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.
11 Feb 2005
LULLY: Les Fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus
Born in Florence, Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) came to France in 1646 as an Italian tutor to Louis XIV’s cousin Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans. Thanks to her, Lully became acquainted with French music, and got to study with several eminent musicians in Paris. In early 1653, he was asked to play several roles in the spectacular Royal Ballet of the Night. His performances caught the eye of King Louis XIV, who immediately appointed the young musician to the post of “Instrumental Music Composer.” Soon, Lully became Louis XIV’s favorite musician — he was appointed to the post of “Master of Music of the Royal Family” in 1662 — and the most important composer in France. Today, Lully is known primarily as the first major composer of French opera. (Unfortunately, he is also remembered for the way he died. In January 1687, Lully stabbed his foot with a cane that he used to beat time, and he succumbed to infections that resulted from this injury.)
Jean-Baptiste Lully: Les Fetes de l'Amour et de Bacchus
Robert Cambert : Pomone
Hugo Reyne, La Simphonie du Marais
Accord 476 2437 [2 CDs]
Born in Florence, Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) came to France in 1646 as an Italian tutor to Louis XIV's cousin Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans. Thanks to her, Lully became acquainted with French music, and got to study with several eminent musicians in Paris. In early 1653, he was asked to play several roles in the spectacular Royal Ballet of the Night. His performances caught the eye of King Louis XIV, who immediately appointed the young musician to the post of "Instrumental Music Composer." Soon, Lully became Louis XIV's favorite musician — he was appointed to the post of "Master of Music of the Royal Family" in 1662 — and the most important composer in France. Today, Lully is known primarily as the first major composer of French opera. (Unfortunately, he is also remembered for the way he died. In January 1687, Lully stabbed his foot with a cane that he used to beat time, and he succumbed to infections that resulted from this injury.)
Over the past seven years, Hugo Reyne and La Simphonie du Marais have been recording Lully's works for Accord, a highly-regarded classical music label in France. This review considers the sixth installment in this series, and it contains premiere recordings of two of the earliest works in the history of French opera. The earlier composition is Pomone by librettist Pierre Perrin (1630-75) and composer Robert Cambert (c. 1628-77). In this five-act opera, Vertumne, the god of autumn, tries to woo Pomone, the goddess of fruits, by disguising himself as Pluto, Bacchus, and Pomone's nurse Beroe. In the end, Vertumne wins Pomone's hand and the work concludes with their wedding. The opera opened to critical acclaim in March 1671, and ran for 146 performances over a period of about seven months. Despite this initial success, the sole remaining source of Pomone contains only the first forty pages of the opera. It cuts off in the middle of the second act.
This release was recorded live in November 2003, and it contains every note of the extant score, which is just over half an hour of music. Throughout, La Simphonie du Marais offers subtly inflected and energetic playing. Outside of occasional ensemble and intonation problems, the singers, especially countertenor Renaud Tripathi, make fine contributions. My main reservations have to do with the work itself. Cambert's music is certainly fluent and pleasant, but it does not contain much variety or character. Having read about this piece in various articles over the years, I am glad that I now have the opportunity to hear it. That said, I don't think I will be returning to it very often.
The second work on this two-CD set is Lully's Les fetes de l'Amour et de Bacchus (The Festivities of Cupid and Bacchus). A pastiche opera in three acts, this work — which consists largely of music from Lully's comedies-ballets — was hastily compiled by Lully and his librettist Philippe Quinault (1635-88) shortly after the composer acquired a royal monopoly to form the Académie Royale de Musique in 1672. Featuring an unusually large cast that includes 15 singing roles, two choruses, two instrumental ensembles, 32 dancing characters, and 11 supernatural characters, Les fetes is at once a celebration of Louis XIV's reign and of idyllic love. Full of elaborate sets, spectacular stage effects and elegant dance sequences, this opera was not only an enormous success during its opening run, but was also revived five times between 1689 and 1738.
This is a highly recommended recording. All the performers execute French Baroque music and its ornamentations with ease and conviction. Françoise Masset and Isabelle Desrochers are especially convincing; they possess fine voices, and sing with energy and intelligence in their multiple roles. La Simphonie du Marais plays with great finesse, flexibility and color (listen to the wonderful effects in the Airs of the Magicians in Act 2). At the same time, Lully's music is always inventive, varied, and full of character. My one quibble is the chorus, which is peculiarly balanced on several occasions. Given the otherwise excellent quality of this recording, one might have to conclude that this was the inevitable result of recording a staged performance. Given the historical importance of these two works, one has to wonder why they were not released on DVD.
Westminster Choir College of Rider University