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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.
18 Dec 2005
In fall 2003, Los Angeles Opera opened its season with Deborah Dratell’s Nicholas and Alexandra, with libretto by Nicholas von Hoffman. At that time, company director Placido Domingo, who took on the juicy role of Rasputin, announced that the production would be filmed and prepared for eventual DVD release.
That didn’t happen, perhaps, if one may dare to assume, because Nicholas and Alexandra received such scathing reviews. But a DVD has appeared with the central characters of the czar, czarina, and the Mad Monk, in an opera that premiered at almost exactly the same time as the Dratell work. Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Rasputin, performed at the Finnish National Opera, doesn’t have to be compared to the woe-begotten Nicholas and Alexandra to merit praise. The DVD captures an intense, riveting evening of dramatic musical theater and a performance by Matti Salminen in the lead role that manages to capture all the seedy charisma and ecstatic lechery of this fascinating figure. If opera-lovers sadly cannot expect a world-tour of this great artist performing in a fine opera written with him in mind, they must at least obtain the DVD and settle in to experience Salminen’s brilliant work in a operatic stage work of genuine achievement.
The opera only covers Rasputin’s life from the time he entered the life of Russian royal family as they desperately sought relief for their hemophiliac son. He is seen as a dangerous influence by the established order, represented in the opera by two men seeking to marry the czar’s daughter Irina — Dimitri and Felix, whose rivalry is muted by the fact of their own homosexual relationship. As Rasputin’s influence grows, desperation sets in, and finally the Monk’s enemies can find no other option than to poison, stab, and shoot him to death. The conflagration to come reveals itself in a dream of the czar’s, as flames fill the stage.
Rautavaara’s opera, therefore, takes its place in the Faustian tradition as an innovative portrait of a malevolent but charismatic figure and the havoc he wreaks in a society of false piety. And like Mephistopheles, Rasputin makes for a great role for a deep, resonant voice (Domingo’s in the Dratell work was, of course, set higher — if not in true tenor range).
Salminen revels in the both the role’s musical challenges and the character’s schizophrenic nature. For like all truly great characters, Rasputin isn’t faking either his religious ecstasy or degrading himself with his libidinous rampages — they are integral parts of his Falstaffian nature, the ying and yang of a life force beyond understanding or control. The character’s first set piece – a long, dark meditation translated as Evil will sink in the water — quickly establishes Rasputin’s ominously attractive personality, and Rautavaara’s music, while not conventionally melodic, makes for a trance-inducing lullaby, and the audience falls under the Monk’s spell just as the Czarina and her ailing son do.
Like the best opera composers, Rautavaara sees to it that all the major roles get their time in the limelight. Lilli Paasikivi’s czarina begins the opera with a desperate plea for someone to save her son’s life, recalling in its minor key drama Butterfly’s final aria to her “piccolo iddio.” Jorma Hynninen’s Nicholas comes across as a weak man but a loving father, concerned that his daughter Irina might be about to marry one of two very wrong men, while allowing his wife to have her way in terms of Rasputin’s growing influence. Jyrki Anttila (Felix) and Gabriel Suovanen (Dimitri) both exude proper amounts of elegant sleaze as lovers who see Irina as a ticket to power, and Rasputin as the greatest threat to their ambition.
In three acts, the opera runs about 2 and half hours, so with two intermissions probably required, it would be a substantial, and probably expensive, proposition to stage. But this original production has much to recommend it, as smoothly moving walls slide into formulations to quickly signify shifting locations, and the lighting and costuming are of consistently high standards. Hannu Lindholm designed the production and Vilppu Kiljunen directed.
The production of new operas seems to be increasing, which, while healthy by most any measure, also means that some good works can be swept away by the next tide of newer works. Opera houses the world over would do very well to check out this Ondine release and realize that here is a new opera of potent drama and searing musicality, and if Matti Salminen is available, what more could be wanted? Anyone without the patience — formidable, indeed — to await that development should acquire this Ondine DVD soon.
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy