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Dallapiccola: Ulisse

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Audio CD, November 4, 2003
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Editorial Reviews

With this release, justice is at last done to one of the great figures of twentieth-century Italian music. An immensely cultured humanist, resolute in his defence of political and personal liberty, Luigi Dallapiccola conveys powerful emotional impact in his music. His final masterpiece, the opera Ulisse, which premiered in Berlin in 1968 after eight years of work, recounts the voyage both of Homer’s hero and of man himself, in his quest for eternal truths. The many influences, literary (Joyce, Machado, Dante above all) and musical (from Monteverdi to Berg) are perfectly integrated into a vast epic in the form of an arch, from Calypso’s solitude at the opening through to the hero’s final moment of wonder, alone with the sea once more: the drama’s centre is Ulysses’ descent into the underworld and the prophecy of Tiresias. This noble meditation on human existence is supported by masterly musical technique in which the rigour of the serial style is always tempered by the cantabile of the composer’s Italian heritage: did Dallapiccola not say that his aim was above all ‘to make the words audible and understandable’? The Radio France Collection today gives a new lease of life to this moving recapitulation of a whole life's work, long unavailable on record, the release of a benchmark performance recorded in 1975, less than three months after the composer's death. No more glowing tribute has been paid to him than the inspired conducting of one of the most eminent specialists of the music of his century, who died in his turn two years ago: the great Ernest Bour.

Disc: 1
1. Ulisse, opera: Prologue. First episode
2. Ulisse, opera: Second episode. Intermezzo sinfonico
3. Ulisse, opera: Third epsiode
4. Ulisse, opera: Act 1. First scene
5. Ulisse, opera: Act 1. Second scene
6. Ulisse, opera: Act 1. Third scene
7. Ulisse, opera: Act 1. Fourth scene
8. Ulisse, opera: Act 1. Fifth scene
Disc: 2
1. Ulisse, opera: Act 2. Prologue
2. Applause
3. Ulisse, opera: Act 2. Ist scene
4. Ulisse, opera: Act 2. 2nd scene
5. Ulisse, opera: Act 2. 3rd scene
6. Ulisse, opera: Act 2. Intermezzo sinfonico
7. Ulisse, opera: Act 2. Last scene [Epilogue]

Product Details

  • Performer: Claidio Desderi, Gwynn Cornell, William Workman
  • Conductor: Ernest Bour
  • Composer: Luigi Dallapiccola
  • Audio CD (November 4, 2003)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Alliance
  • Run Time: 122 minutes
  • ASIN: B0000AKQH6
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,881 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Christopher A. Fulkerson on June 30, 2008
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This performance of the Dallapiccola masterpiece ULISSE is quite wonderful. It is a welcome complement to the Maazel performance, which though very good, is in German. Unlike the Maazel recording, which is of very much a dramatic event, this performance is more lyrical, Dallapiccola as we know him from his middle and late period chamber works. All lovers of modern opera should hear, preferably own, this recording.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus on July 30, 2013
Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975) worked for eight years writing "Ulisse," and finished it in 1968. The world premiere, led by Lorin Maazel, was in Berlin on September 29th. This is a live Radio France recording from May 6, 1975, with Ernest Bour leading the Choeur de Radio France and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in the Grand Auditorium de Radio France in Paris. Dallapiccola died in 1975 -- I don't know whether he lived to see this spectacular performance.

Bour was at the time the director of the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, the world's leading orchestra in contemporary music, and he leads a performance of Dallapiccola's serialist opera in Italian rather than in German, as in Maazel's performance, and thus better captures the Italianate lyricism. Claudio Desderi is Ulisse, and Gwynn Cornell, William Workman, Denise Boitard, Stan Unruh, Schuyler Hamilton, and Colette Herzog sing the other main roles, some doubling as with Cornell, who plays both Circe and Melanto, and Herzog, who plays both Calypso and Penelope.

Dallapiccola's "Ulisse" is framed by two lengthy, stunning arias. In the Prologue, Calypso remembers Ulysses, who has abandoned her. The opera ends with the only aria of Ulysses, out at sea, full of wonder. The narrative is not linear. Act I takes place in the palace of Alcinous, and Ulysses' odyssey since the Trojan War is recounted by the minstrel Demodocus and by Ulysses himself -- his encounter with the Lotus-Eaters, his meeting with Circe, his descent into the underworld, the dialogue with his mother and the prophecy that marks the center of the drama.
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By James A. Altena on November 28, 2013
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Like Il prigioniero, this opera by Dallipiccola (his last major completed work) is written in a twelve-tone idiom. However, it comes from a later stage in the composer's career, when he had largely left behind the Italianate lyricism that suffused his earlier effort and is written in a far more uncompromising style that shows the influence of his studies of Webern's music. Hence it lacks the immediate appeal of his earlier opera (it is also more than twice as long) and is not for the musically faint-hearted. It also reflects the composer's continuing preoccupation with religion and ultimate meaning; in this version of the adventures of Ulysses, the wily Greek again sets sail after finally returning home, still restlessly seeking a goal he does not know, and suddenly reaching it at the end with an epiphany of God.

This is one of only two performances to have appeared on CD, and is by far the superior one, as the alternative (under Loren Maazel) is sung in German translation. The cast here is uniformly excellent (though some of the female voices can be a bit shrill), perhaps because it draws upon singers from mainstream operatic repertoire such as Claudio Desderi and William Workman (the latter an excellent Papageno in the Horst Stein-conducted performance of Die Zauberfloete that still remains the best-sung version on DVD), rather than ones who have specialized in contemporary music because they didn't have the vocal chops to cut it in Verdi and Puccini. The radio broadcast sound is in quite decent stereo, and a full libretto, translated and with notes, is provided.
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