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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 Jan 2005
BOLCOM: Songs of Innocence and of Experience
William Bolcom is arguably the preeminent American opera composer of today. His third commission for Lyric Opera of Chicago, A Wedding, recently opened to mostly positive reviews. His previous work in the form, A View from the Bridge, had a successful run at the Metropolitan Opera following its premiere in Chicago.
Along with his other pieces for voice, Bolcom's operas reflect a keen, creative mind in love with the possibilities of the human voice as a means of communication. Why, then, has his largest work for voice taken so long to be recorded?
Although not by any means an opera, Bolcom's musical settings for William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience offer a tremendous amount of vocalism from soloists operatically trained and otherwise. Composed in a kaleidoscope of shifting styles, from modern techniques to Broadway to Country/Western, the work has now appeared on disc, courtesy of Naxos (and the cooperation of the composer's professional home, the University of Michigan Music School). Lasting around 140 minutes and spread over three discs, Bolcom's Blake settings inundate the listener with what the composer calls (in a booklet essay) a "synthesis of the most unlikely stylistic elements," and the result is fascinating, exciting, and perhaps ultimately, somewhat frustrating.
The fascination is prompted by Bolcom's extraordinary grasp of a cornucopia of musical genres. From the opening orchestral explosion, marked by strong dissonance, the work glides in and out of musical styles with commanding confidence. There are country fiddles in The Shepherd, soaring soprano lines over a complex orchestral background in Earth's Answer, and lovely, hymn-like choral pieces such as The Little Girl Found, while the concluding piece, A Divine Image, lays down a rock-flavored reggae beat. With only two of the 55 tracks being over 5 minutes, and many under 90 seconds, no listener impatient with any one particular compositional mode has long to wait before a different one appears.
The excitement is generated by the sheer energy and dedication of the huge performing forces gathered for this recording project. The singers range from professionally trained voices such as Christine Brewer to Nathan Lee Graham, an actor/singer who declaims The Chimney Sweeper and provides the Broadway-type rock voice for A Divine Image. Conductor Slatkin leads the University orchestra through some thorny, though always expressive, orchestral passages, and also guides the more "naïaut;ve" musical settings with enthusiasm and not a hint of condescension. Unfortunately, the recording does little favor to the electric guitar or rock drums, which have the cheesy feel of 1960s or '70s Broadway attempts to sound "hip."
And that's where the frustration starts to creep in, especially with repeated listening. For amid this wild burst of creativity, Blake's creation wanders in and out of focus. When the huge choral forces are singing out, or the soprano voices (which also include Marsha Brueggergosman, a new and exciting artist) soar high, Blake's words become almost incomprehensible. As a result, it is only in the simple settings that Blake's poetry can be fully heard, and this tends to overemphasize the "naïve" quality of the poet.
When the work ends with A Divine Image, all that is worthy and questionable about Bolcom's achievement becomes evident. First there is a transitional passage of contemporary orchestral texture, and then the off-kilter beat of a reggae song begins. It's a decent tune, but as the concluding piece, it offers no musical sense of resolution or restatement.
The question becomes then, how successfully has Bolcom achieved his goal of a "synthesis of the most unlikely stylistic elements." Ultimately, the differing styles are segregated in individual settings. Most of the denser orchestral passages come as transitional pieces. The simpler music tends to be self-contained. Perhaps Bolcom wants to heal the divisions between "serious" and "popular" music that have widened so dramatically over the last century or so. Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, with its blend of sometimes naïve form and language in expressions of deep, complex themes, provides ample opportunity for Bolcom to employ all the contrasts and contrary impulses of modern orchestral and folk music. Whether Bolcom has achieved his goal or only provided a mix of styles without bringing them all into a cohesive whole, each listener must decide.
But spending time with Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and of Experience is sure to provide listeners, no matter how they decide the above question, more than enough excitement and fascination to make up for any perceived frustration. Naxos deserves commendation for making this work available at last.