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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.
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.