Recently in Recordings
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
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’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.
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?
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