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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.
04 Dec 2005
DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor
A superstar in Europe, Edita Gruberova can rest assured that future generations have the opportunity to appreciate her artistry: the record label Nightingale Classics exists primarily, it seems, to record her in her greatest roles.
The inside CD cover of this Lucia di Lammermoor even presents an advertisement for a biography written by Niel Rishoi, who also provides a booklet essay on the opera.
Gruberova’s agility and plaintive tone make her an ideal bel canto exponent, and this Lucia captures the best of her artistry in the last act, especially the mad scene. Here her sharp articulation has few rivals, and the lachrymose quality of her voice suits the scene. The excitement generated by her expert maneuvering in the challenging runs has a gladiatorial aspect, heightened by an awareness that Gruberova is singing this role, and this well, at an age when many a soprano has retired. She can pump her fists, metaphorically speaking, at scene’s end — she is still champion.
However….act one leaves something to be desired. Gruberova’s Lucia early in the set sounds on the edge of a nervous breakdown already, and the air of desperation created by a tendency to slight intonation droops makes one wonder why her Edgardo is attracted to this frail Lucia. Not until the sextet does Gruberova start to hit her stride.
Jose Bros sings Edgardo. Your reviewer heard him live in the role two seasons ago in Los Angeles, opposite Anna Netrebko. He sang well that night until the tenor’s big scene at the climax, where a tentative approach led to a sad crack on a high note. Here, under studio conditions, he manages the scene with confidence. However, his voice is more pleasing live than on record, where a lack of tonal variety becomes more apparent. Unlike Gruberova, he is at his strongest earlier in the set.
Georg Tichy snarls a bit too much as Enrico; otherwise he sings acceptably. Friedrich Haider’s leads the Baden Baden forces in an energetic, propulsive performance.
Realistically, nothing about this CD set rivals the best of the many, many other Lucia sets available. The big qualifier, obviously, would be for the most ardent fans of Miss Gruberova, of whom there are many. For them, the Nightingale recording will be an obvious self-recommendation.
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy