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.
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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.
22 Apr 2006
MOZART: Don Giovanni
Calixto Bieito has made his name as an opera director with productions of unrelenting violence and sex, perhaps exemplified by last year's Abduction from the Seraglio in Berlin with its full nudity and graphic mutilations.
In almost any other area of American
life this reputation would make him a candidate for fame and success, but
opera in the US has other ideas, and so none of Bieito's productions has made
it to our shores.
Now one has — on DVD, a career breakthrough version of Don Giovanni premiered at English National
Opera.This performance comes from December 2002 at the Liceu in Barcelona.
Bieito updates the story to recent times, in some sort of rough,
middle-class, vaguely criminal neighborhood. After an urgent, even explosive
overture under the baton of Bertrand de Billy, Leporello crawls out of a late
model black Mercedes sedan, in the backseat of which the Don is energetically
pounding Donna Anna. Clad in a tacky track-suit, Leporello (the excellent
Kwanchul Youn) sings of his resentment of his "master," who in Bieito's
vision is not of a hereditary nobility, but rather a good-looking, well-built
thug whose sexual power gives him all the power that a title would have in da
Ponte's day. Unsurprisingly, Bieito goes for the "Donna Anna wanted it"
angle, but in the context of the director's misanthropic vision, this makes
sense for once. Regina Schorg, unattractively dressed in a too-tight
leopard-skin skirt and low-cut top, doesn't have a voice of such beauty as to
remind us of the supposed nobility of her character, and so the portrayal
works well. As for Wojtek Drabowicz's Don Giovanni, he has the look, and a
capable voice, but that aura of true sexual charisma eludes him. He is mean
enough, however, as he takes a screwdriver to slash open the
Commendatore,who, in an open shirt and ostentatious gold necklaces, looks
like a character from The Sopranos.
Anatoly Kocherga needs some more heft down low for this role,
especially in the final scene.
Veronique Gens delivers the most brilliant performance, as a truly broken
Donna Elvira, clad in unappealing denim and carrying tacky plastic shopping
bags. Gens manages to make her character deranged and yet still sympathetic,
and her exemplary singing plays a big role in that achievement. The Zerilina
and Masetto (Marisa Martins and Felipe Bou) are less-distinguished vocally,
but strong actors. Probably in no other production has "Batti, batti" not
only made more sense, but been absolutely essential.
Finally, Bieito and costume designer Merce Paloma confront Don Ottavio's
wimpishness with a master stroke — from the end of act one on, he wears
a Superman T-shirt with sculptured muscles, emphasizing his wimpishness.
Since this is the Prague version, Marcel Reijans has no "Dalla sua pace," but
as he is at best a pleasant tenor, the loss doesn't sting.
Alfons Flores's set design consists of a basic black box, with key props (a
long bar, pool table, sofa and TV). Bieito knows how to create vivid stage
pictures with well-coordinated movement and imaginative details (those tiny
dancing dolls!). Some directors barely have one thing happening at a time;
Bieito has several, yet he mostly has the action timed so well that the
distraction element is low.
So Bieito's theatrical skills should not be disregarded. For many, however,
the sex and violence — although milder here than reports of his latest
productions suggests — will be too much to allow for appreciation of
the director's talent. When the Don attempts to rape Zerlina, she winds up
with a bloody nose that drenches her nightgown. The Don, disguised as
Leporello, smashes Masetto's head into the bar, and soon Zerilna's boyfriend
is covered in blood as well. And in a final twist, the Don breaks free of the
Commendatore's grip at the end, takes up a knife and resumes slashing the
poor old man. Finally the "victorious" revenger's tie the Don to a chair and
use the knife on him, each getting his or her turn (though Donna Elvira has
to be manipulated into giving the killing stroke).
As for sex, after that opening hump-a-thon, Bieito mostly lays on the oral
action. Despite the shock value here, it also seems as if Bieito sees oral
sex as an act of self-abasement, and thus a crucial part of his dark, cynical
view of human relations.
Mozart's score works surprisingly well in this setting with so little
"giocoso." Of course the darker textures come to predominate, but even the
lighter moments, such as the aforementioned "Batti, batti," have a contextual
rightness. Conductor de Billy's urgent reading certainly deserves much credit
here, but Bieito has obviously given the music as much thought as he has to
when he can next insert some oral favors into the action. For instance, the
Don sings his second act serenade alone, on the phone, trying for a
"hook-up," and at the end he starts to sob — a lonely man who doesn't
have the courage to change.
Not all viewers will find that moment effective, but the second act defeats
many a director, as the story goes into neutral until the big climax. Several
years on from its premiere, Bieito's Don
Giovanni may not be as shocking as it was at it premiere, but probably
many an unwary viewer of this DVD will end up turning it off in a fury and
using the discs for coasters, while others will find Mozart and da Ponte's
opera more alive and exciting than ever. No matter how many sins Bieito may
commit, he avoids the worst of all — he is not dull.
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy