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.
02 Aug 2006
Ann Murray and Malcolm Martineau: Schumann, Mahler, Britten
Recorded in early May 2005 at Crear, an artists’ community in Argyll, Scotland, this CD contains selections of Lieder and songs that fit well the supple voice of the mezzo-soprano Ann Murray, who is accompanied facilely by the Scottish pianist Malcolm Martineau.
The program is varied,
which starts with Mahler set of five Rückert-Lieder, songs that date
from the first decade of the twentieth century. Murray’s thoughtful
performance of these songs is a good reminder of how fresh the pieces can be
in the hands of a musician like her, who is sensitive to both the melodic
line and the text. Nowhere does she overstate what is implicit in the text,
especially in “Liebst du um Schönheit,” a subtle song that works
well with Murray’s understated approach to the piece that requires the
control of an experienced Lieder singer.
At times the music reaches beyond the intimacy of the fine acoustic used
for this recording, as with “Um Mitternacht,” with its hymn-like
echoes that call to mind the orchestration Mahler made. If Murray is
sometimes overtly extraverted in interpreting this piece, her subtlety is all
the more apparent in “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” a song
that the composer himself thought to be one of his finest efforts. Martineau
certainly creates a fine ensemble with Murray in delivering this song, and
the nuances he contributes anticipate the way he approached some of the other
music on the CD in what is essentially a recital at Crear.
It is unusual to find a work from an earlier period following such a
modern one as Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, and the placement of Robert
Schumann’s cycle Frauenliebe und Leben at the center of this
recording is a wise choice. Albert von Chamiso’s texts point out some
moments in a woman’s existence, which receive a fine treatment from
Murray and Martineau. While the room sometimes swallows a few of
Murray’s lines, it also offers a good ambiance to the piano. The
performers give the pieces a proper ensemble, as occurs in the second song of
the cycle, “Er, der Herrlichste von allen.” The understatement in
“Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben” fits the tone of
the piece well and shows the supportive role Martineau can offer when playing
this repertoire. All in all, this is a solid performance of this familiar
cycle that benefits from the even and appealing treatment of the vocal line
that Ann Murray brings to the recording.
Yet the pieces by Britten on this CD are treasures. Less familiar than
either the pieces by Mahler or Schumann, the Charm of Lullabies is a
work that deserves to be part of more programs, placed, perhaps, after music
that is more traditional. Murray brings personal and effective expression to
the English poetry Britten set, with the charming Scottish tones of
“The Highland Balou,” a setting of Burns that cannot be missed
for its incessant Scotch-snap rhythm in the accompaniment. In the hands of a
composer like Britten, English is a highly lyric language, and that aspect of
the pieces is not lost on Murray. The patter-song influence on “A
charm,” a setting of poetry by Thomas Randolph, is effective in
rendering a different kind of lullaby. “Sleep! Or I will make Erinnys
whip thee with a snake” and the lines that follow are hardly the kind
of verse an earnest parent would offer before sleep. Yet the final piece,
“The Nurse’s Song,” with version by the sixteenth-century
poet John Philip contains some wonderfully seductive harmonies.
Restful as that piece may be, the first of Britten’s Cabaret
Songs, “Calypso” can rouse anyone’s attention with its
strident whistle. The archness of the texts of this song, as well as the tone
of the others in the set, sounds as though the music was conceived for
Murray, who delivers them with panache. Martineau accompanies her with
finesse, as these somewhat popular-sounding songs round out this engaging
program. Britten’s effort in these songs, as well as the others he
composed, shows the development of the artsong in the twentieth century. Not
precisely Lieder in the strictest sense, these pieces are enjoyable because
of the way in which the text and the music balance each other smartly. As
with the Charm of Lullabies, the composer chose his texts carefully,
an aspect of his song output that makes the music attractive to performers
and their audience.
James L. Zychowicz