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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.
29 Mar 2005
Years ago I remember reading a commentary on Verdi by a respected critic — Conrad L. Osborne — to the effect that most of early Verdi could have been written by Donizetti except for the first great success, Nabucco, that could have been written by Rossini. If one accepts that proposal, it would mean that Rossinian operas bracketed Verdi’s career, for surely Falstaff, at the very end, reflects the energy, elegance, joyousness and sophistication of Rossini from one end to the other.
Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
Donald Gramm, Kay Griffel, Benjamin Luxon, Nucci Condo, Elizabeth Gale, Max René Cosotti,
Reni Penkova, Ugo Trama, Bernard Dickerson, John Fryatt
The London Philharmonic and The Glyndebourne Chorus, John Pritchard, conductor
ArtHaus 101 083 [DVD]
Years ago I remember reading a commentary on Verdi by a respected critic — Conrad L. Osborne — to the effect that most of early Verdi could have been written by Donizetti except for the first great success, Nabucco, that could have been written by Rossini. If one accepts that proposal, it would mean that Rossinian operas bracketed Verdi's career, for surely Falstaff, at the very end, reflects the energy, elegance, joyousness and sophistication of Rossini from one end to the other.
ArtHaus Musik has released on one DVD a 1976 performance of Falstaff from the Glyndebourne Festival in a Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production conducted by John Pritchard. This opera has led something of a charmed life on recordings from various eras largely, I suspect, because its unique requirements and attractions have kept it in a kind of "festival" category of the repertory. Companies generally don't approach Falstaff unless they have something special to contribute to its performance history. Hallmarks of the Glyndebourne production style have always included an ensemble approach to casting along with admirable musical and dramatic values--exactly the conditions under which Falstaff blossoms.
Ponnelle's production is restrained and tends to downplay much of the traditional Falstaff "shtick." There aren't a great many props, furniture is kept to a minimum (there's not the bourgeois display of wealth chez Ford that is the actual attraction for Falstaff) and he doesn't encourage "comic bits" from his cast. Humor, and there's much of it indeed, grows out of the situation at any given moment and the characters' honest reactions to it.
The women are dressed almost exclusively in white. Quickly gets a black overdress, perhaps to indicate she's widowed, while the younger women wear stylized fifteenth century gowns and wimples in pure white. The men are more detailed and more eclectic as to period. Dr. Caius sports a King Henry V haircut, Fenton looks far more early Tudor, while Ford alone sometimes suggests the late Elizabethan period in which Shakespeare set the story. Sir John himself often resembles an Edwardian gentleman, but that may well reflect the casting as much as the design choices.
Donald Gramm was surely among the suavest of Falstaffs vocally and physically. His phrasing is both elegant and refined, and he hasn't been tricked out in too egregious a "fat suit." He appears plump but far lighter in weight than several contemporary tenors and baritones seen on- or off-stage. In fact, this Falstaff for once seems a credible suitor to the ladies of Winsor, a genuine threat to Ford, and above all a nobleman in much more than mere title. That Gramm was really a bass is demonstrated clearly at the end of the "Honor" monolog when he takes an unexpected low option, but throughout he actually sings the role beautifully in a way that few ever have. The Gramm/Ponnelle Falstaff is unconventional and may put off some who love the traditionally disreputable crusty old rogue; but taken on its own terms it's a successful alternate take on the character that's most convincingly performed. British baritone Ben Luxon is handsome of both voice and bearing as Ford. Max René Cosotti is visibly more than a decade or so older than Fenton, the full dark beard not assisting the illusion of a teen-ager, but he sings quite nicely in a well-controlled, high and clear, slightly reedy tenor. . Ugo Trama is a solid Pistola; Bernard Dickerson a younger than normal, almost handsome but satisfyingly skuzzy Bardolph; and John Fryatt an appropriately annoying Dr. Caius.
The women are beautifully matched, their several ensembles flying along light as air. Kay Griffel's Alice sets the tone with a richly colored full lyric soprano and winning personality. Reni Penkova does what can be done with Meg, and Nucci Condo, known as a comprimaria on a number of audio recordings from the period, turns in a ripely sung and acted Quickly with solid contralto underpinnings. For a modern audience, her noticeable resemblance to Nathan Lane may distract from — or possibly enhance — her most enjoyable performance. Elizabeth Gale is an enchanting Nanetta, lacking only a truly magical floated high piano to place her at the very top of recorded heap in the role.
Distinguished conductor John Pritchard has the lightness of touch required and draws strong work from the London Philharmonic, but he neglects to let the score breathe occasionally. Speed and precision seem to be his main goals and these are not irrelevant to Verdi's score by any means. But there needs to be some contrast — Pritchard pushes ahead, at times almost mercilessly as when the "Pizzica, pizzica, pizzica, stuzzica" section of the scene tormenting Falstaff falls apart before it can even begin, because the women simply can't get any more breath. It's a very good job by any standards, but amid all the chiaro, there is some important scuro in Falstaff and Pritchard doesn't always find it.
TV director Dave Heather's video shots are among the finest I have encountered — a lovely mix of close-ups (avoiding a tiresome parade of "tonsil shots") and pull-backs. He clearly understands that it's important to allow two or three people to play a scene together in the frame without restlessly shifting from one to another constantly. You can elect subtitles in five languages and see clips from other Glyndebourne operas, a ballet and some orchestral concerts as a promotional bonus at the end of the program. This is a most attractive and very nicely produced Falstaff, an all too rare souvenir of the prematurely deceased Gramm in performance and at the very top of his form.