Recently in Recordings
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.
04 Jan 2006
Régine Crespin: Wagner and Berlioz Opera Arias
For those who want to possess every single TV appearance of Régine Crespin, this issue will not suffice. Only four items of the EMI DVD devoted to the soprano are to be found on the short DVD that is included with this CD.
But for a lot of others, twenty minutes of Crespin singing on TV will probably satisfy their curiosity and they will be quite happy with this nice Bonus, which is in reality mostly devoted to publicity for all the classic EMI-DVD’s at the moment. So, if you want to have a look at Menuhin, Oistrakh, Richter, Rubinstein playing their instruments for a few minutes, you won’t be disappointed before you once more return to those gent’s CD’s where the sound is much better. And if you are only interested in Callas singing “Vissi d’arte” in London 1964, this too is an interesting extra as EMI gives you the whole aria as a teaser for the purchase of the DVD.
There is something nostalgic in the televised Crespin performances. The pianist has still to turn the pages of the score himself, though most of the time the camera fully concentrates on the soprano, either in close-up or panning. The director evidently still thought that the soprano was the “raison d’être” of the programme and didn’t think it necessary to illustrate her singing by inserting all kinds of unnecessary pictures. In 1964 Crespin was at the height of her powers and the ease of her singing is remarkable — no deep breathing but fully relaxed singing. The sound, too, has one sitting up. There is one mike and there were probably no engineers all over the place to produce a sterile but beautiful sound. Crespin literally blazes away everything in front of her and this DVD probably gives a better impression of the formidably sized voice than most of her commercial recordings and this not even in operatic arias.
But of course the main course is the CD with Wesendonck-lieder, some Wagner arias (which already appeared on an earlier CD together with some Verdi-arias) and Berlioz arias. What is there left to be said that has not been said of the soprano’s recordings? Little, very little, unless it is with some regret one notes that her world career as a soprano was rather short. This was not her own fault. When she made her début in 1950, France was still embarrassingly rich in opera theatres (it still is) and most good French singers could make a big career in their own country, singing in their own language with only a venture to the French speaking parts of Switzerland and Belgium. They were well paid and the French railway system allowed them to return home regularly so that they didn’t have to absent themselves for months in South America or the US. France, too, had its own record companies, sometimes very independent subsidiaries of the international majors and a lot of singers recorded prolifically, Crespin included. I take offence to the cliché in the booklet stating that in those days French singing was generally perceived to be in decline. Boué, Robin, Montmart, Juyol, Le Bris, Doria, Sarroca, Cumia, Micheau and Jaumillot each could have had a world career. And with Blanc, Massard, Bianco, Bacquier, Cambon, Borthayre, Legros, France was as rich in baritones as Italy. What other country ever yielded a tenor crop as the Cannes singing contest of 1954 that gave us Tony Poncet, Roger Gardes, Guy Chauvet, Gustave Botiaux and Alain Vanzo?
Crespin came to the world’s attention in 1958 with a Bayreuth Kundry at the time when that festival still had some influence. She went on to Vienna and Milan and arrived at the Met in 1962, one year after she had recorded the Wesendonck-lieder which are to be found on this CD. She first proves how idiomatic her German is long before Pollet and Dessay would show that the language is no stumbling block for French sopranos. But there is far more than the perfect pronunciation. The voice is fresh, warm, all-enveloping and breathtakingly beautiful that brings with it ten years experience of legato in French and Italian roles. Her female warmth in Lohengrin and Walküre makes these recordings some of the best Wagner singing ever. In 1958 she had recorded the two soprano arias from Tannhäuser as well, plus the Marguerite aria from La Damnation, which she could easily sing as she always had the low notes and probably realized that her voice was rather a short one. Although the 1970 Decca recording of the same Berlioz aria is not too despised, the younger version wins hands out. The Didon arias from Les Troyens are often sung by either a dramatic soprano or a mezzo and they suit Crespin’s voice extremely well. It is interesting to note that by 1965, when these last arias were recorded, there still was not a vocal problem in sight and the voice sounded as beautiful as seven years earlier. The problems would only start two years later with a combination of personal problems and the ill fated venture as Karajan’s Brünnhilde in Salzburg. But for lovers of a velvety rich voice this is an issue to treasure.