Recently in Recordings
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
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?
01 Jun 2006
MONTEVERDI: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria
This Opus Arte set not only captures a mostly satisfying performance of Monteverdi's opera based on the last books of Homer's Odyssey, but features something even rarer: a booklet essay by the musical director (Glen Wilson) of remarkable lucidity.
Wilson covers the major issues in performing and staging a Monteverdi opera, and presents his justifications for his own decisions. Working with stage director Pierre Audi, Wilson has most fortunately helped to create a performance that reflects the insight and knowledge the essay indicates are in his possession.
However, no one would buy a DVD for the booklet essay. Wilson and Audi have put together an effective staging of as old an opera as any that gets staged (first performance, 1641), and it is Monteverdi's genius that makes the DVD worthy. The ecstatic excitement of Verdi lay two centuries in the future, and the lusher melodicism of Puccini another generation or two beyond that. Monteverdi's operas will likely never be as essential to the core repertory as his operatic descendants' work is; but this DVD shows that his work still makes its claim to the stage.
The spare set works well with the spare music. Handsome wooden floors support a few well-chosen props - a simple throne, a huge rock - with a gravel walkway slashing across the front. To supple some color, Penelope and her suitors are dressed in handsome solids of green, red, blue and yellow. Otherwise, the costuming, especially for Ulisse, remains on the drab side. Stage director Audi keeps the performers moving without indulging in frenetic over-activity, and the stage picture never grows stagnant. The most memorable stage effect occurs at the climax, when Ulisse drops his disguise as an old man and wreaks vengeance on the suitors against a background of flame. A fearsome hawk (seen with its trainer in an enjoyable bonus feature) also makes an impressive appearance as the suitors try to string Ulisse's bow.
The supporting cast features some very strong performances, including Diana Montague as the goddess Minerva (Wilson edited out other sections about the gods), Brian Asawa as both a symbolic human figure in the prologue and as a suitor, and Toby Spence as Telemaco. In what amounts to a cameo, the portly Alexander Oliver almost steals the show as Iro, one of the more disgusting abusers of Penelope's hospitality, who survives the final carnage long enough to sing of his gnawing hunger without the suitors to feed him, and then dies before us. His sweaty, blood-stained appearance may haunt many a viewer, but what really matters is the powerful way he uses a not every attractive voice to bring the scene to life (and then to his character's death!).
Though the two leads both give committed performances, neither completely satisfies. As Ulisse, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson relies on the audience's suspension of disbelief, as his hefty frame hardly suggests a man who has been through many a brutal trial over 10 years of war and 10 more of wandering. He has the resources for the role's vocal demands, but seldom puts a personal stamp on the music. Graciela Araya has the dignified posture for Penelope, but her rather homely tone doesn't earn her character much sympathy.
This may not be, then, a performance of a Monteverdi opera to attract opera lovers who have found the composer's works less than appealing in the past. However, for those open to the experience, the set, recorded at the Netherlands Opera in 1998, has much to recommend it.
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy