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.
07 Apr 2006
No exact date is given for this performance and there is good reason for
it. The sleeve notes clearly state that baritone Enzo Sordello (of the 15
minutes of world fame when the Met fired him for clinging to a high note
longer than Callas) sings the role of Silvio.
While listening, I noted that
the voice doesn’t resemble much the far throatier sound of Sordello in
his best known official recording, the Decca/London Butterfly with
Tebaldi, Bergonzi, Cossotto of one year later. The catalogue of Myto and the
print on the CD, however, state that Sardinero was Silvio. If so, this must
be one of the world records as the Spanish baritone was only 19 at the time.
The La Scala site isn’t much help either. The very detailed and helpful
archives are no longer to be found on the net. Still, I know that Pagliacci
had a run of 6 performances and that Walter Monachesi also sang Silvio. So
for the moment my money is on him and I’d appreciate any reader’s
help in pinpointing an exact date on this live recording.
The sound is not always perfect. Sometimes it is a little bit murky and a
few times it wavers. Luckily, it’s mostly the chorus that suffers,
though that still is a pity as the La Scala chorus of that time sounded as if
every singer could have a solo career. Such a CD’s (and the whole
performance is on one) interest is concentrated on Giuseppe Di Stefano,
though his admirers maybe possess this performance already as it was
published previously on GDS and Movimento Musica. For those without this
recording, I can only say the tenor is in terrific voice. Yes, the weaknesses
of the time are there and they are well-known. He doesn’t cover enough
and his open-throated singing sometimes results in squeezing the sound out.
Above the staff, the voice starts thickening and is sometimes flat. But for
most of the time, he sounds very fresh-voiced with that beautiful, unequalled
timbre very much intact. Indeed, he sounds better than on his official
recording of 1954. Maybe his is not the voice to sing Canio; but one
wouldn’t be without this beautiful, lyric interpretation. And sometimes
the experienced singer knows how to have the listener sit up when he
unexpectedly introduces a beautiful diminuendo, where other tenors
just bawl on as in his “tu sei Pagliacco” in a magnificent Vesti
la giubba where he doesn’t use the “Gigli-improvement-sob”
of “Infamia, infamia” during the postlude, as so many other
tenors did (Del Monaco, Corelli). Yet, I admit I was quite surprised when he
didn’t sing or sob the final “La commedia è finita” but
prefers roaring it.
There is more to be enjoyed than the tenor, too. Clara Petrella is a
magnificent Nedda. She was one of the three great veristas of the
age (the other two being Olivero and Gavazzi) and maybe she had the best
instrument of them all. A big, rich and luscious soprano with the small
quivering of emotion in it that endears those singers to us. Though she never
breaks the line, the emphasis and the voluntary pressure on the voice make
her unforgettable. Yes, she can snarl but she snarls musically.
Baritone Aldo Protti probably was the favoured black beast of English
critics at the time; but, Decca/London soon dropped him. He was considered to
be dull and uninspiring. True he doesn’t have Gobbi’s inflexions
and colouring; and he phrases far less imaginatively than his great
contemporary, though he had far more voice at his disposal. Out comes a
wonderful big stream of a voice, though almost always at the same level. In
the house, one marvelled at the voice (and at the small size of the man); but
on records, indeed, one could use something more.
Walter Monachesi is a good solid Silvio though he sings the role more like
a Rigoletto than a young lover. And Luigi Alva as Peppe is casting from
strength of course. No theatre nowadays would probably think of asking Juan
Diego Flórez for this important second tenor role. A comprimario
Nino Sanzogno has some original thoughts on tempi. Quick is better with
him and already during the first measures of Canio’s entrance he is at
loggerheads with Di Stefano for a few seconds. He soon slows down as he well
knows that, in the pecking order of La Scala, he clearly comes behind the
tenor; but, the moment Di Stefano is gone, he hurries up. This must be the
fastest Ding Dong Chorus I know; and I marvelled at Petrella’s breath
control when he rushed her through her aria. The moment Di Stefano appears,
things once more revert to normal. All in all, a performance that surely must
be heard. They don’t make them like that any more.