Recently in Recordings
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.
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.
14 Sep 2005
PROKOFIEV: Ivan the Terrible
Prokofiev was one of a number of twentieth-century composers of art music who also devoted a significant amount of time to composing for the cinema. The eight films for which he composed scores were met with varying degrees of success, from the celebrated fame of Aleksandr Nevsky to the frustrated productions of lesser-known films such as The Queen of Spades and Tonya. Sergei Eisenstein’s colossal trilogy Ivan the Terrible, for which Prokofiev composed his final film score, was met with both extremes: Although part one of the film was released in January of 1945 to great critical acclaim, the second part was attacked during production for political reasons, even to the extreme of attracting criticism from Stalin himself. Part two would not appear in theaters until 1958, long after Prokofiev and Eisenstein were gone, and part three was never produced.
For Prokofiev, the boundary between film music and art music was slight, and he often reused material from his film scores in his other compositions (and vice versa). The performance reviewed here continues in this tradition by bringing Prokofiev’s score for Ivan the Terrible to the ballet stage. Composer Abram Stassevich first raised the idea for such an adaptation in the late 1950s when the brief Khrushchev thaw opened the door for the release of part two of Ivan and a wider appreciation of Prokofiev’s music. The project was never realized in Stassevich’s lifetime—he instead chose to arrange a concert version of the score. It was not until the early 1970s that composer Mikhail Chulaki and choreographer Yuri Grigorovich—both top figures at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater—revived Stassevich’s original plan and produced the ballet version featured on this DVD. But Prokofiev purists beware: the Ivan ballet is far from a direct adaptation to the stage. Chulaki grafted segments of his own music to a significantly rearranged version of Prokofiev’s score, resulting in a work that only partially resembles the original Ivan. Aficionados of Prokofiev’s music will also recognize material from his other works embedded in the ballet, among them the Third Symphony and the Russian Overture (op.72). Grigorovich makes a similar departure from the original Ivan in his scenario, which puts the focus squarely on Ivan’s troubled place between Western rational action and Eastern mysticism and destructiveness. It is perhaps fitting that this adaptation of Ivan celebrates the ambiguities and uncertainties of the infamous tsar’s reign: the portrayal of uncertainties in Ivan’s character was one of the chief reasons Eisenstein’s original film encountered such difficulties with the Soviet authorities. Stalin’s identification with Ivan was well known, and, as such, any negative portrayal of the latter was heresy.
The fact that this ballet version of Ivan is not vintage Prokofiev or Eisenstein certainly should not detract from its interest. The Ivan the Terrible ballet represents a not only an attractive adaptation of Prokofiev’s work, but an example of the Soviet ballet tradition under the direction of one of its foremost choreographers, Mikhail Grigorovich. Grigorovich worked as the head ballet master at the Bolshoi from 1964 until 1995, during which time he became one of the major figures in Soviet ballet, receiving the prestigious Order of Lenin in 1976 for his work. Moreover, his tutelage guided several generations of dancers in the Soviet Union and played a role in creating and maintaining the distinctive arch-classical style of Russian dance in the twentieth century.
The dancing in this 1990 recording done at the Bolshoi is first-rate: the lead roles are given outstanding performances by two of the Bolshoi’s veteran dancers, Natalya Bessmertnova and Irek Mukhamedov. The sound quality of the recording lacks some depth and color, but the visual aspects more than make up for this (although the camera angle is rather static and there are few close-ups of the stage). The orchestral playing is a bit ragged at times—especially in the winds—but this does not detract substantially from this superb performance.
Kevin Michael Bartig
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill