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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.
22 Dec 2005
LUTOSLAWSKI: Twenty Polish Christmas Carols
Witold Lutosławski (1913-94) composed vocal works throughout his career, and recording collects several pieces that involve female voices. His set of Twenty Polish Christmas Carols for soprano, women’s choir and orchestra is a late composition compiled between 1985 and 1989 and given its premiere in 1990.
It is based on the collection of twenty Christmas carols for voice and piano that Lutosławski arranged in 1946, a time when the politics dictated that the arts create works like this for the people. Only someone as steeped in Polish culture as Lutosławski could approach arrangements of these carols with the aplomb that they deserve and, at the same time, introduce elements that do not make them caricatures. The collection is as reminiscent of some of the folksong settings of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the appeal of the music resides in the masterful settings that he gave each piece.
While some of the melodies may be familiar, others are more insular in nature. The carol entitled “Hurrying to Bethlehem” The delicate timbres and floating harmonies of “Lullaby, Jesus” is one of the outstanding selections on this recording. Likewise angular melody of “This is our Lord’s birthday” evokes a Slavic idiom that hints at the kind of choral number a composer like Prokofiev have used in one of his cantatas, while Lutosławski’s orchestration suggests Shostakovich’s style. The wind colors used in “Shepherds, can you tell?” is engaging, especially when they occur with the interplay between solo voice and choral writing. The arrangements by Lutosławski make some wonderful Polish carols available to a broader audience.
This masterful combination of the familiar with a modern touch makes the collection attractive not only as a recording, but also for performances during the Christmas season. The performance preserved on this recording is taken from concerts given on 5 December 2001. In fact, the other pieces on the CD were part of another concert, which was given on 15 January 1997) and include Lutsławski’s Lacrimosa for soprano, choir, and orchestra, as well as his Five Songs for female voice the 30 solo instruments.
The Lacrimosa is one of two settings from the Requiem completed in 1937 by Lutosławski, and as a fragment it offers a glimpse at the composer early in his career. The melody given to the soprano is reminiscent of some of the music Ginastera used in his Bachianas Brasilieras. The overt simplicity that Lutosławski uses in this piece is part of its attraction. As much as it is unmistakably modern, the Lacrimosa is also engaging in its clear presentation of the text, and masterful use of solo voice in contrast to choral passages, all of which are supported by a carefully composed accompaniment. It is unfortunate that the other setting from the Requiem was destroyed and that Lutosławski did not pursue the setting of the entire piece. Those unfamiliar with the work will find this performance to be extremely effective.
Another work that deserves further attention is the set of Five Songs to texts by the contemporary poet Kazmimiera Iłłakowicz (1892-1983). The only nominally secular pieces on this CD, the Five Songs are essentially revisions of children’s verses that have a modern slant, and Lutosławski’s music accentuates that aspect of the texts. Composed in 1957, the Five Songs are a product of a time when Lutosławski benefited from the cultural openness that occurred after Stalin’s regime ended. As with the other pieces collected in this recording, the performance is convincing and conveys the spirit of the music well.
This and the other pieces are performed by the Polish Radio Chorus, Kraców, and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice) conducted by Anoni Wit. The soprano for the set of Twenty Polish Christmas Carols and the Lacrimosa is Olga Pasichnyk, with the alto Jadwiga Rappé serving as soloist for the Five Songs. The diction is clear and serves the texts well, but it is unfortunate that the texts and translations are not provided with the recording. With the exception of Lutosławski’s Five Songs, the texts are available at the Naxos website (www.naxos.com/libretti/20carols.htm), the publication of the materials with the CD makes a difference. At the same time it would also be useful at least to have the titles of the pieces and their components in the original language and also in translation. Nevertheless, this recording makes available some fine music and in turn, it shows yet another side of one of the most important Polish composers of the twentieth century.
James L. Zychowicz