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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.
04 Oct 2005
PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet
RESPHIGHI: Pini di Roma
The biographies of the two composers whose works are represented on this disc, Sergei Prokofiev and Ottorino Respighi, share many common threads. In addition to moving in similar circles early in their lives (for example, both studied with Rimsky-Korsakov and both were later connected with Diaghilev), they similarly composed in totalitarian regimes at the end of their careers.
Prokofiev and Respighi, moreover, sought to develop a populist musical style in many of their compositions and in this vein produced works of enduring appeal, two examples of which are offered on this recording.
Respighi’s Pines of Rome [Pini di Roma], which was completed in 1924, is perhaps the best known and most often performed of the composer’s works. Respighi conceived the piece as forming a trilogy together with his two other Rome-inspired orchestral compositions, Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals. All three vividly evoke various aspects of Respighi’s beloved city; each of the four movements of Pines of Rome aurally depicts a different Roman locale, from the yells of children at the Villa Borghese to the somber sounds of the Roman catacombs to the triumphant march of the Roman army along the Appian Way. Much of the work’s popularity can be attributed to the fact that it is a pure orchestral showpiece, requiring a large orchestra (complete with recorded bird song at the conclusion of the third movement). The sheer orchestral force and vivid imagery of Respighi’s score (not to mention its unabashed celebration of Rome) even attracted the admiration of Mussolini.
Prokofiev finished the first version of his ballet Romeo and Juliet in 1936—a fateful year in many respects: in January, the composer made a permanent return to Soviet Russia just as the official denunciation of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth was published in Soviet newspapers, marking the beginning of an exceptionally oppressive period for Soviet composers. Prokofiev quickly learned much of the vagaries of the new Soviet system when he could not secure performances of Romeo and Juliet in Moscow or Leningrad (the official reason being that the music was too complex for the dancers to deal with.) The always-enterprising Prokofiev did not let this hurdle stand in his way and extracted two suites of music from the ballet score, both of which are featured in this recording (unfortunately, the fourth and sixth numbers of second suite are not included). Although the ballet version did finally receive its premiere in Brno in 1938, it was not performed in the USSR until 1940, only after Prokofiev had consented to significant revisions. Romeo and Juliet is one of the culminating works of Prokofiev’s efforts during the 1930s to develop a simpler and more direct musical language without compromising the quality of his compositions. In this respect, the ballet and the suites extracted from it are a stunning success, and today they rank among the composer’s most beloved works.
The performances on this disc—both reissues—date from the earlier days of Riccardo Muti’s tenure with The Philadelphia Orchestra (the Prokofiev was recorded in 1981 and the Respighi in 1984). As might be expected from such a venerable orchestra and director, the playing is first-rate. Muti’s interpretation, however, is not for the faint of heart: He draws massive sound from the orchestra, and both pieces are marked with dramatic dynamic contrasts. While always exciting, some may find Muti’s approach to these pieces (most notably in the Prokofiev) rather extroverted for their tastes. The recording is crystal-clear and generous on the bass end, but at times suffers from balance problems, with some of the brass sounding particularly distant while others are quite up-close and live. These, however, are minor detractions, and considering this is another release from EMI’s inexpensive “encore” label, the disc is a great option for those wanting to add these two classic works to their CD collection.
Kevin Michael Bartig
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill