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?
13 Nov 2005
STRAVINSKY : The Rake’s Progress
This production, from Glyndebourne in 1975, is a treasure of literate, artistically informed stagecraft. Opera is meant to be seen as much as heard, and productions like this prove that good staging brings a score alive.
Indeed, it was the visual that inspired Stravinsky in the first place. During a visit to the Chicago Art Institute in 1947, Stravinsky saw Hogarth’s eight copper engravings. He saw the potential of using the formality of early, classical opera to structure a moral fable that defies time and convention. The libretto, by W H Auden and Chester Kallman, would follow. Their libretto respected Stravinsky’s instructions to adhere to a stylised model. The syntax may be archaic, but this serves to highlight Stravinsky’s fundamental modernism. Like A Soldier’s Tale, structure belies content. Basic ideas break through as universal.
This production, designed by David Hockney, leaps in and out of one dimensional space. First we see a stage in simple black and white, like the Hogarth engravings, crudely etched in lines and cross hatching. Perspectives aren’t quite right, as in the originals. Then figures appear, their costumes reflecting the graphics. Film technology being what it is, lines flicker as the eye adjusts. Unintentionally, this serves only to underline the surreal effect of old film and old print. The further the narrative descends into inner madness, the more striking Hockney’s designs. In the auction scene the characters are shown in muted neutrals, wigs and clothes like paper cartoons. Only the auctioneer is fully coloured, for his is the role of observer. Even more striking is the remarkable staging of the madhouse scene. The asylum’s inhabitants pop in and out of boxes, like typepieces in typographers’ trays. Boundaries between real and surreal are overturned, just as the music subverts its formal constraints. Remarkably, this staging makes the voices in the chorus surprisingly human and personal, adding another element of insight.
Performances, as one would expect, are very good. Felicity Lott makes Ann Trulove memorable, slight and sentimental as the role may be. She even manages to express a parody of the role in her aria in the asylum. Leo Goeke convinces as a wholesome wastrel, but less so as a ravaged rake. Nonetheless, the plot isn’t actually “about” him so much as his inability to withstand the temptations of the world. Looking bemused is a valid part of the characterisation. The really dominant figure is Nick Shadow. Sam Ramey brings truly venomous richness to the part, his voice almost hypnotic with colour and menace. His acting is magnetic, and evocative. In the scene where he confronts Tom in the graveyard, I was powerfully reminded of his Don Giovanni. When he turns to speak to the audience, stepping out of the play into “reality”, he comes over as much more sympathetic than the thwarted lovers. Rosalind Elias, as Baba the Turk, almost steals the show. Her singing and acting are superb, and she fills the role with manic joie de vivre. She is an invention of almost divine inspiration, adding further layers of surrealism to the plot. She comes from the world of theatre where illusion rules. She’s a woman with a beard after all, whose sexual allure is supposed to make men melt. She collects the weird and wonderful with genuine gusto, while her husband has no gusto for anything. He abuses her by covering her up and trying to sell her. Symbolically, though, she revives and turns the tables. It’s not a big role in terms of time on stage, but a pivotally important one. The crowd scenes, too, are sensitively choreographed, and extremely well sung, as one would expect from Glyndebourne.
This is an extremely robust and intellectually satisfying performance. With Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, there is very fine playing. The trumpet solo at the beginning of Act Three, accompanying Lott on her wanderings is especially evocative. But it is the marriage of music and visual imagery that makes this film such a treat. The grid patterns and lines in Hogarth’s drawings seem to come to life in the staging. The play of reality and unreality on many levels brings out the dynamic interplay between classical form and modernism in Stravinsky’s score. After this apotheosis, it’s not surprising that he didn’t feel a need to top this with more of the same.