D U N C A N
: R U S S E L L
P H O T O G R A P H Y
1 Mark Elder leads the recording sessions at Maida Vale Studios 2 Joyce El-Khoury performs the role of Belisario’s wife, Antonina
3 Mark Elder discusses musical detail with Joyce El-Khoury 4 Russell Thomas (centre) sings the role of Alamiro
‘Mark is somebody who gets into the detail of a work like nobody I’ve ever worked with. He is highly aware of what singers can and can’t do, and can get them to deliver more than they thought. He knows what their characters are thinking at each moment and is aware of how the orchestration emphasises unspoken subtext.’
There are now many takes from the rehearse–record afternoon session, so how do they get edited? ‘It’s never a question of tempo when it comes to choosing takes,’ Haas tells me. ‘It’s the energy that must dovetail. Every take is organically different. The takes must modulate in the editing.’ Haas – the distinguished producer of many Decca opera sets from the 1980s onwards, including the notable Entartete Musik releases of music banned by the Third Reich – stresses the huge advantages of recording unfamiliar repertoire in the studio, the opening up of cuts, the advantage of taking some serious editorial decisions one couldn’t afford to take in live performances, even inserting scenes that producers may think hold up the action: ‘We can insert them and do the composer justice’.
On Friday afternoon we move to Act 3, a scena in which Belisario and Alamiro are joined by mezzo soprano Camilla Thomas as Irene, the daughter of Belisario and Antonina. As Camilla puts it, ‘She’s the glue in a dysfunctional family that holds them together.’ Camilla sang the role of Irene for the Chelsea Opera Group two years ago. ‘It’s listed as a mezzo role, but as Mark will tell you it was written for somebody whose range we don’t know. Most of it is in the middle but there are some optional high and low notes. We’ve taken a mixture of the two to show up all aspects of the role.’
Producer Hass says, ‘Youngsters may not have the studio experience these days but they come with a much clearer idea of the character they’re trying to represent. I used to go into the studio with an unfamiliar opera 20 years ago and during the first rehearsal Singer A would turn to Singer B and say, “Oh, now I get it – you’re my father!” Everybody now comes equipped.’
The recording of Donizetti’s Belisario is reviewed on page 100
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TENET Pre-eminent New York-based early music ensemble TENET debuts on AVIE with UNO + ONE: Italia Nostra, an imaginatively programmed and idiomatically performed recording that features canzonette, arie and scherzi by Monteverdi and his contemporaries.
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GRAMOPHONE DECEMBER 2013 15
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