Sunday, October 24, 2010

Opera recitals

Discs with arias from operas and oratorios appear regularly. They are mostly a vehicle to make the soloist shine in his or her favourite repertoire. I am always rather sceptical about this kind of discs. Firstly, because I believe the music should always take first place rather than the interpreter. If the name of the soloist is printed in larger letters than the name(s) of the composer(s), you just know something is wrong.
Secondly, isolating arias from an oratorio or an opera is mostly unsatisfying, as they lose some of their meaning without their dramatic context. It depends what kind of arias are sung: in Italian operas, for instance by Handel, arias often are not strongly connected to the dramatic context. Sometimes arias were moved from one opera to another and given to another character. It is more problematic in French operas where the arias are more closely connected to the dramatic development. That is one of the reasons the disc by Anne Sofie von Otter which I review on my site, is highly unsatisfying. It is not the only reason, the performances are rather bad as well.

The two discs I would like to mention here are not convincing either. The German mezzo Mareike Morr has finished two musical studies, piano and singing, and has diplomas in teaching both as well. But she has decided to concentrate on a career as a singer of oratorio, opera and songs, basically from every period in music history. As far as I know this is her first solo recording. I don't understand why she has chosen almost exclusively 'evergreens' of the baroque opera. Only the excerpts from Vivaldi's operas are lesser known, but all other pieces are available in numerous other recordings. This way she has to compete with interpreters who have more experience in this particular repertoire, and she fails to live up to that competition. In the two pieces by Monteverdi Ms Morr's performance is far from the ideal of recitar cantando. In general she pays too little attention to the text, and often there is a lack of declamation. She has certainly a nice voice, and that makes it all the more disappointing that her performances are rather one-dimensional and undifferentiated, for instance in regard to articulation and dynamics. And expressive her interpretations are mostly not. In Handel's 'Lascia ch'io pianga' her performance lacks subtlety, and I don't think anyone will be moved by her singing of Gluck's 'Che farò senza Euridice'. Lastly, the orchestra - with two violins, viola, cello, violone, theorbo, harpsichord and the additional wind instruments - is far too small for most arias. The recording is also very direct, and as a result there is no theatrical atmosphere at all.

Gluck has been a key figure in the history of opera. But only a handful of his theatrical works are known. Everyone knows Orfeo ed Euridice and maybe two or three other works, but most of his about 50 operas are largely unknown. In January 2010 Ian Page staged a concert in the Wigmore Hall in London in which he directed the Classical Opera Company in a selection of arias from various Gluck operas. Of course it couldn't be without 'Che farò senza Euridice' from Orfeo ed Euridice, but there were also arias from La Semiramide riconosciuta, Paride ed Elena, Ezio, Antigono and L'ivrogne corrigé. The latter is a comical opera - a genre one doesn't immediately associate Gluck with. Historically speaking the programme which was recorded in the Wigmore Hall Live series, is quite interesting, and in particular opera aficionados should love it. But musically it is very disappointing. Like in the Mareike Morr's recording the orchestra is too small: just 7 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos and one bass. In addition the playing is mostly dull and undramatic. As far as one can tell from extracts the singers give a good account of the respective roles from a dramatic point of view, but stylistically the performances of the sopranos Ailish Tynan and Sophie Bevan and the mezzo Anna Stéphany are wide of the mark. Too little attention is given to the text and the continuous wide vibrato of the ladies is unbearable and - more importantly - against all we know about the aesthetic ideals of the 18th century. This disc is another example of a great idea which has gone awry due to an inadequate performance.

- "Lamenti - furore e dolore" - Mareike Morr, Hannoversche Hofkapelle (Genuin GEN 10176)
- Gluck: "Blessed Spirit - A Gluck retrospective" - Ailish Tynan, Sophie Bevan, Anna Stéphany, Classical Opera Company/Ian Page (Wigmore Hall Live WHLive 0037)

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