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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
In making words sing, to use a phrase from a recent study of the poetics of vocal composition, Aribert Reimann (b. 1936) does not emulate another composer as much as he makes fashions his own lines and punctuates them with accompaniments that serve as a means of accentuating the text.
Thus, without a point of reference that links him to another composer, be it Schumann, Mahler, Wolf, Strauss, or anyone else, Reimann’s Lieder may seem from that perspective to be excessively modern. Yet the attention he has given to the texts appears in the music. It is as though he makes the words sing by allowing the text to be presented clearly. While this is apparent in his Nachtstück I (1966) and Nachtstück II (1978), both settings of poetry by Joseph von Eichendorff, it is paramount in Engführung (1967) with texts by Paul Celan and his set of Six Poems by Sylvia Plath (1975). More importantly, the interpretations of the music found on this record also bear the imprimatur of the composer himself, who accompanied the singers in the performances recorded on March 1968, June 1973 and December 1981.
Of the music included on this recording, the first set of Nachtstück is, perhaps, the most accessible. Those unfamiliar with the vocal work of Reimann may want to start with the opening of the cycle (“Wir ziehen treulich auf die Wacht”) which contains some evocative sonorities in the piano. While the sounds can be discussed in terms of noctural images, they also convey a sense of the sound-world that Reimann used in this song and, in a sense extends through the five pieces in this work. It is difficult to imagine a more authentic interpretation, with the composer himself accompanying Barry McDaniel, who delivers the music convincingly. In fact, McDaniel makes this work particularly engaging, with his supple approach to the melismatic passages that Reimann uses to accentuate some parts of the text. In this and other pieces, the vocal line and its accompaniment can seem be conceived at odds, and yet the stylistic fingerprint of Reimann emerges in such contrasting textures. While all the songs in this set have something to recommend, the third setting “Vor dem Schloss in den Bäumen” is a tour-de-force for ensemble in its intricate rhythms and, at times, unexpected entrances by either the voice or piano.
Likewise, Reimann’s second set of Eichendoff settings, those that comprise Nachtstück II, are stylistically connected the first ones, even with the two works separated by over a decade at a critical time in the composer’s life, when he was working on his remarkable opera Lear. The first song in the second collection (“Nachts”) is notable for its extended melismatic passages which betray a creative use of modal patterns that are, at times, at odds with the atonal accompaniment. “Der Umgekehrende,” the second piece in the cycle involves some sustained passages in the vocal line that make it seem as an accompaniment to the florid piano writing. The other songs are of interest, particularly “Trost,” with its engaging accompaniment and sometimes declamatory presentation of the vocal line. The sustained emotion of the final song makes it seem like a scena for voice and piano, with its elegiac setting of a Rückert-like text by Eichendorff.
While songs with texts by Eichendorff seem to be a convention of Lieder, especially those by a German composer, it is less usual to find settings of modern poets, especially the verse of Sylvia Plath. Reimann found inspiration in her collection of verse entitled Ariel, which was already esteemed at the time this piece received its pemere. As pointed as poems by Rilke, these poems by Plath are multidimensional as texts alone. It is difficult to imagine them set to music, and it may be that the choice may have caused Reimann to use a different, more abstract approach to the Plath poems than occurs in the Eichendorff settings. If lyricism is evident in the Eichendorff cycle, a kind of post-modern expressionism characterizes the Plath songs. It is laudable that Reimann set the original English-language verses, which emerge clearly enough in the American singer Catherine Gayer’s impassioned delivery of some of Plath’s most intensive poetry. It is difficult not to associate Plath’s life from her work, especially when the subjects of mortality and self-identity are part of the texts.
With Engführung, Reimann drew on Paul Celan’s longer poetry, and in setting it created a structure that reflects the intensity of a solo cantata. Unlike the kinds of set pieces that are often used within the framework of a song cycle, Reimann sustained the mood of the piece in a demanding work for tenor and piano. The venerable Swiss musician Ernst Haefliger gave a moving account of the piece that is preserved in this compilation.
These are not the only Lieder by Riemann available from Orfeo, which has released another CD of the composer’s vocal works. Both recordings of Reimann’s music are part of a series of issues of twentieth-century vocal music by such composers as Sergei Prokofiev, Karol Szymanowski, Anton von Verbern, Wolfgang Rihm, and others. By choosing such convincing performances as those preserved on this CD, Orfeo has preserved some fine interpretations that are difficult to equal.
James L. Zychowicz