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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.
22 Apr 2005
WILLIAMS: Wagner and the Romantic Hero
There is no doubt that Richard Wagner as an artist, composer, and writer was the center of controversy both during and after his lifetime. Despite the overwhelming political, social, and psychological elements contained in his musical oeuvre, Wagner is one of the more enduring figures in the history of the arts. Based on lectures delivered at the Bayreuth Festival between 1998 and 2000, Simon Williams examines a topic that has generated much interest and scrutiny both within the arts and outside of it: Wagner’s treatment of the hero.
Simon Williams. Wagner and the Romantic Hero
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. x, 193 pp.
There is no doubt that Richard Wagner as an artist, composer, and writer was the center of controversy both during and after his lifetime. Despite the overwhelming political, social, and psychological elements contained in his musical oeuvre, Wagner is one of the more enduring figures in the history of the arts. Based on lectures delivered at the Bayreuth Festival between 1998 and 2000, Simon Williams examines a topic that has generated much interest and scrutiny both within the arts and outside of it: Wagner's treatment of the hero.
The book is organized and structured around all thirteen of Wagner's stage works, exploring the concept of "hero" and "heroism" in each of these works. The author begins by defining "heroism" in the context of Wagner's time period and its implications for use by Wagner. The author then discusses each of Wagner's works in turn, and concludes with a discussion of modern interpretations of Wagner's works and how the Wagnerian hero and the idea of heroism are presented and realized in modern productions of his works.
In his introduction, Williams discusses the concept of heroism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and quickly moves into a short summary of the book. Williams indicates that in his examination of the literary, theatrical and operatic culture of Wagner's works, he can identify three modes of heroism: romantic heroism, epic heroism, and messianic heroism. The author divides Wagner's oeuvre into three phases: 1) the apprentice works (Der fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser, and Lohengrin), which feature the alienated romantic or epic hero not accepted by society; 2) Wagner's central work (Der Ring des Nibelungen) where the concepts of romantic and epic heroism compete in a tragic universe; and 3) the third phase works (Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, and Parsifal) where the concept of the messianic hero begins to emerge in Wagner's mindset (probably based upon his own life experience). What is interesting in Wagner's music dramas is that all three modes of heroism emerge only with male characters, but is often challenged by the female partner in the music drama.
The three modes of heroism identified by Williams are defined and discussed in chapter 1. The romantic hero, for example, has three qualities: a deep reverence for nature, a subjective viewpoint of the world, and a feeling rather than rational cognition towards the world. The epic hero, obviously, has the most admirable of human traits, immense strength and courage, and defines himself through action not thought. The messianic hero, finally, was based on Wagner's readings of Thomas Carlyle in the 1870's, and this hero has a tangible impact on everyday human life. He is "the Victorian self-made man writ huge," as Williams states on p. 18.
In chapter 2, the author discusses the early nineteenth-century theatre and its limitations in which Wagner had to work with in his Die Feen and Rienzi. Moving into Wagner's "isolated hero" early music-dramas in chapter 3, Williams provides subtitles for each of these that capture the drama succinctly: Flying Dutchman, vampire and wanderer; Tannhauser, sexual transgressor and artist; and Lohengrin, a glimpse of utopia. The Ring drama, examined in chapter 4, looks at the development of heroism and the concept of the hero in detail, both as romantic and epic figure, along with a short discussion of Brunnhilde. In chapter 5, Williams' subtitles for Wagner's music-dramas moving toward the messianic hero are: Tristan und Isolde, the endpoint of romanticism; Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, artistic utopia; and Parsifal, utopia found.
In the final chapter, the author concludes with a discussion of how Wagner's music-dramas have been represented on the modern stage. He mentions that he can only comment on those productions that he has seen. There are short sections focusing on specific productions that emphasize certain aspects of Wagner: his influence on fascism and anti-Semitism, dramas that focus on the concepts of greed and power, symbolic representations, and imagist and absurdist productions.
This book is a well-written, scholarly examination of Wagner's music-dramas from the focal point of one aspect: the hero. The author weaves an elaborate yet understandable thread throughout the book, in support of his thesis of Wagner's three types of heroism, and how each type appears and grows throughout each of Wagner's works. A very interesting and thought-provoking essay on the whole of Wagner's oeuvre focusing on one important topic and its growth and change throughout Wagner's career and work.
Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas