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 MOZART: Don Giovanni - harmonia mundi HMC 901964.66
The centerpiece of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy, Don Giovanni is considered one of the finest operas ever written. This is serio-comic opera at its best, and it is a mark of Mozart's genius that he could spin the most beautiful music out of what today would be x-rated subjects of sex (two rapes, or near rape and endless philandering) and violence (one murder, and a beating to near-death!) and make of it a great masterpiece of music and drama.

Once again, baroque and early music specialist René Jacobs applies his unique "neo-classical" approach to yet another "war horse" of the operatic repertoire as he directs the RIAS Kammerchor and the Freiburger Barockorchester playing on period instruments and an excellent cast (none of whom are celebrity names as yet) who follow his dictum that in a recording, singers "must act using only their voice" - to good effect, all in the service of authenticity and great music-making.

Bravo, Maestro Jacobs! And bravo, Harmonia Mundi for raising the bar by which "great recordings" are measured yet again. CLICK TITLE BELOW to listen to a clip of Don Giovanni (sung by baritone Johannes Weisser) serenading the peasant girl Zerlina.

  Canzonetta Don Giovannii (from Act II, Scene III) - CD 2, Track 14   
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VIVALDI: Atenaide - naive RV 702-B

The process of rediscovery goes on with this recording of another Vivaldi rarity. Best known to contemporary music lovers as a prolific composer of concertos, it is only in recent years that the 18th century Venetian composer (who was also a priest) has been resurrected as a prodigious composer of opera. Indeed, as more "lost operas" are discovered, by both scholars and diligent opera singers themselves, it will become common knowledge that the composer of the popular "Four Seasons" devoted the greater part of his career to opera, and received great acclaim for it.

Atenaide is one "lost opera" that has seen the most recent light of day.  A Byzantine love story filled with intrigue and betrayal born of secret desires, it nevertheless has a happy ending. This recording is the first modern revival of the work, but what makes it very special is the fact that it could be brought back to life in the very theatre where it was premiered - the La Pergola in Florence, the only Vivaldian opera house still standing in virtually its original condition. Thus with the sacrosanct setting in place, a recording of genuine historical fidelity to the original work became a distinct and real possibility, and the only elements needed were a cast of suitable voices complemented by an ensemble of the musical instruments that Vivaldi so carefully specified in the score, and a musical director to tie it all together. Obviously, there requirements posed no significant barrier, and what we now have is an outstanding recording with some of today's most exceptional young singers and the 24-member Modo Antiquo under the masterful direction of baroque specialist-flautist-musicologist-composer Federico Maria Sardelli. Yes, so extraordinary, Vivaldi would turn, ever so ecstatically, in his grave.

CLICK TITLE BELOW to listen to a clip of Teodosio (sung by mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux) waxing poetic about his love for Eudossa (also known as Atenaide)

Trovo ne'gli occhi tuoi  (from Act I, Scene 7) - CD 1, Track 16   

/ Il Complesso Barocco, Curtis (Spoleto Festival 2006) (2007)

Ercole is yet another "lost" Vivaldi opera rediscovered, receiving its first revival in 280-some years at the 49th Spoleto Festival (Italy) in the summer of 2006.  This is a DVD of that production, which is actually a reconstruction along Vivaldian principles by musicologist, composer, and Vivaldi specialist Alessandro Ciccolini from the scores of some thirty arias and two duets that had been found in various archives, with Ciccolini composing the missing parts, such as the recitatives. 

The story is drawn from the legend in Greek mythology of the demi-god Hercules as he attempts with the assistance of his adjutants led by his friends, the heroes Theseus, Telamon and Alceste, to perform the ninth of the twelve tasks or labors that must be accomplished in atonement for his murder of his own children in a fit of wrathful madness. In this version of the legend, the task consists in stealing the arms of Antiope, Queen of the men-hating, warrior Amazons. But the still wrathful Hercules prefers a bloodier adventure. Thus the result is a grand battle of the sexes.  In the end however, love - having itself become the battlefield- reigns triumphant in the hearts of all, including the now appeased and merciful Hercules.

The production boasts a proficient cast led by the American tenor Zachary Stains as Hercules and Mary-Ellen Nesi as Antiope, most all possessing the vocal agility and stamina needed to overcome the hurdles omnipresent in Baroque opera, as ably supported by the baroque ensemble Il Complesso Barocco conducted by Handel specialist Alan Curtis. By stage director John Pascoe's account, the production was attended by much commotion - perhaps partly because the rebirth of a long lost opera is always cause for excitement, but perhaps also because of his unusually original staging in which the opera's underlying classical antiquity is presented in a way that is meant to appeal to the modern sensibility, including that of the MTV generation. The costumes are for the most part faithful to extant representations of Greek mythological figures - in the case of most of the Amazons - half-bare-breasted tunics, and for Hercules, but for the lion skin cape draped over his back as depicted in every existing statue of the demi-god - almost none at all. The stage is at all times immersed in symbolism - from the long, leather boots of the Amazonian leaders (symbolic of female empowerment), to the real olive trees (representing peace), and to the bigger-than-life statuary of truncated phalluses that dominate the stage in some scenes (obviously a reminder that the action takes place in the land of the erstwhile men-haters).  The production succeeds musically and dramatically, but whether its appeal is universal will probably depend on whether or not opera-goers, especially in puritanical America, find the pervasive nudity and phallic symbolism an excessive distraction from the beautiful music. Those who are content enough to just listen can look forward to a Virgin Classics recording of the opera scheduled in summer 2008 with Fabio Biondi conducting the Europa Galante and a cast that includes mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux as Antiope. One thing is clear, opera Vivaldi is in vogue.


DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU: Autumn Journey/ A Franz Schubert Recital (DVD) - Kultur D4207

There is no better way for a music lover to learn about Lieder than to journey through the life of one of the art form's greatest masters, especially with the master himself showing the way. This excellent DVD takes us through just that kind of journey.

This special package is the first DVD release of a film made in 1995 on the occasion of the great baritone's 70th birthday. It is essentially a portrait of the artist set within the framework of a leisurely conversation (in German with English subtitles) in which Fischer-Dieskau takes the viewer through his life and times, illustrating the highlights with photographs and extracts from films of his personal and professional life. The focus of the film is Fischer-Dieskau alone (not even the other party to the conversation is seen or heard) and although something is surely lost in translation, the viewer/listener comes away from over 3 hours of viewing time (on one disc!) more knowledgeable not only about Lieder (having also watched the bonus feature - a full-length recital of 23 songs by Franz Schubert, accompanied by the pianist Hartmut Höll) but also about opera, indeed of the sublime art we call music.  




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