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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.
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major opera houses today.
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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.
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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.
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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
WAGNER, S.: Der Heidenkönig
What an unjust fate for an aspiring opera composer to be born the son of Richard Wagner! Imagine a child of Albert Einstein who dreams of greatness in science, or the son of William Shakespeare sitting down to sketch out his first sonnet. Doubtless you would have a nagging suspicion that you would likely never better your father’s titanic accomplishments.
No wonder, then, that Siegfried Wagner first decided on a career in architecture. Had he stuck with that resolve, he would likely have gotten a lot more professional respect than he did as a composer. Yet seventy-five years after the death of the junior Wagner, more and more of his operas are making their way into the catalogue—most recently his 1914 opus Der Heidenkönig (The Heathen King), a work that never made it to the stage during its composer’s lifetime.
Listening to Siegfried Wagner’s music, it isn’t hard to understand both phenomena: the lack of respect, and the growing interest. Of course it is unfair to compare Siegfried’s operas to Richard’s—as unfair as it is inevitable. There is much pleasure to be found in Der Heidenkönig. The younger Wagner, who studied with Engelbert Humperdinck, was clearly a well trained and sophisticated composer, despite an approach which must have been considered old fashioned for a composer born midway between Richard Strauss and Arnold Schönberg.
The opera’s musical texture is filled with many delightful details, both harmonic and orchestral. That being said, and despite the clear influence of father upon son, the music only very intermittently reminds one of Richard Wagner’s titanic music dramas. It is rather closer in spirit to the work of his teacher Humperdinck, though perhaps less melodically inspired. Missing from Heidenkönig are so many of the things we expect from a “Wagner opera”—the big musical ideas, the vast philosophical pretensions, the almost careless confidence in his own genius.
Richard Wagner’s operas rarely contain a great deal of action or incident, but rather move in a deliberate manner though the mental and spiritual states of their protagonists. Der Heidenkönig, based not on mythology, but rather on a rather strange and complex episode in central European history, is jam packed with plot detail. It concerns the resistance of the Wends (a slavic tribe that lived in Prussia) to forced Christianization at the hands of the Poles.
The hero of the story is Radomar, whom the Wends have chosen to be secretly crowned their new king (the “Heathen King” of the title). But both a Christian monk and Radomar’s wife Ellida warn him not to accept the crown, which she dreams is poisoned. Ellida had once been unfaithful to Radomar, and, as the story progresses, the Polish general Jaroslav blackmails her into betraying Radomar once again, both sexually, and by revealing the plans for the secret coronation. But in the end, in a page out of the Wagner family playbook, she sacrifices her life to redeem her love.
Overall, Christianity is presented as triumphant, as the traditionalist Wends are portrayed as lying schemers, who perpetuate belief in their gods through trickery. But the Christian Poles are hardly whitewashed either, as Jaroslav’s blackmail of Ellida demonstrates. The noble Radomar and his love Ellida stand between the two camps.
Sadly, it is very difficult to wholly judge Der Heidenkönig as drama, because Marco Polo has not included the libretto in its booklet. This is especially unfortunate, as I could find no evidence that the libretto is available elsewhere—at least in translation. Perhaps a better introduction for those curious about Siegfried Wagner’s operas would be Die heilige Linde on the wonderful CPO label, which makes a practice of including translated libretti in their operatic releases.
Both sets share the wonderful soprano Dagmar Schellenberger, who here sings the role of Ellida. I was not familiar with most of the other singers, such as tenor Thorsten Scharnke as the Radomar and baritone Adam Kruzel as Jaroslav. All aquit themselves satisfactorily. Hiroshi Kodama leads the Solingen-Remscheid Symphony Orchestra with conviction.
For fans of Siegfried Wagner, Der Heidenkönig will be a welcome and worthy addition to the growing list of the composer’s available titles. For others, who don’t know the music of the junior Wagner, they may find considerable enjoyment in this set, provided they approach it without the expectations generated by that famous surname.
Eric D. Anderson