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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
The Art of Gérard Souzay
If anyone had played the soundtrack of those first numbers of the 1955 telecast, I would have looked up in surprise at first and would have wondered if an electronic wizard had cleaned up the acoustic recordings of that giant of French singing: Jean-Emile Vanni-Marcoux.
This was that kind of singing at its very best: each syllable and of course each word perfectly enunciated while not once chopping up the line and keeping perfect legato; a noble and warm timbre with a fresh, round and very attractive small vibrato. Then doubt would have set in as the voice was somewhat higher-lying with an even more homogenous sound than Vanni-Marcoux had. In short this was Gérard Souzay at the height of his powers; a legendary baritone whom nobody French nowadays even approaches. Maybe José van Dam during the seventies, early eighties came somewhat near though the very impressive voice of the Walloon never had that utter beauty. And Souzay didn’t solely rely on his sound but employed it to tell a story with all its shades and corners in the two mélodies and the one opera aria that was broadcast in 1955. The kinescope picture is black and white and clear but with this kind of singing one would have even accepted murkiness.
Eleven years later Souzay once more appeared on Québec Television with a far longer programme. Though still in black and white television had taken some strides and such a thing as a simple registration from a lieder and melodies-recital wasn’t good enough anymore: imagine that some viewers “watching the show” would be bored so a director made it somewhat jollier. Thus Souzay recorded several opera arias and then acted them on camera in costume and with the aid of a few sets while his dubbed sound ran on. And those scenes were inserted between a recital of well-known mélodies so that a little action was served. At the end of the recital the director even had some more clever ideas. A traditional song was illustrated with arty photographs that had no whatsoever relationship with the text of the song Souzay sang. To my delight I even saw a picture of a boy reading “L’Etoile Mystérieuse”, an adventure of comic hero Tintin produced during the war, all anti-Semitic illustrations carefully deleted in the album the boy had in his hands. Meanwhile Souzay was enumerating all kinds of birds in May. And why the great singer consented to have his voice used as an echo during the famous “Baïlero” is anyone’s guess.
Anyway one can grumble as much as one wants but it’s not as if VAI had a choice and one can only be grateful for this issue which may well be commercially less rewarding than another tenor disc.
In the second part of the DVD the singer was eleven years older and was now slowly on the way back. The voice is still beautiful but the 48 year old baritone had been on the scene for more than 20 years and some of the velvet had gone. The top still rings free and clear but in the lower register there is some huskiness. The timbre is less warm because the vibrato has somewhat gone out of the voice. These beautiful overtones, typically for the sheen on all youthful voices, have now gone. The pianissimo is still beautiful but the honeyed sound is less remarkable. This is still a magnificent voice and what artistry but he cannot completely compete with his unique younger self. Of course he has lost nothing from his interpretative powers. His diction remains impeccable and one listens in awe to the opera arias where there are far more competitors. Such beautiful French and such fine legato and one doesn’t think for one second of French as a nasal and difficult language; a complaint one always get from less talented singers. His German is fine too and for this reviewer he is even helped by the fact he is not a native speaker so that he doesn’t fall in the trap of Dieskau- or Schwarzkopf-mannerisms. It is good to see his legendary accompanist Dalton Baldwin too, who, as always, makes a perfect team with the baritone. In short, this DVD is a must.