Monday, March 4, 2013

Alfan's "Sakuntala" Finally

(From my review previously posted February/2006)

For years I’ve heard snippets (some long, some not so) of the work, and looked for a complete recording in vain. No more.

There is so much Debussy and Strauss influence in the score it’s almost not “Italian” sounding! Quite simply, Alfano’s instrumentation and use of color is nothing less than remarkable and gorgeous - exotic. One definitely can hear where Puccini got some of his ideas for Turandot here. (Similarly, part of the long first act duet between the King and
Sakuntala is strongly reminiscent of what Alfano would do in Turandot’s finale). That first act duet between the lovers is nearly Tristan length and Alfano never seems to run out of ideas.

There’s a moment or two toward the beginning of Act II which sounds like where Philip Glass seems to have gotten his best ideas, as well!

In the second act Sakuntala has an enormous, 9 minute voice busting aria that is just breathtaking as it segues into the next scene. Holy Moley, this is a BIG sing.

Alfano’s vocal writing here is far different than Puccini’s - longer phrases, more Wagnerian-style parlando (but not Wagnerian sounding - at all).

A dance/ballet opens the final act that (very) strongly recall’s Strauss.

(Side note: I believe those who’ve enjoyed Enescu’s Oedipe will find much to enjoy here.)

This performance was from 1979. The principal roles are sung by:

Sakuntala - Celestina Casapietra
The King - Michele Molese (anyone remember him from City Opera?!)
Kanva - Aurio Tomicich
with the RAI Symphony and Chorus conducted by Ottavio Ziino.

Casapietra is unknown to me. I would have liked a juicier, firmer voice but she handles the difficult high music quite well and sings with a lot of feeling. The lower voice can be a bit shaky (often) with a hollow quality that isn’t particularly lovely. The third act goes much better for her with the top notes opening up in a way they hadn’t earlier and that is quite thrilling (except for one squally high C, unfortunately on the word “orror!). Again, her commitment shows and that’s an important thing in this work.

Molese starts off just a wee bit thin, but within minutes the voice takes on a rich bloom and his voice past the passagio is often thrilling. Like Casapietra he sings the music with conviction and the two of them almost seem to get carried away by Alfano’s sumptuous outpourings.

The final scene looks so much to the final bars to what he composed for Turandot that no doubt can be left who’s ideas closed that opera.

Though the sound is not flawless (there appears to be some bleed through in spots which I’m guessing stem from the original tape source) it is more than good enough to convey the sense of wonder Alfano infuses through much of the work.

I really couldn’t be more pleased to have discovered this, and as ever: Bravo, Alfano!

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THC's Wretched "The Bible"

What a dreadful, awful thing this is. I couldn't believe the amount of money spent on this (produced by Surivor creator Mark Burnett), hunk of junk.

Oddly enough it begins with Noah and his family in their enormous, but awfully leaky ark, filled lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), as the wizened old geezer recites the creation story as they toss and turn. Perhaps trying not to upset "non-believers" the entirety of Creation is passed over in roughly 90 seconds, including the creation of Adam and Eve, their downfall, and Cain killing Able.

The entire cast appears culled from the British Isles (though this is an American made-produced product) with accents from all over the realm. Moses, for instance, has such a heavy Scottish brogue he could replace Gameskeeper Willie on "The Simpsons." The children,(all blonde or sandy haired moppets) each sound as though auditioning for the musical "Oliver." As Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac, the boy says, "Fatha, Oye see the sticks, but wha's the lamb," I fully expected to hear, "Howdy govnuh, cheerio 'n all that."

I found it offensive that the principal "good" characters, Noah, Moses, Jesus (who shows up with a pair of shit-kicking warrior angels: one Chinese and one African) to warn Abraham about Sodom's destruction), Miriam, et al., all are very white, fairhaired, etc., while the only characters who look remotely like the people from the region these stories occurred, are (natch) the bad guys, including Pharaoh, Hagar (with tattooed face) and Lot's wife (and what a miserable shrew they make her out to be).

In the long and pivotal role of Moses, they've cast an actor who is so absolutely, remarkably horrible his name is nowhere to be found on the internet: not even IMDB lists him in the cast. Moses. Really? You went with this guy?
The script is abysmal and in no consistent style, sort of veering off from Shakespearen "ancient talk" to modern English, with a (very) heavy predisposition to over pronouncing names like Aaron, and Isaac with almost a mingling of French and Middle Eastern accents. Weird.

The settings do look great (no expense being spared evidently) and the violence is right on the money; bloody, horrific and, in the case of ancient Egypt, continual. I was left wondering how anything got done by these poor half-starved emaciated slaves who were being whipped not only nonstop but almost literally to death,

It really is a dreadful, awful thing.

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