Recently in Recordings
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.
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.
15 Sep 2005
WEBBER: Phantasia; The Woman in White
Probably the best thing that can be said about Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe, and Charles Hart’s The Phantom of the Opera becoming the longest running Broadway musical, which it almost certainly will, is that it will take that honor away from Cats. (I am reminded of David Letterman’s comment, made with mock horror, “What if it really is ‘now and forever’?”) Phantom, as it is known both with and without affection, is perhaps Lloyd Webber’s most “traditional” show: it has far more book scenes than his earlier, concept-album-as-musical shows, although the latter, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, are tremendously and, arguably, more effective; it recalls operetta despite its pop-heavy score; and it is based on a novel that is already known through incarnations on stage and screen. Its unabashed romanticism, despite its occasional descent into bathos, has endeared it to millions, many of who see it again and again and continue to be moved by it. So I suppose it was only a matter of time until an arranger came up with an orchestral version of the score to satisfy pop concert audiences and other aficionados of the score.
Geoffrey Alexander, building on an idea of Sir Lloyd Webber and his brother, renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, and drawing from the original score as well as from new material written for the only moderately successful film version, has arranged the work for orchestra and two soloists. The violin solo represents Christine, the soprano heroine, and the cello represents the Phantom, and both Sarah Chang and Lloyd Webber play beautifully. Indeed, Chang’s violin is a far more expressive Christine than Sarah Brightman ever was. Passages of lyricism contrast with virtuosic passages, as is customary in such concert pieces, and the bravura sections are well written for the instruments. But in a work this long – the selection clocks in somewhere between thirty minutes and eternity – repetition is inevitable, and, by the end, only devotees will fail to grow antsy for the final cadence. The cheese factor is not as prevalent or pronounced as it could have been, given the material, although there are some modulations that would cause a first-year music theory student to blush. And Alexander’s orchestration is reminiscent of his film scoring, which means the whole thing is a bit overblown, but it is professional and colorful.
In arranging a suite from the recent musical The Woman in White, Laurence Roman was faced with the old sow’s ear-silk purse conundrum: how can a largely tuneless score be turned into an orchestral suite of any interest? The answer: don’t expect a silk purse. While we occasionally hear snippets that recall earlier scores – a little Evita here, a little Phantom there – for the most part this is, at least based on the tunes used in this suite, probably Lloyd Webber’s least interesting score. Even gussied up in the once more overblown arrangements (Andrew Stewart’s booklet notes calls them “full-blooded”), the score never catches fire. Actually, it never even smolders. This is definitely what would once have been called “B-side material.”
The Phantasia will delight fans of the show and will probably have a long shelf life as a pops concert staple. After all, there is no denying the music’s popularity, and soloists will find it rewarding. Fans of the show will treasure the medley, and many will find the virtuosic fancies a highbrow treatment of melodies they could, and perhaps do, sing in their sleep. And in all fairness, the whole thing could have been much worse. For its intended audience, this should find much success.
The recording quality is superb, as is the orchestra’s playing under Simon Lee. (Lee conducted the film version of Phantom as well as the stage production of The Woman in White and other Lloyd Webber creations, so he definitely knows what he’s doing here.) As mentioned above, the solo playing is exemplary and perhaps does more with the material than is warranted. Still, this is a work for the listener who is already a Lloyd Webber and, in particular, a Phantom fan. The rest of us will continue to prefer our Puccini straight up.
Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University