by BRIAN KELLOW and TRISTAN KRAFT
© AF Archive/Alamy 2012
Essential Polish Tenor: Jan Kiepura. It wasn’t uncommon for Kiepura to be mobbed by autograph-seekers at the stage door following one of his performances. Often he did something better than scribbling his name: he jumped on top of a waiting taxi and sang an entire mini-recital for the crowd. To this day, Kiepura has immense stature in Poland, and listening to his recordings, it’s easy to hear why. His singing is touched by poetry, but it also has an ebullience matched by few other tenors. In the recordings he made with his wife, Marta Eggerth (see our 100th-birthday interview with her at www.operanews.com), you can hear that he possesses that most elusive of all qualities — charm. See our cover story on current favorite Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, "Peak Form."
Essential Producer of Early Verdi Rarities: Eve Queler. From the time she launched Opera Orchestra of New York in 1971, Queler was beating the drum for early Verdi, with a performance of I Lombardi starring Renata Scotto and José Carreras. And she has continued to do so for years. The composer’s sixth opera, I Due Foscari, currently in a new production at Los Angeles Opera, made it into OONY’s season three times — in 1981, with Carlo Bergonzi and Renato Bruson, in 1992, with Eduardo Villa, Vladimir Chernov and Martile Rowland, and again in 2007, with Julianna Di Giacomo. As OONY enters its new season, we send our gratitude to Queler, for all those years of knowing what audiences want, and knowing how to give it to them. See David Lawton’s essay on I Due Foscari, "Dark Shadows."
Essential Belcore in L’Elisir d’Amore: Mariusz Kwiecien. In the ongoing turf battle between Nemorinos and Adinas, it’s easy to overlook the long history of distinguished artists who have taken a crack at Belcore, one of the choicest baritone comic roles in the bel canto repertoire. Last season, in the swan-song revival of the Met’s Beni Montresor-designed production, Mariusz Kwiecien scored a triumph in the role, capturing the character’s vanity and clumsiness in a perfectly judged performance. His attempts to make his club-footed band of soldiers into a disciplined regiment were among the performance’s comic high points, and he dispatched the coloratura in the duet with Nemorino, “Venti scudi,” with matchless style. See Patrick Dillon’s musings on the role of Adina, "Ladies' Night."
Essential Einstein on the Beach recording: The 1993 Nonesuch release. Perhaps it’s worth saying that anyone wanting to own one recording of Einstein on the Beach will probably want to own both. Indeed there are only two — a 1978 recording available on Sony, captured just after the opera’s 1976 New York premiere, and a more calculated, polished release from Nonesuch. For repeat listenings, or first-time listeners, the polish is what makes the Nonesuch version so appealing. Choral numbers (there are many) sound crisp and in tune. The tempo is slower, more indulgent. And the recording includes music trimmed from the Sony recording, cut to fit the opera on four LPs. Director and librettist Robert Wilson has said of Einstein, “You don’t listen to the words, because they don’t mean anything.” But without the visual spectacle of Wilson’s production, we find that they do. Einstein travels to Brooklyn Academy of Music this month. See OperaWatch, for more information.
Essential James Ivory Primer:
A Room with a View. Ivory’s 1985 film — his fourteenth with the team of producer Ismail Merchant and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala — weaves music through E. M. Forster’s 1908 novel in the most artful way possible. Ivory establishes a mood from the opening credits: “O mio babbino caro” (sung by Kiri Te Kanawa) washes over the viewer and sets a pace for the film that never falters. The crux of the story, Lucy and George’s kiss in the barley field, is set to another Puccini aria, “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,” again sung by Te Kanawa. Ivory peppers the cast with fine character actors (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Denholm Elliott and a young Daniel Day-Lewis among them), with Helena Bonham Carter as the protagonist, Lucy. Most refreshing about Bonham Carter is her realistic, natural piano-playing. She wields it best in a scene with Mr. Beebe (Simon Callow), petulantly playing Mozart’s Sonata for Piano No. 8 over him as he recites a letter. Cumulatively, the film adds enormous credibility to Mr. Beebe’s quote early on, “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting.” James Ivory is this month’s Listener of Note.
BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT
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