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?
30 Oct 2005
PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut
Manon Lescaut was Puccini’s first big success, and his first contribution to the repertory. Yet it’s popularity has always lagged behind that of the composer’s following three mega-hits La Boheme, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly, as well as some later successes such as Turandot and even Gianni Schicchi.
The opera had a somewhat tortured genesis, with five librettists eventually having a hand in it, including composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo and Puccini’s team-of-the-future Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Perhaps there are hints of this in the final product which stand between Manon Lescaut and warhorse status. Yet watching the opera from beginning to end in this handsome production from La Scala with its pair of charismatic leads, I couldn’t help but see in this opera the very same Puccini that we know and love.
There are departures. Some feel that the final act is dramatically weak by Puccinian standards. The composer nakedly stakes out “modern” territory by borrowing the musical language of Tristan und Isolde for his Intermezzo, while some of the big choral moments in the first act have a distinctly old-fashioned feel about them. And even though it is no longer than several of the other Puccini operas, Manon Lescaut has a bit of a sprawling feel to it which separates it from the laser-like focus Puccini exhibits in later titles.
Yet when the muse strikes, Puccini is as potent as anywhere. Des Grieux’s wooing of the lovely Manon in act one, the lover’s exchanges in act two, the gorgeous Intermezzo, the stunning parade of fallen women in act three, and the pair’s cries of desperation in the final act are all as affecting as any such passages in the Puccini canon.
But maybe the biggest departure is in the title character herself. Mimi, Tosca, Butterfly, Minnie, Angelica, and Liu are all easy to love. They themselves love with selfless devotion. They are simple and good. They don’t deserve the cruel hand which fate deals them. Not so with Manon. Our heroine is immature, selfish, and unfaithful. Even after being given a second chance by the heartbroken Des Grieux, when they desperately need to flee from her wealthy, elderly lover’s estate, she takes extra time to gather up jewelry and various treasures with which she cannot bear to part.
But for me, all these faults in some ways makes Manon all the more compelling, because they make her seem real. I love Cio-cio-san, but how many fifteen year-olds do you know with that amazing level of maturity? The teenaged girls I know are a lot closer to Manon!
This particular representation of the opera has just about everything going for it. The production, filmed at La Scala in 1998, is a lavish period staging with costumes as beautiful as museum pieces, and sets which bring the story vividly to life.
But even more important are the leads. One could hardly imagine a more handsome Des Grieux than Jose Cura or a more beautiful Manon that Maria Guleghina. They are picture-book leads. Neither gives a cookie-cutter performance, and these are not cookie-cutter voices. Cura’s tenor sounds more like a baritone with (great) high notes, and his vocal mannerisms—most which don’t bother me—are very much in evidence. Guleghina is shown at her best here. She is a singer with a huge voice, but one which, at times, can seem to spin out of control. Here she keeps it tamed for the most part. It is always a voice which sounded mature in comparison with her youthful appearance, with a fairly wide vibrato, especially in loud passages. Maybe that angelic face here distracted me. But if it did, so be it! Marco Berti, now a regular lead at the Metropolitan Opera, sings the small role of Edmondo in the first act. Lescaut is sung by Lucio Gallo, and Geronte is well sung and acted by Luigi Roni. Riccardo Muti leads the orchestra in a very fine reading of the score.
The DVD’s presentation is stylish and useful. The menu is very attractive, with a montage of scenes from the opera being acted out accompanied by music from the Intermezzo. One may select subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian, and may select a particular act, or go directly to specific scenes within that act which are all labeled with titles from the Italian text.
I have no doubt that when Puccini sat down at his desk to write Manon Lescaut and pictured the scenes of the opera, he must have imagined them very much like this.
Eric D. Anderson