Recently in Recordings
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.
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.
19 Nov 2005
A happy feature of the King CD is the booklet in German and English: at least 7 pages full of information on the tenor. Then there is the pristine sound of the recordings. Though there is no mention of a concert source I’m fairly sure all the pieces (always followed by generous applause), are derived from the famous Münchner Sonntag Konzerte.
During the sixties and seventies they were regularly broadcasted and duly taped by German collectors who send them to their foreign correspondents. The concerts were proof of the German ‘Wirtschafswunder’ (Economic miracle) when money started to flow once more and they were generous indeed. Some of them found their way unto CD like the Olivero-Labo evening and the Bergonzi-Kabaivanska-Cappuccilli gala. James King was a regular who participated for many years.
The recordings on this CD were broadcast between 1968 and 1979 and are therefore testimony to the tenor’s stamina and vocal longevity; but they also show the slow deterioration of the voice. As is normal, the 1968-1970 recordings (Lohengrin, Parsifal, Frau) are the best. The raw power of the voice is there and tells us why people were stunned when he made his Met début in 1966 and his first “Gott” shook the walls. There was never great love between him and the Met (he was rejected five times during auditions) and after some good initial seasons he would only return in the eighties. King was a real heroic tenor in the old-fashioned way Melchior so much liked: he started as a baritone before becoming a heldentenor. He shows off a good stylish big voice majestically rolling along with a good free top. There is bronze in the sound and his legato is exemplary in the difficult Frau aria. A real beautiful pianissimo he hasn’t which is obvious in his Lohengrin aria where it’s remarkable how he has copied his interpretation from Konya’s classic performance (No coincidence. His career took off while substituting time and again for the Hungarian tenor). The difference with the 1977 and 1979-pieces however is striking. By that time the 54 year old tenor still had an awful amount of voice left, though there were now some chinks in his vocal harness. In the Fidelio aria the top sounds more constricted and he uses a lot of glottal attacks. He also cuts some corners by eschewing consonants. The Prize Song which was never meant to be sung by a baritonal tenor lies clearly somewhat too high. One hears him using great gulps of air and pushing the voice. The four big Otello pieces are sung well; indeed very well for a man his age but he cannot compete with another Konzert given ten years earlier (which appeared on Bella Voce 107.107) where he sings exactly the same Otello extracts with fresher tone and a more free top. Anyway this is a worthy testimony of the now 80-year old tenor who was much underrated during his best days. Time too to celebrate him by publishing his lieder- and especially his operetta-recital.
There is a marked difference with the Botha recital. The South-African tenor is not a Heldentenor but a big lirico; maybe a shade too light for Die Walküre (though Georges Thill is one of the best and most musical Siegmunds on record). I fear the recording doesn’t help either. I’ve heard Botha in the flesh and he sings broader and more voluminous in reality than in this piece where the voice sounds a bit too slender, without heft. In all the other arias and duets he is splendid, using his means for the best. He has made formidable progress since his first recordings 10 years ago. His Wagner singing is much helped by the many hours of work he put into his Italian roles. I heard him sing an exquisite messa di voce in Celeste Aida (he had worked on it for years, he told me) and this pays off. Take his Am stillen Herd: very sensitive singing and no barking. Both the Meistersinger Prize Song and the Lohengrin narrative start with a soft lovely tone spinning out the music in a very poetic manner. The way he caresses “eine Taube” equals Konya’s classic recording. Botha even adds the coda to the aria, cut by Wagner though reinstated on the Konya-Amara-recording. Here too it only proves that Wagner knew this was worthless and I’d much have preferred Botha recording “Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater”. So what is the catch? Well there is one and it’s something Botha cannot do much about. The basic material of the voice is not very rich, not very distinguished, not very personal. In the house this may pass but on record one is too much aware of his lack of outstanding God-given means. Nevertheless I and a lot of other people would be mighty happy to have him in a house-performance of one of the more lyrical Wagner parts as he has so improved musically. Compared with his Italian recital of four years ago (on Arte Nova, which he financed half himself he said) he has once more markedly refined his art and there are few tenors who can boast about such a feat once they have scored their first big successes. Botha is ably partnered by his sopranos and the orchestra, though I don’t like Simone Young sometimes stopping for a second to make a musical point.