Divas and drama

Monteverdi invented music drama, and in Combattimento (Virgin) Emmanuelle Haïm, as conductor, daringly invites Rolando Villazón, the most fiercely histrionic of today's tenors, to experiment with songs that are often over-chastely declaimed. In a miniature epic describing the battle between the Crusader Tancredi and his disguised lover Clorinda, Villazón narrates the combat with desperate urgency, then settles into a commemoration of loss that is truly tragic.

Mozart: great pianists (Orfeo), an anthology of performances at the Salzburg Festival, illustrates how familiar scores can be enlivened and transfigured by strong-minded interpreters. The set is built around contrasting performances of two Mozart sonatas. Claudio Arrau makes K310 a model of keen classical precision, after which Emil Gilels discovers in it a perturbed Romantic intensity. Clara Haskil, Shura Cherkassky and Glenn Gould interpret KV330.

On Homage: the age of the diva (Decca), Renée Fleming dedicates extracts from late-Romantic operas to legendary sopranos such as Maria Jeritza and Mary Garden. Vocally sumptuous and interpretatively acute, Fleming has little to fear from comparison with these predecessors. In an erotic reverie from Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane, she is almost indecently lush; and in the heroine's dream from Janácek's Jenufa she emits one of the most heart-rending tuned screams on record - hysteria transformed into beauty.

Next Article