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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

CD Review: A Win For the Islanders

Giuseppe Sinopoli's final recording: Ariadne auf Naxos
Giuseppe Sinopoli
Giuseppe Sinopoli was one of the finest conductors of the latter half of the 20th century. Equally at home in the operas of Verdi and the symphonies of Mahler, he was one of many maestros to benefit from the surge in classical recordings in the first twenty years of the compact disc era. Although not every Sinopoli CD is definitive (much less essential) he always put his own stamp on the music he was conducting.

That maxim holds true for his final released recording, a studio recording of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, which was issued in 200_ by Deutsche Grammophon in commemoration of the conductor's untimely death. (And yes, I am reviewing a seven-year-old recording in this space but the set was added to my collection this year, and I finally got a chance to listen to it!)

It is a wonderful final testament. This Ariadne is an exquisite blend of light textures and majestic orchestral effects, Emphasis is on the somber drama of Ariadne's plight. Sinopoli, in his final complete Strauss recording, takes his usual iconoclastic approach. His freshly conceived tempos and subtle enhancements of woodwinds and strings bring out new sounds in a familiar score, enabling the listener to hear the opera as if for the first time.

This is an all-star cast. Deborah Voigt shows why Ariadne is one of her signiature roles. She is unquestionably the focus of this opera. Opposite her is the aerobatic Zerbinetta of Natalie Dessay, who nearly leaps out of the speakers for "Grossmachtige prinzessin."

Anne Sofie Von Otter's Composer dominates the opening Prologue--her interactions with Zerbinetta benefit from Von Otter's experience in trouser roles.Ben Heppner is suitably self-inflated in the Prologue; ringing and firm in the Opera. His Bacchus does not grate on the ears, and his his chemistry with Voigt is evident in the mighty final scene.

Sinopoli, like several great maestros before him, died on the podium. On April 20, 2001, he suffered a heart attack while leading Act III of Aida at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. Ironically, he made his podium debut conducting this same opera in 1978.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats