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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.
28 Nov 2005
ROSSINI: Guillaume Tell
On 24 October 1998, the Vienna State Opera presented the opening night of its staging of Gioachino Rosssini’s Guillaume Tell. It was the first Staatsoper production in 91 years of Rossini’s final opera and masterpiece, as well as the Vienna premiere of the 1829 opera’s original French-language version.
Perhaps the opera’s unflattering depiction of the Austrians as invaders and repressors of the Swiss people had something to do with the opera’s long absence from the Viennese repertoire. More likely, the extraordinary demands this epic work places upon the soloists, chorus, orchestra, and yes, the audience, were the main culprits. In any event, the Vienna Staatsoper did itself proud and Rossini’s masterwork justice with the 1998 revival. We are fortunate to have it documented in this recent Orfeo release.
Although the opera is named William Tell, the greatest challenge in staging the opera rests with the leading tenor role of Arnold. Written for the legendary French tenor Adolphe Nourrit, Arnold demands a singer who can sing with both heroic power and ardent tenderness, all the while negotiating a superhuman tessitura that seems to encompass countless high Cs. Arnold is, quite simply, one of the most difficult roles in the entire tenor repertoire.
In the Staatsoper production, Arnold is the Italian tenor Giuseppe Sabbatini. For the most part, he is superb. His French diction is quite excellent, the voice has both a penetrating and attractive timbre, and the many high notes are always brilliant, secure, and masterfully integrated with the rest of his vocal production. Sabbatini’s singing demonstrates an admirable combination of passion and elegant phrasing, as well as the ability to scale back dynamics to great musical and dramatic effect, as in the Act II duet with Mathilde and the second verse of his great aria, “Asil héréditaire.” On the negative side, Sabbatini often seems unable to maintain a true legato, substituting aspirates instead. And the voice lacks a basic heroic quality that I prefer in this role. But Sabbatini’s contribution, particularly in the context of the tightrope walk of an in-performance recording, is really quite extraordinary.
Likewise, Thomas Hampson’s William Tell is a great asset. As with Sabbatini, Hampson’s French is quite fine. Apart from some difficulty with the lower notes of Tell’s vocal writing, Hampson is in secure and impressive voice. I recommend this performance to those who view Hampson as an overly mannered singer. Here, he sings with the kind of directness and heroism that beautifully matches the character of the Swiss patriot. Hampson is also not afraid to abandon beautiful tonal production when the dramatic situation requires, as in the Act I duet with Arnold, or in his dispatch of the villain, Gessler. On the other hand, Hampson’s heartfelt and gorgeously sung “Sois immobile” is one of the highlights of the performance.
Soprano Nancy Gustafson sings with laudable vocal beauty and security. She also convincingly projects Mathilde’s tender, regal, and heroic aspects. Like Hampson, Gustafson is not totally secure in the lowest portions of the role. But overall, she is a major factor in the success of this production.
The many subsidiary roles are cast with strength. The contributions of the Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra are outstanding, both in terms of precision and tonal beauty. The horn playing in particular is absolutely stunning.
No doubt much of the success of this William Tell rests with conductor Fabio Luisi, who leads a performance that has tremendous forward propulsion, but which never gives short shrift to this amazing score’s many details and beauties. Many have commented on how Rossini’s final opera paved the way for the course of much of 19th-century French and Italian opera. But the masterfully paced and brilliantly executed rendition of the opera’s stunning finale also brought to my mind (for the first time) the great symphonies of Anton Bruckner as well. What a remarkable work this is!
The in-performance recording features a superb balance between stage and pit, a wonderful sense of the hall’s ambience, as well as a fair amount of stage noise and well-deserved applause. All of this adds to the sense of a very special occasion, indeed.
The early-70s EMI studio recording with Gabriel Bacquier, Nicolai Gedda, and Montserrat Caballé, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, remains my preferred version of Guillaume Tell. I also have a weak spot for a 1979 Geneva performance in Italian, conducted by Anton Guadagno. It documents a fearless and hair-raising (if occasionally rough) performance of Arnold by Franco Bonisolli. It is available as highlights from Gala, and issued complete by the Opera Magic’s label.
The Orfeo release has no libretto, just a listing of cast and music tracks, an essay on the opera and Staatsoper production, and cast photos. Still, this performance has numerous qualities that make it a major addition to the Tell discography, despite cuts in this mammoth score. As a great fan of this opera, I’m sure I’ll return often to this Orfeo Guillaume Tell.