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.
10 Oct 2005
“Teseo” is one of those “might have been” Handel operas that for one reason or another has never quite made the big time in a high profile, major house performance during our current period of baroque revival. However, this is not something that worries the enterprising likes of the Lautten Compagney Berlin and its Music Director Wolfgang Katschner nor the countertenor-turned-stage director Axel Kohler: for them this rather rare oddity of Handel’s genius is simply too good a chance to miss.
Why odd? Well, for one thing it is something of a throwback to an earlier French dramatic form, having a full five Acts (rather than the more usual three) wherein the major characters often sing arias or ariosi back to back. Also unusual is the complete lack of a significant bass-baritone or tenor role: all six protagonists are within the range of countertenor, mezzo-soprano or soprano — both male and female varieties. A single lower male voice appears in the very last scene as the convenient “deus ex machina” to neatly solve the lovers’ tangled situations — although the singer doesn’t appear to get a credit on this DVD recording.
This is a televised version of the original performances at the Halle festival in 2003, and of a later tour to the UK in 2004, although the singers are, with two exceptions, from the later performances. Having seen the London performance last year, this DVD certainly enhanced many aspects of the production that had failed to engage at the time — notably the acting of male soprano Jacek Laszczkowski in the title role and the production dynamic of the “Furies” scenes — both very much lacking that evening.
Overall though, the production for the camera is frustratingly mediocre — too many chances missed by the director to enhance the viewer’s sense of the drama going on before their eyes, too many meaningless close ups and sometimes it’s almost “cutaways by numbers” — someone sings about their hands, you get a shot of their hands….and so on. However, more successful are the low-key but efficient sets, (sliding panels, reflective materials) and colourful “textbook mythic Greece with added camp” costumes which help to create and maintain an atmosphere of rising passions and threatening danger from the Underworld.
Here the “wicked witch” figure of Medea is ravishingly played by Maria Riccarda Wesseling who certainly takes the honours for full-on acting and, together with Laszczkowski and Sharon Rostorf-Zamir as the woman that, in true Handel/Haym style, two men love, dominates in vocal distinction too. Unfortunately, there is a wide gap in quality between the high male voices: the Polish male soprano is here very secure and effective, sounding amazingly clear-toned even up at his highest reaches (and he sings remarkably high), and he does it all with admirable dramatic commitment. However, young Thomas Diestler’s alto (as Arcane) suffers until the latest Acts with that unfortunate, but all too common, affliction of the nervous or inexperienced CT: the “yodelling” tone that barely hides the root baritone below. Interestingly, this almost disappears, and you hear what he could sound like, in a faster, more assertive aria in Act Four, “Benche tuonie l’etra avvampi” so perhaps there is better to come. In London we had Johnny Maldonado as the weedy King Egeo, but here it is the less successful Martin Wolfel — a pale and rather unmemorable CT voice and a singer who looks uncomfortable on the stage. If Wesseling shows her vocal and dramatic experience as the conniving Medea, relishing the coloratura throughout, then she is matched in vocal dexterity and appeal by Rostorf-Zamir singing the role of the heroine Agilea. The role of second female lover, Clizia, is accurately and sweetly sung by a young Miriam Meyer.
Despite the vocal unevenness, and occasionally exasperating TV direction, this production is still one to recommend to all Handel enthusiasts: one feels that everyone is batting for the same side, the music is paramount (in spite of the almost de rigueur current European delight in adding superfluous sex scenes) and the composer is well served by an excellent period band under Katschner. It may not convince anyone that “Teseo” is the next “Rodelinda”, “Rinaldo” or “Guilio Cesare”, but at least we have another Handelian opera safely into the modern visual catalogue.
© Sue Loder 2005