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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Without any fanfare or ceremony, Sony has reissued on CD for the first time, at budget price, one of the most important recordings of 20th-century opera: the 1967 premiere of Ginastera’s Bomarzo. No notes, no libretto, and barely a synopsis, but it doesn’t matter. The work is a masterpiece in the composer’s late, atonal, neo-expressionist idiom, and this “original cast” recording featuring The Opera Society of Washington under Julius Rudel, is stupendous.
Based on the novel by Manuel Mujica Láinez, who also wrote the libretto, the story is both gripping and horrifying. Pier Frencesco Orsini, Duke of Bomarzo in Renaissance Italy, orders his alchemist to create an elixir of life. His nephew poisons the drink, and as he
lies dying he recalls the appalling circumstances leading to his demise.
Born deformed, tormented by his cruel father, he becomes the Duke of Bomarzo after his father dies in battle and his older brother falls off a cliff. Taken to a prostitute to lose his virginity, he is horrified at the sight of his twisted body and remains impotent for the rest of his life. He fears his wife, Julia, is secretly in love with his younger brother, who he has murdered. Tormented by fearful visions and premonitions of death, he builds a sculpture garden whose figures take on the shapes of his nightmares, and he dies of poisoning in the gaping jaws of one of his monstrous statues.
The opera had a huge success at its premiere in Washington, D.C., but it was banned in the composer’s native Argentina for five years on account of its themes of violence, sexual depravity, and the depictions of graphic nudity in the orgy scenes. Atonal or not, the music is stunning. The Spanish language libretto is set with great sensitivity, and in this performance the words are so clear that you can understand them perfectly well (assuming you know the language) without the text. Ginastera’s scoring is amazing: atmospheric and consistently ear-catching, sensitive to every nuance, and often really scary. He teaches us that it doesn’t make any difference if the music is tonal, atonal, microtonal, polytonal, necrotonal, or anything else as long as it’s emotionally specific, and this is a work that pulls no punches. Set in two acts, with brief scenes separated by orchestral or choral interludes, the approach might strike you as similar to that in Berg’s Wozzeck, and the result is every bit as harrowing.
The singing, with the large cast led by Mexican tenor Salvador Novoa (sound clip) and soprano Isabel Penagos as Julia, is uniformly fine, while Julius Rudel whips the orchestra into impressive shape, especially considering how unfamiliar and difficult the music must have been. Ginastera made a suite out of the opera that has recently been recorded: click here for a review and sample, but you owe it to yourself to hear the work complete. The 1967 sonics have held up very well, being close, a touch dry, but very clear and vivid. A major release. Get it while you can.
– ClassicsToday (David Hurwitz) Read less
Works on This Recording
Bomarzo, opera in 2 acts, Op. 34 by Alberto Ginastera
Richard Torigi (Baritone),
Brent Ellis (Baritone),
Salvador Novoa (Tenor),
Isabel Penagos (Soprano)
Washington Opera Society Chorus,
Washington Opera Society Orchestra
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Experimental opera ? November 14, 2016
By JOSEPH ERDELJAC (WEST CHESTER, PA) See All My Reviews
"Sorry to say that this is not my kind of opera. I purchased it in my ongoing effort to broaden my outlook and try to understand where opera is headed for the future. I would say that this type of opera, which I call 'declamatory style', is best appreciated by seeing and not by just listening. The singers are all very good and the orchestration is atmospheric and interesting. The vocal lines are so declamatory that much of it is like listening to recitative and no beautiful arias, duets and ensembles. I personally could never just put this recording on to enjoy for pure listening in spite of the interesting story line. Again the inclusion of a full libretto should be a must, especially with an opera that is not well know. No one would object to a couple dollars more in order to be able to follow the text. It would also help greatly in appreciating why the vocal lines do what they do. Again this is more a true theater piece that needs to be seen in order to experience it. I know others will disagree and that is fine."
It's all there is, but a very good one at least. October 9, 2016
By J. Tatnall (West Grove, PA) See All My Reviews
"A strange and bizarre work with much intense music, some of it rather beautiful. It is all we have of Ginastera's three operas, the other two deserving recordings at least as good as this one. The cast is committed and communicative. Many of the voices are quite expressive even through the musical challenges. Rudel is in his element, bringing us a work he believed in wholeheartedly, in an idiom that caused him no qualms. I saw this work when new, owned the records, and am glad to have a fine digital recording of it now even if it is not a regular listen for me."