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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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
21 Mar 2006
VERDI: La forza del destino
After issuing recordings of Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Simon Boccanegra, and Macbeth, Opera Rara continues it series of Verdi Originals—first versions of operas the composer later revised—with La forza del destino.
Recorded in 1981 and broadcast by the BBC two years later, the performance features Martina Arroyo as Leonora, Kenneth Collins as Don Alvaro, Peter Glossop as Don Carlo, and Janet Coster as Preziosilla. This “original” Forza, proposed as such first by the BBC (although no score or source is identified in the recording), replicates the first version of the opera written for the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1862. It differs in several ways from the traditionally-performed revision made for La Scala some seven years later. First, it features a preludio, more concise than the familiar overture but based on the same themes that foreshadow the action. Furthermore, the order of events in Act 3 is different, but the most significant contrast between the Russian and Italian Forzas involves the three deaths at the opera’s conclusion. Perhaps more brutal but clearly more in line with the Spanish drama that served as the libretto’s source was the initial version’s onstage demise of all three main characters (Alvaro mortally wounds Carlo, who in turn stabs Leonora, his own sister. A distraught Alvaro then throws himself off a cliff). However, claiming that one is hearing the “original” Forza is a bit more complicated than simply pointing out how versions differ.
Verdi began to revise his score even while he was in St. Petersburg; these materials were (and still are) located in the archives of the Mariinsky Theatre.* It is these sources (along with a piano/vocal score, as this author was told in a visit to the archive) that furnished the version produced at the Mariinsky and recorded by Valery Gergiev. The publication of the long-awaited scholarly edition of Forza, done under the auspices of The University of Chicago and Ricordi’s The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, is imminent, though, so it soon will be possible to see precisely how true to the original this BBC production (and indeed Gergiev’s) was.
The remastering of the BBC’s production results in an impressive recording. The singers, however, were all “of an age” when it was made and unfortunately, this shows. Arroyo’s Leonora is strong, vibrant and rich in tone. Equally pairing her is Collins, who sings with a pure, clear voice. The disappointment is Glossop. This legendary performer seems beyond the point of performing a role like Carlo; indeed his rendering of the “student” aria, “Son Pereda, son ricco d’onore” is outright implausible. His pairing with Collins in “Amici in vita e in morte” sounds more like a father-and-son duet rather than one sung by two friends. Coster is notable as Preziosilla, although she seems to have a problem with some of the lower pitches in the “Rataplan.” The rest of the cast, including Derek Hammond-Stroud as Fra Melitone, is impressive and right on the mark. The BBC Chorus, as usual, is perfection, but one wonders if the BBC Orchestra, under the direction of John Matheson, did not use a little too much “fire power.” At times, it has more “forza” than the Petersburg orchestra certainly would have had. Although it ably builds the atmosphere and excitement of this dynamic score, it often overwhelms. Of course, the recordings—both the original and the remastering—were not aimed at authentic practice but at representing an “original” masterpiece.
*Those interested in reading about these revisions are referred to William C. Holmes’ article “The Earliest Revisions of La forza del destino” in Studi Verdiani, Vol. 6, 1990.
**Author: Opera: The Basics (New York and London: Routledge, 2006)