Recently in Recordings
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
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.
07 Dec 2004
VERDI: A Masked Ball
A Masked Ball Giuseppe Verdi, music and Antonio Somma, libretto English translation by Amanda Holden Chandos 3116 (2) London Philharmonic Orchestra David Parry, conductor In an era where major record companies seldom produce complete opera sets (and those they do...
A Masked Ball
Giuseppe Verdi, music and Antonio Somma, libretto
English translation by Amanda Holden
Chandos 3116 (2)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
David Parry, conductor
In an era where major record companies seldom produce complete opera sets (and those they do release tend to be recorded live), one company has found a market for studio recordings. Chandos now approaches its fiftieth complete opera set under the auspices of Peter Moore's Foundation support for opera in English (those last words also being the name of the Chandos series). Verdi's Un ballo in maschera recently emerged from this series, under the title A Masked Ball.
So should the recording-starved opera lover rejoice? That depends on what one is starved for. One person might hunger for Italian food and be satisfied with a bowl of Chef-Boyardee, steaming from the microwave. Many another might consider that an abomination.
This A Masked Ball, for these ears, comes tinned and heavy with watery tomato sauce. The first misfire is the orchestral performance under the unidiomatic conducting of David Parry. An experienced leader, Parry has many fine recordings of rare Italian opera available on Opera Rara. He knows the idiom. For whatever reason, here we have a flat, uninspired reading where the climaxes feel forced and the lyrical sections grow tired. The lifeless sound doesn't help — everyone performs in a squeaky-clean vacuum of an acoustic space, as if each individual musician and singer were recorded in dozens of locations and the results all spliced together later.
Then there's the cast. Fresh ingredients being key to a delicious Italian meal, perhaps Chandos could have looked elsewhere than to Dennis O'Neill and Susan Patterson for the leads. Both have had distinguished careers, but both voices sound tired, warbly, and effortful. Perhaps Amelia can sound strained, as the poor lady has hardly a single happy moment in the whole opera, but Gustavus III (Chandos uses the original setting, not the American substitute meant to satisfy nervous censors) should be full of life and passion. O'Neill's joyless performance pretty much takes this recording out of the running right from the get-go.
Anthony Michaels Moore has years of good singing left, although his baritone boasts rough edges that make his portrayal of Count Anckarstroem rather an obvious heavy upon his entrance. By act three, he is one scary Count. American Jill Grove does well enough by Ulrike, and Linda Richardson manages to keep Oscar bouncy and fun and not hyper and annoying.
However, for an opera of such rich Italian passion and melancholy, whether set in Sweden or the American new world, the English translation is all wrong. Tidy and well-mannered, it never captures the essence of the Somma text that inspired such glorious music from Verdi. Let one example suffice: the Count's third act aria, Eri tu, becomes Shame on you, who defiled my beloved. Very much Snidely Whiplash. Translator Holden seems to have channeled Henny Youngman at one point, when the Count declares (quite seriously), "Take my wife!" However, he doesn't add, "please!"
Not a few of the Opera in English releases have earned glowing reviews, and Rossini's A Thieving Magpie, released last year, deserved those it received, as a recent hearing attests. Unfortunately, this A Masked Ball raises all the old questions of why such a series is necessary when most any opera performance — whether a recording with libretto, a live one with surtitles, or a DVD with subtitles — can offer the glories of the original language and a translation that communicates the essence of the drama. But when a fine cast is singing, the issue is moot.
Sadly, the singing on this recording makes the issue very much alive. Better to honor Verdi's masterpiece by finding your favorite recording (one of mine happens to be the one with late Tebaldi and early Pavarotti) and treating oneself to the real Ballo. Like the best authentic Italian food, there is no substitute.