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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
29 Jun 2005
Teatro La Fenice: Gala Reopening
The liner notes dryly state that “This was a stringent programme for an opening-concert audience used to lighter fare at such events.” In the past this would surely have been true but together with “Das Regietheater,” there is now a firm tradition in European houses that the reason for their very existence is art, and preferably in its purest form. Audiences are not there to amuse themselves or even to enjoy the music but to ponder on whatever life’s questions may be at that exact moment. They are mightily helped in their endeavours by conductor Riccardo Muti who cannot be caught with a single smile on his face during more than an hour of music making. Therefore a house where five operas by Giuseppe Verdi were premièred cannot be expected to open with such banalaties as Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata or Simon Boccanegra. Even worse would have been a concert with some prominent singers performing well-known arias and duets from these operas. The danger of enjoyment would have been too great. A conductor who reopened La Scala one year later with that immortal masterpiece L’Europa riconosciuta can be expected to make more original choices. Muti preferred lesser known music by maestros who had some ties with the city itself, even with the opera house.
Teatro La Fenice: Gala Reopening
Works by Beethoven, Stravinsky, Caldera and Wagner.
Patrizia Ciofi (soprano), Sara Allegretta (soprano), Sonia Ganassi (mezzo-soprano), Sara Mingardo (alto), Roberto Saccà (tenor), Mirko Guadagnini (tenor), Michele Pertusi (bass) and Nicolas Rivenq (baritone).
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Riccardo Muti (cond.).
Recorded Live at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 14 December 2003.
TDK DVW-CORLF [DVD]
The liner notes dryly state that "This was a stringent programme for an opening-concert audience used to lighter fare at such events." In the past this would surely have been true but together with "Das Regietheater," there is now a firm tradition in European houses that the reason for their very existence is art, and preferably in its purest form. Audiences are not there to amuse themselves or even to enjoy the music but to ponder on whatever life's questions may be at that exact moment. They are mightily helped in their endeavours by conductor Riccardo Muti who cannot be caught with a single smile on his face during more than an hour of music making. Therefore a house where five operas by Giuseppe Verdi were premièred cannot be expected to open with such banalaties as Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata or Simon Boccanegra. Even worse would have been a concert with some prominent singers performing well-known arias and duets from these operas. The danger of enjoyment would have been too great. A conductor who reopened La Scala one year later with that immortal masterpiece L'Europa riconosciuta can be expected to make more original choices. Muti preferred lesser known music by maestros who had some ties with the city itself, even with the opera house.
Muti starts with the Beethoven overture "Die Weihe des Hauses", op. 124 (The Consecration of the House) and he does it with vigour and 'schwung', actually making the music better than it probably is in the hands of a lesser maestro. Then it's time for Stravinsky's 20-minute Symphonie de psaumes with some excellent chorus singing. (The composer is buried on a Venetian island and his The Rake's Progress premièred at La Fenice.) A Venetian born composer should have his place in such a concert though not Antonio Vivaldi; that would have been too easy. The honour goes to Antonio Caldara with a not very interesting Te Deum. This has the advantage of introducing 8 soloists; most of them having only a few sentences to sing during this 10-minute piece. Even then Ciofi and Pertusi succeed in making some beautiful sounds while tenor Sacca and especially bass Rivenq with worn or wobbly voices make one wonder why they were chosen.
The concert ends with two fairly unknown pieces by Wagner (who died in Venice). The Kaisermarch is an interesting one. The former revolutionary clearly had an eye on the powers that could be. His protector, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, was in financial difficulties. Bavaria and some other South German states had been allies of Austria in their brief war with Prussia in 1866. Austria which had been the most prominent German state for hundreds of years in the First Reich (800-1806) was ousted out of Germany and in 1871 little Germany or the Second Reich (1871-1918) came into being with the Prussian king elevated to the rank of Emperor. (The Austrians would briefly rejoin the Third Reich 1933-1945 though as a junior instead of a senior partner). King Ludwig, definitely against the wishes of his subjects but bought out of his debts by the Prussians, convinced the other South German sovereigns to join the new empire and Wagner jumped upon the wagon. His Kaisermarch starts out well with some interesting melodic ideas and all at once the famous Luther chorale pops up. For a moment the listener thinks he is in Les Huguenots where that same device was so rejected by Wagner. The introduction is a sure fire political statement by the composer as it firmly connects the new empire with Protestantism; one of the reasons Bavarians loathed their new federal state which indeed would start a war with the Catholic Church a few years later and lose it miserably. After some 5 minutes, Wagner's usual tediousness takes over, his melodic inspiration flags and even Muti's drive and incisiveness isn't enough to make the second part more interesting. Wagner's Huldigungsmarch concludes the concert and is mercifully more brief.
Still even this concert reveals some time honoured Italian traditions. It may be a Gala Reopening of the House but this only means that all that's visible to an outsider is restored. In reality the stage and the technical equipment were still to be completed and it was only a year later that the opera house really opened with a not very successful La Traviata.
As a TV-producer I had some experience with RAI and I am happy to note that some endearing qualities, a certain sloppiness, have not disappeared. This is a live registration and then some things can happen nobody can control. As there is no shortage of panoramic views I would have thought that several ugly shots, where the view is obscured by someone's back or even by a lady's feathers, might be supplanted during the editing process for this DVD; but it was decided to keep these artistic touches.
A hilarious moment comes at the end of the DVD. Often in these programmes, subtitles run along with the last images giving credits to all important collaborators. This is serious business as some people (especially technicians) are very touchy to get their due credits. Either the person responsible for those titles starts them too late or Muti only allowed to have them started the moment he left the rostrum. Anyway, those titles run at breakneck speed along so that everyone gets his credit, though it is impossible to read one single name. For the rest this is a true professional registration with one camera along the orchestra to shoot Mr. Muti's artistic face. Either the director can read a score or he had help but he anticipates correctly and we get the appropriate player each time there is a solo moment. The sound is clear.