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.
25 Aug 2006
BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 19
This installment of the estimable Bach Cantata Pilgrimage recordings brings together cantatas from the middle of the Epiphany season, along with a “refugee” from Trinity XXIV), and the well-known motet, “Jesu, meine Freude.”
As in other volumes, the forces of the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner offer renditions that are technically, stylistically, and interpretatively benchmark performances.
That said, there are issues here and there about which one might quibble. Chief among them is a tendency in highly energetic sections to allow zeal and fervor too free a hand. As a result, articulations can seem, on occasion, exaggeratedly aggressive, even pecky, as in the opening chorus to “Ach wie flüchtig,” BWV 26 or the penultimate verse of “Jesu meine Freude.” Rhythmic verve is a signature trait of Gardiner’s interpretations and is often thrilling—the extraordinary storm aria of “Jesus schläft,” BWV 81 is a splendidly red-blooded example—but the line separating thrilling and “over-the-top” is not always easily judged.
Sometimes, too, the attempt to heighten the text with rhetorical delivery can seem exaggerated and mannered, especially in chorales. Satan’s storming and the raging of the foe in “Jesus meine Freude” (mvt. III) finds the choir arguably too dramatic for this straight-forward context. Sometimes it seems well to let a chorale be “only a chorale.”
However, how much remains that is superb! Soprano Joanne Lunn’s singing in “Mein Gott, wie lang?” BWV 155 is exquisite, with wonderfully clear timbres in the high register. Bass Gerald Finley is outstanding in “Empfind ich Höllenangst und Pein” from “Ach Gott wie manches Herzeleid,” BWV 3. His sound is rich, though well focused, and its forward placement and leanness allows his voice to move with clarity and flexibility. The text of the aria contrasts fear and pain with heavenly joy—challenging melodic contours for the former, decorative melisma for the latter—and Finley negotiates the whole affective range with ease.
In the liner notes to the recording Gardiner observes that in “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” “Bach reserves his most winning music” for the duet, “Wenn Sorgen auf mich dringen.” We would have immediately reached this conclusion with or without the tip! The buoyant uplift of the rising intervals is memorable, especially when teamed with elegant articulation and expressive decay on long notes, a characteristic care in the details. This is particularly evident in the bass aria “Ächzen und erbärmlich Weinen” from “Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen,” BWV 13. The aria is devoted to groaning and weeping, and Gardiner responds with a mannered degree of slowness in his tempo. The extreme slowness is something of an interpretative gamble, as it raises the risk of tedium, and challenges the performers’ control. However, the degree of nuance by soloist, violin, and recorder keeps the ear closely attuned, and the result is an unusually textured essay on sorrow.
The attention to detail marks these performances as singular, and that attention to detail seems all the more impressive in the circumstances of the Cantata Pilgrimage—a year of new cantatas every week in different venues. This volume, like its companions, thus documents not only the wealth of Bach’s output, but also the rich resources of seasoned historical performers and their inspired leader.