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Glyndebourne: GFOCD 001-62)

BETROTHAL IN A MONASTERY

Sergei Prokofiev

Glyndebourne: GFOCD 002-06

Britain's Glyndebourne Festival has started its own record label to feature outstanding live performances from the company's rich archive. Recording enthusiast John Barnes suggested in the 1950s that the company document its productions with quality, professional recordings, and he has reportedly recorded thousands of performances since then. Given the clarity and balance of these two splendid new releases, Barnes clearly knows his stuff and leaves one salivating for more gems from the festival's treasure trove.

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Not surprisingly for such a prestigious and well-endowed festival, Glyndebourne's two initial releases are sumptuously packaged as glossy, hard-covered books. Each volume is substantial in weight and content, featuring photos of the production, costume sketches, contemporary press reviews, synopses, notes, libretto and translations.

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Given that Le nozze di Figaro inaugurated the Glyndebourne Festival in 1934, it is appropriate that its first commercial CD should be of Mozart's masterful comedy. This polished performance, conducted by Silvio Varviso, was recorded on June 9, 1962, and features a stellar cast led by the young Mirella Freni, in fresh voice as an endearing Susanna, and Swiss soprano Edith Mathis, in fine fettle as the perky Cherubino. In unusual casting, Turkish-Italian soprano Leyla Gencer, who died this past year at 79, sings Countess Almaviva. Best known as a bel canto specialist--particularly in Donizetti--she makes a somewhat mature heroine, although a formidable foil to Gabriel Bacquier's somewhat menacing Count. While her pitch is questionable in her opening aria. "Porgi amor", she scales the voice back and displays remarkable breath control for a telling performance of "Dove sono." The blend between her and Freni makes their duet, "Sull'aria," a highlight. American baritone Heinz Blankenburg is a respectable Figaro, although his punched, marcato approach to "Se vuol ballare" is annoying.

The libretto for Sergei Prokofiev's spirited comic opera, Betrothal in a Monastery, is based on Richard Sheridan's 1775, three-act opera libretto.

The Duenna, or The Double Elopement. Prokofiev began composition in 1940, but work on the production was halted at the rehearsal stage the following year when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The opera finally had its premiere at the Prague National Theatre on May 5, 1946, with the Russian premiere later that year at the Kirov Theatre received with great public and critical acclaim.

Sheridan's libretto, a comedy of manners set in 18th-century Seville, is a delirious, delicious confection of romance, intrigue, disguise and mistaken identity in which trickery and cunning are the order of the day (much like Donizetti's Don Pasquale or Strauss's Die schweigsame Frau). Here, Louisa is promised in marriage to the wealthy Mendoza, although she is in love with Antonio. Meanwhile, Louisa's brother, Don Ferdinand, is in love with Clara, but believes her to be unfaithful with Antonio. In true opera buffo style, however, the young lovers are united in the end, with Mendoza tricked into marrying Louisa's resourceful duenna.

This new CD of Prokofiev's intoxicating score is an amalgam of performances recorded on August 12, 15 and 22, 2006. Barnes' recording is rich, splendidly transparent and intimate (one can clearly hear the rapport between the audience and the singers). The largely Russian cast is uniform from top to bottom, with soprano Lyubov Petrova (Louisa), mezzo Nino Surguladze (Clara), tenor Vsevolod Grivno (Antonio), baritone Andrey Breus (Ferdinand) and mezzo Alexandra Durseneva (the Duenna). Vladimir Jurowski, Glyndebourne's dynamic music director, conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra (sounding ever so Russian) with style and verve.--N.C.
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Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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