by BRIAN KELLOW and TRISTAN KRAFT
Mezzo Laura Kate Garner, with husband baritone Robert Garner
© Karina Freudenthal 2012
Essential Dmitri Hvorostovsky Primer: His performance of Rodrigo's death scene from Don Carlo on Tchaikovsky & Verdi Arias (Philips). Already in this 1990 recital, Hvorostovsky's first on disc, the baritone evinced what fans still covet about his characters and sound — the melancholy but never maudlin emotion and the hopeful yet stoic tone. The baritone delivers Rodrigo's "Io morrò" with remarkably few breaths. (We find this amusing, since Hvorostovsky's Rodrigo has better breath control shot and dying than most healthy, living men.) And we dare you not to get goosebumps when Hvorostovsky sings the line "alla Spagna un salvatore!" Valery Gergiev and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra nail the breathless swells just as the scene begins. Overall, Gergiev and Hvorostovsky show us that nice guys finish last but can sound awesome while doing it. Dmitri Hvorostovsky speaks with Oussama Zahr, "Elements of Style."
Essential Stage-to-Screen Musical: James Whale's
. Director Whale may be most famous for the gods-and-monsters world of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, but he did some of his finest work in the 1936 screen version of Jerome Kern's landmark musical drama. This version would be a blessing if only because it preserves the original stage performance of sad-eyed Helen Morgan, whose Julie looks marvelously world-weary in Whale's generous close-ups. Allan Jones, as Gaylord, is a lightweight actor, but he has a lovely, sweet sound, and there are no complaints at all about the performances of Paul Robeson as Joe, Hattie McDaniel as Queenie, Sammy White as Frank, Charles Winninger as Cap'n Andy and, most of all, Irene Dunne as Magnolia. (When she breaks into the shuffle in "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," it's one of the most delightful moments in any '30s film musical.) George Sidney's remake for MGM in 1951 is bigger, glossier and emptier. Whale's version is far more touching and funny, and far truer to the atmosphere of the Edna Ferber novel.
Essential Portrait of Julie LaVerne: Teresa Stratas in the 1988 Show Boat recording on EMI. Conductor/historian John McGlinn lobbied to make this recording as comprehensive as possible. With it, he restored the complete 1927 Broadway book, including an hour-long appendix with material excised from the original Broadway and London productions, and appointed a luxurious cast to perform it. (NB: brace yourselves for copious use of the N-word — McGlinn restored it with the intention of making listeners squirm.) But with these additions, Julie's presence seems all the more unifying. And Stratas's rendition of "Bill" is lyrical and sentimental in all the right ways. Laurence Maslon examines Show Boat, "Of Time and the River."
Almaviva on Disc: Cesare Valletti. Is there a tenor of the past fifty years who can match Valletti for pure, unforced singing? Valletti was the essence of the tenore di grazia — an artist who never pushed for a big sound and always showed us the humanity behind the voice. Vocal artifice was alien to him; he really seemed to be speaking to us, on pitch, and always from the heart. His performance as Almaviva on the 1958 RCA disc, with Erich Leinsdorf leading the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, and featuring the high-flying Rosina of Roberta Peters, is just about as perfect as a performance gets. We even get to hear him sing the often-excised "Cessa di più resistere." Broadcast coverage of the Met's Il Barbiere di Siviglia begins on p. 44.
Essential Operaphile Valentine's Day Date: Caffe Taci, 22 East 54th Street. The comparison is inevitable. Walking into Caffe Taci (upstairs at the bistro Papillon) is a little like stumbling into the Café Momus: you never quite know what's going to happen. It's this feeling that you've landed in a big, opera-centered improvisational sketch that makes going to Taci so much fun. Presided over by its owner, the madly energetic Leopoldo Mucci, Taci (now in its sixteenth year) offers excellent food and a chance to hear talented up-and-coming singers such as baritone (and Met extra chorister) Robert Garner and soprano Tiffany Abban. Major opera stars such as René Pape stop by all the time to hear hammy versions of "O Sole Mio" or genuinely fine performances of "Votre toast" and "Mon coeur s'oeuvre à ta voix"; occasionally, the stars step into the spotlight themselves. Opera nights take place every Saturday at 9 P.M., and occasionally on Sunday.
BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT
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