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.
24 May 2006
BACH: Alles mit Gott
A little over a year ago Bach scholar Michael Maul found himself in the exceedingly unusual position of having discovered a hitherto unknown Bach composition, a birthday ode for Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, entitled “Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn’ ihn.
The discovery of Bach works
is not unknown in our day—the Neumeister chorale preludes saw light of
day in 1984, for instance—but the occurrence is rare and much to be
celebrated, as in this first recording of the ode from the Bach forces of
John Eliot Gardiner.
For Bach, “Alles mit Gott” is something of an unusual piece: a
strophic continuo air for soprano in twelve stanzas with lengthy instrumental
ritornello between the strophes. The text is by Johann Anton Mylius, who
penned the ducal salute as a trope on the duke’s motto, “Omnia
cum deo et nihil sine eo” (All things with God, and nothing without
Him). Both he and Bach imbedded separate patronal gestures in the ode itself:
orthographically Mylius creates an acrostic of the Duke’s name; Bach,
drawn we suspect to things numerological, supplies the continuo introduction
to the air with fifty-two notes, corresponding to the Duke’s
fifty-second birthday (1713), which occasioned the ode itself.
The discovery of any work by Bach is significant, and
“Alles mit Gott” rewards the listener not only with the aura of
novelty, but also with an engaging lyrical lilt in the dialogue between
soprano and bass. Does the lilt wear out after twelve successive stanzas? We
are not given the chance to find out, as Gardiner opts for a three-stanza
abbreviation, likely a smart choice where listeners are not closely attuned
to the details of the text. The length of the poem raises a significant issue
of proportion with regard to the string ritornello, as well. In the
abbreviated version, the nineteen string bars seem long relative to the
thirty-some odd measures for the voice. With twelve stanzas, however, the
need for a substantial variety is a more pressing one, to say nothing of the
singer’s need for vocal rest, and the length of the ritornello would
meet these needs well.
Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas sings the ode with a congenially youthful
sound, light and bright with notably clear articulation. The string band is
wonderful in its blossoming of major downbeats and also in its fluent
ornamentation on repetitions of the ritornello.
The remainder of the recording is devoted to live cantata excerpts from
Gardiner’s millennial Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, celebrating both the
dawn of the new millennium as well as the 250th anniversary of Bach’s
death. In a mammoth undertaking, Gardiner led performances of the entire
corpus of Bach’s surviving church cantatas on the appropriate
liturgical dates in churches throughout Europe and in the US from Christmas,
1999 to Christmas, 2000. The present recording offers a number of movements
from Pilgrimage performances, mostly arias,that highlight the rich interplay
of voice and obbligato instruments. All are accomplished renditions, and one
of the pleasures of the disc is the opportunity to hear so many different
soloists in a unified context—four different sopranos, singing arias
“side-by-side” is here a treat of riches. Of the four, I would
particularly single out Gillian Keith, whose performance of “Süsser
Trost” from Cantata 151 is memorable for her focus of tone and elegance
of execution. Keith is joined in this aria by flautist Rachel Beckett who
brings to Bach’s ever-inventive line a remarkable choreography of
Peter Harvey’s performance of “Es ist vollbracht” from
Cantata 159 with oboist Xenia Löffler is hauntingly beautiful, as well. One
of Bach’s most sensuous arias, “Es ist vollbracht,” weds a
slow-moving oboe line to string haloes and exquisite suspensions that
underscore Bach’s affective depths. Harvey’s ability to keep the
slow motion alive—a formidable challenge of control—and his lean
and yet resonant tone combine to make this one of the best in the