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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.
20 Nov 2005
I’m told that, if an auditioning singer’s repertoire includes a Verdi piece, the auditors will very likely choose to hear it, because singing Verdi well requires the full catalogue of skills: musical exactness, dynamic range, breath control, sensitive phrasing, the ability to provide a variety of colors in the voice, and, if possible, a large enough personality to truly fill out whichever character is being portrayed.
Sloppy musicianship cannot be hidden behind rubato, as one might conceivably be able to do in a Puccini aria, and, if the rest is missing, the piece will not come to life as it should.
Last year, when Norah Amsellem sang Gilda in the Seattle Opera Company’s production of Rigoletto, I did not have this checklist explicitly in mind, but I do remember thinking during “Caro Nome” that, while her voice was not as big as might be desired for the Verdi dramatic soprano roles, as Gilda she had the range of color and dynamics needed to keep the aria alive throughout. On this CD devoted completely to Verdi’s smaller scale Composizione da Camera, the piano accompaniment puts fewer volume demands on the voice, while at the same time depending even more upon vocal color and dynamic range, since the full orchestra is not there to provide sonic variety.
It would follow that this disc would be a great showpiece for Amsellem’s talents, which in many ways it is. And yet, when I listened to it as a program from start to finish, it was not completely satisfying to me. It has been hard to pin down exactly why this is, as I could not fault the artists’ musicianship, and beyond that, whenever I looked for performance examples that I could responsibly criticize, I would hear other examples in which Amsellem beautifully did what I had set out to say that she did not do. “Ad una stella” is, to my ear, a fine example of Verdi singing: smooth legato, dynamic swells in all the right places, and an exquisite skip up a seventh on “sera” in the final verse. Similarly, “Perduto ho la pace”, which is an Italian translation of the scene in Goethe’s Faust where the erotically agitated Gretchen sits at the spinning wheel, is beautifully sung and phrased, and, while the music lacks Schubert’s unforgettable evocation of the moving wheel echoing the girl’s turbulent emotions, we hear a more subdued, but palpable, shiver in the piano part before the resumption of a ghostly quiet verse.
In the pieces that demand more coloratura, such as “La Zingara” and, to some extent “Lo spazzacamin”, the singing is less satisfying, perhaps because Amsellem brings too much weight into the sound. “La Zingara”, in particular, loses dynamic contrast and the notes at the bottom of the challenging skips are in some places virtually inaudible. And yet, in “L’abandonée”, which closes the program, the coloratura is clear and the ornamentation much lighter, which leads me to wonder whether the fact that the piece is in French is freeing Amsellem from a perceived requirement to force her voice into a spinto weight. In fact, throughout the disc, the places where I find myself less pleased with the sound I hear tend to be at the louder end of the dynamic range, as if, in an effort to make a larger sound, she is pushing her voice into a wider vibrato than is comfortable.
The only other quibble I might have with these performances is that in some places they could show more character. In many of the songs the emotion is expressed by the music itself, and here Amsellem’s bel canto proficiency shines, but “Stornello” and “Lo spazzacamin” cry out for some more imaginative character portrayal than she provides. Likewise, in “Nell orror del notte oscura”, it is hard to imagine that a character who is really thinking about the meaning of the word “maledetta” would perform Verdi’s repetitions of it in such a straightforward way, without injecting a marked emotion into at least one of its appearances.
I have focused on these details largely to make peace with my concerns about what is overall a fine sampling of the most significant of Verdi’s songs. They are presented in an order that attempts to provide an interesting musical progression and contrast. To understand where the individual songs fall chronologically and with respect to the rest of Verdi’s works, one reads the liner notes, which are provided in English and French. The texts are provided in Italian, English and French, and the liner is rounded out by biographies of Amsellem and Lydia Jardon, the pianist, as well as a summary of Amsellem’s career highlights to date.