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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.
05 Mar 2006
HILLIARD ENSEMBLE: Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature — The Contemporary Perotin
The richness of the Ars Antiqua flourishing in Paris in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries marks the time as one of high cultural achievement, drawing nurture from the contemporaneous rise of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the University of Paris.
In this environment, the composer Perotinus, along with the older Leoninus, cultivated polyphony and counterpoint in exciting new ways, extending music both vertically and horizontally, and at the same time pioneering new control of the temporal aspects of composition. The Ars Antiqua is by no means the birth of polyphony, but it is without a doubt a high point in its early cultivation. It is thus no surprise that Uli Aumüller’s fantasia on the theme of Perotin, “Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature,” is a film that is itself essentially “polyphonic.” Its polyphony is a variegated counterpoint of multiple “voices.” One voice is the music of Perotinus, sung with consummate style and grace by the Hilliard Ensemble, echoing the stunning beauty of their 1988 recording of Perotinus on ECM. A second voice is a choreographic one: two dancers, Simona Furlani and Tanja Oetterli, the choreographer, Johann Kresnik, and the cultural historian, Martin Burckhardt are shown in various stages of creating a dance that will interpret medieval views of the conception of Jesus, based on images in the texts that Perotinus sets. A third voice emerges in the presence of four scholars, discussing such issues as new concepts of time, performance practice, and the building of Gothic cathedrals. And a fourth voice is comprised of visual images from diverse paintings, architecture, etc. By no means consecutive variations on a theme—here’s the music, here’s the dance, here’s the scholar’s account—the film instead interweaves the “voices” in a contrapuntal fashion, moving from a bit of this to a bit of that and back to this again. Dizzying if you are looking for a tidy documentary account, but compellingly rhapsodic, if you are not.
Much is memorable here. One of the most successful scenes is countertenor David James’ solo rendition of “Beata viscera.” The performance takes place in the stark Church of St. Petri in Lübeck, whose bare walls become projection screens for fragmented images from Marian iconography. The fragmentation and repetition of images becomes itself a trope on the way parts relate to the whole, and given the polyphonic nature of the whole enterprise, it is a trope that seems strongly emblematic. Particularly engaging is the scene devoted to the imposing organum, “Viderunt.” A long work, its performance gives ample time for visual imagery to evolve, and it does so interestingly here. One of the themes of the film’s discussion is how the music of Perotinus reveals a new sense of time, resonant with the invention of the mechanical clock, an invention that allowed old, circular perceptions of time to be augmented by smaller modules of linear time. Thus, it is no surprise that during “Viderunt” we see clockwork imagery. Initially it appears iconic. That is, the imagery symbolizes the concept itself. But as things evolve, the clockwork becomes less iconic and more integral: the wheels and cogs moving at different speeds “choreograph” the motion of the notes and their interrelationships in a beautiful way.
One of the most memorable scenes is a tableau vivant, a stylized recreation of the Annunciation, breathtaking in its color, lighting, and mood. Surprisingly though, the visual inspiration here seems to be much more from the Renaissance than the Middle Ages, an anachronism that crops up in other places, as well. Also breathtaking is the long conductus, “Dum sigillum,” performed with projections of the dancers in a mystical whirl, the kind of moment where one feels—satisfyingly—that one has been awhirl oneself.
On the plus side, as well, are a number of extras in the production. A companion DVD offers a film record of a scholarly symposium on Perotinus—interesting in its substance, but also entertaining in the confrontations of personality and view—and a director’s commentary, “Perotinus Magnus: the Vision of a Film Project.” Additionally, there is also a CD soundtrack
There are some things with which to quibble. The film of the Hilliard Ensemble and the sound track are occasionally out of synch, something that surprises in a “music” film. And there is also a surprising confusion in the director’s mind about the “Immaculate Conception,” a doctrine that refers not to Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus, but rather to her own conception without original sin. As the conception of Jesus is one of the sharp focuses of the film, the misappropriation or confusion of terms is regrettable. But these are quibbles. A more substantial issue is the end product itself. “Thy Kiss of a Divine Nature” is a film that seeks to be bigger than the sum of its individual parts, and as a film, it needs to be. Here is where Aumüller faces his biggest challenge. All the “voices” here bear the imprint of the theme, but cohesion seems at times to be at risk. Given the number of intertwinings, one is not surprised that the “counterpoint” is complex, but in the end, it needs to be satisfyingly harmonious, as well. Twelfth-century enthusiasts will grant this to Aumüller’s work with a generous smile; others will likely find this quality a bit harder to find . . . but will smile, too.