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Opera Highlights - Volume 2
Henry PURCELL (1659–1695)
The Fairy Queen
1. O let me weep [9:34]
Yvonne Kenny (soprano), English National Opera/Nicholas Kok
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Giulio Cesare
2. Piangerň la sorte mia [9:05]
Yvonne Kenny (soprano), Opera Australia/Richard Hickox. 1995
3. Take your pleasure [9:35]
4. If you worship the man who has spurned you [9:40]
Ann Murray (mezzo), English National Opera/Ivor Bolton (3). 1996; Charles Mackerras (4). 1990
Mikhail GLINKA (1804–1857)
Ruslan and Lyudmila
5. Ratmir’s aria [9:36]
Larissa Diadkova (mezzo)
6. Ruslan’s scene, act 2 [9:34]
Vladimir Ognovenko (bass)
7. Finn’s ballad [9:35]
Konstantin Pluzhnikov (tenor)
8. Lyudmila’s aria, act 4 [9:35]
Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev. 1995
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Eugene Onegin
9. No, there could never be another [9:36]
Orla Boylan (soprano)
10. You wrote to me; Can this be the same Tatyana? [9:34]
11. Where, oh where have you gone, golden days of my youth; Enemies, enemies [9:31]
Michael König (tenor) Vladimir Glushchak (baritone)
European Union Opera, Baden-Baden/Rozhdestvensky.1999
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854–1928)
The cunning little vixen
12. The aria of the forester about ‘The wonder of nature’ [9:35]
Thomas Allen (baritone)
13. Love duet from act 2 [9:35]
Eva Jenis (soprano), Hannah Minutillo (mezzo)
Theatre Chatelet, Paris/Charles Mackerras. 1995
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891–1953)
The Fiery Angel
14. Renata’s confession [9:46]
Galina Gorchakova (soprano), Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev. 1995
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913–1973)
Peter Grimes
15. The ‘sea wall’ aria [9:55]
Philip Langridge (tenor), English National Opera/David Atherton. 1994
Billy Budd
16. They’ll lash me in a hammock [9:38]
Thomas Allen (baritone), John Connell (bass), English National Opera/David Atherton. 1995
Sound format: PCM Stereo; Picture format: 4:3, 4:3 Letterbox
ARTHAUS MUSIC 102 049 [154:00]


Like its predecessor this compilation offers excellent singing from well established artists as well as some lesser known but still good singers. The artists also give spoken introductions to their excerpts. This is nice to hear once, acceptable to hear twice but the third time one prefers to use the fast-forward function and wish the musical numbers had been separately banded. Not everything belongs in the category ‘greatest hits’ and this gives relative beginners opportunities to encounter music that may inspire them to further explore the wonderful world of opera. But opera is not only singing, it is also theatre and while some scenes are scenically uninteresting and the pictures are static, there are others that brim with thrilling action.

The opening number, the aria from The Fairy Queen, belongs in the former category. At first the singer is shown at half-distance to the right with the rest of the picture filled with black backdrop. After some time we get a new angle, showing what looks like a demolished grand piano; interest soon wanes and the acting is formula-ridden in accordance with baroque practice. The singing of Yvonne Kenny is beautiful and finely nuanced but the overall effect is dull.

Cleopatra in chains in the aria from Giulio Cesare can’t possibly be expected to do much acting. That said, this is one of the great baroque arias, filled with inner tension and – in the fast middle section – dramatic intensity.

Ann Murray appears in two trouser roles: first in 1996 as Ariodante at ENO, dark stage. Her singing tone is over-vibrant but expressive, both vocally and visually. Then follows Xerxes. Here in a scene with a non-singing Valerie Masterson there is vivid action and colourful sets. Filmed six years earlier than Ariodante her voice is in perfect shape and she excels in the florid roulades.

From Mariinsky’s brightly coloured Ruslan and Luydmila we are offered four excerpts. First the magnificent Larissa Diadkova in Ratmir’s aria, surrounded by a graceful ballet. Next the black bass Vladimir Ognovenko as Ruslan, quite similar to Nestorenko in timbre and dramatically powerful. Readers familiar with the overture to this opera will recognise the melody of this aria. Tenor Konstantin Pluznikov sings Finn’s aria in nuanced and expressive style but slightly strained at the top. The young Anna Netrebko as Lyudmila is in superb voice and beautiful as the daylight. This scene is marred by a bad fade-out.

From the European Union Opera in Baden-Baden come some scenes from a fastidious Eugene Onegin. Irish-born Orla Boylan is a lively, nervous and sensitive Tatyana in the letter scene and Vladimir Glushchak makes a youthful Onegin, haughty but also weak. In the first scene his tone is rather hard and grating but in the excerpt from the last act, where he is supposed to be ten years older, his tone is more rounded. German tenor Michael König is a lyrical Lensky, though his isn’t the smoothest of voices – it has something of a Slavonic edge.

To my mind the high-spots here have been saved to the end. Janáček’s wonderful The cunning little vixen is fairytale beautiful in this Chatelet performance from Paris. Janacek specialist Charles Mackerras knows exactly how this music should be moulded. Thomas Allen sings the Forester’s aria better than anyone I have heard. The love duet is adorably sung and acted in a beautiful ‘bed’ and the music is ravishing.

Back to Mariinsky and Galina Gorchakova engagingly portrays Renata from The fiery angel, before we end up at the ENO with two Britten excerpts. Philip Langridge is Peter Grimes, catching all the facets of this complicated character, and Thomas Allen is deeply moving as Billy Budd. As so often one longs to see and hear the full performance when encountering such excellence.

To sum things up: though everything isn’t visually exciting there is still a lot to savour and the singing is in most cases splendid.

Göran Forsling


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