eclipsed Vaccai’s less accomplished composition all but obliterating its presence in European opera houses to such an extent that it was not until our time that Vaccai’s version of the tale of the doomed lovers of Verona was revived now and then.

The Dynamic Opera Classic DVD was recorded at the 44th Festival della Valle d’Itria in the summer of 2018 and recently-released by Dynamic Opera Classic CD (37832)

The DVD sports a nice cast headed by Spanish soprano Leonor Bonilla as Giulietta and Italian mezzo-soprano Raffaella Lupinacci as Romeo. Both leads are good Bel Canto singers and both cut handsome figures in Giuseppe Patella’s neo-Romantic costumes.

Sesto Quatrini capably conducts the Orchestra Accademia Teatro all Scala and the choir of Piacenza’s Municipal Theatre.

The setting of Piacenza’s Palazzo Ducale is used to advantage in the handsome production directed by Cecilia Ligorio.

Rafael de Acha    http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Il Castello di Kennilworth

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By 1829, the date of the premiere of Il Castello di Kennilworth Donizetti had established his reputation as a composer to be taken seriously. He had some three dozen operas in his dossier and about the same number still to compose before his untimely death at age 51.

Rossini premiered William Tell (his swansong) that same year, leaving the operatic field wide open for the younger Donizetti to become the favorite of audiences throughout Europe, which is precisely what the Bergamo master did, picking up where Rossini had left off.

The Donizetti operas called for a new kind of singer with more protein in the voice, with still some of the agility that the works of Rossini demanded, but with more attention paid to diction and dramatic inflection.

In Il Castello di Kennilworth, a precursor to the Tudor operas, a.k.a The Three Donizetti Queens (Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux) we hear flashes of the greatness to come, so much so that it is inexplicable that this early work should get so little attention.

The Donizetti Festival in Bergamo recorded Il Castello di Kennilworth last December, and Dynamic Opera Classic has released it for American distribution. The cast features a good mix of younger up and coming singers side by side with established Italian singers.

Among his estimable colleagues, we found the Spanish lyric tenor Xabier Anduaga vocally and visually impressive in the role of Leicester, the Queen’s favorite. English soprano Jessica Pratt is lovely to look at and equally lovely to listen to as Elisabetta. Baritone Stephan Pop is a properly sinister and sonorous Warmey. Carmela Remigio is an effective Amelia.

Ricardo Frizza conducts with complete mastery of the Bel Canto style. The streamlined Donizetti Festival orchestra and chorus do yeoman work in the excellently filmed video.

Maria Pilar Perez Aspa stages the opera imaginatively on a raked platform set against a cyclorama, with various props and scenic elements that enter and exit providing visual reference points for the various locales.

Rafael de Acha              http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Attila: opera about love in a time of war

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By the time Attila– Verdi’s ninth opera – premiered in Venice in 1846 the Maestro had under his belt no less than four unqualified successes. With Nabucco, I Lombardi, Ernani and I due Foscari Verdi had proved to be “the” master for writing for a new kind of singer: big voiced, full of stamina, able to sing with both agility and sustained gravitas, and most important to the composer, be ever attentive to what he came to call la parola scenica.

It is immensely rewarding to listen to the splendidly chosen cast jointly assembled by the Teatro Massimo di Palermo, the Teatro La Fenice (birthplace of Attila), RAI, and the Teatro Communale di Bologna. The artists, orchestra and their maestro, Michele Mariotti were brought together to record this DVR in 2006, and the fruit of their labors has just been released by Cmajor 748708 nicely packaged and accompanied by a multi-lingual booklet with program notes.

Attila is an opera about love in a time of war: love of another, love of country – even if the country is not yet a country but Aquileia, a region of what would become Italy after being subjected to endless invasions by barbarians, with Attila, the scourge of God, the most fearsome and fearless of all.

The chieftain of the Huns acquiesces to no one, living by his own code of honor. The Roman general Ezio comes bearing an offer of peace encapsulated in the line “Avrai tu l’universo, Resti l’Italia a mé!” (“You get the Universe, Leave Italy to me!”) but Attila dismisses him with complete disdain. Only the fear of a Christian God he neither knows nor worships keeps him away from the gates of Rome.

The plot is convoluted, with ambiguous motivations and ostensibly not top drawer in its libretto, half-written by Antonio Solera and completed by Francesco Piave. But Verdi’s genius makes the damned thing work with its music: great concertato finales, terrific duets for all the principals, and formidable arias.

In this recording Verdi is greatly aided by a very fine cast led by Ildebrando D’Arcangelo in the title role. The Italian bass cuts a handsome figure, acts with subtlety, and sings with passion and a rock-solid Verdian sound.

Simone Piazzola delivers a terrific Dagl’immortali vertici and its ensuing cabaletta, singing throughout with a darkly dramatic baritone sound perfectly suited to the role of the Roman general Ezio.

The Uruguayan soprano Maria José Siri is a force of nature, singing with no pulled punches and acting with fire and brimstone the treacherous part of Odabella.

Fabio Sartori makes the most of the ungrateful role of Foresto, nicely singing his Che non  avrebbe il misero. The supporting roles of Uldino and Leone are both well sung and capably acted by tenor Gianluca Floris and bass Antonio Di Mateo respectively.

Michele Mariotti leads the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Communale di Bologna with absolute command of the Verdian style and with elegant pliability.

The stage direction by Daniele Abbado is assured and unharmed by the production designers, who set Verdi’s 5th century Italy in a modern time and place that mixes men in fatigues with vestal virgins bearing tree branches.

Oh well.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

A musically worthy Der Freischütz

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The Teatro all Scala most recent production of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz was filmed in October of 2017 and is now released by NAXOS.

THE DVD 2.110597 boasts a mostly northern-European cast and an international production team. Myung-Whun Chung ably leads the orchestra and the chorus of La Scala, the latter singing in the original German and doing some dramatic and musical heavy-lifting throughout the opera. The results, greatly aided by top notch video by Jean-Pierre Loisil satisfy.

Weber’s 1821 opera Der Freischütz is an acquired taste offering that demands from those who take it on the casting of decent-sized voices. An accepting audience tolerant of its spooky quaintness is also needed. Then there is the matter of those interminably lengthy stretches of spoken dialogue handled by singers likely to orate rather than speak like human beings. Do we cut them, do we allow the hapless cast to speak them in high school level German? Do we speak them in English and sing the music in German?

The composer was already paving the way for the Wagnerian era with its mega-sized musical demands on the voices and orchestra not far in the future, but he still felt the pull of Singspiel folksiness.

For a successful staging of Der Freischütz a nice production design is needed, that and good stage direction that draws believable portrayals from those in the cast. Here we get a shoestring-looking production with a non-existent forest, a house with no walls, and operatic posturing, rather than acting. The costumes are, frankly, horrid – especially those for the women. The casting of the magic bullets comes off inexcusably tacky when considering the technical resources of La Scala.

In the Naxos recording we find Der Freischütz musically well served by a cast led by Julia Kleiter, a matronly Agathe who delivers a lovely Leise, leise in Act II and later at the top of Act III a perfectly sung Und ob die Wolke. As her sister, the soprano Eva Liebau is a bit long in the tooth for the ingénue role of Ännchen, and this being video, an unforgiving medium in close ups, does neither soprano no favors.

Weber wrote goods parts for the lower male voices, and here Günther Groissböck as Kaspar, Michael König as the Hermit, and Frank van Hove as Kuno/Samiel all three fit the bill to perfection, with barihunk Groissböck delivering an impressively well sung and demonic Kaspar- doing a great job in the aria that ends Act I. The supporting roles of Ottokar and Kilian are also well sung by baritones Michael Kraus and Till von Orlowsky respectively.

I have a problem with the muscular singing of Michael König in the crucially important role of Max. König has a heroic-sized voice that serves him well in the Wagnerian roles with which he has built a European career. But the role of Max calls for both dramatic and lyrical singing: big in Durch die Wälder, nice and easy in his scenes with Agathe and Ännchen.  Yet König delivers non-stop sound by the pound: loud, louder, loudest, often straying off pitch.

Check out on You Tube Nicolai Gedda and or Peter Schreier singing Max’s music and you’ll get an idea of what I think Carl Maria von Weber had in mind. Meanwhile, with a better Der Freischütz not in sight we have to give renewed thanks to Naxos for digging out from the dustbin of almost-forgotten works a musically worthy Der Freischütz.

Rafael de Acha            http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com