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.
16 May 2006
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly
All is right and good in the world of opera as long as the Arena di Verona puts on vivid productions, in questionable taste, with impassioned singers pouring out the volume, in questionable taste, and the audience roaring its approval - in questionable taste.
several vintage 1980s' stagings appeared on DVD; your reviewer heartily
recommends a viewing of the Tosca
with Eva Marton, Giacomo Aragall, and Ingvar Wixell. The energetic
scenery-chewing here has a reckless, dentist-be-damned quality, as
every scene is built into a rock face - including Scarpia's office!
Just to see Wixell fly flamboyantly into the chapel, wearing a purple
cape and pumps to match, makes the show a classic.
A Madama Butterfly from July
2004 becomes the latest to appear from this hallowed ground of
over-the-top spectacle. None other than Franco Zeffirelli supplies the
staging, with the innovation of an opening setting in the very busy
streets of Nagasaki, before a rock face splits in two and the future
home of the Pinkerton's slides into view. The pedestrians all seem to
be meeting each other, as they wave delightedly and scramble around.
Goro has the blueprints to the traditional Japanese house (?!?!)
to show Pinkerton before they get around to climbing the hill. In yet
another trademark Zeffirelli touch, quite a few handsome young men
stroll languidly through both the openings of both acts one and two
(this staging takes two intermissions). A younger male makes a
memorable appearance behind the Pinkerton of Marcello Giordani during
his first aria; the tyke not even trying to stifle a huge yawn.
Overall, perhaps a little less busy stage business might have
suited this intimate drama - but it is Verona!
For an ostensibly "traditional" staging, Zeffirelli makes the odd
decision to have Butterfly make her entrance to her future home from
its interior! Yes, she and her attendees appear behind the sliding
doors and advance toward the waiting Pinkerton and Sharpless. Our
Cho-cho-san (as the subtitles spell it, and as actually matches most
romanizations of that sound in Japanese), Fiorenza Cedolins, goes for
the high ending - it is Verona, after all - and holds it for such a
long time that the Verona audience breaks out into wild, noisy
approval. As recorded, the note could have used just a tiny boost
up into the pitch, but it makes an exciting impression anyway.
The sound throughout features a slight echo to the most strenuous
exertions of the singers, and one suspects an amplification system to
deal with the large Verona arena. Even so, none of the singers
(including the Sharpless of Juan Pons) provides much evidence of an
interest in softer singing, with Cedolins in particular becoming quite
wearing on the ears with her mostly unmodulated volume. She also lacks
fragility in her portrayal, though she really convinces in some of
Butterfly's outbursts at Suzuki in act two - the servant might well
have fled for her life at the next assault. Though she has some
impressive moments, ultimately Cedolins's Butterfly is more an assault
on the ears than on the heart.
Giordani makes a tall, attractive Pinkerton, although he appears to
have green highlights in his hair. Is that supposed to make him seem
blond, to explain the golden-haired tyke who appears as his son later?
Or is Zeffirelli suggesting that as a sailor, he has algae growing in
his hair? Only Franco knows. Most importantly, Giordani (who will sing
this role for the opening of the Met's 2007 season) offers some
handsome singing, although he gets a little dry at the end of the love
duet. Pons's stage deportment suggests that Sharpless is more peeved at
being drawn into this drama than anything else, but he is in good voice.
Zeffirelli's most amazing conception occurs during the Humming chorus,
when four ghostly wraiths appear in flowing, dark-colored shifts to
offer an interpretive dance. They then take their place on rock ledges
around Butterfly's house to watch the tragedy unfold. When Butterfly
finally takes out her father's sword, these spectral figures join her
in her fatal collapse. Perhaps the dramatic impact would be greater if
they didn't have what appear to be oversized chicken bones poking
through their messy gray hair. In fact, they seem to have wandered on
stage from a production of Macbeth.
Daniel Oren, not a conductor done any favors by the director's
predilection for close-ups, leads a reading of the score as exuberant,
and as unsubtle, as the production. He even allows a most grating break
in the music before the flower duet. But then again, fighting the
Verona audience's urge to reward loud singing at musical climaxes might
well be a losing battle.
Does the review sound negative? It shouldn't necessarily - if one knows
the Verona style, this DVD makes for a most entertaining diversion.
Puccini's masterpiece is indestructible, it seems - and this DVD, if
nothing else, offers ample proof of that.
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy