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Donizetti: Belisario [ [Opera Rara: ORC49]
Donizetti: Belisario [ [Opera Rara: ORC49]
Price: £25.69

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
And still they come, the revelatory releases of operatic gems uncovered by Britain's valiant Opera Rara label, now operating without the financial safety net of the Peter Moores Foundation as their former core funder.

Hard on the heels of Donizetti's Caterina Cornaro, released in April this year to international acclaim, we now have the same composer's superb Belisario, with Sir Mark Elder, one of today's great conductors, on top form at the helm of a powerhouse cast, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers in fine fettle.

A benchmark product of vintage Donizetti (I beg to differ with your reviewer, S Wells), Belisario was first performed in 1836 - a year after the premieres of Maria Stuarda in Milan and Lucia di Lammermoor in Naples. It triumphed on the world's lyric stages throughout the 19th century, before suffering the eclipse that beleaguered most of the composer's extensive oeuvre.

That was before the Bel Canto renaissance got underway in the second half of the last century, propelled by superstar champions such as Callas, Sutherland, Caballé - and not least, the Turkish diva, Leyla Gencer, who made something of a speciality of rarities such as Belisario in the late 1960's and early 70's.

Set to a tautly-constructed melodrama by Donizetti's preferred librettist, the Neapolitan poet and playwright Salvatore Commarano, Belisario exudes some of the plot elements of a Shakespearean tragedy. The opera's protagonist, a victorious Roman general, is betrayed by his scheming wife Antonina, who erroneously believes he is responsible for the supposed demise of their son. Blinded, Belisario is despatched into exile with his faithful daughter Irene, before being reunited with his long-lost son, whose death was ordered but not implemented by Belisario after a prophetic dream. Wounded in battle, Belisario dies while his wife begs his forgiveness as the curtain comes down.

While Belisario has no central love interest, it is certainly not short of dramatic ingredients to fuel the composer's score with white hot inspiration. A notable example of this is the highly-charged duet (CD 1, tracks 9 - 11) between Belisario and the prisoner-of-war Alamiro, who turns out to be his far-from-dead son. Another stand-out moment in the score is the thrilling Sextet (reminiscent of its more famous counterpart in Lucia di Lammermoor) that brings the first part of the opera to a close (CD 1, tracks 16 - 19).

Also of note are virtually all the arias. Sample a section online of Antonina's Act 1 cavatina, Sin la tomba, gloriously sung by the young Canadian spinto soprano, Joyce El-Khoury, who crowns her ensuring cabaletta, O desio della vendetta, with a thrilling top D (CD 1, tracks 5 - 7). Likewise the soprano leaves nothing to be desired in her visceral rendering of the opera's magnificent final scene. Clearly this young lady is destined for a great career.

Sicilian baritone Nicola Alaimo is commanding in the heroic moments of the title role. He is also deeply affecting in his scenes with his offspring, Irene (touchingly sung by Camilla Roberts) and Alamiro. In the latter role, the sweet-toned American lyric tenor Russell Thomas, evoking shades of the great Alfredo Kraus, adds further lustre to this exceptional recording.

In common with other recent Opera Rara releases, this new two-CD set is handsomely presented in a stylishly designed slip-case with a lavish booklet containing a scholarly essay by Jeremy Commons, along with a synopsis and the Italian libretto accompanied by an English translation.

Belisario makes the ideal gift for the most jaded of opera-lovers in search of fresh discoveries - aside from tempting hedonists such myself to indulge in hours of blissful listening.

Donizetti: Caterina Cornaro [Carmen Giannattasio, Colin Lee, Troy Cook] [Opera Rara: ORC48]
Donizetti: Caterina Cornaro [Carmen Giannattasio, Colin Lee, Troy Cook] [Opera Rara: ORC48]
Price: £25.95

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
For a young singer to sustain a big-league career in the international opera firmament, an invaluable asset to cultivate is a distinctive vocal timbre that is instantly recognisable. Names such as Callas, Sutherland, Pavarotti, spring to mind. A notable stand-out among many of today's anonymous-sounding young bloods is the Italian soprano, Carmen Giannattasio. Her unmistakable sound, with its gleaming top register and beguilingly coloured middle and low notes, matched with an innate musicality and a larger-than-life star quality, evoke the hallowed names cited above.

And true to form, Giannattasio's star has been steadily on the ascendant over the past decade. Her triumphs on the stages of La Scala, Covent Garden and the Met can be sampled on Youtube in her signature roles from Verdi's Il Trovatore and La Traviata, and in Puccini's La Boheme.

Aside from distinguishing herself in such standard repertoire, Giannattasio, a pupil of the legendary Turkish diva and bel canto specialist, Leyla Gencer, has already made waves heading up a series of Opera Rara's recordings of esoteric bel canto masterworks. These include Rossini's La Donna del Lago (2007), Donizetti's Parisina (2009), Rossini's award-winning Ermione (2010) and Bellini's Il Pirata (2012).

Now Opera Rara's latest 2-CD set, of another Donizetti rarity, Caterina Cornaro, earns the distinguished British label further kudos. The superb all-round performance captured in this premiere commercial recording of the Italian maestro's penultimate opera more than atones for the work's neglect to date.

Composed for the famed San Carlo Opera House in Naples, Caterina premiered in 1844, just four years before Donizetti finally succumbed to the ravages of syphilis and the resultant insanity that overtook him in the twilight of his life.

Almost incredibly, the mostly high quality of the music enlivens this 15th century Venetian royal family saga of intrigue and betrayal, belying the tragic circumstances of the opera's creation. Typically, its dramatic scenario gratefully showcases the talents of its cast against the score's melodically evocative and powerfully rhythmic vocal and orchestral writing, particularly in Act 2.Sample virtually any of the tracks on CD 2 to experience Donizetti firing on all cylinders.

As Gerardo, the opera's tenor lead, Cape Town-born Colin Lee illustrates why he is regarded as one of South Africa's most distinguished vocal exports. Fearlessly essaying the high-lying tessitura of his music, he delivers a performance that stylishly complements Ms Giannattasio's heroic account of the opera's title role. To sample the lady in full flight, listen to her all-stops-out account of Caterina's grand aria and cabaletta finale on CD 2. Or indeed the alternative ending, generously included here as an appendix.

Troy Cook's burnished baritone proves a perfect fit for the role of Lusingnano, King of Cyprus - Caterina's husband whose dramatic death in the closing moments of the drama leaves the opera's prima donna a grieving centrestage presence as the curtain comes down.

Opera Rara podium stalwart David Parry is at the helm of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with BBC Singers on pinging form under the direction of chorus master Renato Balsdonna.

Don't hesitate to invest in this fine set which yields hours of satisfaction with repeated hearings.

Handel: Giulio Cesare
Handel: Giulio Cesare
Offered by Edealcity
Price: £18.24

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Handel: Giulio Cesare (Audio CD)
I find this new 3-CD set of Giulio Cesare, with Il Complesso Barocco conducted as ever by Handel speciliast, Alan Curtis, an unqualified triumph, both sonically and musically.

French Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux is stunning in the title role. She turns in a towering performance, full of passion, fire and masculine swagger. Sample her richly textured singing of the great hunting aria, 'Va tacito e nascosto' (CD 1 track 26), the resplendid obbligato horn passages well to the fore, not least in the fine cadenza that rounds it off so triumphantly.

As Cleopatra, Lemieux's compatriot, Karina Gauvin, is predictably ravishing. Sustaining her reputation as today's reigning queen of Handel opera performance, the soprano - I beg to differ with another reviewer on this site - successfully runs the gambit of emotions the role demands through each of the eight glorious arias Handel wrote for his muse, Francesca Cuzzoni.

Madame Gauvin's heart-stopping singing in the opera's famous seduction number, V'adoro, pupille, is the loveliest I've heard. Ditto her heartfelt renderings of her two great laments, 'Se pieta', and 'Piangero, la sorte mia'; she turns in a delicately etched performance of 'La tua mia stella sei' and a spectacular account of Cleopatra's final show-stopper, 'Da tempeste il legno infranto'.

Romina Basso's gravely beautliful contralto is admirably suited to the music of the widow, Cornelia, and contrasts effectively with the youthful sounding soprano of Emöke Baráth as her son, Sesto. The rest of the cast do not disappoint.

Maestro Curtis himself wrote the superb embellishments for the da capo sections of the arias in this remarkable set, and one's listening is significantly enhanced by an edifying programme note by Olivier Rouvière and a lucid translation of the opera's libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym.

Well worth wait, this highly recommended release endorses the accolade Naïve received at the 2012 Gramophone Awards as Label of the Year.

Rossini: Aureliano in Palmira
Rossini: Aureliano in Palmira
Price: £36.86

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Opera Rara's latest addition to its Rossini catalogue, 9 Jan 2013
Opera Rara's latest release offers a seldom-heard account of Rossini's 1813 opera seria, Aureliano in Palmira, a tale of love and war set in imperial Rome during the reign of Aurelian (215 - 275 AD).

Rossini fans will recognise the opera's overture (which the composer recycled in three later scores, most notably that of Il barbiere di Siviglia), as well as a number of ensemble passages which also resurfaced in the latter work.

The recording exhibits several of the sterling qualities to be expected from Opera Rara. Not least of these is the lively podium presence of conductor Maurizio Bernini. At the helm of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, he proves fully alert to the demands of this marvellous score, a fine example of Rossini's genius approaching full maturity in a year that also produced those widely different masterpieces, Tancredi and L'Italiana in Algeri.

Besides an illuminating essay by Richard Osborne, one of today's leading Rossini scholars, two major assets of this lavishly presented set are the assured singing of American tenor, Kenneth Tarver, in the title role, and the equally accomplished performance of Spanish mezzo, Silvia Tro Santafé, as Arsace, Prince of Persia.

Less successful is Scottish soprano Catriona Smith as the warrior queen, Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra. Reputedly a late replacement for the French coloratura soprano, Annick Massis, she sounds a trifle diffident in her big aria, La pugnai; la sorte arrise, at the end of the first disc. Overall, however, she holds her own, her clear, appealing soprano and reliable intonation rewarding repeated listening. In all, this is a worthy addition to Opera Rara's catalogue.

Bellini: Il Pirata (Opera Rara: ORC45)
Bellini: Il Pirata (Opera Rara: ORC45)
Price: £36.92

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars VIVA OPERA RARA!, 9 May 2012
Opera Rara's fine new rendering of Vincenzo Bellini's Il Pirata is cause for unequivocal celebration, starring tenor José Bros, soprano Carmen Giannattasio and baritone Ludovic Tézier, with David Parry tautly at the helm of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. As ever with this distinguished British label, the release is handsomely packaged and boasts exemplary notes along with a full libretto and translation. Composed in 1827 for La Scala, Milan, the work was written for three of the greatest singers of the age, the tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, the soprano Henriette Meric-Lalande and bass, Luigi Lablanche. In common with all but one of Bellini's mature operas, the work is set to a libretto by Felice Romani. It centres around a `sturm-und-drang' melodrama that provides plenty of meat for lusty emoting: Imogene has been married against her will in a futile attempt to save her father's life. She is deserted by her lover (Ernesto, the bandit title role character), and is accused of adultery by her husband. He is killed by Ernesto, who is then condemned to death. Imogen promptly loses her reason and, true to form, delivers one of the most celebrated `mad scenes' in all opera, complete with a haunting Cor anglais obbligato that anticipates the famous flute solo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor mad scene. Never mind the doom and gloom, Bellini's high-powered score sweeps all before it. Opera Rara's superb recording marks the first significant studio-generated account of the work since EMI's 1971 release starred Montserrat Caballé opposite her tenor husband, Bernabe Martí, and baritone Piero Cappuccilli, with the veteran Italian maestro Gianandrea Gavazzeni conducting. A live recording with Callas from the late 50's is marred by inadequate sound and crippling cuts, and a Berlin-based release from the mid 90's is sabotaged by the tepid singing of limp Callas clone, Lucia Aliberti. By contrast, Opera Rara's principals leave nothing to be desired. Each is on top form, Ms Giannattasio particularly so, and devotees who have followed the recording career of this rising Italian star will not be disappointed. In this, possibly her finest recording to date, the soprano displays magnificent attack. She soars seamlessly aloft in the opera's notoriously demanding duets and ensembles, culminating in a fearlessly sung 'mad scene' that erupts into thrillingly articulated coloratura crowned by a powerful top register which more than holds its own against Callas and Caballé. The finely-etched, ever-stylish singing of Mr Bros recalls the great Alfredo Kraus, while Tezier's darkly dramatic baritone provides the ideal foil for his bright tenor tones. News that Il pirata will be followed by a further keenly anticipated Opera Rara release of Donizetti's rarely performed Caterina Cornaro soon with Giannattasio on the title role is further cause for jubilation. Meanwhile, don't hesitate to acquire this marvellous set.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 12, 2012 1:23 PM BST

Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra [DVD]
Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra [DVD]
Dvd ~ Bill Bailey
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £5.65

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A GLORIOUS EXPLORATION, 17 Dec 2011


Ever wondered if an orchestra can conjure up the sound of a jellyfish? Or suggest a plague of avaricious locusts? Or convincingly ape a vengeful wasp? The secrets behind these, and a wealth of other flights of fantasy, are found in a disc entitled Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to The Orchestra. Move over Britten's decorous Young Person's Guide, and Prokofiev's quaintly familiar Peter and the Wolf. We now have the sonic possibilities of an orchestra dissected and explored as never before, as classically trained British comedian Baily joins forces with the BBC Concert Orchestra and musical maestro Anne Dudley, one of the UK's leading composers and arrangers.

Filmed live in 2009 at the Royal Albert Hall in London (the magnificently grandiose stamping ground of perennial Proms concert-goers), the show encompasses Bailey's uniquely irreverent takes on the sounds, characteristics and instruments of the orchestra. These are enlivened by a dazzling cavalcade of banter and mime that veers from savagely funny satire to observations of pinprick precision ("Sometimes in life you make a wrong decision - it's only a semitone out").

The opening bars of Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra offer a predictable if effective departure point, and the terrain soon veers into an eclectic maze of topics. These include music from 70's cop shows, sci-fi films, horror movies and news themes, also some of Bailey's songs re-imagined for an orchestra, fused with Ms Dudley's own specially written new works.

Along the way, courtesy of Mr Bailey's wonderfully off-the-wall perceptions, we get to marvel at the trombone's affinity with Cockney Music, discover bassoon-players' secret obsessions, and marvel at what orchestras can play backwards. We also learn that a trombone can double as a snorkel.

One of the show's stand-outs of aching musical hilarity is The Swan from Saint-Saens's Carnival of the Animals, as rendered by Bailey and percussionists of the BBC Concert Orchestra, performing in tandem as a virtuoso ensemble of Alpine Bells.
On the evidence of this one-of-a kind disc, Billy Bailey's contribution to the world of classical (and other) musical commentary is right up there with that of legends such as Anna Russell and Victor Borge. One can only agree with Steven Fry, as quoted on the dust jacket: it's all "wonderfully enjoyable, like driving a Rolls Royce off-road."

Verismo Arias
Verismo Arias
Price: £8.67

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DEUTSCHLAND DIVO JONAS KAUFMANN, 12 Dec 2011
This review is from: Verismo Arias (Audio CD)
Every once in a while the recording career of a singer of classical music attains the status of a superstar. At this point `overnight stardom' is usually proclaimed, belying the long years of slog and grind that lie behind the public glare of mass adulation. Some years ago, the popularity stakes of American soprano Renée Fleming, then in her mid `40s, seemed to be reaching their zenith, as the world embraced its quintessential diva, whose glamorous looks and marvellous vocal estate left little to be desired. Inevitably today, while Fleming's flame continues to illuminate her unique artistry, the pace of her international recording commitments seems to be easing in favour of a clutch of singers a decade or so younger, among them the Russian diva Anna Netrebko and Deutschland's Divo Tenor, Jonas Kaufmann. In a parallel situation to the Decca album of Verismo items Fleming launched two years ago, Kaufmann's latest recital for the same label is devoted to late 19th and early 20th century Italian Verismo arias. This has recently been accorded the prestigious Gramophone Prize for best recital of the year.
As did Fleming, Kaufmann artfully mixes lesser known arias and scenes with well-tried war horses. Following the current bent of putting together tributes to icons of previous generations, Kaufmann's programme, conducted by Antonio Pappano, might legitimately have been subtitled `A Homage to Caruso'. Its roster draws on pieces that were among the famed Italian tenor's 290 commercially released recordings issued between 1902 and 1920. Alongside chestnuts such as `Cielo e mar!' from Ponchielli's La Gioconda, `Mamma! Mamma, quel vino e generoso' from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, `Vesti la giuba' from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, `Amor di vieta' from Giordano's Fedora, `Dai campi, dai prati' from Boito's Mefistofele, and the ubiquitous but ever haunting `E la storia del pastore' (otherwise known as `Federico's Lament') from Cilea's L'Arlesiana, there are extracts, among others, from Leoncavallo's (not Puccini's) la Boheme (a Caruso speciality), and the once famous aria `Ombra di nube' by Rifice. Interesting programming aside, what puts Kaufmann's singing way above the norm, is the fact that he is not afraid to sing softly with exquisite effect, while there is always plenty of power on tap if needed.
The latter phenomenon thrilled cinema audiences during last season's Met HD broadcast of Die Walküre when the tenor, as Siegmund, unleashed the full frontal force of his huge instrument, overriding Wagner's superhuman sonic tidalwaves with apparent ease. Another aspect of Kaufmann's arsenal of strengths that sets him aside from other tenors of this or virtually any other age (besides the indefatigable Domingo, perhaps) is his astonishing versatility. This enables the singer to morph convincingly into any vocal fach he chooses to embrace. Kaufmann's burgeoning discography of CD's and DVD's over the past decade defies pigeon-holing. Alongside his bench-mark renderings of Wagner's Lohengrin, Beethoven's Florestan in Fidelio, Puccini's Cavaradossi in Tosca and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, and Massenet's Werther, for instance, are a gloriously sung Huon in Sir John Eliot Gardiner's recording of Weber's Oberon, and a fearlessly realised title role in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. The latter two parts' formidable coloratura passages are despatched with all the bravura of a true virtuoso. To sample the magic of this unrivalled star and marvel at the sheer beauty of his burnished tenor, tinged with a dark-hued baritonal timbre, invest in some of his recordings, starting with the disc touched here, as well as his two earlier Decca recitals, the one a cross section of famous tenor highlights entitled Romantic Arias, the other simply called Jonas Kaufmann, essaying German arias by Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Wagner.

- William Charlton-Perkins, Durban, South Africa, December 2011
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 6, 2014 3:30 AM GMT

Donizetti: Maria Di Rohan (Opera Rara: ORC44)
Donizetti: Maria Di Rohan (Opera Rara: ORC44)
Price: £24.84

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Strange how easily one takes a particular singer for granted, until out of the blue, a recording appears that casts past impressions into another light. This occurred last week when I heard the stylish Spanish tenor José Bros's performance in the latest release from Opera Rara - Donizetti's 'Maria di Rohan'.

This recording of the penultimate work in the astonishingly prolific Italian composer's 70-plus operatic canon stars the creamy-voiced Bulgarian soprano, Krassimira Stoyanova - an exciting new discovery for me - in its title role of Maria, Contessa di Rohan, with Bros singing the romantic lead, Riccardo, Conte di Chalais. Set in 17th century Paris, the love-triangle plot of this three-act lyric tragedy rivals the most melodramatic in the genre. Suffice it to say the opera's score, written for Vienna in 1843, is one of the composer's finest, compactly constructed, each number as melodically charged as the last, the soprano's entrance scena, ` Cupa fatal mestizia', compelling several encores before one moves on.

With conductor Sir Mark Elder in fine fettle at the helm of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, one of Europe's finest period instrument bands, this scholarly recording follows the original score, but includes, by way of appendices, revisions Donizetti added for a subsequent Paris run of the work. The last track, `Non sequite la caccia', an extra number for the tenor, has Bros fearlessly pitching his lyric tenor into the vocal stratosphere. Thrilling singing that had me reprising this track repeatedly before revisiting other bel canto recordings of this fine singer (among them Opera Rara's recordings of two other Donizetti operas, 'Roberto Devereux' and 'Parisina'. Also the same composer's 'Anna Bolena' and 'Lucrezia Borgia', and Bellini's 'La Sonnamubula', the latter three sets on the Nightingale label starring the indefatigable Edita Gruberova).

British baritone Christopher Purves and mezzo soprano Enkelejda Shkosa head Opera Rara's exceptionally strong supporting cast of Maria di Rohan. This handsomely presented two-disk set is accompanied by Jeremy Commons' exhaustively informative notes, a performance history of the work, and the libretto translated into English. Well worth acquiring.


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