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S. Wells (California)
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Rossini:La Gazza Ladra [Giulio Mastrototaro, Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade, Brno Classica Chamber Choir, Alberto Zedda] [NAXOS: 8660369-71]
Rossini:La Gazza Ladra [Giulio Mastrototaro, Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade, Brno Classica Chamber Choir, Alberto Zedda] [NAXOS: 8660369-71]
Price: £14.25

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly delightful!, 31 May 2015
This new recording of “La gazza ladra” is a delight from start to finish. This is hardly a surprise as it’s conducted by the renowned Rossini scholar Maestro Alberto Zedda. In his introductory notes, Maestro Zedda describes the work as a “rescue piece” in which the oppressive feudal aristocracy is replaced by an arrogant official. In this case, he’s the local mayor who amorous advances the heroine has rejected. This tone of the piece is at its most serious in the magnificent judgement scene in the second act and carries through into the finale.

I followed the recording with the piano-vocal score based on the critical edition prepared by Maestro Zedda. There are a few welcome excisions in the secco recitatives and a cut of the repeat of Fernando’s second act cabaletta. The cut in the cabaletta isn’t something I regret as it’s the least interesting piece in the opera. In the finale, the verses for Fernando and the Podesta were reversed. I presume this was due to the differences in registers that Maestro Zedda speaks of in the critical notes in the score.

The performance is superb. Maria Jose Moreno copes with the very demanding role of Ninetta most successfully. The range is all over the place – sometimes in mezzo, sometimes in soprano territory -- but this is no problem for this artist. Her coloratura is agile and her characterization is touching. Kenneth Tarver as the hero, Giannetto, matches her agility and sings with a lovely tone that I find most appealing. Indeed, all of the cast are excellent, as are the orchestra and chorus. This sound of this recording is particularly clear and spacious, which has not always been the case with live recordings from the Wildbad Rossini Festival.

On the whole, this is one of the most satisfying opera recordings I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s at a bargain price! Highly recommended.


Donizetti: Les Martyrs
Donizetti: Les Martyrs
Price: £40.95

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A welcome release, 25 May 2015
This review is from: Donizetti: Les Martyrs (Audio CD)
This new set of "Les Martyrs" from Opera Rara is a very welcome release indeed! I'm familiar with "Poliuto" (Donizetti's original take on this subject) from several of the available recordings of it - none of which are entirely satisfactory. The failings of the various sets of "Poliuto" make this set even more welcome.

Donizetti's recasting of "Poliuto" for Parisian audiences recycles much of the earlier music whilst adding more. The work on the whole represents Donizetti at his finest. "Les Martyrs" may lack the tight dramaturgy of its predecessor, but the expansion of the score still maintains a musico-dramatic whole. And the performance does it more than justice.

Michael Spyres (Polyeucte) moves from strength to strength which each new recording that features him. He sings with a warm, flexible tone and with great dramatic insight. Joyce El-Khoury, as his wife Pauline, matches his dramatic involvement with a fine sense of declamation, effective use of chest voice and some fine floated pianissimi. David Kempster's Sévère completes the opera's love triangle. I very much enjoyed his singing so I hope to hear more from him on future releases.

The smaller parts are all well done. The orchestra and chorus are splendid. Sir Mark Elder conducts will a full appreciation of bel canto style. All of this is presented with Opera Rara's usual care.

Highly recommended!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 28, 2015 7:58 PM BST


Verdi: Giovanna d'Arco
Verdi: Giovanna d'Arco
Price: £17.18

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Less than expected, 22 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Verdi: Giovanna d'Arco (Audio CD)
I don't enjoy writing negative reviews, but I feel quite strongly that prospective purchasers deserve fair warning. In this case what one may find that one has purchased something that is less than the sum of its parts.

I'll commence with what I disliked most about this recording. I followed the performance with a piano vocal score based on the critical edition. There are a multitude of cuts made in this performance, ranging from single measures to numerous pages. It's a throwback to 1953 rather than what one expects from a performance in 2013, when this was recorded. I really wasn't too surprised, or disappointed, when the tenor's first act cabaletta lost its repeat. My eyebrows did go up when I heard that a full page - 6 measures - was chopped out of Giovanna's first act aria. I thought that cut was a kindness to the prima donna, as it took away the most florid part of the aria, including a descending scale from high-d.

My displeasure increased when I found that Giacomo lost two full pages of his second act cavatina, and the repeat of the cabaletta, naturally. The cuts continued. They abound throughout the score. There's hardly a piece that's performed intact. The third act comes in for a particularly ferocious mauling.

This isn't even a very long opera. The note-complete recording on EMI plays 2 hours. By comparison, the playing time of this performance is nearly 20 minutes shorter. I don't know how the cast and conductor decided on so many cuts. I don't see any reference to the edition used, but they were obviously aware of changes to the text in the critical edition -changes that restore lines the Italian censors found too controversial in the mid-nineteenth century. In summary, the mangled musical text may have been acceptable 60 years ago, but it's out of place in the 21st century.

Now to some comments about what is performed.

In the title role, Anna Netrebko comes off as more careful that committed. I've already mentioned the cut to the most difficult part of her first act aria. There are other places where she simplifies the vocal line to avoid written cadenzas or to skip written high Cs. Yet there are other places of great passion and dramatic urgency. I admire her willingness to take on challenges, but this one, I'm afraid, beat her.

Francesco Meli sings the role of Carlo with fluid tone and some very sensitive phrasing. It's hard to say anything new about Placido Domingo other than: anything he does, he does well. I enjoyed his performance of the tenor role on the EMI recording and I enjoyed his appearance here as a baritone. The two smaller parts are capably handled.

The choral work is very fine and the orchestra responds well. It would have helped if there had been a clearer distinction of what music is played by the banda sul palco and what is played by the orchestra in the pit. I'm reluctant to say anything in praise of the conductor: he, in the end, is responsible for the manner in which the score has been mangled. The sound is clear if a bit bass-heavy.

I regret that I've felt compelled to write such a negative review. However, I felt a duty to give people an idea of what they'll NOT get if they purchase this recording. If you want a recording of this opera, get the far superior EMI recording. If you've already got the EMI recording, you can save some cash and give this one a miss.


Donizetti: Belisario [ [Opera Rara: ORC49]
Donizetti: Belisario [ [Opera Rara: ORC49]
Price: £24.38

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very variable, 11 Nov. 2013
Just as with Opera Rara's recent release of Caterina Cornaro, I very much looked forward to this new recording of Belisario I regret that I cannot say the anticipation was rewarded with equal delight. Not ever Jeremy Commons, in his excellent introduction, tries to make a case for Belisario as a lost or neglected masterpiece. Rather he writes of Donizetti salvaging a success out of what should have been a failure due to a poor libretto and the limited abilities of the first cast singers. Even in the first paragraph of his essay, he is forced to acknowledge the "unevenness" of the score. I had waited to read the introductory essay until after I had given the recording a close and careful hearing. Mr. Commons explained the some of the reasons for the "unevenness" I had already heard.

Despite it's being a tragic opera, there are passages of the music that seem to have wandered in from an opera buffa, particularly the allegro of the overture and some of the choral passages. They sound light-hearted - almost frivolous - in the context of a tragic work. Yet there are other passages of great beauty and, for the time, fairly audacious construction. The last scene is especially fine and alters the cavatina/cabaletta model by introducing what is in fact a terzettino between the two sections.

The cast make the best of what they're given, though sometimes that isn't very much. The baritone singing the title role doesn't even get an aria to call his own. This part is capably sung by Nicola Alaimo. The tenor and seconda donna roles are also best described as capably sung - very good by not outstanding. Unfortunately the tenor, Russell Thomas, offers the occasional bellow in the best "bull canto" tradition. He is also capable of some very expressive singing. Mr. Commons states that Donizetti wrote the seconda donna role with the vocal limitations of the original singer in mind. I'm not quite sure what those limitations may have been as the range stretches over two octaves. Camilla Roberts meets, and exceeds, all the demands of the part. I've waited to mention Joyce El-Khoury as Antonina with the intention of saving the best for last. Her performance is the outstanding merit of this recording. This is the first time I've heard her voice and I hope to hear more of her singing in the future. There's a rich, dark, almost smoky tone to the voice that I find very appealing. The excellence of her musicianship is matched by that of her technique. Her first act cabaletta has a series of rising trills that she executes to perfection. Brava!

The BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers respond well to the apt conducting of Sir Mark Elder. Alas, even such a talented conductor cannot overcome the more infelicitous moments in the score.

So, Belisario may not be a neglected masterpiece, but it's certainly worth hearing.


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: £28.50

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Up to Opera Rara's usual standards, 2 Sept. 2013
I have liked this opera since I heard a private recording of it years ago. That private recording was hampered by particularly poor sound, so I was delighted when I learned that Opera Rara were recording this work. Indeed, I was sufficiently interested that I purchased the set directly from Opera Rara when they made it available early this summer. They are now encouraging the public to support them financially by putting their recordings on sale directly from them, and then withholding distribution through other venues for three months. Now that the recording is on general sale, I can offer this review. I listened to the recording when I first received and I've just now completed another hearing. It receives my hearty recommendation.

The story is loosely based on history. There was a Venetian noblewoman named Caterina Cornaro who was married to James II Lusignan, who ruled the Crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. That's where the historical similarity begins and ends. The excellent essay by Jeremy Commons gives the rather tortured history of the first performances in Naples and the subsequent revision and revival in Parma.

Dramatically the piece is almost incomprehensible due to changes the Neapolitan censors required before the first performance. (For the curious, 40 years ago, the Donizetti Society issued a reprint of an undated score published by Casa Ricordi. This appears to have missed the changes insisted on by the Neapolitan censors.) Musically, the work is very fine. It's among the last of Donizetti's output so it contains passages that are both lovely and dramatic. I guess to give the piece a maritime flavor, much of the music is in 6/8, 9/8 or 12/8 time. My favorite piece is the lilting duet for Caterina and Gerardo in the Prologue.

The title role is taken by Carmen Gannattasio who frequently appears on the Opera Rara label. As always, her performance is well sung and intelligently acted. Also, as always, I find that the studio miking adds a certain hardness to her voice. On the whole, the most pleasing singing comes from Colin Lee in the part of Gerardo. The voice is clear and sweet, with a nice ring to it. Vuyani Mlinde is very good as the villain, Mocenigo. Troy Cook is more routine than outstanding as the very noble King, Lusignano.

The BBC Singers and BBC Orchestra respond well to the conducting of David Parry. Production qualities are up to the high standard Opera Rara have set for themselves.

Highly recommended!


Rossini: Semiramide
Rossini: Semiramide
Price: £13.90

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost there, 8 July 2013
This review is from: Rossini: Semiramide (Audio CD)
I fell in love with this opera the first time I heard it years ago on the old Decca set with Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne. Since then, I've been waiting for a completely satisfying recording of this score. I'll have to continue to wait, but this recording is nearly there. This performance uses the critical edition prepared by Philip Gosset and Alberto Zedda. As a point of comparison, it plays nearly an hour longer than the edition Richard Bonynge prepared for his wife. A piano vocal score based on the critical edition has not yet been published. I followed the recording with a copy of the Royal Edition piano vocal score edited by Arthur Sullivan and J. Pittman, published in the late 19th century. (A reproduction of this score is printed by Kalmus). The version performed appears to be substantially the same as the vocal score, only with a few recitatives that were deleted from the published score. All the singers take some tasteful variations in their repeats. I chose the word "variation" rather than "ornamentation" deliberately. There are a few extra notes added, but, for the most part, the repeated passages are sung with a somewhat simplified vocal line.

This is my first experience of the voice of Alex Penda. Having listened to the recording twice, I'm still puzzling over my reaction to it. I think "exciting" is the best word, even if excitement comes at a price. Sometimes the sound is not pretty and occasionally the coloratura may owe more to intent than to execution, but she hurls herself in to the part with an abandon that's quite thrilling. Her extensive use of chest voice may not be wise, though it certainly creates a powerful effect. Whilst listening to her Semiramide, I was often reminded of the way in which the young Elena Soulioutis attacked the part of Verdi's Abigaille. I hope Miss Penda's career will be of greater length than that of Miss Soulioutis.

Marianna Pizzolato is a fine Arsace, but no one will ever erase my memories of Marilyn Horne in this role. (I had the pleasure of seeing her perform this part on stage many years ago.) John Osborn dashes off the part of Idreno with both limpid tone and panache. The two basses have all the notes and lots of presence. I found the tone of Lorenzo Ragazzo (Assur) to be a bit dry and vibrato-laden. Andrea Mastroni's voice is juicier and more pleasing in the part of Oroe.

Orchestra and chorus are both good. The conducting is best described as reliable. The sound quality has the same boxy constriction I've noticed in other recordings form the Rossini in Wildbad series. It may be a limitation of the acoustic of the theatre.

The only other recording I've heard that uses the critical edition of the score is the now-deleted Philips recording curiously conducted by Ion Marin. This boasts an excellent cast that includes Cheryl Studer's fine rendition of the title role, as well as Jennifer Larmore, Samuel Ramey and Frank Lopardo. However, it suffers from erratic conducting and an odd sound. Philips recorded this in "4D" sound -- an effort that was soon abandoned just had Decca had tried and dropped "quadraphonic" sound 40 years ago. The result is that at times some of the voices get consigned to the background when played on conventional stereo equipment or on headphones.

I see that a recording from the Vlaamse Opera, conducted by Alberto Zedda, has recently been released. I presume this, too, uses the critical edition, but I have yet to hear it. I probably won't wait too long. In the meantime . . .

The recording under review receives my qualified recommendation. I certainly enjoyed it and I know that I'll listen to it many more times. So, give it a try. At the bargain price, you won't be out much if you don't like it.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2015 12:09 PM BST


Verdi: Un Giorno Di Regno (Pizzi 2010) (Loconsolo/ Porta/ Antonacci/ Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/ Donato Renzetti/ Luigi Pizzi) (C Major: 720208) [DVD] [NTSC] [2012]
Verdi: Un Giorno Di Regno (Pizzi 2010) (Loconsolo/ Porta/ Antonacci/ Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/ Donato Renzetti/ Luigi Pizzi) (C Major: 720208) [DVD] [NTSC] [2012]
Dvd ~ Loconsolo
Price: £29.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real treat!, 7 Nov. 2012
I have to admit that the cover photo of a woman in a state of hot pink undress nearly put me off buying this DVD. I took one glance and dismissed it as more Eurotrash. However, I was sufficiently curious to check every now and then to see when a review had been posted. I was pleased to read a revoew that described the production as "refreshingly traditional." I agree with that as with all other points of the earlier review. It is such a treat to see an opera staged in a manner that composer and librettist would recognize as, and admit to being, their own creation, and not the production of some pompous idiot who shows contempt for composer, librettist and audience alike. In this case, the production does exactly what it should do: it tells a story, and in a way that's interesting, engaging, and (dare I say it) charming.

The cast are uniformly excellent. The only name I recognized was that of Anna Caterina Antonacci whom I associate with serious roles. (I've seen her on stage as Adalgisa, Rossini's Ermione and Cherubini's Medea.) She shows herself to be equally adept at comedy as tragedy. The hot pink underwear on the cover is wrapped around her form. My admiration of this fine singing actress increases every time I see her, whether in the theatre or on DVD. She colors her voice to meet the dramatic situation and her technique is flawless.

The other singers, though not so well known, all offer enjoyable performances. The young lovers (Ivan Magri and Alessandra Marianelli) act engagingly and sing prettily. Andrea Porta and Paolo Bordogna are a lot of fun in the two more purely buffo parts of the Baron of Kelbar and Signor la Rocca. Best of all, though, is Guido Loconsolo as Belfiore disguised as King Stanislaus. His voice is full and rich. His characterization shows an appreciation of the predicament in which the king-for-a-day finds himself.

The picture is crisp and the recorded sound splendid. In every way, this one's a winner. It bodes well for the other, and forthcoming, releases in this series. I shall sample further of those that don't feature Dimitra Theodossiu. I think she should be behind bars for what she did to poor Lucrezia Borgia, but that's another review I wrote a couple of years back.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 9, 2014 6:33 PM GMT


Rossini: Aureliano in Palmira
Rossini: Aureliano in Palmira
Price: £36.53

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Proceed with Caution, 31 Oct. 2012
I was very much looking forward to this release, and, on the whole I wasn't too disappointed. However, I cannot give the set an unqualified recommendation. There is much pleasure to be had from the singing, with one notable exception. I'll start with the praise and end with the censure.

Kenneth Tarver is splendid in the title role. His voice is full, mellow and warm, with both an admirable command of the coloratura and the higher flights of the tessitura. His vocal acting shows that he has given intelligent thought to the drama, with good results. Mr. Tarver ranks with the very best of the other tenors in his fach.

Silvia Tro Santafe's performance of Arsace is equally enjoyable. Hers is a sizable, yet remarkably flexible, voice with a luscious lower register. She is a worthy successor to the trailblazing work Marilyn Horne undertook in this type of repertory (though not in this particular role) 30 and 40 years ago.

The smaller parts are well cast. The two basses, Vuyani Milnde and Andrew Foster-Williams are so good that I wish they both had larger parts to sing. I hope to hear further of them in the future.
The Geoffrey Mitchell Choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra respond well to the apt conducting of Maurizio Benini. The packaging is up to Opera Rara's usual standard, with an interesting background essay by Richard Osborne.

I understand that Catriona Smith was a late-in-the-day replacement for Annick Massis and it's too bad that no better substitute could be found. Her voice is worse than merely non-descript. It's completely lacking in any character or colour. The best thing I can say about it is that it simply disappears when she's singing with anyone else. Nor is her technique capable of meeting the demands of the part. I suppose she tries to sing the coloratura, but manages only a very few of the notes. I'm not sure where the folks at Opera Rara found her. I sincerely hope they put her back and leave her there. I shall not purchase another recording if her name is on the box.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic, but I can give this set only a qualified recommendation.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 24, 2014 2:34 PM BST


Macfarren: Robin Hood
Macfarren: Robin Hood
Price: £10.96

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I shall honour the effort as I cannot praise the result., 12 July 2012
This review is from: Macfarren: Robin Hood (Audio CD)
This is another of those recordings that I really wanted to like and about which I can muster no enthusiasm. It's worth hearing if you're very curious about the state of English opera in the mid-nineteenth century. By the witness of this offering, it was in a pretty sorry state, indeed. The music is pleasant, tuneful and thoroughly forgettable. The only piece that made any favourable impression on me was the part-song early in the last act. However, that impression faded when, after 2 and a half minutes, I thought it song was coming to an end, only to be follow by another verse just as long. It was rather nice, but it over stayed its welcome.

The libretto hasn't worn particularly well, either. It's full of the felicities of which Gilbert and Sullivan were later to make such fun. There's a fine example in the finale: Robin Hood, "Oh Joy!" Maid Marian, "Oh Rapture!" G&S put it better in "Pinafore" with, "Oh Joy, Oh Rapture unforeseen!" And I can't resist mentioning Nanki Poo's famous, "Modified Rapture!"

I might have been better impressed if the performance had been better. I don't think I would, but it is a possibility. Alas, the performance isn't very inspiring. It's adequate, at best, and occasionally less than. The orchestra and chorus are good - on the order of what one would hear in a regional opera company. The principals are, without exception, over-taxed by their parts. Though none of the voices are really bad, none of them are very good either. They manage, but not without the random shout or scream to reach a high note.

The program notes indicate that this work was one of the more successful English operas of the period. If this was one of the best, it's easy to understand why they've been forgotten. Indeed, with this background, the accomplishments of Gilbert and Sullivan are all the more impressive. Perhaps that's because G&S didn't take themselves too seriously.

I enjoyed listening to this, though I doubt that I'll ever play it again. On the whole the best I can say is that I shall honour the effort as I cannot praise the result.


Vaccaj: La sposa di Messina
Vaccaj: La sposa di Messina
Price: £10.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Only for the seriously curious, 11 July 2012
As the title states, I can recommend this only to those who are seriously curious about other, all-but-forgotten, composers of early 19th century Italy. The music itself is quite good, with many moments of both great beauty and great drama. Unfortunately, the execution lets it down.

I'll start with the good. Jessica Pratt does a commendable job of the most important role, Isabella, the mater familias of a fate-doomed brood. The part is demanding and she handles it well, singing with secure technique and a vivid sense of the unfolding drama. The mezzo, Wakako Ono, also displays some fine singing in the part of the hidden-at-birth daughter. Their scenes together are the finest passages on this recording. Maurizio lo Piccolo sings his small part so well that I wished there had been more music for his character.

The recorded sound has a bright, clean acoustic. The orchestra and chorus are very good.

The bad news begins with the two male leads who sing the brothers. Fillippo Adamo's tenor is dry, harsh and unpleasant, and all the more unpleasant when he forces it up to the higher notes of his part. They come out as "musical" yelps and yells. He appears to get all the notes, but the strain is as hard on the listener as it must have been on him. The baritone, Armando Ariostini, is even worse. Deplorable is hardly sufficient to describe his singing. I felt embarrassed for him, as well as for myself, sitting at home alone listening to him. Another reviewer mentioned a "wobble." I'd have to describe it as a wave - in a force 10 gale. Honesty, you could get sea sick listening to it.

I had the courage and curiosity to stick out the whole recording. It's not an endeavor I'm likely to undertake again. I'm sorry to write such a bad review, but prospective purchasers deserve warning. This really shouldn't have seen the light of day.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 11, 2012 10:49 PM BST


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