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.
28 Aug 2006
POULENC: Figure Humaine and Dialogues des Carmelites
Francis Poulenc is well known for the religious works that comprise much of his oeuvre after he was traumatized by the accidental and premature death of his friend Pierre-Octave Ferroud in 1936.
Although Poulenc (1899 – 1963) had realized in the late 1920s that he was homosexual, the death of Ferroud triggered his return to Catholicism. Despite Poulenc’s renewed commitment to the faith of his childhood, his relationship with religion was a conflicted one. Additionally, Poulenc’s tendency toward intense melancholic emotions was further exacerbated by World War II.
Recently two recordings have been released on CD that feature two of Poulenc’s most highly acclaimed works, each of which reflect themes of religion and war, though the recordings couldn’t be more different from one another. Ponto has released a remastered recording of Dialogues des Carmélites (1953 – 6) performed by the Vienna State Opera on Nov. 8, 1961 under the baton of Berislav Klobucar; and Harmonia Mundi presents several of Poulenc’s works for a cappella choir, including Figure Humaine, performed by the RIAS-Kammerchor conducted by Daniel Reuss.
The Vienna State Opera recording of Dialogues des Carmélites (Die Gespräche der Karmeliterinnen) is a slice of history on a CD. The recording, which includes Emmy Loose as Blanche, Elisabeth Höngen as the old Prioress, Hilda Zadek as the new Prioress, and Christel Goltz as Mother Marie, is a live recording replete with audience noise and applause. The Ponto label, owned by Mitridate, specializes in releasing unique live recordings that are not otherwise available on CD. In this day of digital touching-up and pristine production, it is refreshing to hear artifacts of live performance on a recording. While it is disconcerting to hear Dialogues sung in German instead of French, one need only consider that the opera was premiered in Italian at La Scala to be reminded that “authenticity” in performance is ever unattainable.
The enthusiast will likely be frustrated by the lack of information in the booklet that accompanies the two-CD set. Limited notes on the circumstances of the opera’s composition, a synopsis of the opera, and bios of the lead singers are provided in English by Andrew Palmer. However, the tracks are labeled in only by their German titles, and there is no libretto, in German or otherwise. Furthermore, there is no information on the specific circumstances surrounding this particular production of Dialogues by the Vienna State Opera. The operatic voice fanatic, however, will be delighted to have some of the greatest women to sing at the Vienna State Opera on a single recording. Unfortunately, a cursory search of several major record retailers indicates that this recording may be difficult to track down should one want to purchase it. Mitridate appears to be based in the Netherlands, and only has one distributor listed, also apparently in the Netherlands. [Editor's Note: Ponto is distributed in the U.S. through Qualiton Imports Ltd.]
In contrast, RIAS-Kammerchor’s recording of Figure Humaine and other of Poulenc’s choral works is highly accessible in all senses of the word. Daniel Reuss directs this highly polished performance of Poulenc’s Sept Chansons (1936), Un Soire de Neige (1944), Figure Humaine (1943), Quatre Petites Prières de Sainte Françsis d’Assise (1948), and Chanson à Boire (nd). These performances are simply wonderful: Each piece is sensitively interpreted and beautifully textured. Reuss and his choir do a stunning job of presenting Poulenc in all his seriousness, melancholy, and concern for humanity. The final work is a short coda to the rest of the CD; Chanson à Boire is a drinking song that reveals Poulenc’s more light-hearted and mischievous side.
The album contains brief program notes by Hervé LaCombe that situate Poulenc as a member of Les Six and as a first-class setter of poetic texts. In addition, LaCombe’s notes and all the texts of the songs are included in the booklet in French, English, and German, as well as information on the RIAS-Kammerchor and photos of the choir and Reuss. Paul Eluard’s surrealist poetry was Poulenc’s gateway to recovering his Catholic spirituality, and this debt is apparent in that the first three works on the recording are settings of texts by Eluard (Sept Chansons contains texts by Apollinaire in addition to Eluard). Furthermore—and luckily—the CD is available widely from retailers. Aficionados will appreciate this the new availability of some Poulenc’s music that is not too frequently recorded. Someone who is not familiar with Poulenc’s music will find this recording to be a delightful introduction.
CUNY – The Graduate Center