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  • Recommended opera recordings: September 2013

Recommended opera recordings: September 2013

September sees new releases from Anna Netrebko, Cecilia Bartoli and Maria Callas.

By Robert Perry (Retail Manager)

23 September 2013 at 3.31pm | 6 Comments

Cecilia Bartoli - Norma (Decca)

As summer broke, Cecilia Bartoli’s much heralded recording of Bellini’s Norma hit the shelves.  If, like me, you raised an eyebrow at the prospect of Bartoli taking on this most iconic of bel canto roles, you’ll understand why I waited a while to write about it.

You may also, like me, be forced to eat your proverbial hat. This is a fascinating and valid recording. Vincenzo Bellini's Norma must have seemed revelatory in 1831, and it does so again here under Giovanni Antonini’s taut and driven performance, free from the lushly Romantic sound we are used to in this opera. It crackles from the off, properly underlining the central conflicts that make Norma such as exceptional opera.

Is Bartoli the Norma we’ve all been waiting for? In some respects, yes.  The vocal grandeur of a Callas or Sutherland is not hers to command, but she matches the former’s intensity and sings with much of the latter’s tonal beauty. But hers is a far more intimately scaled portrait, and within the context of this recording Bartoli challenges and redefines our expectations. The other role casting helps maintain the lighter vocal balance: Sumi Jo is credibly girlish as Adalgisa against Bartoli’s more primal priestess. John Osborn is a lyric tenor with dramatic leanings, and his Pollione too is a perfect fit, as is Michele Pertusi’s Oroveso.

This is a Norma Bellini would recognise. It may not topple the already legion and legendary recordings we have, but it is a vital bookend to any bel canto collection and demands to be heard.

Anna Netrebko - Verdi (Deutsche Grammophon)

Signalling a new career path, Anna Netrebko’s new all-Verdi CD is a thing of inconsistent beauty.  There is clearly repertoire here that she is ripe to sing: the Trovatore exerpts, for example, are stupendously good: the line sustained, colours found, trills executed, drama communicated.  Her Lady Macbeth (a role debut as the Lady is already in her diary) is grandly sung with all the right spirit if wayward attack, and her Don Carlo Elisabetta a marvellous creation even in embryonic form.  Other passages fare less well – the Vêpres Bolero kept too much in the chest and robbed of brio, the breath too short at times.  But put the niggles aside: this is where Anna Netrebko is going, and on the balance, we are in for some very thrilling nights at the opera.

The Royal Opera including Maria Callas - Cherubini's Medea (ICA Classics)

ICA needs an award given to them: they’ve mined a treasure of vintage ballet footage from the BBC archives, and released, on CD, the Callas Violetta and Tebaldi Tosca, both recorded live at the ROH.

And now comes Callas’ Medea, broadcast on 30 June 1959.  To all intents and purposes Callas’s stage career was virtually over – a handful of performances remained over the next five years, and a string of ill-advised concerts after that. Listening to this Medea makes the loss almost more incredible: Callas is in spectacular voice, biting through the drama, shaping line after line as only a master of their art can, and it is only in a live context that we can fully appreciate the size and thrust of her voice.  She shares the stage with her favourite Giasone, Jon Vickers and no less than a young Fiorenza Cossotto as Neris and Nicola Zaccaria as Creonte. Nicola Rescigno is an efficient conductor.  The performance is of its time – the orchestra is not entirely at home in this idiom, the chorus sounds willing rather than skilled, and the sound is decent, no more.  You will want this above all for Callas and Vickers, whose duet is worth the price of the disc alone.

What recently released recordings would you recommend?

The Royal Opera House Shop stocks a full range of recordings as well as DVDs and other merchandise. 

By Robert Perry (Retail Manager)

23 September 2013 at 3.31pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged album, Anna Netrebko, CD, Cecilia Bartoli, Maria Callas, Medea, Medee, Norma, online shop, product, recording, review, Shop, verdi

This article has 6 comments

  1. Jonas Kaufmann's Verdi of course! :-)

    and speaking of recordings and DVDs when will the ROH Troyens DVD be released?????

    • John responded on 1 October 2013 at 5:01pm

      Totally agree with your comment on the Kaufmann Verdi recommendation - although I don't think the Rigoletto suits him any more and isn't a great opening to the disc. I believe the ROH Troyens was released this week and it's certainly available on Amazon!

  2. Catherine Pisaroni responded on 24 September 2013 at 12:22am Reply

    Simon Boccanegra with Thomas Hampson, Kristine Opolais, Joseph Calleja, Carlo Colombara and Luca Pisaroni of course! Absolutely gorgeous recording!

  3. Jacky T responded on 24 September 2013 at 12:41am Reply

    The DVD of Matilde di Shabran from Pesaro 2012 and Cecilia Bartoli's Norma would be my recommendations. Both show Bel Canto singing at its thrilling best.

  4. Paulshk responded on 26 September 2013 at 4:55am Reply

    And the MacMillan Requiem???

  5. Robert Perschmann responded on 11 October 2013 at 5:53pm Reply

    WHY... doesn't BBC do what the Berlin Philharmonic does and sell subscriptions to the world in full HD?

    I have subscribed to that service thanks to a tip from Sony, and I love it. I have expected this all my life. It's here... a window to the world... in my house. The High Def. live concerts and the large catalogue... are magnificent. While we are at it, could we talk about 4K broadcasting? Right, no one seemed to have heard of Berlin's HD transmissions. We should talk it up. I think broadcasting to movie theaters is too narrow-sighted. We should want millions on board.

    Well, anyway... UK is the world's greatest source of all that is culturally wonderful. BBCAmerica is puny... though I love it. No, I don't want to be limited to my computer screen either. Let's crank up the arts via Internet to the home HD screen.

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