Sunday, January 22, 2006

Die Geheimnisvolle Helena

I am *slowly* making my way through the Jackpot of opera recordings I came across back in December. Evidently I sent them via Donkey; aka Media Mail...talk about delayed gratification. They arrived to my wee Chelsea studio only last week.

A few sure-fire hits thus far: The Solti Ring, the Karajan Ariadne, the Glyndebourne Jenufa DVD (with Roberta Alexander and a deliciously decrepit Anja Silja)...

This morning, however, I came across a bit of a mystery: A 1979 Decca/London recording of Die Ägyptische Helena. Detroit Symphony Orchestra--Antal Dorati at the helm. Gwyneth Jones, Barbara Hendricks...I can't seem to find much information. Certainly no particularly enlightening reviews. Now, on first listen, I am pretty into it. Jones is a powerhouse--really, this is a heavy voice. But I find it works here, especially in the context of Dorati's utterly balls-out interpretation (I say this as though I had ANY point of comparison. Admittedly, I do not.) Anyway, this recording seems to be not wildly easy to come by, and I am wondering if anyone else has heard it, how it stands up, etc--especially in anticipation of this mention of a new production next season at the Met.

So, listening to all this Strauss is making me painfully aware that I do not have a Salome recording. Seeing as there are about a billion of them readily available, and most of them relatively cheaply, I am going a bit crazy trying to decide which to go with. As a first recording, I tend to prefer super clean, studio sound. Yet, something about Salome leads me to lean a bit toward the live options. Suggestions and general guidance would be sehr appreciated.

On a different note, I listened to most of the broadcast yesterday, and was very into both Dunleavy and Miklosa. Gunn was....Gunn. Totally...er, serviceable but not extraordinary. Still, I think a perfectly fine choice. And his rousing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" was completely...oh wait. Regardless, I am looking forward to seeing it next week. If nothing else, it'll be like seeing The Lion King for $26 instead of $100.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

i never considered die zauberflote a particularly long opera....until i saw julie taymor's production...
good luck

brian

A.C. Douglas said...

Suggestions and general guidance would be sehr appreciated [on a recording of Salome].

If you're among those who like that kind of thing (I am), the Solti / Nilsson will raise the hair on the back of your neck, and curl your socks.

ACD

Chalkenteros said...

I got the Solti Ring for xmas, and have listened to little else since. "Heil dir, Sonne! Heil dir, Licht!" is blasting out of my iTunes as I type this. And Nilsson died on xmas day :-( ...

So what do you think of the Karajan Ariadne? Doesn't "Gibt es kein hinuber" give you goosebumps? And Streich's coloratura in "Grossmachtige Prinzessin" is like a pointillist masterpiece.

I am looking for my first Salome too, and I will probably go for the Solti/Nilsson set. I have been loving the Rysanek performance available from La Cieca at parterre.com. I really should send the grande dame some money for that one...

straussmonster said...

That recording of Helena is mostly known for how absolutely godawful Kastu is in what is admittedly one of Strauss' most ungrateful tenor roles. I'd probably say that only Guntram is worse. I do also believe that's the 1933 reworking, which is inferior to the 1928 original (in my monstrous opinion). I respect Jones for having done the opera for years when no one else seems to have had the requisite insanity, lack of fear, and high C# in that goddamn aria, but I can't bring myself to like her in the role, either.

But then, ummm, none of the current Helena recordings is really ideal. I'll leave it at that for now.

straussmonster said...

Oh, and to leave a thought on the whole Salome thing, Nilsson and Solti sure is exciting, but subtle it ain't. (I don't like Solti took Strauss' half-joking recommendations to conductors seriously. He probably should have.) Strauss' ideal Salome voice at the end of his life was Maria Cebotari, who was several weight-classes of Fach down from Nilsson. It's not ideal in all respects, but I myself go for Karajan/Behrens on style grounds. But then I also tend not to like Solti's Strauss (too heavy and makes passages that aren't noise sound like it), YMMV. Ljuba Welitsch should be heard, and Leonie Rysanek too.

Alex Ross said...

I also vote strongly for Karajan/Behrens. For me Nilsson and Solti are too overbearing and high-voltage in a work that has a very strong if thoroughly sardonic lyrical dimension. Karajan gets a wonderful weird performance by Karl-Walter Böhm as Herod. Not the usual Mime-ish barking; intead, something more sinuously diseased. Behrens is fantastic throughout; she makes you believe Salome is a very peculiar sort of teen-aged girl, which Nilsson, for all her vast virtues, does not.

Maury D'annato said...

Oh it does my heart good to hear praise of Behrens. I only heard the recording once, 4,000 years ago, but I heard her sing a couple of times in her little period of vocal Indian Summer in Houston. She sang the role of Salome at the age of 60 I'd say, and despite the mildly stupidhead production by Atom Egoyan, she was pretty riveting.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Putting in a vote for Rysanek (the live performance with Boehm) on general principles, because I like the performance but mostly can't stand the opera. "A very peculiar sort of teen-age girl," uh, yes, indeed. One who makes me want to go rinse out my brain....

A.C. Douglas said...

Alex Ross (who should be squirreled away with his MS instead of blog-hopping), writes:

Behrens is fantastic throughout; she makes you believe Salome is a very peculiar sort of teen-aged girl, which Nilsson, for all her vast virtues, does not.

Behrens (whom I hugely admire) is indeed just that, and Nilsson indeed does not.

ACD

Jonathan said...

Oh I knew I could count on our blogging buddies for all sorts of lovingly researched advice.

After taking the above comments into account and doing a thorough cost-benefit analysis, I am (for the time being) going with the Behrens AND the Rysanek.

Lisa, how is that brain rinse going?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Not so well, since now I think I'd better get Behrens/HvK.

Maury D'annato said...

Just as a matter of public record I must mention Borkh, the only Salome I know who already sounds beautifully, kinkily mad as she sings the usually for-nothing entrace lines: Ich will nicht bleiben. Ich kann nicht bleiben.
...aaaaand Caballe, who is at times delightfully kittenish. But this is getting to be like an opera-l thread where by the time we're all done, everyone has been called the best. Except maybe Wallburga Wegner. I don't think anyone's mentioned her.

FRCohn said...

re: Rysanek/Böhm -- be sure to get the BMG "official" release. Avoid the Opera d'Oro dubbing like the plague: It's unlistenable.

This is a performance so heated that it's hard to exercise any kind of objectivity. That's why I c an't say for sure whether Leonie is a convincing "teenager" or not. All I know is...she's demented!

Jonathan said...

frcohn: Good advice. I was tempted by evil Opera d'Oro, though I have been down that disappointing road before.

Maury: totally perceptive about the opera-l love fests! Though inevitably it would also degenerate into an endless thread about the appropriateness of boo-ing.

-Wallburga

JSU said...

Don't forget to reserve a spot for the Met DVD, if they ever get around to issuing it. Overwhelming in all aspects, though the dance choreography didn't do it for me.

straussmonster said...

I did standing room for one of the Mattila performances at the Met, and while I came out appropriately dazed and very impressed, it really didn't do it for me overall. Why?

No sense of development and progress in Salome's character. She started out so overwhelmingly sexy and provocative that there was nowhere to go with it. Compare to something like the Boehm video with Stratas, who starts out very light and skittish, and really develops the dementia as the opera careens along. I think that's a minority reaction to that production, though.

Jonathan said...

Straussmonster: I have the Stratas video. The production skeeves me out a bit but I like her characterization quite a lot. And, as I have made painfully obvious, my knowledge of the opera and available recordings is too limited to judge it properly. Hence the quest for a proper recording.

straussmonster said...

Jonathan: Despite my nom de guerre, Salome is a bit of a sticking point for me, and not the one I know the best. I think you have enough suggestions here to pick up a good working knowledge of the opera, and I applaud your pursuit thereof (while throwing in another plug for hearing Cebotari in the role for historical interest). Now, if you're ever interested in the analytical literature, I'm your man for that.

rysanekfreak said...

Of course, you must go with the Rysanek Salome. Of course.

But it wouldn't hurt to have the Nilsson one as well.

But whenever you have a choice, ALWAYS go with Rysanek!!!!

Samuel said...

Re Salome, I would go for either Behrens or Studer, slightly in favour of Behrens. Studer is fabulous in the Jokanaan scene, but Behrens is just fabulous.