Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
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.
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).