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.
15 Jun 2006
BACH: Cantatas, vol. 14
This installment in the remarkable Bach Cantata Pilgrimage series presents four Christmas cantatas: “Gelobet seist du, Jesus Christ,” BWV 91; “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens,” BWV 110; “Dazu ist erschienen,” BWV 40; and “Christum wir sollen loben schon,” BWV 121, all recorded live in St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York City.
Given the festal context of Christmas, it is no surprise that the music often
takes a celebrative turn. The opening chorus of “Gelobet seist
du” is exuberant energy superimposed on a sturdy chorale frame; the
opening chorus of “Dazu ist erschienen” teems with sprightly
rhythmic verve and regal horn writing (both of which are echoed in the
rollicking tenor aria, “Christenkinder, freuet euch”); and the
melismatic laughter of the opening chorus of “Unser Mund sei voll
Lachens” is a richly spirited example of seasonal joy. Instrumentation
also plays a part in underscoring the affective propensities of Christmas,
and the virtuoso trumpeting of Gabriele Cassone is certainly a case in point,
especially in collaboration with bass Peter Harvey in the aria “Wacht
auf” from “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens.” Harvey, as in
other of the Cantata Pilgrimage recordings, is a joy to savor, rendering his
solos with a sound that is lithe, resonant and flexible and with a remarkable
flair for stylistic expression. Cassone, who impressively also plays the solo
horn parts on the recording, brings to the demanding trumpet lines a fine
combination of contoured phrasing, fluid articulation, and overall
brilliance. “Wacht auf,” unsurprisingly, is one of the high
points of the recording.
Certainly, this volume of Christmas cantatas manifests the high standards,
the attention to stylistic detail, and the zest for performance that have
long characterized the work of Gardiner and company. Not everything is
equally successful, however. In “Dazu ist erschienen” the first
two chorales are rendered with an exaggerated articulation that seems to turn
rhetorical gesture into mannerism. Bach’s homophonic settings are no
strangers to expressive content, certainly, as harmonic twists for the
enrichment of particular words well document, but here the clipped consonants
seem to do no more than surprise. The use of strong articulation to dramatic
ends fares much better in the solo singing of tenor James Gilchrist,
especially in this same cantata’s “Christenkinder, freuet
euch.” Gilchrist is a powerful singer, to be sure, and the affective
content and floridity of the aria are well met by his confidence. In other
places in the recording, however, some may find his sound rather too complex
and vibrant, especially in places where attention to the undulation of verbal
stress offers the chance for more contour.
Organized by liturgical feast, the recordings in this series can make
Bach’s developing compositional style conveniently visible. In volume
14 the cantatas are drawn from 1723, 1724, and 1725, a small chronological
window, but significantly we see Bach embracing dramatically different
approaches to cantata structure. While all use the familiar components of
extended chorus, da capo aria, and declamatory recitative, Bach’s
reliance on the chorale in the 1724 cantatas (BWV 91 and BWV 121) is
distinctively extensive, using paraphrases of choral verses to accommodate
the modern musical forms without obscuring the cohesion the choral text
offers. And in one instance, he mixes the choral text and melody with
paraphrased declamatory recitative, somewhat in the manner of a medieval
trope. Thus, while in sound the four cantatas here remain close one to
another, the varied structures behind the sound show Bach’s grappling
with questions of form. This, along with the spirited music making, gives the
listener much to savor, indeed.