Recently in Recordings
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.
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?
21 Sep 2005
WEILL: The Firebrand of Florence
When I was a young child, my mother purchased a blouse and brought it home to the acclaim of my aunts and older sisters. "Oh, that's smart!" they pronounced, cooing and stepping back to admire the thing. Not a little bit jealous, I was taken aback.
Later, I cornered the thing in the closet: "If you're so smart, what's 2 plus 2?" The blouse sat there mute and insolent. I tried all the equations my four-year old mind knew: 3 plus 3, 4 plus 4, and the tricky 5 plus 5. Not a word in response. "You're not so smart!" I triumphed and quit the field victorious.
My four-year old mind was incapable of making the distinction between the two meanings of the term current at that time: smart as in intelligent and smart as in looking like the acme of style. This smartly dressed "Broadway Operetta" by Weill strikes one as firmly inscibed in the latter; its status in terms of the former, however, is questionable.
The fault lies principally with the libretto, which reputes to be about Benvenutto Cellini, but from the onset substitutes a cardboard character — the shallowest of Broadway portraits — for its namesake. The subject matter has (as well evidenced elsewhere) operatic potential; its realization here is a travesty — Cellini as a "regular guy," as they said in Weill's day. The result might challenged the average four-year old mind, but above that seems merely tedious.
Not that Weill doesn't try to salvage the proceedings: there are some fleeting moments of very good writing. But nothing comes across as truly exceptional, along the standards of Weill's other work.
The audience, accordingly, voted with their feet. After an investment of a quarter of a million dollars, the thing flopped to a standstill on its fourty-third performance.
To the historian, the operetta will be of critical interest. Weill's work in the 1940's shows his considerable ability when confronted with the tastes and genres of wartime New York, and thus Weill scholars will want to compare this score with his other work. Perhaps more importantly, however, the genre of "Broadway Operetta" is suggestive and needs examination. It may be an essential component (if in large part only by its failures) in assessing the aesthetics of North American musical theater at mid century. (Which is a polite way of saying that all in all the work is not a complete write off: feed it to the scholars.)
There are redeeming features. The notes by Joel Galand are excellent. His appraisal of the work's genesis and of its failures is exemplary criticism. Galand edited the scholarly edition, and thus he is perhaps the most familiar with the work. (The recording here is based on a pre-publication version of the score.)
The recording is done live, a concert version presented by the BBC Symphony under Andrew Davis in early 2000. If the voices are largely undistinguished, they are enthusiastic, which unfortunately merely adds to the incongruity. One has the sense of everyone looking the other way while a crime is being perpetrated.
It has been proven again and again that most operas survive in spite of the best efforts of their librettists. Let us say that here the librettist got the upper hand. When this happens with a lesser composer, we are prepared to write the thing off. When this happens with a composer of the caliber of Weill, well, ouch that smarts!
University of Ottawa