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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
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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.
26 Aug 2005
MESSIAEN: Orchestral Works
As part of their "Gemini--the EMI Treasures" series, EMI has re-released recordings of some of Olivier Messiaen's greatest hits: the Turangalila-Symphonie (1946 - 48), Quatour pour la fin du temp (1940 - 41), and Le Merle Noir (1951, for flute and piano). This two-disc release features the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, with Tristan Murail playing ondes martenot and Peter Donohoe on solo piano in the 1986 recording of Turangalila-Symphonie. Quatour pour la fin du temps was recorded in 1968 by Erich Gruenberg (violin), Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), William Pleeth (cello), and Michel Beroff (piano); Le Merle Noir was taken from a 1971 Abbey Road session with flutist Karlheinz Zoller accompanied by Aloys Kontarsky. These performances in their various manifestations on earlier albums have consistently received rave reviews, and with good reason. The performances are exceptional in their interpretation and the recordings have been beautifully remastered.
Rattle was famously dedicated to the CBSO from 1979 to 1998, during which time as conductor and music director he endeavored to build relationships between himself and the orchestra and between the orchestra and the audience. Furthermore, Rattle was and still is committed to a broad range of repertoire that includes a heavy dose of twentieth-century works and composers. Rattle's devotion to both the CBSO and modern music is perceptible in the high quality of this recording of Turangalila, which because of its enormous scope of emotional and technical expression, is a challenging work to perform convincingly. It is this very drama inherent in the work that caused many of Messiaen's admirers to scorn Turangalila. For example, Boulez would concede to conduct only the first three movements of the symphony, and these only because Messiaen utilized in them serial techniques to a greater or lesser extent.
As with other albums in the Gemini series, the liner notes to this recording are minimal. The small space that is dedicated to information about Quatour repeats the mythology that has grown up around the work, namely, that its very existence is somewhat miraculous because of the wartime conditions under which it was conceived. James Harding reports on the battered piano on which Messiaen performed, the terrible cold weather, and the audience of some 5,000 prisoners--all circumstances that recent studies by musicologist Leslie Sprout and clarinetist Rebecca Rischin have demonstrated to be somewhat hyperbolic.
In her book on Quatour Dr. Rischin supplements Messiaen's statements about the composition and premiere of Quatour with the stories told by the other performers. Rischin interviewed Messiaen's widow and fellow perfomers at the Nazi camp, most of whom had narratives that were far less exciting than Messiaen's version. For example, Messiaen often repeated that the cello at the first performance was so battered that it only had three strings. Cellist Etienne Pasquier recalls with certainty that the instrument he used to perform the quartet had all four strings. He himself chose the instrument from a local music store to which he had been escorted by a Nazi guard who help was crucial in facilitating the performance.
In a forthcoming paper Dr. Sprout points out that Quatour, while it was composed in captivity during World War II, is not really about the captivity or his sufferings as a prisoner of war. Rather, the process of composing Quatour was an escapist maneuver for Messiaen, one that enabled him to forget temporarily the cold, the boredom, and the hardship that plagued the POWs. Sprout compares the reception and myths surrounding Quatour to the works of another French POW, Andre Jolivet, whose Trois complaintes were much more directly related to captivity and war. Sprout's observation on the relationship between music and captivity is worth quoting at length, as it speaks to the enduring musical power of Quatour:
bq. If what we really wanted was immediacy, we too would embrace Jolivet's Trois complaintes, but they are at once too literal and too dependent on topical references we no longer understand. The voices of wartime listeners to the Quartet remind us that the catharsis we experience in Messiaen's music today says more about us than it does about the Quartet.
The three pieces on this EMI release exemplify several of the main themes in Messiaen's musical life and compositional processes. Turangalila-Symphonie is one of three works dealing with the Tristan Legend and the joyfulness of human love. Quatour pour le fin du temps is an expression of Messiaen's Catholic devotion, a passion that deeply influenced most of his musical output. In 1951 Messiaen expressed his lifelong obsession with birdsong in the flute piece, Le Merle Noir. Eventually his interest in birdsong would take Messiaen to seven continents, including North America, where there is a mountain in Utah named after him by a group of fans with whom he had become acquainted while transcribing bird songs there.
Any Messiaen aficionado would probably already have these well-known pieces in her collection, but this CD could serve as a delightful introduction to Messiaen and his most popular pieces.
CUNY - The Graduate Center
1. Rebecca Rischin, For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003).
2. Sprout, "Messiaen, Jolivet, and the Soldier-Composers of Wartime France," Musical Quarterly [forthcoming].