Aureole etc.




Nimbus on-line




If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

CD REVIEW



Some items
to consider

 


Enjoy the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra wherever you are. App available for iOS and Android


Tudor 7188


Vaughan Williams Symphony 3 etc.


Lyrita New Recording


Lyrita Premiere Recordings

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage


Decca Phase 4 - 40CDs


Judith Bailey, George Lloyd


BAX Orchestral pieces


CASKEN Violin Concerto

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 

 

 

 



alternatively AmazonUK   AmazonUS

 

 

Jewish Operas Volume 2
David SCHIFF
(b. 1945) Gimpel the Fool
(excerpts) (1985) [23.39] (1)
Elie SIEGMEISTER (1909-1991) Lady of the Lake (excerpts) (1985) [17.36] (2)
Hugo WEISGALL (1912-1997) Esther (excerpts) (1993) [11:07] (3)
Gimpel – Gary Moss (baritone) (1)
Elka –Megan Besley (soprano) (1)
Goat – Alissa Mercurio (soprano) (1)
Apprentice – Michael Gallant (tenor) (1)
Rabbi – Nicholas Phan (tenor) (1)
Badkhn – Theodore Bikel (speaker) (1)
Isabella – Carol Meyer (soprano) (2)
Blumberg - Robert McPherson (baritone) (2)
Ernesto – Marcus DeLoach (baritone) (2)
Esther – Juliana Gondek (soprano) (3)
Xerxes – Ted Christopher (baritone) (3)
University of Michigan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Kenneth Kiesler (1)
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz (2, 3)
rec. (1) Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, January 2001; (2) Batsyr University Chapel, Seattle, May 2000; (3) Benaroya Hall, Seattle, May 1999
NAXOS 8.559450 [54.22] 

 


This is the second volume of Jewish operas from the Naxos Milken Archive. For this disc we get excerpts from three 20th century operas each with distinctly literary origins. 

David Schiff studied in New York with John Corigliano and Elliott Carter. Though he is one of Carter’s most prominent students, his music bears few resemblances to his teacher’s style. Schiff’s Jewish heritage has had a strong influence on many of his works and the first opera represented here is Gimpel the Fool which is based on an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story. Originally the work was almost entirely performed in Yiddish. It has had quite a long gestation, starting out life as more of a cabaret piece premiered in 1975. Finally, for performances in 1985 of a significantly expanded work, Schiff decided to do an English version. 

The opera concerns Gimpel, the town baker and fool, in a village somewhere in Russian Poland in the 19th or early 20th century. Gimpel is the constant butt of the townspeople’s practical jokes and pranks. Gimpel is persuaded by the townspeople to marry Elka, the town strumpet. She is repeatedly unfaithful to him and none of the children she bears are his. In the excerpt that we hear on the disc she has just borne their 1st child, 4 months after the wedding. Gimpel thinks he sees her in bed with his apprentice and consults the Rabbi who tells him to divorce Elka, but Gimpel can’t because of his love for his children.

Much of the narrative thrust is borne by the spoken role of Badhkin. The libretto is presented in a series of short scenes mixing speaking and singing. The instrumental ensemble is just 14 players, including a harpsichord. The whole piece seems to be lightly and attractively orchestrated with instrumental interludes between the scenes. Schiff’s vocal lines are expressive and can be quite lyrical, though he uses quite a bit of chromaticism in the orchestra. The orchestral sound at times hints at Klezmer and other traditional musical genres. 

Gimpel is well sung by Gary Moss, who possesses an attractive lyrical baritone. His wife Elka, is sung by Megan Beesley, though in these excerpts her biggest number is in fact a curse, she does not get to sing much that is lyrical. The Rabbi is a high tenor, much given to rhapsodic melisma, and well taken by Nicholas Phan. Alissa Mercurio has the interesting and effective role of Gimpel’s goat! 

If the intention of this recording is to whet your appetite for a full version of the opera, then these excerpts succeed very well. I loved the flexible feel of the piece, which the University of Michigan Opera Orchestra and chorus catch admirably.

Elie Siegmeister is remembered today for his mission to create a distinctive American compositional idiom consistent with his unwavering political and social commitment. Throughout his life Siegmeister remained an emblem of artistic social consciousness and an advocate of making art music accessible to common folk. 

In the 1980s Siegmeister wrote a pair of one-act operas based on short stories by Bernard Malamud. This was the first time that Siegmeister had seriously explored his Jewish heritage in his music. The Lady of the Lake, whose text is taken from a Malamud story in the collection The Magic Barrel, explores Jewish identity and the tensions between acknowledgement and gain. In the opera Blumberg (Robert McPherson, tenor) is an American visiting Europe; though Jewish he is pretending not to be. He meets Isabella (Carol Meyer, soprano) who is apparently a princess living in a fabulous palace on an island. In the first scene of the excerpts, Isabella reveals to Blumberg that she is not the princess, just the caretaker’s daughter and that the palace’s treasures are mainly copies. She also tries to hint about her own Jewish heritage. 

Blumberg runs off, horrified at her deception. The second scene consists of an interlude plus a monologue for Blumberg in which he decides he loves Isabella, no matter what. In the final scene, he returns and declares his love. But Isabella presses him about his Jewishness and reveals that she and her father are both Jews. Blumberg hesitates to affirm his Jewishness and Isabella disappears.

Judging from these excerpts, the orchestra is a serious protagonist in the opera as it provides a commentary running under and around the vocal lines. These vocal lines can be expressive, but I am afraid that I did not really find them anything like interesting enough. Carol Meyer’s Isabella is expressively rich-voiced but in these excerpts she never really gets a big number. Robert McPherson’s Blumberg is admirably straightforward and direct, not particularly subtle. His big monologue is a powerful expression of Blumberg’s state of mind, but still I found the vocal line lacked sufficient interest. 

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra under Gerard Schwarz perform admirably and give a convincing account of the luminous orchestral writing. 

Hugo Weisgall is perhaps the best known of the three composers on the disc. He wrote ten operas in all and Esther was his last and grandest. Originally commissioned by San Francisco Opera it was dropped by them and finally taken up by New York City Opera in 1993. The opera is written for significant forces, requiring eleven major roles, two choruses with much challenging music. The premiere was a popular and critical success. 

The opera is a re-telling of the biblical tale of Esther, though the librettist Charles Kondek, made a number of changes to the biblical story. These excerpts consist of a solo for Esther from Act I, a dance from Act II and a duet for Esther and Xerxes from Act III. Weisgall’s style is expressionist, perhaps serial with lyrical but angular vocal lines. As in the Siegmeister opera, I did not feel that Weisgall had completely solved the problem of writing interesting and rewarding vocal lines. 

The excerpts from Esther did not really make me want to run off and find a complete performance, but I think that more substantial and varied samples of the opera might have helped to give a feel for its atmosphere. The Seattle Symphony play well for Gerard Schwarz and Juliana Gondek and Ted Christopher admirably make what they can of Weisgall’s rather ungrateful vocal lines. 

This is a fascinating disc, one that is well worth exploring if you are interested in 20th century opera. My only real complaint was that it was too short and could have been twice as long.

Robert Hugill

See also Review by Göran Forsling


 


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
Atoll
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.