Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Bernarda Fink Sings Mahler Lieder

Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Hänsel und Gretel

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.

Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

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 Magdalena Kožená.

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon

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.

Amore e Tormento

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.’ 

Rivals—Arias for Farinelli & Co.

In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi. 

Verdi at the Old MET

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.

Italo Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre re

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. 

Così fan tutte from DG

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. 

Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber

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.

Adriana Lecouvreur from Decca

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.

Lawrence Brownlee’s Spiritual Sketches

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.

Great Wagner Conductors from DG

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 archives.

Great Wagner Singers from DG

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.

Adding Movie Magic to The Magic Flute

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?

L’Incoronazione di Poppea from Virgin Classics

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. 

Saverio Mercadante: I due Figaro

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.

Christian Thielemann’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

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. 

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

05 Mar 2005

ZEMLINSKY: Une Tragédie Florentine

The operas of the Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) continue to fascinate audiences with their combination of carefully composed music and well-selected librettos. After using fairy-tale elements in his early operas, such as Sarema (1897), Es war einmal (1900), and Der Traumgörge (1905-6), Zemlinsky turned to Renaissance settings for Eine florentinische Tragödie (1917) and Der Zwerg (1922). In fact, Zemlinsky’s Florentinische Tragödie is based the dramatic fragment A Florentine Tragedy, by Oscar Wilde, whose works intrigued other composers of the time. Beyond the provocative drama Salome set by Richard Strauss, Franz Schreker used a story by Wilde as the basis for his ballet Die Geburtstag der Infantin (1908).

Alexander von Zemlinsky: Une Tragédie Florentine [Eine Florentinische Tragödie]
Iris Vermillion, Viktor Lutsiuk, Albert Dohmen
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Armin Jordan (cond.)
Recorded live 13 September 2003
Naïaut;ve V4987 [CD]

The operas of the Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) continue to fascinate audiences with their combination of carefully composed music and well-selected librettos. After using fairy-tale elements in his early operas, such as Sarema (1897), Es war einmal (1900), and Der Traumgörge (1905-6), Zemlinsky turned to Renaissance settings for Eine florentinische Tragödie (1917) and Der Zwerg (1922). In fact, Zemlinsky's Florentinische Tragödie is based the dramatic fragment A Florentine Tragedy, by Oscar Wilde, whose works intrigued other composers of the time. Beyond the provocative drama Salome set by Richard Strauss, Franz Schreker used a story by Wilde as the basis for his ballet Die Geburtstag der Infantin (1908).

With his Florentinische Tragödie, Zemlinsky dealt with an incomplete text by creating a one-act opera. The drama revolves around an assignation between Bianca and her lover Guido Bardi, upon which Bianca's husband Simone intrudes. Ultimately Simone murders Guido, and the scene ends with the couple responding to each other by acknowledging their attributes. The final lines find Simone realizing Bianca's beauty, and Bianca commenting on her husband's strength. Whether that infers renewed love on the part of Simone or suggests fear on the part of Bianca is a moot point, since Wilde went no further. Critics have speculated about what Wilde might have written in the first scene (only the second scene survives), and the fragmentary text itself begs the question of where Wilde would have taken the drama. As a play, it is a drama in medias res, and the challenge facing a composer like Zemlinsky is to arrive at a whole which, in turn, the performers must convey to the audience in a convincing way.

In responding to that challenge, this latest of the three recent recordings offers a finely executed performance. One of Zemlinsky's most important tools in giving shape to this fragment is his use of music and especially the orchestration to punctuate the drama and to contribute some sonic points of references for understanding the text, and the conductor Armin Jordam treats this aspect of work with a deft hand. Likewise, the cast is well-suited to the piece, with Iris Vermillion singing the part of Bianca, Viktor Lutsiuk as Guido, and Albert Dohmen as Simone. In fact, both Vermillion and Dohmen sang the same roles in the earlier recording of the opera with Riccardo Chailly conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (in the series "Entartete Musik" released on London/Decca as CD 455112). This recording is somewhat shorter than the one by James Conlon on EMI Classics (released in 1997, with Debra Voigt as Bianca).

As an opera, this work is compressed as if it were a miniature, with every gesture carefully weighted. The music rises and falls as the characters comment to each other portentously. At times, the silences in the orchestra are striking and suggest similar places in the score of Debussy's Pelléas et Melisande, a work with the kind of responsive conducting Jordan evinces in this recording.

In this reading, the work builds almost obsessively, as the characters begin to understand each other. In fact, the penultimate number, the interchange between Guido and Simone that begins "Simone, jetzt muss ich nach Hause gehn!" is tellingly intense in leading to the dénouement in the finale trio. The impassioned singing of Lutsiuk as he is murdered is powerful, just as the subdued tones of Dohmen as reflects on what he just did sounds convincing as the orchestral accompaniment underscores his plaintive realization of Bianca's beauty. The music that Zemlinsky composed to bring this work to a close is, in a sense, a commentary on the libretto, and Jordan's handling of the final measures gives the work the kind of closure that makes the score effective.

This is the latest of three CDs of Die florentische Tragödie in current release, and it is an excellent choice for those who might want only one recording in their personal collection. A further strength is the fine essay by François-Gildas Tual, which is included in the booklet that accompanies the CD. In fact, Tual's comments about the relationship of this opera to Berg's later work on Wozzeck and Lulu are noteworthy. The booklet includes the full German text, along with translations in French and English.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):