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.
19 Jul 2006
Leyla Gencer in Concert
There are lieder-recitals and there are lieder-recitals. In my experience Lucia Popp, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Margaret Price stuck to their Lieder-guns till the last item, sometimes offering Strauss’ Zueignung as an encore.
And then there are the more, shall I say,
‘modern’ singers, usually not from Central Europe, who know all
too well the public is there for the voice and less for high art. When the
official programme is over, the public sighs a bit and waits for the real
meat: some unabashed opera aria where the singer can finally lash out. Grace
Bumbry was one of the first to use the method. Studer, Kasarova and
Hvorostovsky refined it by often choosing such lieder (often by Strauss or
Tchaikovsky) that could easily have been an aria. And Renée Fleming really
found the solution to it all by carefully choosing a theme, like music
inspired by Goethe so that she could hop from Gretchen am Spinrade
to “Roi de Thulé – Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle” from
Gounod’s Faust a long time before the encores were on.
This Gencer-recital still goes back to the time when opera was reserved
for the encores but make no mistake. The La Scala public puts up with the
music out of love for the soprano and not out of reverence for Bartok or
Liszt. Though the Hungarian songs are divided into groups according to a
theme, Gencer already gets a hearty applause after the first song while the
second one goes without though it concludes the theme. If anyone should still
have doubts, try track 3; a slow Transylvanian dancing song. Gencer finishes
it with her trade mark: an ascending pianissimo that seems to last
for eternity and the house comes down as this is the exact thing they came to
hear. Not that the record’s worth is limited to Gencer’s famous
head voice. She is in fabulous voice: warm and charming and at her best
behaviour. The many glottal attacks she often used and which sometimes marred
her operatic performances are almost completely absent. The voice stands like
a house and there is no trace of a wobble. With her peculiar sound, she is of
course at her best in slow melancholy songs like the Lamento Panaze
(track 8). I cannot judge her Hungarian but she is probably one of the few
non-native speakers at the time to get away with it as Hungarian is not a
European but an Asian language that adapted a lot of Turkish words; and
Gencer is, after all, the most famous Turkish singer.
In the Liszt songs she is even better, especially in Pace non
trovo (track 18) where she can mix pathos with her virtuosic agility
borne out from long experience with Donizetti. And then it’s time for
the public to sit back and relax and listen to her encores: a noble rendering
of Roberto Devereux, a heart warming ‘Ah non credea’ from
Sonnambula, a role she had only sung twice in her long career. And,
being an old pro, she refrains from adding the cabaletta ‘Ah! Non
giunge’ which probably would have put too much strain on the voice
after such a long career. She ends with an aria from Les Martyrs,
the reworked version of Poliuto which she had created in modern
times and which she would sing once again two months after this La Scala
recital (available on CD; a must). I would advise to have the sleeve notes in
hand when purchasing this record. They are really informative and are written
by Franca Cella, who wrote a big Italian-language biography of the soprano
(which was sadly never translated into another language).