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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.
20 Apr 2006
Albert Lortzing has suffered much lately. Artistically speaking, he is somewhat moribund. In a recent article in the German operatic magazine, Orpheus, one writer rightfully complained that the once so popular composer has almost disappeared from the German theatres.
Even in the
sixties, his operas were played all over the German-speaking countries, while
nowadays one has to look carefully to find a performance. The reasons are
twofold. “Das Regie-Theater” has little attraction for
Lortzing’s well-crafted, very romantic “Spielopern”—
too civilized, too polite, too simple, not enough blood and adultery so that
one can shock spectators. Nowadays, as directors dictate what a general
manager may or may not put on the boards, there is no place for him.
Secondly, a cynical age such as ours, with cynical people all over the place,
no longer has room for the gentle characters of Lortzing or for operas that
are deeply drenched in the days of late feudal customs and small German
For most of his life, Lortzing lived in abject poverty—while
everywhere his operas were enthusiastically performed in those days without
author’s rights—he had to stoop to his audiences and to perform
what they liked or thought decent. This Undine is a fine example.
It’s almost the same story as Dvořák’s better-known
Rusalka, which is largely based on the Undine story. But
Rusalka premièred in 1901, 56 years after Lortzing’s opera, in
an age when artistic freedom had already some real meaning and author’s
rights were a source of income. So, Dvořák could keep the legend intact
and have his prince kiss the water nymph whereupon he dies. Lortzing, too,
preferred such a finale for his opera; but his audiences wanted a happy
ending. Therefore, the composer acquiesced to their wishes and
Undine ends with a rather sugary end: the prince kisses the nymph
and accompanies his love for eternity into her water world.
The performance under review was recorded for a radio performance on the
classical German music channel and appeared not long after on the Capriccio
label in full price version. This less expensive reissue, however, has no
libretto, just a short summary. This recording has only one rival, recorded
exactly forty-years ago; but what a competitor it is. The cast of the EMI
recording speaks for itself: Gedda, Rothenberg, Prey, Schreier, Frick. To be
somewhat blunt, almost none of the singers on this issue are on the same
level as their elders. This is especially true in the soprano department.
Both ladies here sing well, but without much charm or individuality. Both are
a little bit shrill and one has constantly to look at the sleeve notes to
know who is exactly singing. Pütz and Rothenberger have better and more
distinct voices on the EMI-recording.
The gentlemen fare somewhat better. Protschka has a good lyric voice,
seeminlgy destined to become the great German lyric tenor that somehow has
never materialized. But, he almost matches Nicolai Gedda’s Ritter Hugo
on EMI. His voice is not on the same level. Yet, there is the feeling for
this kind of music he probably knew well from his youth that is somewhat
lacking in the Swede's interpretation, who probably recorded while looking
for the first time at his score. Incidentally, there is a story that Gedda
was flown in at the last moment as a substitute for Fritz Wunderlich who had
recorded a magnificent Der Wildschütz by the same composer. Only his
tragic death prevented him from recording Undine. This is not true.
The EMI-recording was finished on the 6th of September 1966, while Wunderlich
died exactly 11 days later. On the Capriccio recording, baritone John Janssen
sings a noble and convincing water ghost Kühleborn, and he yields nothing to
EMI’s Hermann Prey—high praise indeed. Undine has one
common trait with Giordano’s La Cena delle Beffe—the
best known aria, a wonderful melodious tenor piece, belongs to the second
tenor. On record no one equals Wunderlich’s interpretation in a solo
album; but neither Peter Schreier (EMI) nor Heinz Kruse (Capriccio) is
mellifluous enough. Andreas Schmidt and Günter Wewel do well, but who can
nowadays compete with Gotlob Frick?
This performance has one big advantage: its completeness. It contains some
extra choruses lacking on the EMI, it gives us, finally, the fine ballet and
it provides some additional dialogue as well. Conductor Kurt Eichhorn is one
of the last maestri who can honour this kind of romantic piece and he
succeeds in giving us a fine interpretation, never pushing his singers but
not indulging in sentimentality either.
If you want to leave Verdi and Puccini for a while and discover a
wonderful melodious score, you would do well to purchase this issue. Maybe
Lortzing is old fashioned in the theatre, but on records he still holds his
own. In the meantime, you will discover that Engelbert Humperdinck and
Siegfried Wagner found a lot of inspiration from him. Should you be able to
read German, I can only advise to buy Lortzing—Gaukler
und Musiker by Jürgen Lodemann (Steidl Verlag, Göttingen). It is one
of the best researched biographies of a composer I have ever read. It tells
us a lot about the horrible artistic conditions Lortzing had to live with and
it illustrates in great detail how miserable, poor, honest and caring for his
wife and his eleven children Lortzing was—he buried 5 of them. He
himself died only at 50-years of age, a composer, who until the seventies,
was the most performed operatic genius in Germany after Verdi and Mozart.