Young singers on blazing good form
Above: Israeli pianist Ishay Shaer performs for Durban’s Friends of Music on June 2. Right and far right: Soprano Joyce El-Khoury and tenor Michael Spyres, who star in Opera Rara’s newly released recording of Donizetti’s Martyrs.
AS OPERA productions remain consistently absent from Durban’s mainstage arena, Opera Rara’s latest release, a magnificent recording of Donizetti’s 1840 four-act grand opera, Les Martyrs, will be greeted with open arms by local enthusiasts who have to rely on experiencing this great art form at a remove.
Conducted with white-hot passion by Sir Mark Elder, at the helm of the superbly committed Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, this three-CD set has just been released.
It follows a new critical edition of Donizetti’s score, which is set to a libretto set against the backdrop of early Christian martyrs who were persecuted under imperial Roman rule in third-century Armenia.
Heading the cast as the heroic Roman-warrior-turnedChristian-convert, Polyeucte, and his wife and eventual fellow convert, Pauline, are American tenor Michael Spyres and silver-voiced Canadian-Lebanese soprano Joyce El-Khoury.
These young singers are on blazing form in this studio recording, which preceded a widely acclaimed concert performance in London’s Royal Festival Hall last November.
Both soprano and tenor comfortably inhabit their virtuoso roles. El-Khoury’s formidable arsenal of accomplishments, blazing top Cs, effortlessly despatched coloratura and gossamer-fine pianissimos, inform the singer’s compelling dramatic portrayal.
Spyres’s performance, likewise, is beautifully observed, lovely head tones alternating with clarion-toned climaxes. Not the least of these is an astonishing high E natural, pitched dead-centre in full voice (gasps of amazement all round).
Basses Brindley Sherratt and Clive Bayley, and baritone David Kempster, each hold their own in the casting stakes, and the Opera Rara Chorus seize their several moments to shine in Donizetti’s grandiose score, created to appease the spectacle-hungry Paris Opéra audience of the day.
As ever, this new release is backed by Opera Rara’s trademark high production values, which include comprehensive programme notes and an English translation of the French libretto.
Les Martyrs is available directly from Opera Rara at http://www.opera-rara.com.
Also of note for local lovers of opera is the final HD transmission from the 2014/2015 New York Metropolitan Opera season.
Set for a short run at Umhlanga’s Cinema Nouveau from Saturday, this film features the traditional coupling of the world’s bestknown one-act melodramas: Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, and its frequent bed-fellow, Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci.
Conducted by Fabio Luisi and directed by Sir David McVicar, this “Cav and Pag” double bill marks its first new Met production in 45 years.
On our live music front, the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra launches its winter season of concerts this evening in the Durban City Hall with an eclectic mix of works presented under the slightly misleading soubriquet, Celebrate Africa!.
While the inclusion of two hybrid concert rarities from Ghana – each promising fascinating listening for seasoned concert-goers – partially justifies the overall title of the evening’s fare, the choice of music by Antonin Dvorák as its curtain-raiser and Leonard Bernstein to close hardly reinforces the chosen theme of the evening’s programming.
Be that as it may, in the light of the recent outbreak of xenophobic violence in our city, the diplomatic gesture, broadly celebrating multiculturalism, is timeous. It comes in the wake of the recent national tour by the Alma Chamber Orchestra in support of peace and unity.
With German maestro Berhard Gueller on the podium, this evening’s programme opens with Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances (Numbers 1 – 4 Opus 46).
The spotlight then falls on the renowned Ghanaian composer Bernard Woma, who introduces to locals the distinctive sounds of a traditional Ghanaian xylophone, known as the gyil.
The distinctive sounds of this instrument can be heard in performances of Woma’s Gyil Jumbie Concerto and Gyil Yeru Concerto.
These two short pieces, expanded for performances with symphony orchestras in the US and elsewhere, will be performed by the three-man Bernard Woma Ensemble.
This comprises the composer himself, Mark Stone and Edward Kwesi Adu Ampim Greene, the latter replacing the previously announced, but indisposed, Kofi Ameyaw.
Bernstein’s West Side Story Symphonic Dances brings the evening to a close.
Next Thursday’s programme, conducted by Lykele Temmingh, sees members of the Bochabella Strings from Bloemfontein joining forces with the KZNPO.
The evening opens with the brilliant Queen Mab Scherzo from Berlioz’s dramatic symphony, Romeo et Juliet, and concludes with extracts from Prokofieff ’s ballet of the same title.
Its centrepiece is a performance by the American pianist, Awadagin Pratt, of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 in A Major K488.
To subscribe to the KZNPO’s winter season concerts, which start at 7.30pm and run each Thursday until June 25, phone Computicket at 0861 915 8000 or log on to www.computicket.com.
Finally, for chamber music lovers, two events are in the offing, each starting at 7.30pm.
The first of these is a duo performance of light classical favourites and cross-over items by pianist Christopher Duigan and guitarist James Grace next Tuesday at L’Apertivo Venue 9, Aurora Drive (behind Royal Palm Hotel), at Gateway in Umhlanga. To book call 072 947 3804 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The second recital coming up, to be presented by Friends of Music, is at the Jewish Centre in K E Masinga Road on Tuesday, June 2. It will feature Israeli pianist Ishay Shaer performing music by Debussy, Beethoven and Chopin. Book at Computicket.