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.
24 Jul 2006
CHAPI: Margarita la tornera
Is this the application of Peter’s Principle on Ruperto Chapi’s music as Chris Webber, editor of www.zarzuela.net preaches, or is this proof of Chapi being “undoubtedly the most important Spanish
composer of stage music of all time” as the sleeve notes tell us?
As so often, truth lies somewhere in the middle. Chapi was a pupil of
Emilio Arrieta, the successful composer of the zarzuela Marina which
he later reworked into a three-act opera (try the first Kraus recording from
1960). Like so many aspiring youngsters, Chapi went for eternal glory in
opera and orchestral music. So did Leo Fall, Imre Kalman and Franz Lehar. And
after less than rousing success they opted for a genre which suited their
talents best. Fall, Kalman and Lehar became masters of operetta and Chapi
wrote some good zarzuelas like La Bruja, La Tempestad and
maybe his finest and surely his most popular work, the one act La
Revoltosa. But contrary to his Central-European colleagues, Chapi never
gave up on his operatic dreams. He died, almost 58, a few days after the
première of this Margerita which he had conducted. It is the one of
his many operas that is from time to time resurrected and it is based on a
legend that with some variations was told in most catholic countries. A nun
is seduced by a nobleman and leaves her cloister. Two years later, she
returns utterly disillusioned and discovers that nobody has missed her
absence as a doorkeeper ( = la tornera). All the time the Virgin Mary had
taken her place.
The last revival of Margarita la tornera was a series of
performances at the Madrid Opera seven years ago. The sleeve notes state that
“numerous reasons led to extensive cuts . . . affecting various choral
passages and some vocal numbers”. So one has to be careful with
one’s judgment. This certainly is no zarzuela. The music has a slower,
more earnest tone. Exciting rhythms, love choruses etc. are conspicuously
lacking but so is the easy tunefulness of Chapi’s best works. The
orchestration is brilliant but doesn’t quite compensate for the fact
that the emotional moments don’t strike deep as the composer did find
the orchestral colours but not the thematic material to go with it. Neither
the love scenes, the quarrels and especially the apotheosis of the story are
particularly memorable. I’m sure this can be a pleasant evening in the
theatre though not one that results in humming the leitmotivs for days to
come. The sleeve writer emphasizes the influence of Puccini but I think he
underestimates the influence of the “giovane scuola” as a whole.
Some ensembles remind me more of Leoncavallo’s Bohème than
Puccini’s. And there are hints of Mascagni and Giordano as well. In
short, not a very original score but still worthwhile investing in if you are
tired of the old warhorses and are exploring Siberia, Amica, Zanetto,
Contrary to many recordings of the lesser known verismo works, this
Margarita is cast from strength. Though Placido Domingo
doesn’t sing the title role, his name and photograph on the cover stand
first; an acceptable marketing ruse. The tenor is in amazingly fresh voice;
his rich middle voice ringing out and maybe deleting some high notes nobody
knows are in the score due to a lack of performance tradition. Of course it
is well possible that Chapi like all zarzuela composers gave some leeway to
his singers: according to the available singers one could either use a tenor
or a baritone or even a mixed version. That was probably the version chosen
in Madrid as it suits soprano Elisabete Matos, too. The Portuguese lady has a
vibrant, passionate voice, full of colours in the best Mediterranean
tradition and she is a worthy partner of the tenor. Her shrill shriek at the
end of the opera where a fine high C is needed proves that she is not too
sure above the stave as well. Good top notes, therefore, come from Angeles
Blancas, daughter of baritone Antonio Blancas and the late lamented dramatic
soprano Angeles Gulin. She has probably the finest scene of the opera in a
rousing theatre scene where as Sirena she dances, sings and seduces and she
has the voice and the sense of rhythm the music asks for. Angel Odena is a
convincing Don Lope, the rival of the tenor for the temptress. Only Stefano
Palatchi in his Leporello-role sings with a dry and boring sound and is not
up to the level of the other singers. The late Garcia Navarro clearly
believes in the score and leads the orchestra with conviction, revealing the
many beauties of the orchestral parts. Due to the cuts the second CD gives
short value, lasting only 36 minutes. Notes and summary are both in Spanish
and English but it is a pity that the libretto itself is in Spanish only.