Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
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.
19 Jan 2006
The Diva Live — Wilhelmenia Fernandez & Bruno Fontaine
In 1981 Wilhelminia Fernandez became somewhat of a cult figure when the French thriller “Diva” appeared on the screens. For a time her “Ebben, ne andro lontano” from La Wally almost became a hit and several commercials used a small part of the aria.
The stunning beauty of the lady no doubt helped her as well but her career never really took flight. The reason was a simple one. The boss of the Paris Opéra had her make her début in La Bohème as ….Musetta and right he was. But a lot of his colleagues preferred to type-cast her as Aida. I heard her myself in the role and felt that the voice was simply not suited. She probably realized it herself as for two years she sang “Carmen Jones” at the Old Vic.
But thanks to that movie she is still somewhat of a star in France and this CD is a reminder of the 2002 live concert she gave in the Grand Théâtre of Reims, a magnificent historic city in the North of France, known for its cathedral and as the capital of champagne. But as the city has only 200,000 inhabitants its opera is unimportant (13 performances in the whole season 2005-2006). The programme is a hybrid one: some art songs by Barber and Copland surrounded by popular songs by Gershwin, three hits of West Side Story, successes of Richard Rogers and four Negro spirituals.
The programme starts rather badly. Since Leontyne Price, as long ago as 1967 with her “Right as the Rain” album, decided that scooping and gliding was the way to perform some of these popular songs, most of her successors took the same road. Farrell, Te Kanawa, Hendricks and recently Fleming followed her lead, thereby disillusioning jazz-lovers for whom they remained opera-singers and opera-lovers who detested their abuse of their voices. Fernandez clearly thinks that “I’ve got a crush on you” and “Summertime” (a real opera aria after all) ought to be crooned. By the third track “Love walked in” she all at once remembers she is an opera singer after all and to my relief starts singing straight on.
Neither her Barber or her Copland songs make a deep impression and probably she didn’t want to bore her public too much with it. So, most of these songs last less than three minutes, while her popular numbers easily go over five. With West Side Story one sits up and pays more attention. After all those abusive Aidas she still has a really fine girlish sound somewhat reminiscent of Kathy Battle, though a little bit less pure. The same fresh sound serves her well in South Pacific and The Sound of Music and there is nothing wrong with the enthusiasm she brings to her four spirituals. It is only when she goes above the stave that one hears that the voice has suffered and is not young anymore. Every top note above A is shrill and not pleasant to hear. Pianist Bruno Fontaine is allowed some leeway to improvise a bit now and then but he clearly knows how to support the former “Diva”.