25 February, 2012

Opera Review: Bavarian State Opera - Cosi fan tutte

Opera Review: Bavarian State Opera - Cosi fan tutte

February 25, CC Grand Theater
Bavarian State Opera - Mark Wigglesworth
Persson-Erraught-Kudrya-Molnar-Tatulescu--Allen (Cast A)
Mozart Cosi fan tutte

Despite my reservations about the "production values", this was likely one of the best night at the opera Hong Kong has ever seen. And in this most difficult of operas!

Top honors must be given to the orchestra and conductor Mark Wigglesworth, whom we had recently heard with the HKPO. Cosi is one of his specialties, and I am happy to report all the rave reviews had not been mistaken. From the start, the music making was of the highest order. It took a little while to settle into a breathing and organic whole, but fluidity was maintained despite the awkward intermission break. The orchestra played magnificently under Wigglesworth's lithe and sensitive direction. Such characterful woodwind playing that positively chimed along with the singers! The harpsichord continuo was discreet and pleasing, the balance just right.

The ladies stood out. Miah Persson was a little steely at first, but by the second half of the first act she had settled into the role of Fiordiligi, singing securely. I don't know what it is with Scandinavian divas, but they usually lack the last degree of warmth in their expression. Her Italian and acting were a little square, but that befit the more stately character, and nothing detracted from her tight partnership with Tara Erraught's coquettish and well sung Dorabella. The limelight was almost stolen by Laura Tatulescu's Despina. Her Romanian pedigree showed in her command of Italian and her acting too bettered the other ladies.

The men were good, but paled a little next to the ladies. Alexey Kudrya has a nice voice, but did not quite convey the (somewhat pitiable) vulnerability central to the Mozartian tenor role. Levente Molnar was competent as Gugliemo, but I'd have preferred a little more heft in the voice. Best was Thomas Allen as Don Alfonso, as usual secure and commanding.

The program note was very good in tracing how Cosi has been received. Indeed, in many ways I agree with Beethoven and Wagner on the inadequacies of the libretto. The notes correctly states that "...the challenge for the singers, and especially the female leads, is to convey seemingly genuine emotions without diminishing the comedy..." In this respect, I think the production has failed to strike the balance. I was not impressed by the cheap tricks, which detracted from conveying tenderness. The use of chairs is pretentious, to say the least, and inferior to the ways they are used in Chinese opera. A conventional staging that lets the comedy to come through the music would have been better.

It is an immense credit to the musicians that the music making went from strength to strength, and the second act was musically well nigh impeccable. A triumph!

CD Recommendations

CD Recommendations

Currently Available CDs

CD/LPs I am playing now

(right, EMI) The legendary Celibidache Edition has been re-issued in 4 compact boxes and at super bargain prices. Grab them this time around! Slow tempi concerns aside, I consider this essential listening. The dynamic control, such as the perfect crescendo, are captured in sterling sonics.

(middle, Orfeo) Lifschitz is a magnificent Bach pianist. This new release on Orfeo imho is better than any of those by bigger names. Unlike most others, Lifschitz varies his tone according to the origin of the work. Splendid sound and accompaniment.

(left, Talent) Brilliant Shostakovich from little known forces. Click link for review. I agree that these rank with the bests. Stunningly recorded.

Currently Available SACDs

SACD I am playing

(left, ECM) A magisterial reading by an upcoming Beethoven specialist and a maturing conductor. Marvelous, and I look forward to the next installment in the cycle.

(right, BIS) Finally, a version of Bach's Cello Suites on the viola that I like! I have heard several versions, including those by old masters like Primrose and Fuchs, but I feel this one is the best.

Somewhat older CDs from the Library

(left, Onyx) What a surprise. The Turkish orchestra under its Austrian conductor is splendid and fully up to international standards.
A great CD of colorful music by Respighi and Florent Schmidt! Fabulous recording quality. Click pic for more info.

(right, Signum) Elgar's masterpieces here receive a see-through recording of the highest quality, and a solid interpretation from a noted Elgarian.

CD I am playing (often from the library, usually older issues; may not be available)

(Left, DG) 2 Transcriptions here. The Goldberg Variations is indestructible and there is much beauty in this version for harp played by Catrin Finch (DG). For the open-minded, this is a real treat. Click pic for info.

(right, Sony)The Harp version of Rodrigo's Concierto Aranjuez is stunningly played by Maistre, harpist of the VPO. Click for artist's official site.

(left, Berlin Classics) What a beautifully recorded Paganini performance (as always with this company) by a promising young violinist! Well-chiseled and not at all bombastic. This one goes to the top. Click for info.

(middle, Berlin Classics) Peter Rosel is much under-rated. His recordings on Berlin Classics are all fabulous in execution and recording quality! The Beethoven is amongst the best cycles.

(right, Hanssler) A stimulating version of Beethoven's 9th. Norrington's recordings with Stuttgart are frequently quite good and sonics from SWR is always exceptional.

CD I am playing (often from the library, usually older issues; may not be available)CDs I am playing (often from the library, often older issues; may not be available)

(left, Virgin) Excellent early music continue to pour forth from Virgin. L'Arpeggiata is a new sensation. Dynamic and virtuosic Monteverdi that catapults to the very top!

(second from left, Virgin) Old favorite Le Concert Astree, led by Haim, continue their quality output. This Handel Dixit Dominus pulsates with life!

(second from right, EMI) The songs of Faure and Poulenc are under-rated masterpieces, here well rendered by Ian Bostridge.

(right, DG) A superb Ravel Chansons Madecasses, as well as Shostakovich and other 20th century rarities. Beautifully sung and stunningly recorded.

Old Favorites

CD/LPs I am playing. Often older issues; may not be available.

(left, Westminster) This old abc/Westminster LP showcases the great flamenco playing of Carlos Montoya. In splendid sound as good as any. Great hifi demo.

(middle, RCA) When it comes to Schubert, not many think of Rubinstein, but his D960 astounds me in its freshness, beauty and humanity. My top choice now. May be hard to find. Click pic for youtube

(right, Decca) In terms of expressiveness, this old Britten recording by the Allegri String Quartet is still competitive with the best modern versions (like the Belcea).