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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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
17 Nov 2005
Soprano Songs and Arias
For those who frequent the Santa Fe Opera and Houston Grand Opera, Ana María Martínez is well-known as a superb lyric soprano on her way to a stellar career. With the release of this collection of songs and arias for soprano, the rest of the world will come to know this as well.
Ana María Martínez debuts at the Metropolitan Opera on November 19 performing the role of Micaela in Carmen, an occasion with which this release by Naxos is intended to coincide. This collection consists of eleven pieces by eight composers that range from the familiar to the obscure. Of the familiar, she has selected three arias by Puccini: “O mio babbino caro” (Gianni Schicchi), “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” ( La Rondine) and “Un bel dì vedremo” (Madama Butterfly). Then there are Gounod’s “Je veux vivre” (Roméo et Juliette), Lehár’s “Vilja-Lied” (Die lustige Witwe), Delibes’ “Les filles de Cadix,” Canteloube’s “Baïlèro” (Chants d’Auvergne) and “Aria (Cantilena)” from Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas-Brasileiras No. 5 for voice and eight cellos. Finally, there are Pablo Luna’s “De España vengo” (El Niño Judio), Francis López’s “Violetas imperiales” and “Dança (Martelo)” from Bachianas-Brasileiras No. 5. A wide range, indeed, of musical styles, vocal color and emotional expression that Martínez navigates with ease.
Martínez possesses an instrument of astonishing range, flexibility and ringing top that is ideally suited to the Romantic and Post-Romantic musical literature presented here. There is no doubt, moreover, that her precise phrasing, intonation and dynamics all contribute to a most satisfactory musical result. In many respects, her voice is reminiscent of that of Bidú Sayão, albeit with a tad more weight, power and opacity. There are no mannerisms apparent in this recording. At times her slurs border on portamento, but always with the requisite dramatic effect. It is a pity that works by Handel, Mozart or Strauss are not included to give the listener a complete sample of her musicality. There is one caveat. This recording was made in August 2000. So it is likely that her voice has matured to some degree during the past five years.
Steven Mercurio conducts the Prague Philharmonia with aplomb. The engineers have done well to achieve optimal balance between the soloist and the orchestra.
This recording is highly recommended. Let us hope that many more are forthcoming.