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.
05 Jul 2006
PUCCINI: Il Tabarro
LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci
The recent Deutsche Grammaphone release of an insightful Metropolitan Opera double bill from 1994 provides a fascinating comparison of contrasting verismo worlds.
The term verismo awakens strong feelings among opera
lovers. Some view it as cheap, musically undernourished entertainment. For
others it is a great love. Yet for all that, the term “verismo”
can be rather hard to pin down. It was originally coined to describe the
operatic incarnation of literary realism, and was initially attached to two
brief but passionate shockers—Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria
rusticana in 1890, and Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci
two years later. Both related tales of adultery and murder among the peasants
of southern Italy. But before long, both composers turned to wildly different
subjects—Leoncavallo started writing operettas, and Mascagni wrote such
non-veristic fare as Isabeau, a fairy-tale retelling of the Lady
Godiva story, and the Wagnerian-scaled Parisina which took on the
decadent, stylized, medieval world of Gabriele d’Annunzio. Eventually
the term verismo, depending on the context of its usage, grew to
embrace the musical style which clothed all these dramas, realistic or
And then, to complicate matters, there is Puccini. He’d been
Mascagni’s roommate during their conservatory days, but none of his
early subjects fit very neatly into the verismo-as-realism category. This has
led many to exclude him from being part of the “verismo
movement”—especially those who look down their noses at verismo.
After all, without the wildly popular Puccini, verismo appears to be a bit of
a dud, as movements go—at most producing three or four candidates for
the central repertory. But with Puccini, verismo suddenly looks a lot like
one of the most successful movements in operatic history, and the number of
verismo warhorses suddenly triples. And Puccini did, after all, write an
opera that fits the verismo category like a glove: his 1918 drama Il
Tabarro, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera as part of a
triple-bill of Puccini shorts.
In 1994, the same Metropolitan Opera put two contrasting pieces of the
verismo puzzle side by side—the belated verismo of Puccini’s
Il Tabarro and the classic verismo of Leoncavallo’s I
Pagliacci, which had reached the stage some twenty-six years earlier.
The comparison is enlightening. The stories are very similar. The music is
clearly fruit from the same tree. And yet the many intervening years have
also clearly left their mark. Leoncavallo’s warhorse is passionately
and unashamedly Italian, painted in primary colors. There is no guilt in his
hummable, clearly delineated melodies.
By contrast, Il Tabarro was written by a composer who’d
studied the shadowy world of Debussy, and the frenzied brilliance of Richard
Strauss. He knew Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and
Schoenberg’s atonal Pierrot Lunaire. Puccini was a great
melodist, yet here he is sly in their use—maybe too sly here for some
tastes. Leoncavallo’s primary colors have been replaced by a thousand
subtle shades. Yet everywhere in the score Puccini’s mature musical
genius and his judgment as a dramatist are well in evidence. The end result
is an opera of rare sophistication and dramatic truth, if at times it is a
little less memorable in its melodic material than is Pagliacci.
Leoncavallo’s opera would be a good selection for a newcomer to opera.
Puccini’s is more a connoisseur’s choice.
In this particular production, the Met cast the major roles from strength,
featuring the era’s two most renowned tenors in the leading roles. In
Il Tabarro, Placido Domingo sings the role of the interloper Luigi
with his characteristic golden tone and impassioned acting. The role of the
older, jilted husband was sung with impressive power and gravitas by Juan
Pons. If there are reservations to be felt about the cast, they might be
directed towards the Giorgetta of Teresa Stratas—a great singing
actress who knows how to thrill. My complaint is not directed towards any
lack of ability or dedication on her part. Rather she perhaps presses a
little too hard—turning a believable and human character into a bit of
a caricature. Her Giorgetta is a Parisian variety of “white
trash”—loud, loose, and lacking in feminine grace or refinement,
with chemically damaged red hair to match. Stratas regularly reaches for
something guttural in her lower register which reinforces this rather brassy
impression and makes her singing at times unlovely. Also, some things which
would go unnoticed on the stage spring to mind when viewed with the intimacy
of video. Pons, playing the older Michele, is clearly much younger than are
Domingo and Stratas, our “young” lovers! A vibrant cameo
performance is turned in by Florence Quivar as La Frugola.
Stratas and Pons reappear in I Pagliacci, with Stratas’s Nedda
largely being a reprise of her Giorgetta. Pons again does an admirable job,
though this time in the far less sympathetic role of Tonio. Luciano
Pavarotti, however considerable his vocal assets, is often a bit of a
dramatic dud—especially in comparison to the passionate Domingo. And
though Pav was no spring chicken in 1994 either, somehow he came across very
strongly on this night. Sure, he does sometimes revert to his old
“stand and sing” acting style, but there is a dignity in his
bearing that makes his Canio all the more human, and when he smears the
greasepaint on his face before launching into “Vesti la giubba”,
he generates pathos in spades. Dwayne Croft is a convincing Silvio.
It’s a shame the James Levine ventures into the verismo repertory so
rarely, as his reading here, at the helm of the now legendary Met orchestra,
is revelatory. The productions are of the most traditional variety, with lots
of period detail—especially Franco Zeffirelli’s
Pagliacci. Other fine accounts of the latter exist on video, but if
you’re looking for a compelling pair of verismo shorts in riveting, top
notch performances, you could do worse than this DVD.
Eric D. Anderson