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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
DEBUSSY: Pélleas et Mélisande
Whatever its flaws - and it has them - this Zurich Opera production of Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande boasts qualities that carry it very far from the standard view of those opera goers who considers the work dry, dull, and depressingly long.
Of course the opera has its fans and
has long established itself in the repertory. However, it is very far from a
crowd-pleaser, and the typical company that programs it is wont to pack the
rest of the season with favorites such as Aida, Boheme,
Director Sven-Eric Bechtolf, set
designer Rolf Glittenberg, and conductor Franz Welser-Most have collaborated
to produce a taut, ominous, and even propulsive account that, despite the
referenced off-putting moments, strips the "airy" from the "fairy-tale"
aspects of Maeterlinck's story and allows the characters to operate both on a
symbolic level and as flesh and blood humans. That success trumps the
niggling complaints, no matter how unavoidable they may be.
The staging emphasizes chillness - white as in ever-present snow, gray as in
the metallic wall at the rear of the uni-set, and frosty gray-blues as in the
costumes of the adult male characters. Mélisande, Yniold and Genevieve get
deeper blues. Paradoxically, this cold environment heightens the seething
passions below the characters' placid outward appearances.
The most controversial element of the production, the use of mannequins
designed to resemble closely the singers for each role, is a risky move that
pays off in many scenes - but also provides a few questionable moments. These
doubles serve to reinforce the characters' misperceptions and obliviousness
of others, and also toward themselves. Often characters sing to the double
while the person actually being addressed is preoccupied elsewhere. For the
most part, this does heighten the pathos of the situations. But oh, how one
wishes Golaud did not take the head of the Yniold doll and place it on the
roof of a car to "spy" on Pelléas and Mélisande. Or that Golaud did not walk
off stage at one point and drag on the inanimate double of Pelléas. And
touching on other directorial inspirations, did Mélisande really have to get
her caught in the car door of the sedan that serves as her tower? Instead of
panic as Golaud approaches, all one can think is "ouch!"
Taken as a whole, however, the conceit must be credited as something
essential to the brooding power and forward momentum of this production.
When Pelléas and Mélisande finally let down their defenses and express their
love to each other, no doubles are visible. They have stripped away the
facade that life with Golaud had forced upon them, and the tenderness they
show each other makes the conclusion all the more shattering. At the end, it
is the "doll" Mélisande that Golaud grieves over - the "real" Mélisande
gambols away, playing with a golden ball that Yniold had lost earlier.
Welser-Most's conducting may be controversial for some adherents of a
mistier, softer reading of the score. Here the rhythms are crisp, even
emphatic at times, and a forward pulse like an impassioned heartbeat makes
itself felt. The fine Zurich orchestra plays with real distinction. This
urgent musical support matches the staging's impetus brilliantly.
If no member of the cast delivers a vocal performance of the highest
standard, each of them sings and acts with dedication and a commitment to the
director's vision, without which the staging would not hold together. Isabel
Rey may not have the slim physique or ethereal appeal of some Mélisande's,
but she is fully within the character, and her well-supported delivery makes
her character less of an enigma or male fantasy. In fine voice, Rod Gilfry
has all the notes and the physical appeal of a believable Pelléas, and he
earns the title billing: this is his tragedy as well. The central character,
however, is Golaud. Michael Volle never gets beyond the character's dark
obsessiveness, and without at least some empathy for this sad man, Golaud
becomes almost a movie character villain. Perhaps a little more softness and
color in the voice would have helped.
Often confined to a wheelchair, László Polgár's Arkel manages to be both
helpless to stop the unfolding tragedy and a warm presence in this frigid
world. Eva Liebau doesn't have to struggle to appear boyish as Yniold, since
the abstract nature of the production doesn't call for realism. Thus we can
relish the ease and beauty of her voice, and firmer intonation than a child
singer can usually provide.
As always with any non-traditional production, viewers who already know they
have a preference for a staging which strictly adheres to the original
libretto's dictates would not find much to enjoy here. For all others, and
especially those who have found Debussy's masterpiece slow-going in the past,
this Zurich production, despite the above-mentioned caveats, may be one that
will open up the dark magic of Pelléas and
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy