15 Feb 2006
BARRY: The Intelligence Park
Irish composer Gerald Barry insists that “Really, my music is very straightforward.
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 Magdalena Kožená.
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 archives.
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?
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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.
Irish composer Gerald Barry insists that “Really, my music is very straightforward.
It’s pure emotion” (in an interview with Ian Hewitt on telegraph.co.uk). Indeed, this sentiment is audible in his first opera, The Intelligence Park, now available on a 2-disc set from the NMC label.
The Intelligence Park is in some ways a quintessentially operatic tale; the libretto by Vincent Deane is replete with greed, betrayal, unrequited love, conflict between private love and public duty, and of course, homosexuals. Unlike operas of previous centuries that leave issues of same-sex love to be guessed at by the listener, The Intelligence Park features two sets of long-term “companions” whose relationships are destroyed through the course of the opera.
Set in Dublin in 1753, The Intelligence Park’s protagonist, Robert Paradies, is a composer of opera seria struggling with writer’s block. As Paradies is reminded by his long-time companion D’Esperaudieu, he is required to marry the none-too-talented Jerusha, daughter of the wealthy magistrate Sir Joshua Cramer in order to inherit wealth that will allow him to dedicate himself solely to composing opera. At a party held in order to cement the engagement between Paradies and Jerusha, Paradies meets and becomes obsessed with the castrato Serafino. The barriers between Paradies and the object of his affections include not only his relationship with D’Esperaudieu and his engagement to Jerusha, but also Serfino’s long-time companion Faranesi and Serafino’s love for Jerusha, his music student.
Paradies finds enough inspiration for his stalled opera in his obsession for Serafino to start composing scenes for “Wattle” and “Daub.” These scenes as they are imagined by Paradies are manifest on the stage with Serafino and Jerusha acting and singing the parts of the Italian opera seria as Paradies sets them down on paper. In addition to these six “actual” characters and two imaginary ones, the score also calls for a chorus of “dummies” and boy soprano—both heard offstage. In this recording the chorus consists of the taped voices of the six soloists, and the boy soprano is also on tape.
The plot of The Intelligence Park contains references to some events that actually occurred in 1753: there was a solar eclipse and a famous castrato did elope with a wealthy young woman. Despite these true events, The Intelligence Park for the most part exemplifies the “coolness and bizarre artificiality” that first drew Barry to Deane’s libretto. Barry’s music is extremely compelling in its portrayal of the emotions of the characters throughout the opera. Barry succeeds in portraying old familiarity between Paradies and D’Esperaudieu, as well the anxiety and anger that are blocking Paradies’ creative output.
Barry uses a host of musical techniques, including pastiche (of Baroque styles), pointillistic textures, lyricism, deftly executed contrapuntal sections, and contrasting orchestral colors, to express the depths of human emotions from love to anger to self-pity to madness, and more. Barry also uses of repeated music within the opera to excellent effect. While the narrative seems a bit disjointed when one considers the libretto, the listener will not feel lost because of Barry’s deftness at manipulating the many sudden changes of mood inherent in the text.
The Intelligence Park was composed between 1981 and 1990, and it was commissioned for the MusICA Series at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Unfortunately, the opera has not been staged as a production again since its 1990 premiere. This may be in part because of the technical requirements of the soloists and the orchestra to mount such a work. In face of criticism of the virtuosic nature of music of his music, Barry defends himself saying, “All I want is to get to the heart of the text in the most direct way possible” (in interview with Hewitt about his third opera The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant). Although there is no doubt that The Intelligence Park is a challenging work for both performer and listener, the time spent is well worth it.
The Graduate Center – CUNY