Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Sofia Fomina, Christophe Mortagne and Vittorio Grigòlo in Schlesinger’s Les Contes d'Hoffmann, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’, also known as the Doll Aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann , is infamously difficult to sing. It is sung in Act I by Olympia, a mechanical doll who the hapless Hoffmann believes to be human. For much of the act, Olympia simply says ‘oui’ (yes) to anything asked of her, but Offenbach more than makes up for this in her aria. Written for the French soprano Adèle Isaac – a star of Paris’s Opéra-Comique known for her interpretations of challenging roles such as Marie (La Fille du régiment ), Isabelle (Robert le diable ) and Juliette (Roméo et Juliette ) – it is a virtuoso tour-de-force, packed with stratospheric coloratura. Where does it take place in the opera? The Doll Aria takes place in Act I, when the inventor Spalanzani hosts a party at his Paris home. In the previous scene, the gullible Hoffmann – deaf to the warnings of his friend Nicklausse – is duped by Spalanzani into believing that Olympia is the inventor’s daughter. Spalanzani is helped in his ruse by the fiendish scientist Coppélius, who sells Hoffmann a pair of magical glasses that make Olympia appear fully human. When Olympia performs her song for Spalanzani’s party guests, Hoffmann is so impressed that he determines to marry the doll. What do the lyrics mean? The words of Olympia’s two-verse aria are self-consciously sentimental and repetitive, as befits her mechanical state. In the first verse she sings of how the songs of birds awaken thoughts of love in her young soul; in the second of how her loving heart is moved by songs and sighs. Both verses end with the coy refrain ‘this is the lovely song of Olympia’. Read Jonathan Burton’s translation below, created for The Royal Opera: Les oiseaux dans la charmille, Dans les cieux l’astre du jour Tout parle à la jeune fille d’amour! Voilà la chanson gentille, la chanson d’Olympia!Les oiseaux dans la charmille, Dans les cieux l’astre du jour Tout parle à la jeune fille d’amour! Voilà la chanson gentille, la chanson d’Olympia! The birds in the bower, The sun in the sky To a maiden everything speaks of love! This is Olympia’s pretty song. Everything that sings and echoes and sighs in turn Stirs a maiden’s heart that trembles with love. This is Olympia’s sweet little song. What makes the music so memorable? Offenbach’s music perfectly characterizes a mechanical doll, with a pretty melody sung to a waltz rhythm, and delicate harp and flute accompaniment reminiscent of the sound of musical boxes (possibly mimicking the real musical clockwork dolls popular in late 19th-century France). However, Olympia isno ordinary automaton; her melody line becomes progressively more ornate during the aria’s first verse (particularly in the flamboyant vocalise that ends its refrain) and by the second verse she’s in full exhibitionist mode, decorating her melody with as many trills, flourishes, roulades and stratospherically high notes as any coloratura soprano could wish for. She pays the price for this display though – during both refrains her mechanics run down, causing her to collapse until Spalanzani winds her up again. The second time, he clearly does his job rather too well, as Olympia soars to new heights in the hyperactive closing cadenza. Hoffmann’s other musical highlights Les Contes d’Hoffmann contains a glut of wonderful arias, duets and ensembles. The protagonist’s solo numbers include the Prologue’s ‘Chanson de Kleinzach’ in which the poet moves from wit to romantic reverie and back, and the hedonistic Act II aria ‘Amis, l’amour tendre et reveur, erreur!’. The devilish villains naturally get plenty of good tunes, including Lindorf’s cynical and boastful ‘Dans les rôles d’amoureux langoureux’. Among the duets, the best known is perhaps the sensual Barcarolle ‘Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour’ that opens the Giulietta act; a lesser-known treat is Hoffmann and Antonia’s poignant ‘C’est une chanson d’amour’, one of the opera’s few genuinely romantic episodes. Other highlights include the Prologue’s ebullient drinking chorus, Act II’s dramatic septet (sung as Hoffmann realizes that Giulietta has stolen his reflection) and Antonia’s nostalgic aria ‘Elle a fui, la tourterelle’ that opens Act III. Classic recordings Les Contes d’Hoffmann doesn’t lack good recordings. EMI’s bargain box-set conducted by André Cluytens features Nicolai Gedda as Hoffmann, one of his greatest roles; his duet with Victoria de los Ángeles ’s Antonia is unforgettable. Domingo fans can enjoy the 1972 Decca recording with the inimitable Joan Sutherland as the three heroines; another Domingo option is the 1981 live Salzburg recording , with José van Dam in devilishly good form as the four villains, conducted by James Levine . Kent Nagano ’s 2011 recording (Erato) features Roberto Alagna as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay on sparkling form as Olympia, among other delights. There’s a good choice of DVD recordings too, including The Royal Opera’s production with Domingo as Hoffmann . More to discover Offenbach’s only other opera (Die Rheinnixen ) hasn’t ever entered the repertory, but several of his operettas are easily available on CD and DVD. Orphée aux Enfers (with its famous can-can ) and La Belle Hélène offer a hilarious take on Greek myths, or you can luxuriate in the hedonistic Paris party scene with La Vie parisienne . La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein is worth a listen too, particularly for the heroine’s rousing arias. On a more serious note, Massenet ’s opera Werther offers another take on the romantic artist searching for the ideal woman, as does Gounod ’s Faust , where the hero is prepared to sell his soul to the devil for love and youth. And if you’re after operas about artists and their love affairs, there’s always Puccini ’s much-loved La bohème . Les Contes d’Hoffmann runs until 3 December 2016. Tickets are still available. The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 15 November 2016. Find your nearest cinema . The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet and Mr and Mrs Christopher W.T. Johnston.
From the last Lebrecht Album of the Week of 2016: This release is the first fruit of the artist’s new contract with Sony, following a close personal and creative friendship with EMI/Warner and its sensitive chief, Alain Lanceron. It would not surprise me to learn that Lanceron’s lack of enthusiasm for this odd project was the cause of their separation. Read the full review here.
Sony Classical are jubilant. They have signed Natalie Dessay, a French icon, from Warner Cassics which, at it happens is based in France. This is not good for Warner. Dessay made her name on former EMI under the guidance of Alain Lanceron, who steered her and EMI under the Warner umbrella. She and Lanceron are friends. Their work together has been outstanding. But with the slowing of record sales she may have become frustrated with the lack of new releases. Sony were waiting to pounce. Press release below. Natalie, with Novak Djokovic Paris / New York, November 1, 2016 Sony Music Entertainment France is very proud to announce an exclusive long-term agreement with one of France’s most prominent artists, soprano extraordinaire and multi-faceted performer Natalie Dessay, whose recordings will be released worldwide by the Sony Classical division. The hallmark of Natalie Dessay’s exceptional career has been a constant diversifying, renewing and expanding of her repertoire, from dazzling coloratura to tragic roles, from the fireworks of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” to the most heart-rending and fragile melodies françaises or her immensely successful collaboration with Michel Legrand. Natalie Dessay has pushed the boundaries of her original classical repertoire to Jazz, American musicals and the finest chansons. Her passions and performances are now spanning the entire spectrum of music. Since her début at the Opéra Bastille in 1992 in Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”, she has appeared continuously on all of the world’s leading opera stages, from La Scala, Milan, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Vienna State Opera to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, winning universal international acclaim for her performances. More recently, she has embarked on worldwide tours of recitals and concerts, her extraordinary stage presence establishing her not only as a singer but also as an actress who has conquered audiences far beyond the classical world. After 22 years as a recording artist for Virgin Classics (now Erato/Warner), Ms. Dessay’s first release on Sony Classical will be “Pictures of America”, to be released on December 2, 2016. This astonishing musical journey through jazz and Broadway works inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper will be followed in the spring of 2017 by a collection of Schubert Lieder masterpieces. Commenting on the new collaboration with Sony Classical, Natalie Dessay said: “I’m thrilled to work with Sony, who will accompany me in my new artistic life and new projects like Pictures of America, Michel Legrand’s new cycle of songs or the Schubert album with Philippe Cassard. Working with a new team is extremely invigorating and will allow me to explore new ideas, to go further in my own creativity and my taste for new musical territories.” Hervé Defranoux, Director of Sony Classical and Jazz France: “Natalie Dessay is one of France’s most exciting and unique artists because she can embrace all musical genres with equal passion and success. She has built a consummate career and a continued artistic relevance without parallel. We are thrilled by the prospect of accompanying and further developing her fantastic musical path.” Bogdan Roscic, President of Sony Classical: “I have always admired Natalie Dessay’s work, live and on recordings, because of the extraordinary degree of artistic freedom and the many ways of musical expression that she has created for herself. Going beyond interpretations of the standard repertoire, she has pursued many diverse concepts with a curiosity and authority that have put her at the very top of our industry. The Sony Classical teams around the world are greatly looking forward to starting our collaboration with her.”
Diana Damrau © Tanja Niemann, 2009 The Story Begins… Enrico Ashton determines to save his family fortunes by marrying his sister Lucia to Lord Arturo Bucklaw. But Lucia has fallen in love with Enrico’s enemy Edgardo, and will marry no one else. Will love triumph over duty – or will Enrico force Lucia to obey him? A Powerful Plot Lucia di Lammermoor is based on Walter Scott ’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor , in turn based on a true story. Scott’s novels and poems provided inspiration for many operas in the 19th century, including Rossini ’s La donna del lago (performed by The Royal Opera in 2013). Donizetti ’s librettist Cammarano chose to focus on the more romantic aspects of Scott’s story. He omitted many of Scott’s large, colourful cast of characters (including Lucy’s villainous mother), gave greater prominence to the character of Lucy and changed Edgar’s death from an ignominious fall into quicksand into a heroic suicide. Musical Atmosphere Donizetti’s score for Lucia di Lammermoor contains many striking effects. These include the dirge-like march with ominous drumrolls evoking the gloom of Ravenswood Castle at the opera’s opening, the elaborate harp solo that precedes Lucia’s first aria, ‘Regnava nel silenzio’, the eerie use of glass harmonica in Lucia’s dramatic final scene, and the melancholy prelude to Act III, with its sombre horns creating an air of foreboding. Much More Than a Victim Katie Mitchell ’s feminist production contains scenes of sex and violence. It reveals Lucia to be an intelligent and resourceful woman, who until she meets Edgardo is more interested in the life of the mind than in love or marriage. However, the male-dominated society in which Lucia lives denies her both independence and Edgardo, causing her to take drastic revenge. Vicki Mortimer ’s designs pay tribute to the Victorian Gothic, and form a dramatic backdrop to Lucia’s story of passion and thwarted ambition. A Soprano Showstopper The title role of Lucia di Lammermoor is one of the greatest written for coloratura soprano, and includes an extended ‘Mad Scene’ in Act II. Lucia was Joan Sutherland ’s ‘breakthrough role’ – she became an international star overnight after singing Lucia with The Royal Opera in 1959. Other famous interpreters of Lucia have included Adelina Patti , Nellie Melba , Maria Callas and, in recent years, Diana Damrau , Natalie Dessay and Anna Netrebko . Lucia di Lammermoor runs 7 April–19 May 2016. Tickets are still available . The production is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Greek National Opera and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Hélène and Jean Peters, Mrs Philip Kan and the Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .
Today’s impressive national commemoration of the 130 victims of the Paris terror attacks was dignified by four pieces of music, appropriate to the occasion. The first was Jacques Brel’s Quand on n’a que lamour, delivered by four popular singers. Then came the Marsellaise, performed by the orchestra and chorus of the French army. It was given in the beautiful orchestral version by Hector Berlioz, introduced by television commentators as ‘the best known French composer in the world’. Third was Natalie Dessay singing Perlimpin by Barbara. Last came Verdi’s Va, pensiero – a statement that an attack on France is an attack on European civilisation as a whole. Amour from Brel, attack from Berlioz, tendresse from Barbara. France’s three Bs.
The first music to be sounded at the national ay of mourning for 130 victims of the Paris terror attacks was Camelia Jordana, Nolwenn Leroy and Yaelle Naïm, singing the great Jacques Brel chanson’Quand on n’a que l’amour’ (if we only have love). It was followed by the Toscanini/NBC Orchestra recording of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Later, after La Marsellaise, Natalie Dessay will sing ‘Perlimpin’, a chanson of Barbara. La voix de la France. You can watch the ceremony live here.
Natalie Dessay (19 April 1965) is a French coloratura soprano. She dropped the "h" in her first name in honor of Natalie Wood when she was in grade school and subsequently simplified the spelling of her surname outside France. Famous in her earlier career for a very high upper extension, limpid intonation and superb coloratura, Dessay became more recognized in recent years for her dramatic and comedic flair as a singing actress. In her youth, Dessay had intended to be a ballet dancer, and then an actress. She discovered her talent for singing whilst taking acting classes, and shifted her artistic focus to music. Dessay was encouraged to study voice at the Conservatoire national de région de Bordeaux and gained experience as a chorister in Toulouse. At the competition Les Voix Nouvelles, she was awarded First Prize followed by a year's study at Paris Opera's Ecole d'Art Lyrique, where she sang "Elisa" in Mozart's Il re pastore. Also, she entered the International Mozart Competition at the Vienna State Opera, winning First Prize.
Great opera singers