Opera Gala (CD review)

Alessandra Marc, soprano; Andrew Litton, Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Delos DE 3240.

The program on this 2000 Delos release consists of well over an hour of live music-making from soprano Alessandra Marc and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton. The orchestra by itself performs several Verdi overtures, La forza del destino and Luisa Miller, and Puccini's Preludio sinfonico. Ms. Marc sings arias from Bellini's Norma, "Casta Diva" and "Guerra, guerra"; Donizetti's Anna Bolena, "Al dolce guidami"; Richard Strauss's The Egyptian Helen, "Zweite Brauchtnacht"; Barber's Anthony & Cleopatra, "Give Me My Robe"; and Puccini's Tosca, "Vissi d'arte," and Turandot, "In questa reggia." Ms. Marc has a lovely dark-toned voice that especially complements the several less well-known selections, and the Dallas Symphony Chorus do an outstandingly beautiful job in their brief appearances.

I had only a couple of misgivings about the disc. First, I would have preferred hearing from both a soprano and a tenor and maybe others at a "gala," putting a little more variety into the show. "Gala" suggests a festive event featuring, I would have hoped, more than a single star. Ms. Marc performs a recital. Maybe it's a gala recital.

Alessandra Marc
Second, I have never been fond of live recordings, this one made on the nights of September 17-19, 1998, in the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas. Trying to keep an audience quiet for more than an hour is the first problem, although the coughs and sneezes that customarily accompany these things seem pretty well under control. The applause between each number is another matter. Yes, it helps put the living-room listener into the concert hall to participate in the sense of occasion. Yes, it is also a distraction to anyone who just wants to enjoy the music.

Nor did I care to play the session as loudly as I found necessary to experience Delos's "Virtual Reality." Alas, nothing is perfect. Some recordings sound wonderful at low gain and get raucous, bright, or shrill as they are played louder; this one, though, sounds boring at low levels but comes to life at higher volume. In fairness, it sounded fine played back on my 5.1-channel home-theater system in another room, where the rear speakers handled some of the ambient informaton, and the sound is brighter and leaner to begin with. In any case, close all the doors and windows before listening, unless your neighbors are opera lovers.

So, as I say, played loudly, this album of live opera extracts can sound excitingly alive. Played back at a normal-to-soft level, and it will sound dull and indistinct, fading well back from the speakers, veiled and soft. I'm mentioning this because the first impression some listeners may get is that the disc is too distant and clouded. In fact, it was recording engineer John Eargle's usual way of miking, using Delos's "Virtual Reality" process, a technique that picks up a good deal of side and rear-wall ambiance for the sake of multi-channel, surround-sound playback. Ordinary two-channel reproduction may suffer, however, in that the reflective sounds can overpower the direct sound unless the volume is tweaked up a notch.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa