The "100 Years of Italian Opera" series released by Opera Rara is unique in the annals of opera recordings. However, this installment is especially exciting as it documents the evolution of Italian opera during the 1820's, the decade when romanticism truly began to come into its own on the operatic stage. Opera Rara has lovingly compiled a variety of arcana written by composers famous and forgotten. Included is everything from overtures to arias, duets, ensembles, and entire scenes.
PentaTone's live recording of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles is billed as the world premiere recording, though it was preceded by the 1991 video recording of the Metropolitan Opera's production, which was conducted by James Levine and starred Teresa Stratas. Even so, this 2016 audiophile presentation of the LA Opera production, conducted by James Conlon, is a major event for opera lovers, especially since the Met's recording is difficult to find and performances of The Ghosts of Versailles are rare.
Max Emanuel Cencic accurately describes himself as a mezzo-soprano rather than a counter tenor. His tone, while pure, is colorfully nuanced, nothing like the blanched purity that was once (but is thankfully no longer) stereotypical of counter tenors. A lifetime of singing the most advanced repertoire has given him a confident technique, exceptionally sure intonation, astonishing vocal power, and an effortless-sounding flexibility; at the age of six he sang the Queen of the Night's "Der Hölle Rache on Zagreb" television, and he went on to become a soloist with the Vienna Boys' Choir. On this album he tackles some of Handel's most virtuosic and demanding mezzo arias, most of them relatively unfamiliar. /quote]
The aria Ombra mai fu at the start of Act I of Handel's opera seria Serse (Xerxes) is likely to be its best-known asset. Serse was written in 1733-38, at the end of Handel's career as an opera composer: he concentrated on oratorio after 1741. It is a great achievement. Not least because it uses the music, and the marriage of words and music, to evoke in the audience pathos, sympathy, delight, and as much tempered ridicule as tempered tenderness.
For today s audiences, Vivaldi s name exemplifies Venetian opera in the early 18th century but he was not the only composer to shape the distinctive musical aesthetic of the great trading city known as La Serenissima. In this release of arias by Vivaldi and his contemporaries, countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic further explores Venice s contribution to world s rich store of Baroque opera. Cencic recreates the Venetian ambiance with the support of Italian violinist/conductor Riccardo Minasi and his ensemble Il Pomo d Oro.
This is a worthy reading of one of Massenet's best scores, thoughtfully conducted by Kent Nagano. Anne Sofie von Otter combines intelligence and a beautiful voice with passion and conviction in the complicated character of Charlotte. Tenor Jerry Hadley is occasionally afflicted by a musical-theater tendency to croon but expresses most of the torments of the title role, while Dawn Upshaw makes a better-rounded character of Sophie than the average soubrette.