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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.
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.
02 Feb 2006
BRUCKNER: Symphonie no. 6
The symphonies of Anton Bruckner deserve excellent performances to convey the intensity that the composer intended for them, and sometimes an individual performance can offer the opportunity to understand them more clearly.
Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony is probably found most often in complete sets of Bruckner’s symphonies and less often released separately, as occurs with this CD. Issued by itself, this CD gives listeners an opportunity to appreciate this work on its own merits. While Bruckner’s Symphony no. 6 in A major (1881; first performed, 1883 [second and third movements only], with the entire work given its premiere in 1899, three year’s after Bruckner’s death) may not be as familiar as the ones that succeed it chronologically, it is an impressive work. Composed at the time when Anton Dvořák had just finished his own Sixth Symphony and Johannes Brahms his first two, Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony is separated from the composer’s previous one by five years. During that time Bruckner had revised his Third Symphony between 1876-77, before proceeding to compose the Sixth between 1879 and 1881.
While Bruckner’s Fourth, Seventh, and Eighth Symphonies are, perhaps, better known to modern audiences, the strength of this performance of the Sixth makes a case for returning from time to time to this somewhat neglected work. It resembles the composer’s other symphonies, in that the Sixth is a four-movement work, with the overt structural weight placed on the outer movements. Beyond the distinct theme groups that Bruckner customarily uses in his treatment of the first movement, the Sixth possesses a driving that is the result of both harmonic motion and rhythmic activity. The shifts of mood that may be seen to characterize the first movement of the Fourth Symphony are less dramatically different in Sixth, where transitions are essentially to the musical narrative of the piece.
The second movement is an extensive Adagio, which commentators like David Tovey have praised. In constructing this movement, Bruckner sets it apart from his other slow movements by employing sonata form, instead of a simpler binary or ternary structure. This movement merits attention as an orchestral Adagio possesses its own drama. It has a weight of its own through its formal structure and length. In this sense the point Scherzo offers the contrast in its lighter and more playful character. Where more sustained timbres occurred in the Adagio, the Scherzo is full of contrasts in which Bruckner allows various groupings of winds and brass to intersect some of the powerful tuttti sections in this movement. It is, perhaps, a less weighty Scherzo than is convention associates with a symphony by Bruckner, but it also fits wholly into the overall structure of the Sixth.
With the final movement, Bruckner opens the movement in a somewhat restrained way, as fragmentary ideas occur before he moves to the more extended theme groups. Some of the passages anticipate in a sense the drama that Bruckner would contribute to the concluding movement of the Eighth Symphony. Yet the Finale of the Sixth possesses its own character. Modal inflections color the harmonic structure as Bruckner explores the tonal possibilities of the movement. At the same time, some of the thematic ideas are redolent of a composer who appreciated fully the music of Richard Wagner, with echoes of ideas from Tristan und Isolde juxtaposed with original themes that only Bruckner could conceive. As driving as the first movement, the Finale is wonderfully effective in this highly convincing work that stands well among the middle of its composer’s symphonies.
In this performance Kent Nagano makes a strong case for Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony with a reading that demonstrates the power and lyricism of the work. Fully in command of the Orchestra, Nagano gives a powerful reading of the score. It is, perhaps, the Adagio that stands out as particularly effective. In that movement Nagano manipulates the string textures to wonderful effect, allowing the various woodwind timbres to emerge subtly. Those interested in this work will appreciate the way Nagano allows the Adagio to unfold in what is as evocative a slow movement as the one Bruckner composed in his Eighth Symphony.
Likewise, the pacing of the concluding section of the Finale shows the conductor’s masterful approach to this work and his sensitivity to Bruckner’s style. The brass chords are buoyant and precise, with a tone that complements the strings instead of standing apart from it. Woodwinds, when prominent, blend well and idiomatic. In fact, these colors emerge with marked distinction at the beginning of the Finale and set up the tone of the Symphony’s conclusion. Not only drawing on the strength of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin for the characteristically Brucknerian fortes, Nagano also arrives at some intimate chamber-music sounds in the outer movements, just as he had in the Adagio. Like Nagano’s recent Harmonia Mundi recording of the original version of the Third Symphony with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi CD HMC 901817), this recording of the Sixth is another fine addition to recent recordings of Bruckner’s works.
James L. Zychowicz