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.
29 Mar 2006
The Jessye Norman Collection from Philips
Jessye Norman’s long-time label, Philips, celebrates the artist’s sizeable recorded heritage with an expansive series of double CDs of re-releases, under the sobriquet The Jessye Norman Collection.
Thankfully some care has been taken to bring together recordings of compatible repertoire, whether it be a set of live recitals, another focusing on stark modernism (Schoenberg and Stravinsky), or two of her Christmas holiday extravaganzas. The singer’s ample gifts are on display on every set—but whether one has the appetite to devour a heaping platter of 5 of the sets in succession really depends on a strong preference for her voice of dark chocolate laced with honey. In the right amounts, what a stunning treat. In excess—an unhealthy wallow.
Each of the sets presents the original cover art for the CDs (except for A Wagner Collection, the second CD of which contains a compilation of excerpts from complete opera recordings). The original liner notes accompany a biographical note, reprinted in every set, which details Ms. Norman’s concert appearances in recent years and many honors bestowed on her. The prose here wanders fearfully close to obituary mode, but then an air of a “career achievement” retrospective covers the whole enterprise.
Of the five sets under review, your reviewer found the Live at Hohenems & Salzburg Recital set most enjoyable. The amount of applause recorded on the former could have been cut back, but tolerance wins the day, as the singer is in exemplary voice, in repertoire starting with Handel, working up to a large Schubert sampling, and ending with spirituals as encores. Few will want to hear Lascia ch’io pianga always sung with this ostentatious gorgeousness, but why not once in a while? Norman makes a substantial case for giving into temptation.
The second disc, with James Levine in impeccable accompaniment, has very disciplined but lively Wolf lieder, broken up with 5 satisfying dollops of Debussy.
The studio lieder sets (Schubert & Mahler Lieder) can’t be faulted for not possessing the extra aura of vitality a live recording bestows, but a sense of formality and restraint comes over both recordings at times.
The Wagner set has a first disc of rather short duration, with Colin Davis leading the LSO in the Tristan und Isolde prelude before Norman’s self-conscious but exquisite love death. A fine performance of the Wesendonk lieder follows. On the second disc, the excerpts from Parsifal, Lohengrin, and Die Walkure partner Norman with Placido Domingo for the first two and Gary Lakes for the last. The Norman voice exhibits its full power here—in company with a certain remoteness from the drama. Perhaps she is not helped her by a tentative quality in Domingo and Lakes’s adequate but uninspiring contribution.
Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex has never come close to giving the Firebird or Le Sacre du Printemps any competition as one of the composer’s most popular pieces, but those who respond to the work can surely find much to value in Seiji Ozawa's recording, with Peter Schreier in the title role and a young Bryn Terfel as Creon. Norman’s refulgent tone here offers some aural compensation for those unenamored of Stravinsky’s dry approach. The second disc has Norman’s offering similar virtues to Schoenberg’s Erwartung, 25 minutes of a woman losing her mind in atonal agony. Many will sympathize. Several of the composer’s cabaret songs end the set with a sense of humor and style Schoenberg not too frequently allowed himself. Or us.
The last of these five sets will separate the Norman besotted from the Norman tolerant. Disc one, Christmastide, will fill the former with a grand, exuberant expression of the holiday spirit. The latter will cringe in pain and moan in despair at the lugubrious ballads and manic up-tempo numbers. And Philips has to release a larger version of that cover photo, for the perversely curious. What is going on with the singer’s hair? The Bride of Frankenstein would look askance. In the Spirit, the second disc, thankfully redeems the first (or supplements it beautifully, for those fans). Here the arrangements have taste and restraint, and Norman’s singing revels in the finer music, truly offering reason to be grateful.
Philips has several more of these two-disc sets, including Norman’s luxuriant Strauss and a compilation of her forays into spirituals. The best singing on the sets has an incomparable grandeur and beauty, so new comers to her art have many a treat in store for them. Her fans probably have most if not all of these already, and for those indifferent to the pleasures of releasing oneself into the all-encompassing embrace of her immense gift—they can skip these collections as they did the first time. Many great singers engender such a wide-range of responses, and Jessye Norman’s huge career deserves this generously proportioned celebration.
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy