Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|George Frideric Handel, John Eliot Gardiner, Norma Burrowes|
Handel: Semele /Burrowes * Kwella * Priday * D Jones * Denley * Penrose * Rolfe Johnson * Davies * Lloyd * Thomas * Monteverdi Choir * English Baroque Soloists * Gardiner
Although he billed this piece as an oratorio, it's really an opera--the first ever in English, and one of the finest too. Handel's audience wasn't fooled for a minute, and a successful performance needs a dazzling cast of ... more »
Although he billed this piece as an oratorio, it's really an opera--the first ever in English, and one of the finest too. Handel's audience wasn't fooled for a minute, and a successful performance needs a dazzling cast of singers, just as in the composer's Italian operas. Good as John Eliot Gardiner's singers are, they don't surpass John Nelson's cast on DG, nor does Gardiner's direction offer much competition. Had the DG not existed this would be perfectly recommendable, but life is cruel, and you deserve the best. --David Hurwitz
Tuneful, dramatic, succinct . . .
Dalua | the UK | 07/27/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"David Hurwitz, the Amazon.com reviewer, refers to "Semele" as the first ever opera in English, but surely is forgetting "Venus & Adonis" (Blow) or "Dido & Aeneas" (Purcell), which date from the previous century (and may be unaware that the same libretto by Congreve that Handel used for Semele was set decades earlier by Eccles, though never performed)! This incredible oversight is matched by his opinion that Nelson's 'modern' performance surpasses Gardiner's. (I was first acquainted with Nelson's recording before I got to know Gardiner's, and Nelson's is too problematic to my ears to even consider buying at a knock-down price)."Semele" cannot be satisfactorily described as either an Italianate opera or an English oratorio. It doesn't conform to the strict structure of opera seria nor, with a plot derived from classical mythology (one of Ovid's Metamorphoses), does it conform to the religious character of the oratorio. Instead, it lies somewhere in between. I tend to refer to it as an English baroque opera anwyay and, considering opera in English was never really a flourishing genre, I think this is fair.This recording is really very good and, for several reasons, is preferrable, in my opinion, to the recent recording by John Nelson which features Kathleen Battle in the title role, John Aler as Jupiter and Marylin Horne as both Ino and Juno - and this latter veteran, it has to be said, is probably the recording's most disappointing aspect (along with Battles' sucking in of breath). One may complain that Gardiner has made a few cuts - but the only cut I genuinely regret is part of the emotional exchange between Athamas and Ino, which is potentially one of the work's most moving scenes (Horne's delivery of it, by the way, ultimately becomes too harsh on the ear). Catherine Denley, though deprived part of this moving scene, is a most accomplished mezzo, and sings the role of Ino with the necessary maturity but without the constricted throat (and audible age) of her counterpart on Nelson's recording.It was absolutely the right choice to cast Norma Burrowes in the title role. She is perfectly suited to it - a naturally pretty and naturally high soprano. Youthful, gentle and unaffected in comparison with her Nelson counterpart, her first recitative and aria (Can Semele forego thy love) is simply stunning. One of her arias (Endless pleasure, endless love) suffers from poor recording levels (perhaps the result of the live recording - she sounds a little distant at times), but that is my only complaint. She portrays the character of Semele and her unfortunate obsession with her divine lover beautifully. Indeed, it is the tragic unfolding of the fate of Semele alongside Ino's unrequited love for Athamas, her sister's betrothed, that for me is the appeal of this opera, besides the wealth of lovely tunes. Anthony Rolfe-Johnson sings the role of Jupiter almost perfectly, with sensitivity to the text; he delivers a touching, if slightly melancholy, rendition of "Where'er you walk" (it's meant to be a reassuring aria but, to my limited knowledge, no singer has realised it yet).Della Jones gives a sparkling performance: she suits the jealous Juno down to the ground. Her excellent diction and dramatic flare are breathtaking - she seizes the stage uttering but a few words at times, delivering an aria at others, relishing every moment - her involvement and commitment to the part - or, indeed, any part she plays - can only be marvelled at. In fact, she, more than Denley, makes clear why Marylin Horne just isn't up to it. Her first accompanied recitative where she condemns "the cursed Semele" to "the flood of Acheron" has to be heard to be believed. Patrizia Kwella, as Juno's attendant, Iris, does her best to keep up with Jones and does a decent job - her somewhat two-dimensional voice showing its unfortunate face mainly on her first aria, managing to muster greater conviction for the recitatives.Robert Lloyd, an excellent bass, is a marvellous and very human King Cadmus of Thebes (father of Semele) - and his counterpart on Nelson's recording, Samuel Ramey, simply doesn't possess the intent, or the involvement in the part, to deliver the words convincingly. Timothy Penrose is certainly an adequate Athamas (even in Semele's eyes, I'm sure) but he's not the most pleasing countertenor - in Michael Chance, Nelson has the better singer (though I look forward to one-day hearing a singer such as Daniel Taylor in the part).David Thomas, who for me is usually the bane of any recording with his hammy, thoughtless kermit-the-frog vocals that often are more showmanship than singing, surprised me on this occasion with a tolerable Somnus - his odd, 'do-ey' (by which I suppose I mean thoughtless, 'trying' rather than thinking) quality remains still audible even in his 'peaceful' air and he becomes a little excited during the duet with Juno, but I suppose this is to be expected given the nature of the scene. The sad irony is that although his scene is meant to be comic, Thomas manages to sound comic at the same time as sounding as though he doesn't intend to (though one would imagine he does).Catherine Prierard, as Cupid, has a convincingly boyish voice, but it is sometimes difficult to make out what she is singing and the aria is a little high for her. (Having heard Nancy Argenta sing Cupid splendidly on Medlam's recording of John Blow's "Venus and Adonis", I can't help comparing the two). Maldwyn Davies, who makes an even briefer appearance as Apollo, gives a fine delivery. The choruses, especially of the priests, are brilliant (they sound suffocated on Nelson's recording).So, Nelson's recording has (tenuous) the advantage of more recent recording technology but surpasses Gardiner's recording in neither soloists nor choir. Another downside to Nelson's is that the English Chamber Orchestra is not period instrument, which may be what makes the playing slightly less beautiful than one would expect. Though I suspect the event of a more ideal recording is not too many years away (if the recording of July 2003 by Daniel Stern doesn't in fact prove to be such), I would recommend this, Gardiner's recording, in the meantime and as an addition to any recording you might own."
Better Performance Than The DG
Jaime J. Weinman | Canada | 05/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I may be alone in this, but I think this is a slightly better performance than the much-praised DG version. It has nothing to do with period instruments; it's that Gardiner has better soloists in the lead roles. Don't get me wrong: All the singers on the DG version are good (though many of them were better in a concert performance given five years before the recording was made). But Norma Burrowes is less coy and less prone to crooning than Kathleen Battle, Della Jones in fresher voice and more technically secure than Marilyn Horne (who would have been ideal if only she'd recorded the part ten years earlier), and the great Anthony Rolfe Johnson edges out DG's merely good John Aler as Jupiter. Gardiner also has the advantage of his great Monteverdi choir, much more dramatic than DG's chorus. And finally, Gardiner is as always a great Handel conductor; Handel and Purcell are probably the composers with whom he has the most affinity.That said, the DG is probably still the first choice for this great work, simply because Gardiner cuts several good arias. On the other hand, if you don't want to shell out the price of three full-priced CDs, get this mid-priced set and get it with confidence. You'll be glad you did; it's a great work, whichever recording you get."
An oratorio like an opera.
Izolda | 09/18/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This performanca is pleasant and interesting, full of very good pages, like the celebrate aria of Juppiter or the quartetto of the first act. Good Gardiner and the orchestra. Good , but not always excellent, the singers."