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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.
27 Apr 2006
AUBER: Fra Diavolo
DONIZETTI: La Figlia del Reggimento
When these recordings first appeared during the mid-sixties, there was some eye batting. Why did Deutsche Grammophon bring these recordings on the market?
The company had built itself a solid reputation with its collaboration with La Scala and some of the best singers and musicians around (Bergonzi, Cossotto, Stella, Bastianini, Serafin, Karajan) and now it went for a provincial house and provincial singers as well. Moreover, by that time, unless one worked strictly for a specific home market, operas were recorded in their original language and here all at once one reverted to Italian translations. But worst of all were the scores used by Basile, which clearly came from the deepest Italian provinces. Decca and Bonynge had accustomed record buyers to full versions and other companies had followed. DG itself for instance was the first company to give us the five act Don Carlos. And now that same company reverted to editions one no longer knew were still in existence.
Fra Diavolo suffers worse: 66 minutes and the recording is over. This is less than half the music that the real Italian version contains (142 minutes), which was recorded at the Festival di Martina Franca and conducted by Alberto Zedda (available on Cetra). La Fille du Régiment fares somewhat better as it has only lost half an hour of music. Originally these recordings were offered as a 3-LP album and there was no talk at all of highlights, which indeed they are not—truncated versions may be a better definition as some arias and concertati are simply cut in half. Forty years ago these versions disappeared almost the moment they were available as if someone realized at DG what a travesty this was. The mystery remains why these recordings were ever issued. There was talk of a big coup for DG by alluring Renata Tebaldi away from Decca. And, as a confidence building measure her lover got to conduct a few recordings; but this story was never substantiated. Therefore I still fail to see why DG has decided to bring these versions once more on the market. And yet, and yet there may be a reason some opera lovers would want to buy these budget sets (though I’m sure nobody at DG has ever thought of that reason). At the time together with the rise of consumer society and as one of its consequences, a magnificent opera tradition was slowly dying in Italy. Very few young people were still interested or thought of making a career in opera, even if they were talented. There were other well paid and far safer jobs to be found and it is no coincidence Decca would advertise Pavarotti’s records with the slogan “the one great tenor to come out of Italy for a whole generation”.
But in the sixties there were still a lot of singers who had made their début just after the war and who earned a living in small houses, grateful for some engagements abroad. Those are the ones well-known with all collectors by the proverbial saying: “if signor X or signora Y had sung nowadays, etc..” I heard a lot of them as at Flemish Public Radio, where I started my career, there were often opera and belcanto concerts. No real stars were engaged—too expensive; but the provincial Italians came and went several times a year. Indeed, with the exception of Giuseppe Campora who had a well-publicized Met and Scala career, all singers on these recordings often performed at the legendary Studio 4 in the Radio Building in the city of Elsene. Some of these singers even are above the epithet “provincial,” the foremost among them being Ugo Benelli. He was simply born too early. Everybody who heard him in his prime (like in this recording) will attest to the fact that they rarely heard a better “tenore di grazia,” all sweetness, charm and technically proficient but with a hint of steel in his fine top notes. In short and I have heard both of them in the flesh, I’m not sure at all Juan Diego Florez is the superior singer. A pity, therefore, that Benelli’s role in one of his rare recordings was butchered. This is the aria with 3 instead of 9 high C’s. And his “Pour me rapprocher de Marie” is cut entirely. Another better than common singer is bass-baritone Alfredo Mariotti with his beautiful rounded sound and fine coloratura facility. Speaking of coloratura, both Cecilia Fusco (Zerline) and Anna Maccianti (Marie) do well. They are both still deeply steeped in tradition; and they never skip a high note when there is a possibility at the horizon. Both have a somewhat sharp sound with a hard edge whenever they sail upwards; but they plunge with abandon into their roles. Maccianti especially may not have the beauty of Joan Sutherland in her classic assumption; but there is a lot to be said for the “joie de vivre,” the spontaneity and the lightness of touch the Italian soprano brings to her role. But I doubt that will be enough to sell this recording.