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.
15 Jul 2005
RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op.13; The Isle of the Dead, Op.29.
The initial reception of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1 marked an unhappy yet decisive moment in the composer's life, one that propelled his stylistic development and the trajectory of his career in new directions.
The March 1897 premiere under the direction of Aleksandr Glasunov was a spectacular failure that prompted a shower of criticism, including Cesar Cui's oft-cited quip that the work would thrill "the inhabitants of hell." The symphony's reception deeply affected Rachmaninov, plunging him into a long depression, during which time he all but ceased composing and instead began to hone his skills as a conductor. Although the symphony was never performed again during the composer's lifetime, it has made a comeback since its rediscovery in 1945. And rightly so: As this recording aptly demonstrates, the work has much to offer the listener (a majority of the initial negative reception was likely the result of Glasunov's supposed intoxicated state at the premiere and the disastrous outcome this undoubtedly had on the performance). This work will be refreshing and perhaps a bit surprising to those familiar only with Rachmaninov's later output. The debt to Chaikovsky and Borodin is quite distinct, especially noticeable in Rachmaninov's concern for formal and motivic unity, although the seeds of the rapturous melody and thick, sonorous textures of his more mature orchestral style lurk not far beneath the surface.
In this recording, Mariss Jansons leads the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, where he has been Associate Principal Conductor since 1985. One of Russia's most venerable and highly respected ensembles, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (known during Soviet times as the Leningrad Philharmonic), cultivated its unsurpassed skill during five decades under the baton of the legendary Evgeny Mravinsky. Listeners of Jansons recording will not be disappointed: the orchestra still packs a mighty punch and its dark, string-dominated sound is the perfect match for Rachmaninov's music. The orchestra's precision shines through most remarkably in the symphony's extroverted finale, and also makes for some thrilling passages in the development of the first movement.
Paired with the First Symphony on this recording is the composer's symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead (Ostrov myortvykh). The work dates from a period of increasing political unrest in Imperial Russia that prompted Rachmaninov to resign from his conducting post at the Bolshoi Theater in February 1906 and spend an increasing amount of time abroad. After first exiling himself to Pisa, the composer then settled briefly in Dresden, where he completed The Isle of the Dead in 1909. The work draws its title and inspiration from a painting by Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin, whose eerily gloomy depiction of a pall-draped casket being transported by boat to a remote island captured Rachmaninov's imagination. The work bears a number of distinctive features: The opening section is set in 5/8 meter, evocative of the gentle lilting of the boat depicted in Böcklin's painting. The Isle of the Dead is also one of the first works in which Rachmaninov quotes the Dies irae — the chant that laces so many of his later compositions. Moreover, the soaring melody and luxurious textures that were latent in the First Symphony reveal themselves in full-blown magnificence in The Isle of the Dead, making the two works offered on this CD a most satisfying pairing. As with the symphony, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic performs beautifully in this work and Jansons delivers Rachmaninov's rich sonorities brilliantly, if at times the woodwind and brass color is a bit covered. The current recording is one of EMI's recent re-releases on their budget line "Encore," making this CD an all-around exceptional buy.
Kevin Michael Bartig
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill