Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
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.
27 Aug 2005
I had never heard of the Italian composer Domenico Alaleona (1891-1928) when a recording of his opera Mirra arrived in the mail. Baker's gives him a respectable 22 lines, but says "his importance lies in his theoretical writings," not this opera or various collections of songs, instrumental works, and a Requiem. If you've ever come across the term "dodecaphony," well, Alaleona coined it (in Italian, of course).
Mirra (1920, Rome) is a setting of the final two acts of a tragedy by Count Vittorio Alfieri (1749-1803). Alfieri was a major figure in the development of Italian literature. His fame rests on twenty-two tragedies, among them an Agamemnon, a Saul, and an Anthony and Cleopatra. He was also a spiritual godfather of the Risorgimento by way of the condemnations of tyranny that he put into the mouths of his characters. He enjoyed a long liaison with the wife of Charles Edward Stuart (Not-So-Bonnie Prince Charlie; he was really a big reprobate); after Stuart's death, they lived together, unwed, although, as one Catholic reference puts it, his "religious feelings ... always appeared strong and sincere"! Alfieri's works influenced early Italian translations of Shakespeare; Verdi wrote to Piave during their work on Macbeth that the "the lines [between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth before Banquo's murder], especially at the end of the recitative, should be strong and concise, in the manner of Alfieri."
Mirra was based on one of Ovid's Metamorphses, wherein Mirra (there spelt Myrrha) harbors an incestuous passion for her father, Ciniro (Cinyras), king of Cypress. In Ovid, Myrrha 's father fixation is conjured up by Venus, who gets ticked off because Myrrha 's mother boasts that her daughter is more beautiful than the goddess. Deities are so sensitive. In that telling of the story, Myrrha conceives a child by her father: Adonis. You'll remember what happens to him when he grows up (it involves Venus). When Cinyras discovers that it wasn't his wife in his bed, he tries to kill Myrrha. The other gods figure they'd better resolve another of Venus's dirty tricks gone awry, so they turn Myrrha into the myrrh tree.
In Alfieri's version, Mirra is to be married to Prince Pereo, but like many brides, she gets cold feet, blames it on the furies if not a desire to see Arizona, and backs out at the altar. Her mother tries to comfort her, but Mirra says she loathes her. The entire last act is basically one long scene between Mirra and her father, angry because the prince has killed himself, so all the flowers and catering will definitely go to waste. When she finally breaks down and admits that he is the object of her infatuation, she grabs his sword and kills herself.
Alaleona stays pretty faithful to the last two acts of Alfieri's drama. Unfortunately, textual fidelity doesn't always make for exciting music drama. (Othmar Schoeck was a little more successful in his truncated setting of the last part of Kleist's Penthesilea.) The static first act for the most part just portrays long, drawn-out moping on Mirra's part, interrupted only by the wedding and her change of heart. It plays more as an oratorio than as an opera. The second act between Mirra and her father packs more dramatic oomph, though we doesn't find out until about five minutes from the end what she's been upset about the whole time, followed swiftly by her suicide and death. I'm afraid many listeners will shake their heads when the CD goes off and say, "So the whole thing is about a screwed-up offspring-parent infatuation?" Afraid so; if the dog barks at the mailman right when Mirra makes her big confession, you might miss that and still be confused. It ain't no Phaedra.
The music, which clocks in at a little under an hour and a half, for the most part matches the static quality of the text, though one phrase sung by the chorus sounds like it was lifted for Phantom of the Opera. Large sections of the first act resemble late Verdi; other passages nod toward Puccini, who reportedly admired Alaleona, as did Mascagni and Toscanini. The most interesting bit is the interlude at the opening of act 2, which would make an admirable concert excerpt. Here Alaleona used an instrument he called the "pentaphonic harmonium"--replaced in this recording by a celesta--that divided the octave into five equal intervals. Listening to the recording, most listeners probably won't realize that something funky is going on, just that the music is lushly late Romantic (which reminded me of Zemlinsky for some reason). The second act contains a few passages with added melodic pizzazz that go beyond the conversational style that characterizes much of the score.
This recording is characterized by excellent musicianship all around. The young Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha moves the score along without letting it drag and bringing out the beauty of the act 2 interlude. Italian soprano Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni handles the rigors of Mirra's role well and manages to infuse her with pathos rather than making her sound pathetic. Tenor Mario Malagnini comes across as strident, but of course, the prince himself is strident once he's been dumped. Best of all is French baritone Franck Ferrari, who conveys a father's concern for his daughter, his anger at her behavior, and finally his horror at her misplaced feelings. The notes give an admirable analysis of Alaleona's style. This certainly isn't an opera that will ever be performed regularly, but it deserves the attention of lovers of Italian opera.