Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Gloire, gloire à Didon!"

Listening to Davis II and concluding that Les Troyes is, in fact, the greatest opera ever, a belief I will hold until my visit to Bayreuth, come the summer.

That said, Davis I vs. Davis II: discuss.


Civic Center said...

Could you please explain, for the uninitiated, what Davis I and Davis II might be?

Are you referring to British conductor Colin Davis who conducted probably the first [almost] complete "Les Troyens" in the late 1950s at Covent Garden? His recording with Jon Vickers and Josephine Veasey is beyond compare. This is easily the greatest opera I have never heard live, and finally this summer that will no longer be true.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Davis I is the conductor's 1969 studio recording (Vickers, Lindholm, Veasey, etc.); Davis II is his 2000 live recording (Heppner, Lang, DeYoung). The latter is on LSO Live.

I am interested in comparisons, and actually I'm interested in hearing about the various other recordings that are around.

Anonymous said...

In brief, I'd say that Davis I has the better Enée and Didon, while Davis II has the better everything else: Cassandre, secondary roles, French diction, sound quality, and conducting (and price!).

Jon Vickers is so magnificent, and so distinctive, that he alone is a powerful argument for Davis I. On the other hand, for example, Peter Mattei as Chorèbe on Davis II is beautiful beyond anything I've ever heard in that short but important part.

Berit Lindholm on Davis I is dramatically strong but has a seriously flawed voice, while Petra Lang on Davis II is much better. Neither, however, holds a candle to Jessye Norman on the Met 1983 video, or to Anna Caterina Antonacci.

Davis himself is great on both, but in ways I can't quite describe better on the later recording: more nuance, more elan, better at creating long arcs of energy -- I don't know. The difference is subtle but to me unmistakeable.

I'll think about this some more and maybe post again.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I bought Davis I used around 10 years ago and have heard Davis II streaming but plan to buy it.

Lindholm is absolutely paint-peeling through headphones; I can just...barely...stand her. And I am not a big fan of Vickers but will give Davis I another listen when I have my speakers set up again.

Rob, any thoughts on the other available recordings? I know you wrote at length about Troyens in comments here a few years ago, but for some reason I cannot find the posting.

greg b said...

Dear Lisa,
It's interesting that you would name "Troyens" as your pick for the greatest opera ever.
My own pick for that distinction, after MUCH reflection, is "Carmen".
Its melodies, its music and orchestration in general, the superb pacing, the characterizations (every main character is, amazingly enough, generalized but at the same time individualized - the genius of Bizet!), the understandability of the story line - recognizable to anyone - and the whole elan of the thing! Bravo Bizet/Halevy/Meilhac!!!! (Guiraud too!)
May you be willing to share your reasons, parameters, etc. for choosing "Troyens"?
I'd be much interested in knowing your thoughts.
BTW, my runner-up is another French opera: "Pelleas et Melisande".
- Best wishes from Greg

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm publishing your comment despite a creeping suspicion that you're another of the Pelleastrian's pseudonyms.

Why Troyens? Because of its astonishing (and successful) scope and ambition. It is Wagnerian in scope, but wholly French, wholly Berlioz.

Also, note that right now I'm saying greatest, but that's just until I see Tristan and the Ring in Bayreuth.

greg b said...

Dear Lisa,
I don't know who "Pelleastrian" is, but I'm just me.
I've always used "Greg from SF" as my handle, although my Google account has me as "greg b" so sometimes I just let that ride.
I'm not trying to troll you, or dis you, or mislead you in any way.
I was simply and sincerely asking you what your personal parameters are for choosing a great opera, and to share my own reasons for choosing "Carmen".
I in no way intended to argue with you about your particular choice(s), whatever it (they) may be. To each their own.
Hope all's well with you.....
- Greg from SF

Henry Holland said...

I'd bypass both of Davis' recordings and recommend the Dutoit recording for a recording of Les Troyens.

I doubt I'll be able to make it to SFO for their production in June, which is too bad because the one production I have been to was LA Opera's feeble attempt years ago. The long dance sequence was so awful that people were laughing at it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Why Dutoit over Davis, Henry? (Others feel free to weigh in too!)

Greg, sorry: there is a person plaguing various blogs and opera-l who has over the years gone by Pelleastrian, Genevieve Castle Room, and several other pseudonyms who is obsessed with Pelleas et Melisande and uh certain attitudes. Anyone mentioning Pelleas automatically gets suspected of being one of his pseuds.

Lisa Hirsch said...

And Greg, to answer your question: issues such as scope, ambition, influence, musical power, and drama all play into what I consider great in an opera. I don't have a greatest opera (how could one choose?), though I have a list of what I'd consider the greatest.

Anonymous said...

The other standard commercial recording is the one conducted by Charles Dutoit, from 1994, based on concert performances in Montreal -- at the time it was the only alternative to Davis I. The soloists are not the greatest. Actually, Deborah Voigt is in her vocal prime, so obviously a big improvement over Berit Lindholm, but the part lies a little low for her, and her approach is kind of generic. Francoise Pollet had seemed like she could fill the Regine Crespin fach, but really not -- a cloudy vocal timbre, and not much of an actress. Gary Lakes is also frustrating: the middle of his voice sounds like a possible heroic tenor, but he had a very short top -- even his A was problematic, and his career was I think not very long.

But the recording has two things to recommend it: first, a francophone chorus. It's amazing what a difference that makes in the clarity and expressiveness of the choral passages.

And second, it opens up a small cut that Berlioz had made, under pressure from the director of the Paris Opera over the opera's length: the so-called Sinon scene (read to learn what that is). This is about 5 minutes in the first act, and it's mostly rather plain recitative (of which there is very little in Troyens), so it doesn't contribute much musically. But it's a standard part of the mythology, and it gives Priam actual lines and makes him a real character, not just a totem. And of course it explains why the Trojans fall for the Horse trick. The orchestration is lost, but it survives in the piano-vocal score that Berlioz prepared, so Hugh Macdonald re-orchestrated it for the New Berlioz Edition. The LA Opera performances under Dutoit included the scene, and so does his recording. I'm glad to have seen and heard it.

Henry Holland said...

I know it's heresy, but I like Dutoit's conducting better than Davis' . Davis, for me, tends to go for "weighty, grand" Berlioz whereas I prefer Dutoit's more nimble, leaner take.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Dutoit certainly sounds worth hearing!

Anonymous said...

It's funny -- I think of Davis as "nimble, leaner" and James Levine as "weighty, grand". You must really hate Levine's approach.