Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
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.
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