Recently in Recordings
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?
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.
03 May 2005
VERDI: La Forza del Destino
“The policies of recording companies never fail to wonder me.” I am often reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal’s expression in the magazine, Opera, and I definitely had it in mind when I received this recording. Why would anyone bring out a set with two singers (Bergonzi and Cappuccilli) duplicating their roles of the classic EMI-recording of 1969; maybe still the best buy around? And yet, yet I’m not so sure anymore of the superfluousness of this set. There are two reasons for it. Number one is Carlo Bergonzi. I didn’t think he would be able to surpass his formidable EMI-Alvaro and nevertheless he does. Bergonzi’s voice was slowly changing in the early seventies. He had been singing the most strenuous roles of the repertoire for almost a quarter of a century and still the voice had not suffered. On the contrary, there were no traces of his baritone past anymore. The top was secure, though there never was much squillo and a high C usually became a high B. It was the middle voice that had changed most. It became honeyed, silvery in an almost Gigli-like way. Combined with his inexhaustible breath control, his legato and the way he could colour some small phrases and switch from forte to a heavenly pianissimo it slowly dawned upon many listeners that here was one of the greatest tenors of the century who maybe had been taken too much for granted.
Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino
Carlo Bergonzi (Don Alvaro); Ilva Ligabue (Donna Leonaora); Piero Cappuccilli (Don Carlo); Franca Mattiucci (Preziosilla); Agostino Ferrin (Padre Guardiano); Domenico Trimarchi (Fra Melitone); graziano Del Vivo (Marchese); Florindo Andreolli (Trabucco); Giovanni gusmaroli (Alcade); Chirurgo (Teodoro Rovetta); Una voce (Carla Bucci); Mirella Fiorentini (Curra)
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Torino della RAI conducted by Fernando Previtali
RAI Live Recording Torino 1971
BONGIOVANNI 2545/7 [3CDs]
"The policies of recording companies never fail to wonder me." I am often reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal's expression in the magazine, Opera, and I definitely had it in mind when I received this recording. Why would anyone bring out a set with two singers (Bergonzi and Cappuccilli) duplicating their roles of the classic EMI-recording of 1969; maybe still the best buy around? And yet, yet I'm not so sure anymore of the superfluousness of this set. There are two reasons for it. Number one is Carlo Bergonzi. I didn't think he would be able to surpass his formidable EMI-Alvaro and nevertheless he does. Bergonzi's voice was slowly changing in the early seventies. He had been singing the most strenuous roles of the repertoire for almost a quarter of a century and still the voice had not suffered. On the contrary, there were no traces of his baritone past anymore. The top was secure, though there never was much squillo and a high C usually became a high B. It was the middle voice that had changed most. It became honeyed, silvery in an almost Gigli-like way. Combined with his inexhaustible breath control, his legato and the way he could colour some small phrases and switch from forte to a heavenly pianissimo it slowly dawned upon many listeners that here was one of the greatest tenors of the century who maybe had been taken too much for granted.
I clearly remember two Verona Giocondas where he set the arena afire after a hauntingly beautiful "Cielo e mar", each time encoring that long aria and without any loss of sound launching himself into the duet with the mezzo. This "Indian summer" lasted for about 4 years until 1975, when it became clear that his notes above the staff had a tendency to go flat but while it lasted it was breathtaking. This is the Bergonzi we get in this concert performance of 1971 in Torino (I don't know why it is not mentioned in the sleeve notes that it was on the 11th of October). Though we have several magnificent renderings of the tenor in "La vita è infelice" this is a version that ought to be played and replayed for every singer wanting to know what belcanto means.
His performance doesn't stop there. Every note is sung with utter beauty, a sense of the Verdian line without lingering or without extravagantly sobbing. He sometimes had a tendency even in his best years of gliding to a top note and clinging to it for death, bringing it on pitch all the while but here the high register is completely free and he pins every note right on. And then there is a fly in the ointment. It may be Previtali's fault but I fear we have to look at Bergonzi. This paragon of tenors had an awful respect for Verdi's scores in a recording studio but he could as easily resort to the worst provincial butchery on the scene. In 1966 Dallas opera pleaded, asked, begged and threatened him in the hope he would consent to sing at least one verse of the Duke's cabaletta "Possente amor," which he had recorded for DG. He didn't budge an inch and absolutely refused to sing those extra three minutes. Surely in a concert performance he could give us the fine second Alvaro-Carlo duet "Ne gustare " which he recorded for EMI but the listener will have to live with this barbaric cut.
There is a second reason this set is so worthwhile: Ilva Ligabue. One wonders after hearing this assumption why record producers didn't run to get her signature under a contract. She recorded (together with stylish tenor Nicola Filacuridi) 3 MP's on a small label and Myto would do well to transfer them to CD. These were her only solo albums. RAI however used her a lot in less well known concert performances and one after another they found their way to CD (Boito's Nerone, Cherubini's Lodoiska). There are some Verdi's as well (I Masnadieri, Ernani, Otello) though not always in best sound. Her Alice Ford is well represented and indeed has her only official recording on Decca. And I've got fond memories of her Francesca, a radio France recording though with Olivero, Gencer and Kabaivanska the competition is stiff. And now at last there is one of the major Verdi's. This is clearly not another Tebaldi, Price or Stella as Ligabue has a somewhat lighter voice. Indeed during the Convent Scene I thought for a moment I was hearing a somewhat heavier version of Mirella Freni, combining that singer's beauty of timbre with Ligabue's own limpid sound and a hint of steel, riding easily over the orchestra though in the upper regions around high B Ligabue's voice tends to vibrate and loses a little bit of focus.
Another stalwart of RAI who never made the major labels is bass Agostino Ferrin. He doesn't have the decibels of Ghiaurov or the black timbre of Christoff; but the voice is attractive, noble and rolls along most musically.
Piero Cappuccilli was the baritone during many performances at De Munt in Brussels or the Verona arena. His voice has the brown colour and the volume one nowadays misses sorely in most Verdi performances. Still, and this may be very personal, he always remained a somewhat aloof singer in my opinion with a great voice that never excited me overmuch. He too is here at his EMI-best.
Mezzo Franca Mattiucci sings in a lower division. She sounds somewhat like a poor man's Cossotto. She has a bright though not too personal sound and the voice becomes shrill when she has to reach for the impossible high notes of Preziosilla. Domenico Trimarchi is a fine Melitone, actually singing the role instead of crooning or clowning like Corena used to do.
Fernando Previtali is a maestro di capella of the old school with his well measured conducting so much attuned to his singers' breathing. Forza poses a big problem for record producers when one has no choice but to accept a cut performance. It's still too long for 2 CD's but it gives short value on the third one. So what bonus to put on to convince prospective buyers? I cannot say Bongiovanni looked after an original solution. They give us part of a 1984 Bergonzi live concert (Italian and Neapolitan songs) which was already out completely on LP and is now part of their CD-catalogue. They do the same with a Cappuccilli LP-CD. I'm sure most opera lovers will have both issues. A pity as with a little bit of research they could easily have given us some unknown vintage Bergonzi-concerts of the sixties and early seventies with unhackneyed repertoire which make the rounds of collectors. Better still, while discussing conditions with RAI, they could have asked for Bergonzi's extremely rare but magnificent Inno delle Nazione, recorded for the commemoration of Toscanini's birthday in 1968.