30 May 2006
“What a difference a sound makes” goes the song (or something like that).
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 Magdalena Kožená.
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 archives.
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.
“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.