Recently in Recordings
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.
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.
14 Sep 2005
SULLIVAN: Cox and Box; Trial by Jury
This new recording of two somewhat early works with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan provides a taste of Sullivan just before and just after the beginning of his famed collaboration with W. S. Gilbert. Cox and Box was produced in 1866. Trial by Jury debuted in 1875, four years after Thespis, Gilbert and Sullivan’s first work as a team. The difference is apparent if not glaring. It is mostly noticeable in Sullivan’s more nuanced response to Gilbert’s libretto, which is far more sophisticated and clever than Burnand’s nonetheless amusing effort. The transition from the end of the earlier work to the opening chorus of Trial by Jury, which immediately places us in the identifiable musical world of G&S, is remarkable. With Burnand, Sullivan is broader in his parodic musical pastiche; with Gilbert, he lets the words take over most of the satire and composes in a subtler, and even more delightful, vein.
Cox and Box, which is billed as “a Triumviretta,” is a trifle designed as such. This recording replaces the dialogue with narration for Sergeant Bouncer. While Donald Maxwell handles it well, the dialogue would be nice. The plot, such as it is, involves Bouncer letting a flat to two men simultaneously, one (Box) who works at night and sleeps during the day, and one (Cox) who works opposite hours. The problem is solved through predicable complexities that result in the discovery that the two men are brothers. All live happily ever after, joining in Bouncer’s recurring chorus of “Rataplan.” (He is formerly of the Dampshire Yeomanry, seemingly by way of the chorus to La Fille du Regiment.)
The score is a sly pastiche of several recognizable styles. Bouncer’s opening aria, as the excellent booklet notes by David Russell Hulme inform us, is a parody of Handle’s heroic style, and other operatic styles are parodied in several arias. Sullivan also got effect, not to mention double duty, from setting several arias in the style of popular parlor songs of the era. Box’s lullaby to his morning bacon, for instance, was published separately as a song, although with different words. (Tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of this lovely moment, sung with exquisite simplicity and charm – not to mention beauty – is perhaps the highlight of the entire recording. Gilchrist is also superb in Trial by Jury. His is a name I’ll look for in the future.) Nothing in the score, however, jumps out as quintessentially Sullivan. The sure sense of rhythm is there, and the setting of the words is skillful, but we are not yet on the playing field with the pro we have come to know from his later works.
But when the chorus, at the top of Trial by Jury, begins to sing, “Hark, the hour of ten is sounding,” there is no doubt what, or, rather, who, we are listening to. The unique combination of words and music that characterizes the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan is at once apparent, as is Gilbert’s sly take on the society of his time. The Judge, for instance, who delightfully puts a stop to all proceedings to inform the court (and, more importantly, the audience) of how he reached his elevated station, is a delicious parody of the ineptness of the judiciary. (Although, since the Judge eventually winds up with the ingénue, perhaps inept is the wrong word.) Gilbert’s good-natured parodying is not without an occasional sting, but it maintains its tongue squarely in its cheek, as it does in the works that follow.
The performances in the second work are also recommended. Although if I were casting the Plaintiff I would look for a lighter voice than Rebecca Evans’s, I certainly would find no lovelier voice, and I doubt if I would find a richer performance, either. Gilchrist, as mentioned above, is again exceptional, and Donald Maxwell skillfully handles the patter of the Judge, creating a delightful character where many opt for a more generic approach. Matthew Brook also provides some wonderful moments as the Counsel for the Plaintiff. All the performances are arch without being self-conscious, and the vocal quality is generally excellent.
Recent recordings and / or performances of works by Gilbert and Sullivan have something in common with recent performances, especially by the British, of classic American musicals. They are not afraid to go beyond tradition and reexamine the works, finding elements that are not always apparent when performances concentrate more on well-established performance style than on the works themselves. This is not to say that tradition is thrown out the window – this recording is unmistakably G&S and is all the better for it. Instead, tradition is being enriched by a generation of performers who are capable of a dramatic (and comic) depth previously unexplored. Certainly this recording demonstrates new nuances being brought to works we thought we knew already.
Chandos’s Brian Couzens (recording producer) and Ralph Couzens (sound engineer) have provided a recording with sound as crisp as the singers’ superb diction. Aided by conductor Richard Hickox’s sense of balance and energetic tempos that are never frenetic, the recording sounds fresh and provides readings of one well-known work, and one not so well-known, that are worthwhile additions to the library of Gilbert and Sullivan’s beloved operettas.
Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University