Recently in Recordings
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.
11 Jun 2005
In a certain sense, each of Carl Maria von Weber's final three operas: Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, and Oberon belongs to a different genre. Freischütz — the only one of these three that still in any way forms a part of the repertoire — builds on the folk-like traditions of the Singspiel, while Euryanthe is more closely related to the grand operas that were to become so important in the 1830s and 1840s.
Oberon is an example of the Märchenoper, evoking on one hand the orientalism of Die Entführung aus dem Serail and on the other the fairy-tale fantasy of Die Zauberflöte. The opera even includes a chorus in which a chorus of slaves involuntarily dances to the music of a magic horn, much like Monastatos and his minions involuntarily dance to the music of Papageno's bells.
The opera contains a great deal of magnificent music, and is perhaps best known for the imaginative and coloristic musical gestures through which Weber creates the image of a fantastic medieval/Oriental world. Although the opera was frequently performed in the early and mid nineteenth century, it eventually fell out of the repertoire, in part because of insoluble problems with the plot. Weber wrote the opera for London, and the libretto (in English, by Planché) is a nearly incomprehensible mishmash of elements derived from Wieland's late eighteenth-century epic poem Oberon. There have been many attempts to overcome the inadequacies of the libretto: most of these have involved the composition of new recitatives to replace the original dialogue, or the insertion of various pieces from some of Weber's other operas. This recording dispenses with all of the added recitatives (and the dialogues as well), so that the opera appears as a series of largely disconnected musical numbers. This is probably a net gain for the work as a whole, for it has the effect of focusing attention on Weber's imaginative and coloristic music.
Even though the original language of the opera was English, Weber's Oberon has had far more performances in German, and that is the language in which the performances recorded on this set are sung. The main part of the set is a live recording of a concert performance from 1978, in which Eve Queler conducted the Opera Orchestra of New York. The set also includes five "bonus tracks" from a 1972 recording conducted by Rafael Kubelik (with Renè Kollo in the lead tenor role)
The OONY recording has all the advantages and drawbacks that go along with live performance. It is a record of what was surely an extraordinary evening, and in certain numbers (such as the third-act Rondo for the tenor "Ich juble in Gluck und Hoffnung neu!") the recording has the energy and excitement that is too often absent from studio sessions. But there are also distracting coughs during the overture, and (more importantly) a certain veiled quality to much of the orchestral sound. While the brass instruments that shine forth brightly (a big advantage in an opera that features a magic horn), the strings often sound muddy and distant. The Dessoff Choir sounds as if they are singing in another room -- it is nearly impossible to make out their words. The recording engineer had difficulties getting the levels right, and there is occasional distortion in the louder sections. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of beautiful singing and playing here, and the recording should be of great interest not only to specialists, but to all opera lovers.
One of the principal attractions for record collectors will be the presence of Nicolai Gedda in the lead tenor role of Hüon -- the role, incidentally, with which he made his Paris Opera debut in 1954. His rendition of the great first-act aria "Von Jugend auf in dem Kampfgefild" is stirring and spectacular, alternating between heroism and transfigured tenderness. But Gedda's singing is by no means faultless. Like the role of Max in Der Freischütz, Hüon is often treated as part of the Heldentenor Fach; indeed, both of these roles are highly dramatic and declamatory. But in contrast to Wagner, Weber writes a great deal of coloratura for his dramatic tenors, and here is where Gedda's approach leaves something to be desired. The voice often sounds as if it is under too much pressure, and the florid passages are consequently labored. In this recording, Gedda is at his best when he sings pianissimo, as in the second-act prayer "Vater! Hör mich fleh'n zu dir!"
Another interpretation of the lead tenor role appears in the bonus tracks at the end of this set, one of which is Kollo's 1972 recording of "Von Jugend auf in dem Kampfgefild." Kollo's approach is distinctively German: the sound is highly compressed and strongly articulated from the throat, and this reviewer preferred Gedda's more Italianate vocal style.
The OONY recording also features the soprano Betty Jones in the role of Rezia. Jones's voice is clearly enormous, and her upper range is remarkably free and clear. She is at her best in the aria "Ozean, du Ungeheurer!" (probably the most famous part of the score). Her performance is unfortunately marred by occasionally pitch problems, and a tendency to let her vibrato get out of control. This reviewer preferred the taught and muscular soprano sound of Ursula Schröder-Feinen, whose 1972 performance the famous "Ocean aria" appears as one of the "bonus tracks" in this set.
This recording should be of interest to many different audiences: for opera enthusiasts interested in the recording of particular voices, for those who are curious about the development of German opera (or at least, opera by German composers!) between Mozart and Wagner, and for those who have followed Eve Queler's remarkable career. But it is this reviewer's hope that the set will also reach a broader audience. The opera deserves a more prominent place in the repertoire, and the release of this set will hopefully draw attention to a forgotten corner of operatic history.
Dr. Stephen Meyer