Recently in Recordings
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.
19 Apr 2006
A Night to Remember: Placido Domingo & Mstislav Rostropovich
Only a few seconds after watching this DVD I was reminded of one of the great marketing failures in records. More than forty years ago, RCA brought out several glorious LP’s of young Gigli’s records and they put photographs of the sixty-five year old tenor on the sleeve.
On this DVD we
get a recent photograph of the tenor. Moreover the sleeve notes mention that
“despite his advanced age, the cellist’s control is
exemplary” as if 79-year old Rostropovich recorded this DVD some months
ago. Both gentlemen, however, look splendid, more youthful than their
advanced age would tell you. I’m sorry to report this has nothing to do
with a miraculous youth cure but more with the fact that one quick look into
Domingo’s performing career revealed he gave this concert on July 17,
1991. And, this date probably solves another small mystery. For a few minutes
I was slightly amazed the recording firm would send a review copy with less
than perfect picture quality till I remembered the concert date (not to be
found in the sleeve notes). There’s always some haziness and the
colours are a little bit whitewashed. But as a former TV producer, I remember
too well the decade between the late seventies and the late eighties. We no
longer used kinescope to record live performances as we had switched to an
amazing amount of video recording means. When we watched them a few years
later, this turned out to be a small disaster. Whereas film, and even
kinescope, kept their full colour glory, a lot of recordings on video were
almost beyond repair. By the nineties the technique once more had improved
beyond recognition; but I fear that this DVD is one of the last testimonies
of those early video years.
I’m a little bit sceptical concerning the programme. I wonder how
many admirers of Rostropovich want to hear Domingo. Vice versa, how many
Domingistes are interested in a Haydn concerto well-played though it is? This
was a big open air concert and therefore pot boilers like the Tchaikovsky and
the Verdi overtures were maybe necessary to sell tickets, but I seriously
doubt there will be many people thirsting for a Domingo conducted
Forza. The tenor is in good voice though, as often with Domingo,
there is that generalized beautiful sound in the middle register without much
characterizing and some pushing over the staff. For such concerts, he always
carefully selected arias and duets that didn’t reach high B, which by
that time was already beyond his means. The duet with Borodina is generously
sung and is one of the first documents of the later star mezzo. And one has
to admit, especially if one cannot comment on Domingo’s mastery of
Russian, that rarely Lensky aria will have sounded better. But the best piece
is the fine Massenet Élégie, which he sings more beautifully than
old Gigli or younger Corelli. This time the colours in his voice are
hauntingly plangent and Domingo himself plays the piano with Rostropovich at
the cello. I wish both gentlemen had chosen more of such pieces. And I think
that 58 minutes is rather short value.