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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.
24 Jun 2005
One of my oldest memorabilia is a programme of a performance of Zigeunerliebe by my father’s operetta company just after the war. It was one of the many amateur companies in Flanders though the title roles were sung by good singers who earned extra money by combining a few companies. I was too young to assist at this performance but a few years later I would be a regular spectator. The moment I could read I was put into service rehearsing my father’s lines. Every time the company put on a new piece I eagerly read the libretto. Most people nowadays think that an operetta is something like a Carmen with a few dialogues but that’s definitely not true. A Lehár operetta always had a lot of spoken dialogue and often had a 50% spoken 50% sung lines balance. Many an operetta lasted 3 hours without including pauses.
Franz Lehár: Zigeunerliebe
Johanna Stojkovic (Zorika); Dagmar Schellenberger (Ilona); Zoran Todorovich (Jozsi); Bernhard Schneider (Jonel); Ksenija Lukic (Jolan); Stefan-Alexander Rankl (Kajetán); Markus Köhler (Dragotin); Raphaela Schulze (Frau von Kerem); Andreas Hörl (Mihaly).
NDR-Chor and NDR Radiophilharmonie, Frank Beermann (cond.).
cpo 999 842-2 [2CDs]
One of my oldest memorabilia is a programme of a performance of Zigeunerliebe by my father's operetta company just after the war. It was one of the many amateur companies in Flanders though the title roles were sung by good singers who earned extra money by combining a few companies. I was too young to assist at this performance but a few years later I would be a regular spectator. The moment I could read I was put into service rehearsing my father's lines. Every time the company put on a new piece I eagerly read the libretto. Most people nowadays think that an operetta is something like a Carmen with a few dialogues but that's definitely not true. A Lehár operetta always had a lot of spoken dialogue and often had a 50% spoken 50% sung lines balance. Many an operetta lasted 3 hours without including pauses.
That's the first thing that struck me in this new recording: not a single sentence of dialogue is included. Personally I like that better than the half hearted solution used in the famous EMI-series (Gedda, Rothenberger) where small artificial dialogues full of clichés were included between musical numbers. As these two CD's include the full score (119 minutes) one can easily conclude there will rarely have been complete performances. As such this is an absolute first among recordings.
Many collectors have a copy of the 1951 radio performance with Herbert Ernst Groh and that has some 20 minutes of music cut. The score was even more drastically cut in a 1975 TV-recording that at the time made the rounds of European public channels. A pity as that colourful spectacle had some outstanding singers and that's where this new recording is a little bit at fault.
The reasons are several. The operetta tradition is gone and therefore the style, the way of singing is gone. Every bawler with a big voice can get through an opera for a few years but for operetta what is needed is impeccable legato, imaginative phrasing and tons of charm. Fritz Wunderlich never performed one operetta on the scène in his whole short life but nevertheless could sing tons of operetta with utter conviction, steeped as he was in the tradition in the fifties when one could hear Tauber, Wittrisch, Schock, Anders, Klarwein etc all day long on every radio channel.
This is somewhat lacking in most singers in this recording. Take the male lead tenor Zoran Todorovich. There isn't much charm to be heard, some harsh sounds and an unnecessary difficult high C in his big aria, no doubt picked up by listening to Joseph Schmidt's classic recording. The second tenor which ideally should be sung by another lead singer is here given to Bernhard Schneider, a smallish buffo voice instead of the full tenor voice the score requires (Adolf Dallapozza was wonderful in the TV-version). But this is now a perennial operetta problem. Before the war there was far more money to be earned in operetta and a big spender as Tauber was lured into service. Nowadays all money (taxpayers' of course) goes to opera and any tenor with a little bit of voice tries to make his way exclusively in the opera house and operetta has to do with the less talented singers.
The ladies are better. Johanna Stojkovic sings with gusto and a good sense of style. Dagmar Schellenberger as the other lead soprano (one can more easily cast most operas than Zigeunerliebe) is even better. The voice is warmer and she knows how to sculpt a waltz. She has of course one of the best tunes though here too her 'Hör ich Zimbalklänge' doesn't come near to Pilar Lorengar's wonderful recording of the aria.
Every Lehár operetta has a lot of comprimarii and they are more than acceptable; in fact they are better than their colleagues on the famous EMI-recordings where singers (well, actors with a little bit of voice) like Harry Friedauer often were the fly in the ointment. Frank Beermann and his radio-orchestra know their Lehár and they show the lush orchestration, the unbelievable melodic richness of the master at its very best. But, even Beermann cannot quite overcome the great musical contrast between the formidable beauty of the score for lead singers and the somewhat trivial, though still melodious, numbers for the buffo couple (necessarily as a lot of people flocked to the theatre for buffo Hubert Marischka at the time of the première). Anyway due to the completeness of the recording, the excellent sound and some good female performances this is a recording that cannot be missed.
cpo has recently done a lot of good for Lehár's artistic heritage. They issued a 1974 radio-recording of that fine work that is Der Rastelbinder (somewhat forgotten as it couldn't be performed in the Third Reich because the title role is a Jewish tinker). Even better they recorded Der Sterngucker of which barely a note was known and they gave us Die Perlen der Cleopatra by Oscar Straus. Let's hope they will continue the good works as we are still without recordings of Wiener Frauen, Die Ideale Gattin, Die Blaue Mazur, Clo-Clo, Libellentanz and that forgotten masterpiece Eva (which only exists in a Spanish highlights-version, though one doesn't envy the recording firm that has to find a singer that can compete with the Octave Flaubert of Alfredo Kraus during his heyday).
[Editor's Note: Click here for more information on the operettas of Franz Lehár.]