Magazine article Opera Canada

Incoronazione Di Poppea

Magazine article Opera Canada

Incoronazione Di Poppea

Article excerpt

JURINAC, STOLZE, LILOWA, WIENER, CAVA, Rossel-Majdan, Janowitz, Dickie, Chorus and Orchestra of Vienna State Opera, Herbert von Karajan, conductor. DG Mono 457 674-2 (2 CDs) ()

APRIL 5, 1998 WOULD HAVE BEEN HERBERT von Karajan's 90th birthday (the Salzburg-born conductor died on July 16, 1989). To mark the occasion, DG issued four historic live performances of operas that the late Austrian maestro never recorded in studio. All performances, recorded at the Vienna State Opera (VSO) between the years 1960 and 1964, are taken from the archives of ORF, Austrian radio. They are all mono recordings and reflect the broadcast technology of the day. Included are two curiosities from von Karajan's repertoire (Monteverdi and Pizzetti) and two more familiar works (Strauss and Wagner). While booklets are enclosed, they do not include English translations of the libretti.

Given the turbulence of von Karajan's tenure as artistic director of the VSO, it is ironic that DG should chose four of his Vienna productions. While at the State Opera (1957-1964) he made many changes to which Viennese bureaucrats strongly objected. So bitter was the debate that Karajan angrily announced in 1964 that "after 18 years in the concert halls of Austria, and eight years as artistic director of the State Opera, I am ending my activities in Austria." Irony aside, these four releases provide an important document of an important era in VSO history.

One of the most unusual--one might say, bizarre--recordings in this series is that of the von Karajan/Gunther Rennert staging of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea. Recorded in 1963, before the advent of the early-music/period-instrument craze, this production was highly regarded at the time and received rave reviews. Listening to this performance today, however, is guaranteed to make the purist squirm. From the opening moments of the opera, one is clearly in the weighty, lush world of German romanticism.

Taken on its own terms, though, there are a few stylish, if not stylistically informed, performances. Sena Jurinac, in particular, is a full-blooded Poppea, the Bulgarian mezzo Margarita Lilowa a commanding Ottavia and the Italian bass Carlo Cava a noble Seneca. While Gerhard Stolze is an appropriately neurotic Nerone, his voice is ill-suited to the more lyrical moments. As for the secondary roles of Drusilla and Valletto, they are more than competently filled by a young Gundula Janowitz and Murray Dickie. The Ottone of Otto Wiener, however, is appalling; nor is the chorus up to modern standards

The Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968) wrote over 20 operas during his long career. Although highly respected during his lifetime, today his somewhat conservative works have largely fallen by the wayside. Of his operas, Assassino nella cattedrale (Murder in the Cathedral) had a certain currency following its premiere at La Scala in Milan in 1958, so it is not surprising that von Karajan should have chosen it for performance at the VSO in 1960. Although originally written in Italian, this Vienna production was performed in the vernacular as Mord in der Kathedrale.

The original tapes of this broadcast unfortunately were lost, so this release is based upon a somewhat inferior copy. As this is the only recording currently available (that I am aware of), it is a pity that the balance between stage and orchestra is so inadequately captured. …

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