30 May 2005
The appearance of a DVD of the Beaumarchais — Salieri Tarare is cause for celebration.
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 Magdalena Kožená.
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 archives.
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.
The appearance of a DVD of the Beaumarchais — Salieri Tarare is cause for celebration.
The work is an extraordinary curiosity; a child of the heady days just before the French Revolution, Tarare is the famous French writer's only opera and one of the Italian composer's rare French scores. First and most strikingly a work of social and political commentary, Tarare is also an entertaining work of theatre. Salieri's music supports these aims admirably and offers a few memorable moments of its own. As an opera form, Tarare defies easy categorization; it may be best described as a comedic satire dressed in the clothes of a sprawling 5 act lyric tragedy, complete with Prologue and a grand divertissement with dance.
This performance, from the Schwetzinger Festspiele in 1988, is a co-production of the Badishe Staatstheatre Karlsruhe and the Théatre National Opéra de Paris, and makes an impressive case for the work as a lively comedy. The production is remarkably well cast, directed with great imagination by Jean-Louis Martinoty, and energetically performed by Jean-Claude Malgoire and the Deutsche Händel Solisten. There are several cuts made, the only disconcerting one being the elimination of most, but not all of the overture between the Prologue and Act I.
The Prologue is the most unusual part of the opera. It poses certain theatrical challenges that do not seem well met in this production, however. Interestingly, the opera opens with a storm scene. The stage is here filled with emblems of the nations of the world and their emperors, each struck down in slow motion by an allegorical figure wielding death's scythe. It would have been preferable to have recreated, with the dance company, the pantomime of winds unchained described in the original stage directions, and to see them gradually calmed, the clouds dispersed, and a daytime countryside revealed, all in response to the musical score. What follows is a lengthy discourse between La Nature (Gabrielle Rossmanith) and the Le Genie de Feu (Klaus Kirchner) over the fates of each of the characters in the opera, whose shadows appear before them and whose souls they are about to awake. The discourse is convoluted, but filled with allusions to equality, class and power, science, character, and the creator.
Happily, from the first notes of Act I, we are in a world of action, where the author's philosophical point of view, though heavy handed, is made in lively metaphor. The setting is an Asiatic kingdom, where Atar, the king, (Jean-Philippe LaFont) is frustrated by the adulation his people confer upon the heroic soldier Tarare (Howard Crook). Atar conspires with the high priest of Brama, Arthénée (Nicolas Rivenq) and the priest's son Altamort (Hannu Niemelä) to abduct Tarare's wife Astasie (Zehava Gal), whom the king desires, and to get rid of Tarare. It sounds like the stuff of dramatic opera, but from the very beginning it is hilarious. This hilarity is aided considerably by the two European servants in the court — the eunuch Calpigi (Eberhard Lorenz), and his wife Spinette (Anna Caleb), who are, appropriately, dressed as Harlequins in surroundings of Asiatic exoticism (stage design by Heinz Balthes and costumes by Daniel Ogier). There may be in the libretto a little more threatening evil to Atar's character, but LaFont's comedic talents and his singing are delightful. Howard Crook seems exactly right as the earnest hero Tarare, and his 'Astasie est une Déesse' is an air both arresting and beautiful. Eberhard Lorenz helps carry the drama forward with brilliant and athletic humor as he manipulates circumstances to Tarare's advantage. The third act is primarily an extended divertissement, choreographed by Ann Jacoby. The wonderful conceit of this is that the 'exotic' elements are the Europeans, and it is very funny to see Atar and the long mustached Middle-Eastern soldiers trying to imitate a provincial French pastorale. The scene ends with a tuneful strophic Italian song sung by Calpigi that is cleverly and dramatically interrupted by the appearance of Tarare. At this point the work begins to take on the trappings of a rescue opera. The fourth act provides two musical moments worth mentioning — Astasie's passionate air, alternating with recitative, "O mort, termine mes douleurs", and a compelling duo reflecting the humorous emotional confusion of a scene of mistaken identity between Tarare and Spinette. In Act 5, Atar's plans fall to pieces. The subjugated Tarare is loyal to the monarchy to the end, however, despite the king's perfidy, but the soldier is still the object of the people's affections. Humiliated, the king then ends his own life, and the people, led by Urson, the captain of the guards, (Jean Francois Gardeil) give the crown to Tarare, which he reluctantly accepts. The final chorus hammers the moral home; "Mortals,.....your greatness comes not from your rank, but from your character."
The theatre at the Schwetzinger Festspiele is an intimate one, and it is a bit odd not to feel a greater presence of the audience and orchestra in the filming of this production. We wish to be laughing with the audience at this live performance, and to see the orchestra and conductor at work. Having eliminated the overture and thus the natural place to film the orchestra, the only time the camera focuses on the musicians is when the action happens to be brought to the edge of the stage. This is of course a small complaint in a welcome production of a fascinating opera that clearly reflects the ideas of its time. As Beaumarchais played a crucial role in financing the American Revolution, and Tarare was written on the eve of the Constitutional Convention, his social commentary will likely resonate with Americans, and we look forward to staging in this country soon.