Recently in Recordings
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
13 Nov 2004
ARG Reviews Mercadante's Emma d'Antiochia
MERCADANTE: Emma d'Antiochia Nelly Miricioiu (Emma), Maria Costanza Nocentini (Adelia), Bruce Ford (Ruggiero), Roberto Servile (Corrado); Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, London Philharmonic/ David Parry Opera Rara 26 [3CD] 183 minutes I have long been on a campaign to revive the works...
MERCADANTE: Emma d'Antiochia
Nelly Miricioiu (Emma), Maria Costanza Nocentini (Adelia), Bruce Ford (Ruggiero), Roberto Servile (Corrado); Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, London Philharmonic/ David Parry
Opera Rara 26 [3CD] 183 minutes
I have long been on a campaign to revive the works of Saverio Mercadante. Eight of his operas and some of' his choral and orchestral works have been issued on CD from a variety of performance venues, good, bad, and indifferent. Bongiovanni has been the leader here. But only Opera Rara has published studio recordings of his music: Italian songs (Nov/Dec 1999), the complete opera Orazi e Curiazi (Jan/Feb 1996), and a quasi-introduction to Mercadante's music, Mercadante Rediscovered (Jan/Feb 2004), a compilation with selections drawn from several Opera Rara recital recordings. To begin its new series, "The Essential Opera Rara", selections from an opera that will give the "essence" of the work, they chose Mercadante's Zaira (July/Aug 2003). All have been favorably reviewed in these pages.
It is said that you cannot judge a book by its cover, but certainly the sheer luxurious elegance of Opera Rara's presentations goes far in establishing the credibility of the music. Most of all it establishes the feeling that Opera Rara has a strong belief in and support for the music. As usual there is an extensive performance history of the work, an examination of text and music, and a complete libretto with English translation. There is even information on Mercadante's use of the glicibarifono (a bass clarinet kind of instrument).
Although the opera was written at the height of Mercadante's career, had a libretto by the prolific Felice Romani, and was written specifically for super-diva Giuditta Pasta (along with almost-as-popular star Domenico Donzelli and the soon to be super-diva Eugenia Tadolini) Emma was a disaster at its premiere (La Fenice, March 8, 1834). Pasta was ill, but "graciously consented to appear" in a highly truncated version of the opera. But at the third performance Pasta was back in form and the opera was awarded a sensational reception. It was performed almost annually though the mid-1840s, disappeared briefly, had a few revivals and was last performed in Malta in 1861.
Thanks to Opera Rara for bringing Emma back to life. The music is packed with good, solid, sing-along tunes as effective as many of early Verdi, with many unusual touches of orchestration. Rhythmic devices are always ear-catching and pull the listener (and the singer) excitedly along. The melodramatic excesses of the plot can easily be ignored in favor of the music.
Conductor Parry seems to have an almost uncanny insight into music of the bel canto school, particularly in the selection of tempos. He is rhythmically propulsive, always supportive of the singers, but not subject to their whims. Indeed, this is (as is so often true of Parry-led operas) a true ensemble effort. Miricioiu is her own spectacular, gutsy self imperious, confident, supremely musical, emotionally restrained, no Italianate super-diva stunts, trusting in the music to deliver its own emotional impression. One has come to expect a similar performance from Ford, and he delivers it handsomely. Servile has a curious mushy pronunciation that is not intrusive and a voice darkly rich and handsome in tone. Nocentini's brighter, smaller soprano sound is an effective contrast to Miricioiu. The Geoffrev Mitchell Choir again are a strong lot.
Charles H Parsons
THIS REVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2004 ISSUE (VOL. 67 NO. 6) OF AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE (ARG). IT IS REPRINTED HERE WITH THE KIND PERMISSION OF ARG. FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON ARG, GO TO ITS WEBSITE AT www.americanrecordguide.com.