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Reviews Written by
John D. Pilkey "Puluga II" (Santa Clarita, CA USA)

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Bizet: Carmen
Bizet: Carmen
Price: £41.79

4 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lully's Atys Divided by Democracy Equals Carmen, 13 Nov. 2006
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
It is easy to see hear why Carmen is so popular. The music is original, vivid and memorable; and the plot, understandable. But I dislike the theme and moral atmosphere. It is no coincidence that Nietzche praised this opera as alternative to the betrayal he felt by the revived Christianity of Wagner's Parsifal. Carmen's cigarette factory and Gypsy independence symbolize the gathering consensus of 19th century secularism. What comes across is a brilliant cheapness as judged against the regal dignity of French Baroque opera created by Lully two centuries earlier. The two-century development of democratic taste has resulted in general impudence-- the same quality exhibited in some of Manet's paintings, in Twain's works and in Charlie McCarthy's declaration that he will listen to genteel Edgar Bergen's highbrow story if he can "mark a deck of cards" while doing so. Some of us revel in this sort of thing. I do not.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 5, 2010 4:44 PM GMT

La Griselda (Jacobs/Alte Musik Berlin/Roschmann/Zazo)
La Griselda (Jacobs/Alte Musik Berlin/Roschmann/Zazo)

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Patient Griselda for Impatient Modern Listeners, 12 Oct. 2006
This is one of the finest operatic recordings I have heard. If a rating of six stars were possible, I would assign it that. Scarlatti is an outstanding Baroque composer as I found two decades ago from Archiv vinyls of his Stabat Mater and Madrigals. My task in these customer reviews, however, is not evaluation but description through comparisons with kindred works. The plot is a fascinating choice for opera, calculated to offend hyper-democratic enemies of male-dominant culture in earlier times. Boccaccio's 14th century tale, one of the last in the Decameron, is the last word in a husband's non-lethal tyranny over a wife. Out of what can only be described as caprice tinged with sadism. King Gualtiero determines to put his wife's patience to the test with a series of outrages, beginning with decisive suggestions that he no longer loves her. He strips her of her son (by sending him away after claiming that he has died) and then banishes her to live in poverty in a forest. The only excuse for this barbaric behavior is that he chose her to be his queen from a lowly background and wishes to prove to his skeptical subjects how worthy she is. The recording booklet suggests that a libretto created in 1701 altered the story to make her less of a victim and more of a heroine. For one thing the altered plot adds a male who tries to mislead the woman into adultery. She resists this temptation and emerges as a star in glory like one of the Christian martyrs of ancient times. Her patience in enduring these frightful experiences is a Christian virtue particularly despised by the hyper-democratic world. She contrasts gloriously with the "free" but suicidal protagonists of our film Thelma and Louise.

In comparison with French Baroque opera, Scarlatti's music reminds me of Lord Chesterfield's opinion that Frenchmen speak the language of men and Italians the language of women. The French Baroque exhibits a dignity impossible to achieve in Italy because of its reflection of a grand and victorious monarchy in the time of Louis XIV. Such a monarchy was never achieved in Italy. There is a martial undercurrent throughout much of it despite the delicacy of delivery; and the plots are taken characteristically from ancient Greek myths with a heroic loftiness beyond the reach of authors like Boccaccio, whose tales of vengeful adultery against tyrannical husbands are a direct reflection of Italian martyrology stripped of its sanctity. The martyr mentality is such a potent strain in the depths of Italian culture that it often reappears in Leftwing form in America, including the Italian-American protagonist of Maxwell Anderson's Winterset or one of the Martin Scorsese wallows in misery such as Bringing Out the Dead. What Scarlatti's opera may lack in regal dignity, it more than makes up for in gorgeous beauty. Stylistically Scarlatti is closer to Handel than to the French; but he is consistently more beautiful, if less varied in effects. The whole of Griselda consists of a series of recitative-aria pairs resulting in a concentration on the central character's fate as opposed to the variety of interesting characters in Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto three years later in 1724. Typically of Scarlatti the brass nearly disappears after the overture. Some of the singing is accompanied by organ as well as standard harpsichord. Otherwise strings dominate the score. I find a feminine mystique in the opera complementary to the regal mystique of Lully's Atys or Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie.

I Puritani
I Puritani
Offered by FastMedia "Ships From USA"
Price: £67.69

2 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Regicide and Then Another, 1 Oct. 2006
This review is from: I Puritani (Audio CD)
The setting of this opera makes it a complement to Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots (1836) and Le Prophete (1849). All three operas deal with the two-century, open conflict between Protestants and Catholics prior to the 18th century Enlightenment. In terms of setting, Le Prophete comes first, dealing with the Anabaptists in 1534. Les Huguenots follows with the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1574. Bellini's opera turns to the period of Oliver Cromwell in 1649. Catholics have created a secondary martyrology by focusing on Sir Thomas More, Mary Queen of Scots and Charles I, whose Regicide by the Puritans occurred in 1649. Charles' widow Henrietta figures prominently in the opera. Her part is sung by mezzo-soprano Julia Hamari. The Cavalier hero Lord Arthur Talbot (sung by Alfred Kraus) rallies to Henrietta's defense and risks his life among the Puritans by concealing her under a disguise.

A major element in the plot links the opera to Paisiello's Nina (1789). The female lead character Elvira (sung by Montserrat Caballe) is awaiting her wedding with Lord Arthur. When she discovers Arthur's danger, she goes insane as does Nina under comparable circumstances. Paisiello's opera premiered just three weeks before the Fall of the Bastille triggered events leading to the second great Regicide-- of Louis XVI-- modeled to some extent on the first by ideologues of the French Revolution. Although Paisiello's opera has nothing to do with royalty, it is interesting to reflect on how these two operas centering in young women driven mad for love associate with the two Regicides, Nina from the timing of its premiere and I Puritani from the setting of the plot. The recording booklet does not mention a connection between Bellini and Paisiello; but Paisiello belonged to the Neapolitan school of composers and Bellini attended the Naples Conservatory as a young man in the 1820s. Ewen's Great Composers 1300-1900 states that Bellini read Paisiello's scores at Naples. It makes sense that he might have associated a plot about a young woman "pazza per amore" and decided to reapply the theme to a plot set in the time of the first Regicide.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 13, 2010 8:49 AM BST

Vologeso-Complete Opera
Vologeso-Complete Opera

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Musical Perfection and Destructive "Love", 28 Sept. 2006
This review is from: Vologeso-Complete Opera (Audio CD)
This work strikes me as the culmination of a tradition rather than the beginning of a new one. It achieves a graceful perfection in what it sets out to do. I have never heard such an array of perfect arias. The melodies seem simple but many of them are uncanny. One that comes to mind is "Luci belle piu serene" sung by Lothar Odinius in the part of Emperior Lucio Vero. I keep asking myself how such a simple tune can sound so right. The opera represents the last degree of finish-- the same quality that the polisher Alexander Pope strived for in his "heroic" (operatic) pentameter verse. The German performers seem well suited to the task of rendering this extraordinary finish.

The plot also represents a culmination of the Baroque tradition that erotic love can often be a destructive force: a theme established by one of the earliest works in the tradition-- Lully's Atys where goddess' Cybele's "love" for Atys ruins everything. Lucio Vero loves the captive Parthian Queen Berenice, wife of the captive Vologeso. Except for a schemer or two, nobody in the opera wants Lucio to "love" Berenice, least of all Berenice. We feel that the very earthworms must be offended by this "love." For the past twenty years, our culture (at least in America) has used the word "seductive" as a term of approval. Lucio's effort to "seduce" Berenice by pretending to send her the decapitated head of her husband reveals what seduction really amounts to. At least the scheme is only a pretense. In Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto, the tyrant actually sends Cornelia her husband's head as a "seductive" treat.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 5, 2008 9:00 PM GMT

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