Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

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.
ISBN 0-521-82008-1

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

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):