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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.
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.