Monthly Archives: February 2011

knight errant

Georges Rochegrosse's poster for Don Quichotte (1910)

I’m heading north to catch today’s matinee of Jules Massenet’s 1910 comédie-héroïque, Don Quichotte, at Seattle Opera.

Originally conceived as a vehicle for the great Russian basso, Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), several other outstanding singers have performed and/or recorded the title role since its premiere in Monte Carlo, including Boris Christoff, Jerome Hines, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Ruggero Raimondi, Samuel Ramey, José van Dam, and Ferruccio Furlanetto. (Seattle’s Gold Series Don Quixote is John Relyea, and his Silver Series counterpart is the young French bass-baritone, Nicholas Cavallier.)

In this pair of clips, we can see and hear two of those noted interpreters in action. First off is van Dam, who in this 201o production from Brussels, attempts to do battle against a giant windmill blade at the end of the second act. His hapless Sancho is Werner Van Mechelen.


And from a 2002 concert performance in Moscow, Nicolai Ghiaurov sings Quixote’s moving Death Scene in Act 5, with his wife, Mirella Freni, providing the off-stage voice of Dulcinée.


Chaliapin’s recorded legacy of Don Quichotte is also worth noting–three excerpts running to just over 18 minutes worth of music–as it documents a highly melodramatic style of performance that has long since fallen out of favor. There are, unfortunately, no video clips of Chaliapin in the role, but his powerful portrayal of Cervantes’ knight errant  from G.W. Pabst’s 1933 film adaptation of the novel–with music by Jacques Ibert–will do in a pinch.


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friday link dump

Some odds and ends from this past week that you might have missed. Have a great Friday!

  • Who died and named this twit Concert Cop?
          • From our neighbors to the north, good news about an opera commission.


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          turandot redux

          One last little bit of Turandot

          A reader reminded me that I had discussed the tangled history of Turandot‘s completion during my talk, and that I mentioned that I would post both the complete Franco Alfano ending (usually referred to as Alfano I) and the finale that Puccini’s publisher, Ricordi, commissioned from the composer Luciano Berio in 2001. (Thanks, Jo!)

          First off, then, is Franco Alfano’s original and uncut ending for Turandot, with Josephine Barstow, Lando Bartolini, and the Scottish Opera Chorus and Orchestra under the direction of John Mauceri.

          And from the CD “Puccini Discoveries,” here’s Luciano Berio’s very different take on the final scene of the opera. In this recording,  the role of Calaf is sung by Bülent Bezdüz, Eva Urbanová sings Turandot, and Riccardo Chailly conducts the Orchestra e Coro di Milano Giuseppe Verdi.

          Alfano and Berio used the sketches and continuity drafts Puccini left at the time of his death in 1924, but given the incomplete nature of those materials, both composers felt the need to exercise a certain amount of creative license in order to fill in gaps. Since Alfano was denied access to Puccini’s orchestrated score of Turandot up until just a few weeks before his completion was due to be submitted for review by Ricordi and Arturo Toscanini, his choice of instrumentation for the final scene often differs significantly from Puccini.

          Berio’s “solution” to the problem of the ending is, I think, quite effective, mainly because it uses snatches of Liu’s music to remind us that this character played an important part in the shaping of the drama in Act 3. Her memory hangs, in a sense, over Turandot’s thaw like a low grey cloud.


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          all insensitivity

          Puccini is past, Ravel is on the docket now.

          Over the next few weeks,  I’ll be reacquainting myself with L’Heure espagnole and L’Enfant et les Sortileges in anticipation of Portland Opera‘s upcoming production at the beginning of April. This is a very good thing, not only because I love Ravel’s music, but also because it gives me an excuse to delve into the vocal, orchestral, chamber, and solo piano repertoire immediately surrounding these two works.

          In his review of the premiere of L’Heure in May, 1911, Pierre Lalo stated that:

          The orchestration…is charming, brilliant, idiosyncratic, diverse, full of subtle timbres and rare sonorities…That. for the musical material he employs, for the chord progressions and explorations of harmonies which for him are customary, M. Ravel owes much to Debussy is a manifest fact. But the soul of his music and of his art is entirely different. M. Debussy is all sensitivity, M. Ravel is all insensitivity.

          Here’s the opening of the 1987 Glyndebourne Festival production of L’Heure espagnole, designed by Maurice Sendak and directed by Frank Corsaro. Expect more video clips of both operas from my YouTube channel between now and the end of March.

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          opera insights – turandot (part 1)

          Here’s the first part of my recent pre-performance talk on Puccini’s Turandot for Portland Opera.



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          cesira ferrani

          On February 1, 1893, Giacomo Puccini’s third opera, Manon Lescaut, premiered at the Teatro Regio, Turin. Three years later to the day, his next stage work, La bohème, had its illustrious premiere at the same theater. In addition to the date and location, there was one other common thread linking those two productions: Cesira Ferrani, the Turinese soprano who created the roles of Manon and Mimi. Although she is almost completely forgotten today, Ferrani clearly impressed the composer–he said of her Manon that it was “ideal in appearance, talent, and voice,” and the day after La bohème opened, he praised her as his “true and splendid” Mimi.

          Cesira Ferrani as Manon Lescaut

          Cesira Ferrani as Manon Lescaut

          A student of the Austrian dramatic soprano Antonietta Fricci, Ferrani made her local debut in 1887 as Micaela in Carmen; over the next two decades she would appear as Gilda, Juliette, Suzel (L’amico Fritz) Charlotte (Werther), Amelia (Simon Boccanegra), Elisabeth (Tannhauser), Elsa (Lohengrin), Eva (Die Meistersinger), and, in 1908, as Melisande in the first La Scala performance of Pelléas et Mélisande. After retiring the following year she spent much of the remainder of her life in Turin, where she established a a salon. She died in 1943.

          In 1903, Ferrani recorded several arias for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company, including the following selections from today’s anniversary operas.

          Manon Lescaut- “In quelle trine morbide”

          La Bohème“Mi chiamano Mimi”

          Michael Scott, writing in The Record of Singing about Ferrani’s early recordings, notes that:

          “Hers is a typical Mimi voice, with the characteristics we should expect to hear from a singer in this music today. The quality is pleasing, though she has little support left and there is not much legato; the phrasing lacks breadth and the tone has become quavery. For all that, Mimi’s ‘racconto’ has the right girlishness; though she must have sung it time out of number by then, it is still an expressive interpretation with even a suggestion of improvisation. As Manon, she is unable to float the opening phrase of ‘In quelle trine morbide,’ and the climax extends her to the limits, the high B flat collapsing into an unsupported slide. However, she sings entirely without the recourse to the cheap, etxra-musical effects that later became so familiar in these works.”

          Questions abound. Is there anything at all to be gleaned from Ferrani’s recordings, or are they at best imperfect historical documents of a singer well past her vocal prime? How do we reconcile Puccini’s generally favorable comments with what we hear with our own ears? Is it possible to make a fair and accurate assessment of Ferrani’s voice when we have no idea what she actually sounded like before 1903? And, finally, how much should we rely on historical recordings for evidence of performance practice and style?

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