Home listening: a world premiere recording for… Puccini

Mark Elder conducts a star cast in the original one-act version of Le Willis. Plus, a thrilling new account of Bluebeard’s Castle

• Opera Rara, half a century old next year, is a goldmine for anyone on a quest for rarities. You don’t expect Puccini to be among its composers, yet its latest release is the world premiere recording of his first opera, Le Willis (1884), in the original one-act version. Based on the legend of the sylph-like Vila, who appear in the ballet Giselle, it is better known in its 1889 two-act revision, called Le Villi (music from which is included here).

Unlikely to be staged, this is the ideal way to explore Puccini’s youthful gift for lyricism and melody and to hear how, even in his early 20s, despite the static drama, he could shape a duet into a heartfelt emotional episode. The conductor is Opera Rara’s former artistic director, Mark Elder, with Ermonela Jaho in the title role and Arsen Soghomonyan as her faithless lover, Roberto, deftly accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

• Bartók wrote one opera, as dark and disturbing as any, in one act and an early 20th-century masterpiece: Bluebeard’s Castle. He dedicated it to his first wife, who might rightly have felt disturbed: Judith insists her new husband, Bluebeard, opens the door of his castle he has kept locked, only to encounter three former wives and meet her own doom. There’s no shortage of fine recordings – Bernard Haitink with the Berlin Philharmonic, Anne Sofie von Otter and John Tomlinson; Valery Gergiev with the LSO, Elena Zhidkova and Willard White – but this new version on Chandos from the Bergen Philharmonic, with Michelle DeYoung (heavy on vibrato but thrilling and expressive) and John Relyea (urgent, resonant, outstanding), conducted by Edward Gardner, a keen Bartók interpreter, is a deserving addition. The Bergen players capture all the score’s chill and terror, the glitter of the treasury, the dazzling magnificence of Bluebeard’s kingdom, the chirruping horror and sighs before the lake of tears: an agonising, vivid account.

• Catch up with the BBC World Service’s The Arts Hour, in which the conductor Antonio Pappano discusses his life and career, especially his recent experience of working with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States.

Antonio Pappano conducts the National Youth Orchestra of the USA at the 2019 Proms.
Antonio Pappano conducts the National Youth Orchestra of the USA at the 2019 BBC Proms. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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