“No Choice but Love: Songs of the LGBTQ+ Community”

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A two-CD song recital that I set aside last year because it didn’t have program notes or the sung texts just surfaced in my pile. This time I noticed a QR code that gets me the program notes on my cellphone, and I finally figured out that they’re also on the record company’s website. I read them—they’re by the much-published writer on music Roger Pines—and was immediately intrigued.

Eric Ferring, a marvelous young tenor who has been doing lyric and coloratura roles at the Met recently (e.g., Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Pong in Puccini’s Turandot) made his debut recording in this album with pianist Madeline Slettedahl.

No Choice but Love: Songs of the LGBTQ+ Community is an imaginative compilation of songs by gay and lesbian composers (seven men, two women) plus a “Mexican American transgender composer”, Mari Esabel Valverde. The more recent songs often address the challenges of being different (or being thought “different”) in mainstream society, and these are the ones that held my attention most. [continued]

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Locke’s List for 2023: Notable Operatic Recordings Plus

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This past year has seen an outpouring of fascinating and important recordings of operatic and other vocal works. I have been fortunate to receive copies of many of them for review in this and several other venues (notably in American Record Guide and at the Boston-based arts magazine The Arts Fuse). I’m happy, once again, to be presenting here at the Boston Musical Intelligencer my personal selection of some of the most notable and engaging of the lot.

Baroque era: I was delighted to get to know John Frederick Lampe’s The Dragon of Wantley (1737), in a highly accomplished and spirited recording. The work feels a bit like a successor to The Beggar’s Opera, not least in its pointed satire of social norms. (The work was just performed by the Boston Early Music Festival, though with a different cast and orchestra; the Boston Globe called the result “spellbinding.” Virtual tickets to watch the videorecording are available through December 23, 2023.)

A recording of a serious English opera of the period, Matthew Locke’s Psyche, was musically marvelous but utterly undone for me by the mispronunciations of the libretto by the all-Francophone cast. No such problems occurred with Jean-Marie Leclair’s Scylla et Glaucus, gorgeously performed and exquisitely pronounced. The work has the further advantage of reminding us that Leclair, though long known primarily for his violin works, was a fine all-around composer. Much the same can be said of Marin Marais’s Ariane et Bacchus, since that composer, too, is normally known for his instrumental music (and/or as the character played by Gérard Depardieu in the beloved film Tous les matins du monde). [continued]

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Locke Lists Rep-Enriching Opera Recordings and More

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The year end finds me recommending two dozen superlative operatic offerings of different kinds, plus a smaller number of recordings in other genres. As in previous years, my list focuses mainly on lesser-known operas because that’s what I tend to be sent for review. But the list also reflects my belief that the operatic tradition is wider and deeper than our “standard rep” of Carmen and so on leads us to think. (And I’m one of the world’s biggest Carmen fans.)

Some of these operas are in languages that I don’t know; it took extra effort to follow the libretto and translation that in nearly all cases comes with the recording, but I was glad I did.

A few were recorded before the pandemic began, others were made without an audience or with the seats half-filled, and frequently the orchestral players (except those in the wind sections) were masked. A few are important re-releases that first appeared years earlier on a different label or that had been sitting unreleased, often in the “vaults” of European radio station. One came to my attention belatedly by26 years. [continued]

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Odyssey Opera Releases Gounod’s Queen

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Charles Gounod’s La reine de Saba, libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, performed at Jordan Hall in 2018 with Kara Shay Thomson (Queen Balkis), Michelle Trainor (Bénoni), Dominick Chenes (Adoniram), Kevin Thompson (King Solomon), conductor Gil Rose. BMOP/sound OO1004 [3 CDs] 165 minutes. Click HERE to purchase or audition any track.

Boston’s Odyssey Opera’s Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Gunther Schuller’s The Fisherman and His Wife (first performed at the New England Conservatory), and Norman Dello Joio’s The Trial at Rouen have been previously welcomed on these pages. And last October, the related and equally adventurous Boston Modern Orchestra Project, on the cusp of releasing its 100th recording, earned Gramophone Classical ‘s Special Achievement Awarda for reviving and commissioning a spectrum of significant new and neglected American works over the last 25 years.

Odysssey Opera’s latest rediscoveries include the first complete recording of Charles Gounod’s La Reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheba), a work that received its first performance at the Paris Opéra in 1862. Large chunks of music apparently emerge here for the first time. And the sequence of events is sometimes surprising to anyone who might know the (few and not readily available) previous recordings of the work. For example, Adoniram’s big aria, well-known from some tenor-recital discs, now opens the opera instead of being placed in the second act. [continued]

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Locke’s List for 2021: Notable Recent Opera and Other Vocal Recordings

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The year 2021 may have been a frustrating one for most performers and concertgoers, but CDs (and downloads, etc.) kept being released, mostly using studio and “live” recordings that had been made a year or two before—or sometimes much longer ago. These releases included some fascinating operas and other vocal works that were, until now, little known. And, given that streaming is now so easy and inexpensive (Spotify, Naxos Music Library, Apple Music, and so on), nearly all these items can be easily heard without one’s having to make a special purchase. Though often, for opera and vocal works, purchasing the item as a CD or download is the only way to gain access to the booklet containing texts and translations. (Some record companies thoughtfully make such materials available for free, on their website.)

Here were the highlights of my year of listening.

Medieval music: The Orlando Consort continued their remarkable series of the complete works of Guillaume de Machaut with a CD called “The Lion of Nobility.” The four male voices sing beautifully and enunciate the text clearly. (Machaut was almost more important as a poet than as a composer!) Particularly remarkable is a lai that was long thought to be monophonic; but recent scholars have shown that several strophes can be sung simultaneously, producing—here—remarkably engaging harmonies.

Baroque and Classical: I was struck again and again by the high quality of singing in most of the early-opera recordings that I got to review, including Cesti’s La Dori, Vivaldi’s Tamerlano, Hasse’s Enea in Catonia, and Gluck’s Demofoonte.

A fascinating “sampler” was put together by the renowned Canadian lyric soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian: arias for the “other” Cleopatra, princess of Pontus (which is located in what is today Turkey) and future queen of Armenia. All three operas are called Tigrane, after the prince that Cleopatra will marry; the composers are three of the aforementioned: Hasse, Vivaldi, and Gluck. The singing and conducting follow “mainstream” rather than “early music” norms and may appeal to listeners who sometimes find Historically Informed Performance a bit intense or frantic (or, in the string playing, scratchy). [continued]

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“Snake” Released on CD

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Perhaps because I moved away from the Boston area some 50 years ago, I had never heard of Scott Wheeler, the much-performed composer of operas and instrumental works who has long taught music theater and song composition at Emerson College. I looked around, though, and found much praise for—among other recordings—a dramatic cantata The Construction of Boston, a collection of orchestral works (Heavy Weather), and William Sharp singing some of his songs.

The present release offers the first of three mythology-drenched operas from three different composers collectively known as The Ouroboros Trilogy. The ouroboros is a mythological symbol in many cultures: a snake biting its own tail, thus representing such things as the circularity of life and history. Singapore-born Cerise Lim Jacobs wrote all three librettos. The second and third operas in the trilogy are Gilgamesh, with music by Paula Prestini, and Madame White Snake, whose composer Zhou Long won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Music for it. [continued]

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Locke’s List: Best Opera and Vocal Music of 2019

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2019 has proved to be a splendid year for French works and some splendid stuff from elsewhere. The bumper crop of wonderful recordings includes unusual operas—and one unusual recording of a repertory staple: Gounod’s Faust,  some books I’d like to mention, and a performance that I was really glad I attended. (My two previous years’ opera round-ups for BMInt can be found by clicking [2017] and [2018].)

We finally got a recording—a splendid one—of Donizetti’s L’ange de Nisida (Opera Rara 58), a work that never got performed during the composer’s lifetime, and that he plundered for sections to use in his (now relatively familiar) La favorite. See a fascinating three-minute trailer about the recording, and the scholarly effort that was needed to reconstruct this startlingly bold work. The performance, under Mark Elder, is magnificent, not least the singing of Joyce El-Khoury and David Junghoon Kim as the two lovers. The entire recording can be heard for free on YouTube (broken down into 56 segments). I reviewed it for the Boston-based online magazine The ArtsFuse here.

Le tribut de Zamora, Gounod’s last opera (1881), likewise got its first recording, marvelously performed under Hervé Niquet (Bru Zane 1033). I reviewed it for The Arts Fuse. This is one of 22 rarely performed (and often previously unrecorded) French operas that, over the past ten years, have been released on CD by the Center for French Romantic Music, an organization whose offices are located in the Palazzetto Bru Zane (in Venice). Excerpts from Le tribut can be seen and heard in this video. [continued]

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