30 May 2006
“What a difference a sound makes” goes the song (or something like that).
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 do occur.
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.
Released in late 2011, Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD of the new staging of Berg’s Lulu at the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona is an excellent contribution to the discography of this fascinating opera.
A recent release by the Metropolitan Opera, this two-disc set makes available on DVD the famous performance of Berg’s Lulu that was broadcast on 20 December 1980 as part of the PBS series “Live from the Met.”
The novels of Sinclair Lewis once shot across the American literary skies like comets, alarming and fascinating readers of that era, but their tails didn’t extend far behind them.
Once the province of only the most dedicated opera fanatics, mid-20th century recordings of privately taped live performances have become more widely available.
Flute players in opera orchestra around the world must look forward to the frequent appearances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, knowing that while the stage spotlight in the mad scene will be on the soprano, the orchestral spotlight will be on their instrument.
“What a difference a sound makes” goes the song (or something like that).
Up to now I only knew this opera by the San Carlo recording of 1957, which is an acceptable one. I never invested in the Queler-Hungaraton issue as I didn’t think such a rather difficult work would be served by Hungarians, even though there were some good singers in it. And I never saw the Zagreb DVD with former boy wonder, tenor Kruno Cigoy. But this set under review changed my perspective due to the excellent sonics, as Bongiovanni got the original tapes RAI made, which MRF didn’t have when they launched this performance as a pirate.
The first time I heard Nerone, my reaction was probably a common one: that someone who composed splendid arias like ‘Dai campi’ ‘Giunto sul passo’’Ave Signor’ and the hauntingly beautiful ‘L’altra notte’ had given all his inspiration to that one Mefistofele. But, even a second and a third hearing didn’t change much. This set did. Of course, the composer of 1902 (when La Scala announced a production) or 1912 when Boito asked Caruso to sing the title role was not the same one as the young man of 1868 (première of Mefistofele) or 1876 (reworked version for tenor, which is nowadays always performed). Too much had changed in those 30 years. There was Boito’s collaboration with Verdi and the revolution Mascagni wrought with his Cavalleria. But especially there was the all overwhelming influence of Wagner whose scores were now widely available for study and performance. The results of all those influences are clear to hear in this performance. There are melodies but they are not the long sweeping arches of before. The balance between orchestra and voice is far more equilibrated and often the parlando is more accompanying the orchestra than vice-versa; and that makes perfect sound so important if one wants to pick up the tune. Granted, there are several dry patches where ‘Sprechgesang’ takes over. Yet there are many fine parts as well and in his choral writing we surely recognize the composer of that grandiose Mefistofele-prologue.
The cast is a strong one. By 1975, Bruno Prevedi’s big international career was over. He mainly sang in Germany and Austria and some fine but still smaller Italian houses. He gladly accepted RAI-invitations to sing tenor roles in rarely performed operas like Agnese di Hohenstaufen, Fernando Cortez and this Nerone. In fact, between February, when he sang Maurizio at Bari, and this RAI-broadcast, no performance is to be found in his chronology. So he definitely took his time to learn this difficult score. The voice is still as we remember: a true Italian lirico-spinto that always betrayed his baritone origins. Though he is never unmusical, there are certain details that cloud some of his singing. He uses an unremitting forte and his technique with a lot of glottal attacks is somewhat crude. Picchi in Naples is a more accomplished singer and brings more nuance to the role but he hasn’t the power of Prevedi in some of Nero’s outbursts.
The real star of the set is Ilva Ligabue. During her heyday, she was shamefully neglected by the big labels. She recorded 3 MP-recitals in not always typical repertoire (together with tenor Nicola Filacuridi) and then there was the Solti-Falstaff. As more and more documents become available (an unforgettable Forza with Bergonzi at his very best on Bongiovanni) we realize what a great singer she was. The moment she starts her long scene in the first act, one sits up and takes notice. Here is a soprano with her own typical sound, basically a lyric voice but with enough steel in it to climb all vocal hurdles and to dominate the temple scene in the second act or the orchard scene in the third act. One regrets Boito wrote the libretto for a fifth act where her death scene is the culminating point of the opera and then never set it to music.
The rest of the opera, too, is cast from strength. Agostino Ferrin as Simon Mago has not the house rattling amplitude of Nicolai Ghiaurov but the voice is fine, cultivated and rolling along. In fact it is a bit too sympathetic for the bad guy he is supposed to be. Alessandro Cassis is nowadays mainly remembered as Michonnet in the DVD of the classic La Scala Adriana with Freni. But he had one of the best Italian baritone voices in the seventies and eighties, firm and rounded and with more than one hint of Bastianini. For reasons unknown to me he never had a big international career (or he didn’t want one) but his singing as Fanuel, leader of the Christians (not to be mixed up with the Magician in Massenet’s Hérodiade), is exemplary. The same can be said of Ruza Baldani’s performance in the lesser soprano role of Rubria. This recording is witness to the dying of a great Italian tradition. The many smaller comprimario roles are taken up by sometimes first class voices like mezzo Anna Di Stasio (Suzuki in the Bergonzi-Scotto Butterfly), tenor Corradi, mezzo Corinna Vozza (Lola in the Corelli Cavalleria) etc. Most of these singers would nowadays have major careers.
Gianandrea Gavazzeni was already a veteran at the time of recording and one of the last great Italian Maestri Concertatori with direct ties to the creators. Though he conducted the famous Corelli-Callas revival of Poliuto, he was something like a specialist of verismo; a love he later shared with his 50-years younger wife Denia Mazzola. This opera with hints of late Verdi, Wagner and Puccini of Fanciulla or Mascagni of Amica or Isabeau fits him to a T; and he brings it forth with a firm hand that reveals a score and a recording worth investing in.