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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.
21 Nov 2005
RAMEAU: Les Indes galantes
Jean-Philippe Rameau is usually remembered today (when he is remembered at all) as an important musical theorist. This limited reputation is unfortunate, because Rameau was a masterful composer known for his sumptuous melodies and colorful harmonies.
These qualities are abundant his operas, which transcend stereotypes of static opera seria through their descriptive orchestral writing, their lyrical airs, and a style of recitative that follows the natural flow and music of the French language, without devolving into dry recitation.
Rameau was 50 when his first opéra tragique (tragic opera), Hippolyte et Aricie, debuted on the stage of the Académie Royale de Musique in 1733. With this work, Rameau was treading on familiar operatic ground, but many in the audience were baffled by Rameau’s daring realization of opéra tragique, a genre established by the still-beloved Lully (1632-1687). Les Indes galantes (1735) belongs to a different operatic genre, the opéra-ballet, which featured independent—but loosely connected—plots separated into several entrées. As the genre’s name suggests, dance played an important part in the opéra-ballet, and Les Indes galantes is no exception; each entrée closes with a divertissement, a collection of dance movements and dance songs that tie into the plot of the entrée.
At its premiere in 1735, Les Indes galantes consisted of a prologue and three entrées: “Le Turc généreux” (The Generous Turk), “Les Incas du Pérou” (The Incas of Peru), and “Les Fleurs” (The Flowers); soon after the premiere, Rameau added a fourth entrée, “Les Sauvages” (The Savages). Each entrée is set in a different exotic location—Turkey, Peru, Persia, and America. The librettist, Louis Fuzelier, indicated the sources of inspiration for these locales in his published preface to the libretto: The plot of “Le Turc généreux” was inspired by a news report in the journal Mercure de France, while both “Les Incas du Pérou” and “Les Fleurs” reflect popular contemporary travel literature. The source of the setting of “Les Sauvages” is a 1725 visit to Paris by two native Americans from France’s new colony in Louisiana; Rameau’s set of harpsichord pieces entitled Les Sauvages were inspired by the dances performed by the two visitors, and served as the basis for the divertissement of the final entrée of Les Indes galantes. The entrées are strung loosely together by a common thread introduced in the Prologue, in which the Hébé, the goddess of youth, laments the seduction of idle youths by Bellone, the goddess of war, who promises them glory in battle. Hébé calls on Cupid to send his winged followers throughout the world to search for true love.
The musical performances in this production are superb—everything that one can expect from Les Arts Florissants and its director, William Christie. The soloists all have clear, agile voices, and are accomplished actors. In particular, the air “Viens, hymen, viens m’unir au vainqueur que j’adore” (Come, Hymen, to unite me with the conqueror whom I love) in “Les Incas du Pérou” and the quartet “Tendre amour, que pour nous ta chaîne” (Tender love, may you enchain us) are meltingly lovely.
On the other hand, the staging by Andrei Serban is uneven. Certainly the genre of opéra-ballet is lighter than opéra tragique, but the director seems determined to find humor everywhere, from a “goddess” of war in drag, to a slinky Indian maiden singing of the “innocence” of love. To my mind, only the mistaken identity in the plot of the Persian entrée (“Les Fleurs”) is clearly humorous, as it foreshadows comic theatrical devices that came to fruition in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. The director’s stated goal was to provide an imaginative feast for the eyes, but the quest for visual brilliance and comedy often threatens to descend into meaningless antics. Serban does not seem comfortable with letting the music carry the action; a number of gentle airs are overshadowed by stage business that seems to have no purpose, from a simple procession of people in the background, to a recurring acrobatic act that culminates in the pair dangling from the fly space à la Cirque du Soliel. The use of supernumeraries in large head-masks was probably meant to be whimsical, but to me the human minarets populating “Le turc généreux,” the dancers wearing huge flower pots in “Les Fleurs,” and the life-size Hopi Kachina dolls cavorting in “Les Sauvages” were just silly.
Because of the large amount of music for dance in the opéra-ballet, the choreographer plays an important role in the staging, but Blanca Li is as inconsistent as the director. In the prologue, the dancers’ steps are clearly based on authentic Baroque dance, but the choreographer has inserted odd body and arm positions that come straight out of modern classical dance. Although most of the dance seems in the style of Martha Graham, we see sailors executing moves from On the Town in “Le turc généroux” and flower pots dancing the Charleston and the “Swim” in “Les Fleurs.” On the whole, the director does not seem to give Rameau enough credit to be able to hold the audience through the music, but feels compelled to keep his audience visually entertained instead.
Editor, Journal of Musicological Research
University of Northern Colorado