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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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
28 Sep 2005
The Very Best of Thomas Hampson
The Very Best of Thomas Hampson is an excellent selection on CD of Hampson’s recordings from various points in his career. The American baritone is one of the international stars of classical music for both his roles on the opera stage and his work as a recitalist.
His recordings with EMI include both studio recordings and live performances, and this CD represents him well through the depth and variety of repertoire it contains.
Of the two CDs in this set, the first CD is devoted primarily Italian and French composers, with the focus mainly on opera, while the second has mostly German composers, with many of the selections being Lieder. There are some exceptions on both CDs, with some songs by Rossini augmenting the Italian repertoire on the first one; similarly, some songs by American composers like Griffes and Foster round out the Lieder on the second.
Hampson’s work in opera includes a number of prominent Italian roles, like the character of Figaro in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, and his performance of “Largo al factotum” is characteristic of his clear and straightforward delivery of the text. A parallel piece not usually associated with baritones is “Von der Schönheit,” from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, which requires a comparable approach to diction that must also preserve the musicality implicit in the title of the piece. The latter is an excerpt from the recording of the less familiar version of Das Lied that involves two male singers (tenor and baritone), which Hampson made with Peter Seiffert and conducted by Simon Rattle.
Likewise, Hampson is part of some excellent recordings of French opera, such as Gounod’s Faust, and his interpretation of Valentin’s aria “Avant de quitter des lieux” is among the finest from recent decades. His intelligent approach to French repertoire is also represented from a selection from Massenet’s Hérodiade, another fine recording, which also calls to mind his memorable performance several years ago in the new production of the same composer’s Thaïs at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In addition, Hampson has performed some of the French versions of Verdi’s operas, and he made an exceptional contribution in Don Carlos, which is represented here with two excerpts. For those not familiar with the recording, the selections should give an idea of its merits, not only for Hampson’s contribution, but the other performers, as well.
When it comes to the German repertoire, the selection from Weber’s Euryanthe represents Hampson’s fine diction and nuanced phrasing. Likewise the excerpt from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is an excellent choice, and the aria “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhaüser conveys some of the power of Hampson’s voice. Yet the baritone’s performances of Lieder are critical for an understanding of his contribution to this repertoire. Hampson’s fine, resonant tone is well suited to Lieder, and his interpretations of Schumann are outstanding, as is shown in the selection from his recording of the Dichterliebe as well as several of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. As a Mahler interpreter, Hampson is highly respected, and those who enjoy the music included on this CD may wish to explore the singer’s interpretations of Mahler’s settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
As difficult as it sometimes may be to find a representative sampling in any CD entitled “The Very Best,” this selection meets the challenge. Yet it would have been convenient to have the texts and translations of the works included. A discography would be of some assistance for this retrospective CD set and others like it, rather than the selective listings of recordings that were apparently made with EMI alone. These are minor quibbles, however, and should by no means suggest any reservations about this fine collection.
James L. Zychwoicz