Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.
Articles by Ralph P. Locke
Over the past year or so (2017), an unusually large number of fascinating and rarely performed operas were made available, mostly for the first time ever, on CD. NewYorkArts/Berkshire Review for the Arts has asked me to share some of my delighted discoveries from this flood of new arrivals, as well as—in separate articles—my (rather lengthy and detailed!) reviews of two contrasting operas that seem to me particularly worthy of discovery:
I had never heard a note by John Joubert (1927- ) before. Critics have often praised his works for organ and for chorus. Several of his hymns and carols are widely known. Joubert, I have now learned, was born in South Africa but received his training in England and has made his long and continuing career there, mainly in Birmingham. (His last name comes from a French Huguenot ancestor.)
This past year, I was privileged to get to review a flood of wonderful CD releases of little-known operas. I summarize my impressions of fifteen of these in a separate article here. But I feel that two of these unfamiliar works deserve special discussion because the quality of the music—and its dramatic applicability—so surprised me: the recent adaptation of the beloved novel Jane Eyre, by a composer I had never heard of, John Joubert; and, the work discussed below: Bellini’s first opera, composed during his last year as a conservatory student and already showing remarkable mastery. Indeed, there were not one but two big discoveries for me in this CD recording: Bellini’s first opera (here receiving its first fully adequate recording) but also and Enea Scala (seen at left in the photo above), a splendid, heroic high tenor who can perform the extensive coloratura fluently.
The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour.” The opera presents some quick-moving events in the lives of a clockmaker’s wife and the four wildly different men with whom she is variously involved (one being her husband). The CD is officially vol. 4 of a series covering Ravel’s “orchestral works,” a phrase that here clearly means “works with orchestra.” (The two piano concertos and Tzigane are presumably scheduled for some future volume.) The Stuttgart orchestra plays very capably throughout, but the star of the CD is mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac.
There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup. Hence the appeal of recording a concert performance. This CD set was edited from two such performances in Amsterdam’s famed Concertgebouw (literally: “concert building”) on December 18 and 20, 2015. The performance was semi-staged, i.e., done without costumes and sets. Some evocative lighting was employed. Characters made entrances and exits through various doors, and characters and (I gather) brass players appeared on balconies.
Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians. It was thus with some excitement that I opened a new 3-CD set from Orfeo, consisting of the first release ever of any performance of Lohengrin conducted by the conductor sometimes known among musicians and opera-goers as “Kna.”
Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).