10 Jul 2006
HAYDN: Arias & Cantatas
In a room filled with music scholars, conversations surrounding the name Franz Joseph Haydn would be synonymous with symphonic music, keyboard works, operas, string quartets, and vocal music.
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 Magdalena Kožená.
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 archives.
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.
In a room filled with music scholars, conversations surrounding the name Franz Joseph Haydn would be synonymous with symphonic music, keyboard works, operas, string quartets, and vocal music.
Although Haydn is commonly recognized for his contributions to the symphonic genre, many music lovers view him as just that, a composer of symphonies. Perhaps they have not yet had their ears tickled by the beauty of Haydn’s vocal writing, which some scholars believe exceeds the symphonic. This recording of Haydn’s Arias and Cantatas, with soprano Arleen Auger, conductor Christopher Hogwood and the Handel and Haydn Society, is a fantastic way to introduce ones’ self to the vocal music of this multi-faceted composer who is often placed second to Mozart…but should he be? And why was it that the most significant symphonic composer in history, Ludwig Van Beethoven, who consequently studied from Haydn, struggled inherently to compose what he wanted to be his finest work, an opera: Fidelio. Was Haydn more influential than we think, and are we perhaps ignoring his position as a composer of vocal works?
There is no question, that at a time imbued with classical ideals: symmetry, form, and melodic gesture, Haydn single handedly influenced the symphonic genre and expanded it from its early beginnings in Mannheim into a dramatic machine that could express the most intimate emotions of the private sphere, and yet scream out the social demands of the public one. And yet, the eighteenth-century is really one of the most interesting epochs because opera was certainly the entertainment of choice, a significant reason why Mozart and Haydn composed so many operas. In effect, without the popularity of the opera, the symphonic genre may never have developed as it did, to combat the popularity of opera and to effect a large-scale instrumental work that could be both dramatic and sensitive. A master at symphonic structure, as is noted in his London Symphonies, and the magical properties of the Sturm und Drang (a period of works that exhibited high strung emotions through driving, dotted-rhythms, and a propensity for dark and light shades (chiaro-scuro)) one cannot argue that Haydn was not a great symphonic composer, but perhaps Haydn’s true genius is noted when his mastery of the orchestra is combined with an elegance of vocal writing and melodic treatment; a mastery that is exemplified in this recording of Arias and Cantatas. Of course, no matter how good the music is, it cannot achieve its greatest potential without the contributions of competent and diligent performers.
Arleen Auger’s performance here is not only competent, but extraordinary. Her attention to detail, technical prowess, and the care with which she effects every single note, almost as if caressing each pitch to make it as beautiful as it could ever be, is truly a definition of a true performer and interpreter. She is most widely known for her performance at the 1986 British Royal wedding where she performed Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate. Auger died on June 10th, 1993 of brain cancer and, although she is no longer with us, this CD stands as a memoriam and an everlasting impression of her artistry. Through her recordings, she will remain with us through her incredible musical gifts.
Nowhere are her vocal abilities more exquisitely expressed than in the Scena di Bernice, Hob. XXXIVA: 10. Cantata composta per la Signora Banti in “Antigono” di Pietro Metastasio. This dramatic evocation of a woman abandoned by her partner is marked by an authoritative entrance by Christopher Hogwood and his orchestra, only to be equally matched by Auger’s opening statement and questioning manner. Her Italian is well enunciated and her diction is impeccable and superbly inflected. The upper notes of her melody are silvery and shimmery and yet she easily flips into the mid and lower tessitura where her vocal colour is a luscious crimson. The opening recitative culminates in a thrilling climax at “Fermati” (Wait!), a true example of what squillo means to the soprano voice. Auger’s approach is like lightning. It strikes and is gone, leaving the listener to anticipate the next bolt with exhilaration. Part II of the recitative suggests the influence of Gluck’s reform opera, Orfeo ed Euridice, where in the middle section of Orfeo’s aria, Che Faro Senza Euridice, the mood changes rapidly from sadness to agitation in confronting the darkness of death. Here Auger vocalizes the “aspetta, anima bella” (wait my exquisite soul) with a loving caress that foreshadows the beauty of the ensuing aria.
The aria, “Non Partir, bell’idol mio” (Do not leave, my beautiful one), is effected with a luscious legato where the character’s dramatic impetus is one of wanting to share death with her love. Auger’s vocal passages are creamy and well-connected from the low tessitura to the higher, with profound agility and an inner-depth that is indicative of her artistry. The following recitative demands a mood change to show the anger that now affects the character, thus a thicker orchestral texture and rapid vocal virtuosity move the recit towards its peak at “Misera Bernice, ah tu deliri.”
“Perché se tanti siete,” the final aria of the scene is agitated and drama is created orchestrally by Haydn as the low strings play in unison matching the vocal melody on “Che delirar mi fate” (How you make me suffer). The agitation culminates towards a lovely descending string passage that suggests both tenderness and sorrow at “Affanni del mio cor?” (Worries of my heart). Haydn creates even more drama here by moving the next phrase into a harmonic direction that is eschewed. The listener anticipates a movement into a major harmony, but instead Haydn diverts our attention by moving the harmony to a minor sonority on “L’eccesso del dolor.” On the repeat of this phrase, Auger offers a dynamic display of range from low chest tones that are growly and intense to the highest shimmery peak of her range. Oftentimes, sopranos use vowel modification in the upper range to allow for a more open sound, but this leaves the diction unclear. This is definitely not the case here. Auger’s diction is impeccable and her vocal production is even and liquid from the top of her range to the bottom. Her triplets and display of fioritura is magnificent and Hogwood is supportive with his orchestra but yet captures the full effect and emotion of her character.
The following track, Son Pietosa, son bonina, Hob. XXXIIb: 1, Aria per “La Circe, ossia L’isola incantata” di Pasquale Anfossi e Gottlieb Nauman is a pastiche based on two operas. In two parts, the aria begins with an orchestral introduction that features a clear and brilliant flute with strings doubling the melody; from this, the voice enters and Auger’s tone here is a beautifully rounded crimson. She takes specific words, such as “poverina” (poor one) and vocalizes each to match their emotion; in this case, pity. The point of the aria is to educate women on how “all” men are deceivers. It is in typical ABA format, but Auger doesn’t make this typical form boring by any means. At the repeat of A, she adds appropriate ornaments that are presented with elegant taste. They are not overdone and relegated to the ends of phrases. Auger also changes moods vocally, often applying a more breathy sound to evoke her character’s being out of breath and even short staccato spurts to suggest laughter. Her portrayal of this character is a precursor to the heroines of Rossini, a kind of Isabella from L’Italiana in Algeri who possesses similar qualities.
Another heroine who intrigued many composers, not just Haydn, is Arianna auf Naxos and here in Hob. XXVIb: 2 (orchestral version: Cantata) her character is portrayed with an elegant and yet strong persona. Originally sung by the Italian castrato, Pachierotti, in 1791, Haydn wrote this Cantata for pianoforte and voice, but later an adaptation for orchestra was written by an anonymous composer. Hogwood opens the Cantata with a regal orchestral motive that includes dotted rhythms and continuo. The oscillating ostinato increases the tension of the ensuing vocal entrance, as the strings effect ascending scale motives. The recitative opens tentatively and caring as Auger sings “Teseo” (Theseus) in a most yearning manner. The entrance of the next phrase “Vicino d’averti” (I need to have you near me) is so well effected that Auger’s voice seems to be born out of the orchestral texture. An effect that Richard Strauss would later view as crucial to operatic success, the voice should be viewed as an instrument that could emanate from the orchestral texture. This popular late nineteenth-century effect is used here by Haydn, and some 100 years earlier. The orchestra is in a descriptive role as it creates the atmosphere for Arianna’s aria. The last section before the aria discusses Arianna’s heart, and Haydn’s genius is evident, as he uses the orchestra as a heartbeat, to intersperse with the vocal texture. The aria, “Dove sei, mio bel Tesoro?” is begun with a lovely legato line in contrast with rapid ascending 16th note passages in the strings. Auger effects another one of those magnificent entrances here on, “se non vieni, io già mi moro” (if you are not coming here, then I will die) where her voice seems to emanate from within the orchestral texture. Immediately following, the orchestra begins to interrupt the voice with low strings and woodwinds to create a dark and sinister effect. The idiom of “interruption” is not uncommon in Haydn and is found most effectively in The Creation. This section also foreshadows the orchestral style of Verdi, where the accompaniment to arias is often chordal ostinati.
The second recitative of the Cantata contains the typical mood change, as Arianna asks, “to whom am I speaking.” She makes continual reference to Theseus in this section; a common Baroque trait of pleading for a deus ex macchina. The mood becomes even more somber and Hogwood does an excellent job of projecting his low basses to create a rumbling effect that might suggest that God is, in fact, listening to Arianna. One of the most affective moments on the entire CD occurs in the following section, at “Già più non reggo,” where the orchestral ostinato creates a lulling and almost hypnotic effect that is matched by Auger’s breathless quality in the voice. The text here, “I can barely stand, with knees trembling” is understood aurally as well as textually. An appropriate orchestral introduction for the concluding aria, “A che morir vorrei in sì fatal momento” is followed by a very simple orchestral accompaniment with commenting inflections at the ends of each vocal phrase, such that the orchestral responses never interfere with the vocal line. At “Misera Abbandonata,” Auger maintains a rapid and clear tone with a spinning vibrato. The onset of her phrases are remarkable and she is in even voice throughout every technical difficulty. This Cantata would be an excellent study for voice students as an example of a technically sound and precise vocal production.
The Solo e Pensoso, Hob. XXIVb: 20, Aria da “Il canzoniere” di Francesco Petrarca (Sonetto XXVIII) was actually written in 1798, the year of The Creation’s première. The orchestral introduction is typical Haydn, with lovely treatment of the melody and consonant harmonies that support the vocality of a melody that is passed on to the voice in the aria, “Solo e Pensoso.” Sparse in orchestration, the voice carries the drama of this opening with Auger effecting a creamy legato and exquisitely carried phrases. At the second stanza, the orchestra enters more fully and supports the ends of phrases by rounding them off with its own commentary. Auger is in grand vocal form, even while producing the most intense vocal pyrotechnics. She takes on the character of the orchestra in the B section, with a light, airy tone which is a testament to her musicianship and interpretive skills.
Miseri noi, misera patria! Hob. XXIVa: 7 Cantata, is one of those works for which not much information is known. It was composed before 1786 and describes the destruction of a city by invaders. The opening is ominous and the homophonic chordal texture suggests that the invasion is being represented musically. The woodwinds, in their melancholy tone, carry the melody over an oscillating string ostinato. Accents begin to interrupt the melody (an idiom of the Sturm und Drang period). Culminating in the recitative, an ode to a country in ruins, the low strings continue to support the textual description: il ferro, il foco (the iron, the fire). Auger’s Italian here is impeccable and her artistry is made evident as she gives a eulogy-like listing of all those who have perished: “I padri, figli, mariti, spose, dolci amici” (fathers, sons, husbands, wives, sweet friends) with such poignancy that the listener feels that they too have lost someone to this catastrophe. Her following aria, “Funesto orror di morte” is sung as wonderfully as anything else Auger has performed on this recording. Her lovely spinning triplets and resonance is breath-taking. Hogwood’s orchestra is sensitive, especially during imitative moments where woodwinds respond to the vocal phrases. However, here Auger’s voice is presented in its fullest grandeur in a thrilling cadenza on the word “risuonar” (resounds). Present day performers, such as Cecilia Bartoli, Renée Fleming, and Jose Cura are known for their impeccable fioritura and their ability to make coloratura passages seem effortless, but here Auger was doing the very same thing more than 20 years ago. Do we pay her the same respect? We most definitely should.
Overall, this CD is worth a listen to, and especially if you haven’t experienced Haydn’s vocal music. If anything, it is an excellent purchase for any soprano fans or anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of hearing Arleen Auger. It has been a distinct pleasure reviewing this last of her recordings, and it is with great respect and honour that I write her name here as a truly remarkable performer, and a gift to the music world for the short time we had her. Wherever you are, Arleen, we listen, and we remember.
Mary-Lou Patricia Vetere, PhD (abd), M.A. Mus.B