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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.
02 Dec 2005
Songs of Vaughan Williams and Ives
Ralph Vaughan Williams and Charles Ives; both known more for their symphonic music than anything else, receive superb tributes in these recordings of some of their early songs. Only two years separate the birth dates of these composers; but the musical language each speaks seems to put far more distance than that between them.
Vaughan Williams created his own musical speech out of an amalgamation of nineteenth-century Romanticism and modally-inflected figures that marks it as uniquely his own. Ives, on the other hand, is known for the twentieth-century cast to his music in which free dissonance plays a large role. That said, however, Ives’s eclectic musical rhetoric goes well beyond this simple categorization to include past, present, and (though he may not have given it much thought at the time) future as well.
The songs in these two collections, however, link RVW with Ives, for both composers brought English and American art song into the twentieth century, forever breaking with the classical song traditions of their respective youths: Vaughan Williams from Edwardian England and Ives from the sentimental nineteenth-century American song. Most of the songs in these two recordings date from the first two decades of the twentieth century and illustrate well those changes.
That the songs of RVW are better known than those of Ives is not in doubt. Perhaps this is because many may not yet have heard baritone Gerald Finley’s recent recording of these Ives pieces. Audiences have rarely had the opportunity to hear such superb singing of Ives. Add to this the dynamic, always sensitive, accompanying of Julius Drake and the result is one of the finest recorded tributes ever paid to Charles Ives. The thirty one songs that Finley and Drake have included constitute about one-fifth of Ives’s output and cover an astonishing range of moods, subjects, and musical language. Eclectic is the perfect word for these songs. Here is music modeled on that of nineteenth-century German romantics, a song about a cowboy, a fiery evangelist, the reclusive Henry David Thoreau, the bittersweet memories of youth, and of an eagle and a vampire, to mention only a few. The Romantic Ives, evident in such songs as Feldeinsamkeit, Weil’ auf mir, and Ich grolle nicht will surprise those listeners who know Ives primarily from his thornier songs like The Cage and Where the Eagle. If one thinks only of a common image of Ives as a curmudgeonly old bearded man with a cane, the poignancy of words and matching music in Tom Sails Away and The Greatest Man will come as a revelation. The humorous Ives turns up in The Side Show, where a musical quotation from Tchaikovsky underlines the moment when “poor Mister Riley look[s] a bit like a Russian dance.” For sheer loveliness and gentleness, it is hard to beat The Housatonic at Stockbridge and Remembrance. Then there is General William Booth Enters Into Heaven—a song that is undoubtedly Ives’s masterpiece. Ives’s music and poet Vachel Lindsay’s words evoke the founder of the Salvation Army, this “great preacher of redemption” in what becomes an operatic scene in its dramatic juxtapositions of moods and emotions.
Gerald Finley is a master at capturing the many moods of these songs, his interpretations matching perfectly Ives’s music, from its quirky moments to those of incredible serenity and loveliness. Pianist Julius Drake’s performance complements Finley at every move. The combination of Finley, Drake, and Ives in A Song—For Anything. Songs by Charles Ives will surely succeed in bringing new audiences to the songs of Ives and in reaffirming to Ives’s aficionados his stature as a major vocal composer of the twentieth century. It is difficult to imagine a finer recording of this music. Finley and Drake have set a very high standard for future interpreters of Ives’s songs.
What Gerald Finley and Julius Drake do for Ives in A Song—For Anything, Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside accomplish on behalf of Ralph Vaughan Williams.in their performance of twenty songs of this great English composer. The nine Songs of Travel, to texts by Robert Louis Stevenson and six of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poems in The House of Life scarcely need an introduction, having been recorded numerous times; this is equally true of the ever-lovely English folk song, Linden Lea. Williams and Burnside perform with such artistry in this recording for The English Song Series, however, that the songs sound fresh. Bright Is the Ring of Words and Silent Noon, for instance, recipients of too many hackneyed performances as staples of young singers’ repertoires, become magical once again to the listener; one hears them as if listening to them for the first time. I found myself surprised at how moving their magic can be in the magnificent voice of Roderick Williams and in the pianistic artistry of Iain Burnside.
Regrettably, the Four Poems by Fredegond Shove are not well known. They date from 1925—settings of words by the niece of RVW’s wife, Adeline. While the composer treats the texts to more word-painting than one finds in his settings of Stevenson and Rossetti, his musical language is one with that found in those earlier songs. These songs should be better known than they are.
Roderick Williams’s masterful performances of these twenty songs rank with the best of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s many interpreters.
Saint Mary’s College
Notre Dame, Indiana