Durant quelques années, j'ai été chasseuse de têtes : j'étais censée évaluer des candidats expérimentés qui occupaient des fonctions complexes et techniques, auxquelles je ne pouvais, du haut de mes vingt-deux ans, rien comprendre. Je me suis aussitôt retrouvée confrontée au non-sens absolu. Comment juger des compétences nécessaires à des métiers dont j'ignorais tout ? C'est la philosophie qui m'a pour ainsi dire sauvée : mes études de philo m'ont enseignée à dynamiter mes préjugés et à rechercher le sens de ce qui est. …
In this saga of hatred and holy war, of power and desire, there is no victor and no truth. The god-like is diminished, power restricted, taboos are broken, love betrayed. Only the composer can afford uninterrupted pathos in the wonderful duet of Samson and Dalila in the second act, which misleads us to believe in a moving story of love. Perhaps it truly is. The story of Samson is contradictory, it is human. Camille Saint-Saëns completed the work in 1876, but was only able to bring about its first performance in 1877 through the mediation of his friend Franz Liszt with pre-eminent success in Weimar. In France, where the elements of oratorio and the influence of Wagner were not well received, the first performance would not follow for another 13 years. Samson et Dalila ranks among the masterpieces of 19th century French Opera - and among the showpieces favored by the Argentine tenor José Cura. In the recorded production he saw himself celebrated on stage as a unified three-in-one: eponymous hero, director and stage designer.
This movie version of Bizet's popular opera Carmen was filmed on location, conveying a kind of atmosphere, a sense of space, movement, and presence that's hard to achieve in a staged performance. It takes the action out of doors for many scenes, with the opening titles superimposed on the bloody conclusion of a bullfight. Elsewhere the changing of the guard, the crowd scenes, the dance number that opens Act 2, and the panoramic scenery of the smugglers' mountain hideout all benefit from the freedom granted by movie cameras.
Russian Julia Lezhneva here shows an admirably gutsy attitude toward developing her repertory, avoiding familiar milestones in favor of an original project. Here she is paired with French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky in a program of works by Pergolesi for two high voices, strings, and continuo: the Stabat mater, for which there are plenty of other recordings, and the less-common Laudate pueri dominum and Confitebor tibi Domine. The distinctive feature here – which might tempt some to use the word "gimmick," but listen before doing so – is that Lezhneva fashions her voice into a very close copy of Jaroussky's, which is not at all an easy thing to do. Put this together with the precise, rather edgy playing of I Barocchisti under Diego Fasolis, and the result is a rather otherworldly Stabat mater. The tragic quality of the work and its association with Pergolesi's short life are played down (probably a good thing, for Pergolesi wasn't planning to die at age 26) in favor of creating a hypnotic globe of sound from which the two singers' voices emerge as flashing accents along with the punchy sound of Fasolis' strings. It may not be to everyone's taste, but it's quite an accomplishment, and the album continues to serve notice of Lezhneva's emergence as a major star in Baroque singing.–James Manheim
Handels ninth major opera for London, Alessandro was written as a showcase for the Rival Queens, the two famous Italian sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni whose supposed enmity, both personal and professional, not only generated good publicity for Handels latest opera but also added extra dramatic frisson to the two divas jealous clashes on stage.