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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.
23 Mar 2006
FAURÉ: The Complete Songs 3 — Chanson d’amour.
The theme of the third volume of Hyperion’s set of the Complete Songs of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) is Chanson d’amour, which takes its name from a piece in the composer’s opus 27 set – a compilation devoted to the love song.
While the center piece of the collection is the cycle La bonne chanson, op. 61, a series of nine songs with texts by Paul Verlaine, the CD includes a number of impressive pieces. As with the other volumes in this series, the selections involve songs from various parts of the composer’s career, from pieces that date to his youth, like “Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre,” a charming effort performed engagingly by John Mark Ainsley. As much as that setting of Victor Hugo is admirable, the next song in this collection, “Tristesse d’Olympie,” reflects a more mature approach by the composer in this more extended setting of a demanding text. Stephen Varcoe offers an ardent performance of “Tristesse d’Olympie,” which fits his voice well. Yet the relatively early three-song cycle Poème d’un jour reflects another aspect of Fauré’s facility at song. The three pieces in that work echo some of the stylistic devices associated with Lieder, with accompaniments that resemble those of Schumann or Brahms in their interaction with the vocal line. From “Rencontre” (“Meeting”) to “Toujours” (“Always”) and “Adieu” (“Farewell”), Fauré concisely portrays the life cycle of relationships, and in doing so avoids anything sardonic or, worse overtly saccharine. Ainsley’s reading is appropriately touching and sensitive, with a delicacy that is almost expected of such a seasoned musician.
It is difficult, though, to discuss Poème d’un jour without invoking the later cycle La bonne chanson, and the latter work stands apart from the other pieces in this recording because of its length and intensity. Performed by the baritone Christopher Maltman, La bonne chanson may be regarded as the epitome of Fauré’s efforts in solo song. It is acknowledged as an intense work, with the harmonic idiom and thematic connections between the various songs much more complex than his other efforts in this genre. While excellent liner notes by Graham Johnson help to establish an historic context for the reception of the work, Maltman’s performance demonstrates the attraction of this work. This is, perhaps, one of the more attractive performances of the cycle because of the sensitive phrasing in each of the pieces, as well as the delicacy that helps to capture the meaning of the texts. This recording shows both the voice and piano at their best, with an excellent balance in tone, as well as a fine give-and-take in tempo that suggests the attraction of the cycle for its arrangement with string quintet in piano – the textures that Fauré used evoke chamber music in the best sense. This is quite evident in the intensity of the second song in the cycle, “Puisque l’aube grandit” (“Since day breaks”).
When Fauré offers a self-conscious comment on the text of “J’allais par des chemins perfides”(“I go along treacherous ways”) with its pointed chromaticism, Maltman and Johnson give a fine reading of the sometimes chain of sustained dissonances that ultimately resolve on the utterance of the final word: “joie.” This text and the others by Verlaine dance around the topic of love in a piece associated with Fauré’s beloved Emma Bardac, who was also its first interpreter. Culminating in the song “L’hiver a cessé” (“Winter is over”), a fittingly complex piece that brings together the various elements of the cycle, this piece is a tour-de-force for any singer, and Maltman offers a convincing reading that is difficult to match for its musicality and effective presentation.
Of the other pieces in this recording, the music of the French playwright Edmond Haraucourt’s Shylock, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice offers a glimpse of the composer’s efforts at writing incidental music. Of the six pieces in the suite from Shylock, only two are vocal, the others being instrumental pieces arranged for piano duet. Not a literal translation of Shakespeare’s play, Haraucourt reworked the Merchant of Venice to create an idiomatic drama, and Fauré’s music suggests the tone of the new work. The pieces are engaging in themselves, and the notes that accompany the recording provide the appropriate cues that create the context for each of them as part of the stage business. While this kind of music is not encountered in recordings of French song, it is quite appropriate here, where the instrumental pieces help to establish the context for “Prélude et Chanson” and the song simply entitled “Madrigal.” Jean-Paul Fouchécourt’s pure, clear tenor voice stands out in this recording for its gentle and effective rendering of the music. Fouchécourt recorded two other pieces found on this CD, and his approach to Fauré’s is convincing.
With “Nell,” Fouchécourt delivers an ardent love song that embodies many characteristics of Fauré’s efforts in the genre. The text itself is a translation of Robert Burns’ familiar poem that begins “My love is like a red, red rose,” and in this French version, some of images differ from the English original to intensify the meaning conveyed. Fauré’s music captures the turns of phrase, which emerge clearly in this sensitive performance.
While many of the pieces in this collection are sung by men, the women offer equally effective performances. Felicity Lott is impressive in her interpretations of “Notre amour” and “Le secret,” two pieces in Fauré’s opus. 23 set. A masterful performer, Lott contributes an intensity that seems natural to both her voice and the music chosen. Likewise, Jennifer Smith has the final word in this recording with a late song, “Le don silencieux” (“The silent gift”). As Graham Johnson observed in the notes about this song, the piece shows Fauré composing in a somewhat different style. It is relatively more declamatory than some of his other songs, but the style chosen serves the text well and that is, perhaps, the key to appreciating Fauré’s songs, especially the ones that have texts which deal with various aspects of love.
Chanson d’amour is another fine volume in the four-CD set issued by Hyperion, and those who do not know this recording should find much in it to admire. It is consistent with the other releases in the set with regard to format and presentation, as well as the quality of performance. With the release of the fourth volume, Dans un parfum de roses, the set will be complete, and it should stand well for years as a standard for French song and the music of Fauré.
James L. Zychowicz