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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.
11 Dec 2005
STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; The Nightingale
So much has been written about the notorious scandal of May 29, 1913, the scandal of the reception of the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du Printemps, that it is easy to forget that the music itself was less the cause of the riotous activities than the subject, the décor, and the dancing.
Due in part to the commotion caused by the work’s premiere and its subsequent performances in the following weeks, but more because of wartime privations affecting musical performances all over Europe, it was not until the 1920s that audiences began to hear and appreciate the score of The Rite in concert form. Its subsequent rapid ascent to “classic” status is now a fact of history, and the number of respectable recorded performances available are well into the double digits.
Naxos’ project of releasing CDs of all of Stravinsky’s works, conducted by Robert Craft, is a huge and noble one, and the present disc represents a significant addition to the recorded Stravinsky legacy. This particular Rite was released by Koch International Classics in 1995; the overall sound and balance of the new release reflect the complex score superbly. The playing of the London Symphony comes as close to perfection as one could ever expect in bringing this score accurately and vibrantly to life, no small complement given the strength and size of the recorded competition. The players and the engineers deserve particular credit for allowing listeners to hear inner voices and subtle rhythmic and sonority features often absent from other recordings. This manifests itself both in the quieter pages of the score, (e.g., the “Introduction” of Part One) as well as in the heavier passages (e.g., the “Procession of the Sage,” also in Part One).
Despite such important and deserved kudos, the performance here does not exude the frenzy and daring excitement that one hears in such recordings as the one by the Kirov Orchestra under Valery Gergiev for Philips. If perfection in realization of the composer’s notated intentions is the purchaser’s goal, one can arguably do no better than this recording, particularly in view of Craft’s capabilities and vast experience with the composer personally as well as with his works. However, someone preferring a bit more risk-taking by performers and conductor might not find this performance quite up to par.
The remainder of this disc is given over to a 1997 MusicMasters recording of Stravinsky’s one-act opera, The Nightingale. Stravinsky actually began composing this sonically gorgeous work in 1908, not finishing it until after the premiere of The Rite, when a performance opportunity presented by Diaghilev and his stage director Alexander Sanin provided the composer with the necessary impetus. Paris was again the site of the premiere, on May 26, 1914, almost exactly a year after the premier of The Rite. Less than an hour in length, The Nightingale shared double-billing with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le coq d’or in its initial presentations.
While fully two-thirds of the opera was completed after Stravinsky composed The Rite, the musical language is much closer to that of Firebird, with more than a few pages bringing the sounds of Debussy to mind as well. The experience of scoring both Petrushka and The Rite had developed Stravinsky’s orchestral pallet significantly, however, with the result that the latter parts of this work have some of the richest and most imaginative sonorities to be find anywhere in the composer’s output. Certainly, this can be credited in part to the setting (in China) of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale as well as to the fantastic nature of the story and the role of the nightingale as a central character.
The Philharmonia Orchestra serves both composer and conductor well in this performance. The technical difficulties of the score are handled with aplomb, and the oriental atmosphere is created with sensitivity and a lightness of touch that are perfectly suited to the nature of the story. Both the “real” and the mechanical nightingale in the story fairly leap from the disc with a brilliant realism. The orchestra bears much responsibility for this sonorous beauty, of course, but the singers are equally up to their tasks. The highly demanding role of the Nightingale is virtually tossed off by Olga Trifonova, whose thrilling voice amazes with its agility and range. Likewise, Robert Tear brings his usual lyricism and focused sound to the important role of the Fisherman. Pippa Longworth as the Cook, Paul Whelan as the Emperor, and Sally Burgess as Death stand out among other vocalists, as do the London Voices under Terry Edwards’ guidance.
This is a performance that has been prepared with considerable care and understanding. The Nightingale deserves wider exposure, both for its own virtues and because of what it displays about Stravinsky’s developing style and technique. This valuable (and inexpensive!) recording should go far in increasing that exposure.
Roy J. Guenther
Professor of Music
The George Washington University