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.
04 Feb 2006
TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake
This 2005 release was filmed at a performance in La Scala’s temporary home, Milan’s Teatro degli Arcimboldi, in April 2004. It is based on the Burmeister version of the ballet of some 50 years ago, first introduced in the West by the Paris Opera.
Burmeister, while returning to Tchaikovsky’s original score and dance sequences, also injected his own dramatic interpretation, showing Rothbart’s transformation of Odette into a swan during the Prologue, and then using her re-transformation to human form as the springboard for an unambiguously happy ending as the lovers are thus reunited. Rothbart also figures more prominently in Act III during the national dance sequence, and the jester too has a greater role to play here as Siegfried’s friend and ally. While some could quibble with such “tampering” — and who hasn’t tampered with Swan Lake over the years? — the Burmeister version has maintained its popularity with a variety of companies for over half a century, and it is preserved well in this handsome production.
Visually stunning, the staging of the La Scala Swan provides a realistically effective and supportive backdrop for the dancers throughout. The ethereal scenes with the swans, the Corps de ballet, are particularly well-served in this regard, and their exquisite coordination of form and movement are one of the highlights of this DVD. As one would expect, of course, the real highlight is the chance to see the remarkable Svetlana Zakharova in her dual role as Odette/Odile. Her graceful athleticism and her careful and quite apparent dramatic contrast between her two characters (which the camera work helps emphasize) make it clear why her interpretation has become so well known — its preservation here is certainly to be applauded.
Zakharova’s supporting cast should not be overlooked in considering this recorded version among its competitors. Robert Bolle is a perfectly matched Siegfried, and both Gianni Ghisleni as Rothbart and Antonino Sutera as the jester carry off their acting and dancing roles with distinction. Sutera is particularly entertaining to watch; even if one finds his expanded role in the ballet a bit intrusive at times, Sutera projects Burmeister’s conception wonderfully.
As to Tchaikovsky’s marvelous score, the La Scala orchestra provides a uniformly competent if not always fully committed reading. Worthy of particular mention is the Act III divertissement, where the players bring out all the verve and brilliance the various dances require. Conductor James Tuggle does a largely creditable job with the always difficult task of coordinating phrasing, cadences, and the like with the dancers’ subtle poses and gestures. Here and there the brass may seem a bit lacking in focus and blend; however, the many important and prominent woodwind and violin solos are beautifully and characteristically played. It is curious that, while the dancers unfold the story with suitably high drama throughout, the dramatic climaxes in the orchestra occasionally do not reach quite the same heights, particularly in the second act. On the other hand, the Act III Pas de deux is another matter entirely in this regard, as the thrilling dancing is matched perfectly by the orchestra beginning to end. On balance, relatively minor caveats aside, the music comes across with the energy, romantic sweep, and rhythmic flexibility that have made it so popular with ballet and concert audiences alike over the years.
The recorded sound, available in Stereo, Digital and Digital Surround, is superb in tone and presence, with careful microphone placement for the solo instruments that brings the score clarity without disturbing overall balance. The wide-screen format reveals color that is rich and highly contrasted, aided in part by the skillful stage lighting. The numerous camera angles employed allow viewers to see interesting acting nuances that would not be as visible to a live audience. On occasion, the shot selections do seem a bit strange, as the focus moves to parts of the stage where little is happening, almost as if to prove that there were a variety of close-ups available rather than using that capability to highlight the action or the more important dancing taking place at the time.
As an added bonus on a DVD that already has so much to recommend it, there is a brief film, “The Rehearsal,” which features an interview with director Frédéric Olivieri alternating with random shots of dancers rehearsing for the production. Oliveri’s remarks (subtitled in a variety of languages) help clarify both his overall conception and the unique aspects of the Burmeister version used as the basis for it.
Roy J. Guenther
The George Washington University