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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.
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.
24 Jan 2006
Violeta Urmana — Lieder
“Carmen, un bon conseil” warns Frasquita in the last act of the opera. So friends, heed my advice and don’t play this CD in your car when you are accompanied by someone who likes opera but is not crazy on lieder.
Urmana is no whisperer like Schwarzkopf or Dieskau and the results of a discreetly played CD will not convince you. But the moment you are safe at home (with or without headphones), turn up the volume and you will be rewarded. Urmana is a big- voiced opera singer and she makes no secret of the reasons why she gives a lot of lieder recitals. In recent interviews in the German press she emphasised that up to now she had taken care to avoid most madmen who think themselves a director; but, nevertheless, she is fed up with the pretensions of the lesser fools in that profession who think of a singer as just another prop on the scene and don’t even talk with their singers. They just order them around. And she hates the 6- to 8-week rehearsal time, as most directors waste everybody’s time concentrating on a few details. (As I write reviews for magazines and not newspapers, I usually visit the third or fourth performance when singers give in to ill-health once the première is over. I get a more than usual number of “just arrived by plane” replacements and I’ve never noticed any accident or even clumsiness with singers who have rehearsed a new production for one hour instead of 2 months). Ideally Urmana would be a great catch for an operatic concert but these are very rare nowadays in Europe. Orchestra unions are always asking for extra rehearsal and overpay for arias they can play blindfolded and one single pianist is cheaper for the management. Moreover, in the heavily subsidized European houses audience revenue is not very important. General managers favour lieder recitals because lieder are “art” and “operatic arias” are just fun. You could hear the public relax in the Brussels Paleis voor Schone Kunsten (Fleming) or the Ghent Opera (Studer) when the encores appeared and the pianist played the first measures of Adriana Lecouvreur or Rusalka. I think it no coincidence that Richard Strauss is so popular with opera singers giving lieder recitals.
Take “Fruhlingsfeier” (track 14) with its massive ascending cries of “Adonis, Adonis”. Most people, even knowledgeable opera lovers, will immediately believe you if you told them this is an alternative aria from Daphne or Friedenstag or whatever lesser known Strauss opera you care to mention. It is also an aria, pardon a lied, that proves that Urmana is a full-fledged dramatic soprano and not a singer with a mezzo tessitura and good top notes à la Bumbry or Verrett. After all, Urmana studied for several years as a soprano until a teacher convinced her she was a mezzo, as she has a good and warm voiced lower register. But the central part of the voice is indeed that of a soprano; and when I first heard her a few years ago in the Verdi Requiem, Michéle Crider sounded more a mezzo than the Latvian. A song like “Die Georgine” (track 4) is ideal for her as she can show the velvet in the middle register, the rich tone while at the same time she can open up and show the tremendous volume as well. Mind you she is not unsubtle. She can lighten up the voice and use a slender tone like she does in the amusing “Schlechtes Wetter” (Bad weather). She masterfully dominates the leaps in Berg’s Frühen Lieder and she shows her true mettle as a singer with an astonishing messa di voce in his “Traumgekrönt” (track 18). I can understand why some British critics are so severe as, according to them, the rapture of an Urmana concert derives “from the beauty of tone and not from understanding”. Nevertheless, anyone who has suffered and survived a Bostridge recital will cry out for some beauty of tone after such an overwhelming amount of understanding.
My only complaint is with the programme. If nobody wanted to take the plunge and introduce the soprano with an operatic recital, then an all-Strauss one would have been a better substitute. The Liszt lieder are not very inspired—dull is the correct word; and the Berg lieder are an anti-climax after the beauties of Strauss. So when is that operatic recital coming?