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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
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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
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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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
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Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
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Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
29 Sep 2006
VERDI: Un ballo in maschera
Of late opera stagings often seem to be slotted into one of two categories: the "traditional," with sets as the original libretto detailed and singers in period costumes; and "non-traditional," "regie theater," or "Eurotrash," what you will.
The latter ranges from stark, modernistic exercises to over-the-top re-interpretations (such as the recent Berlin "Rigoletto" set on the "Planet of the Apes"). And between these two polar extremes lies a vast wasteland of unexplored territory, melding, one hopes, the best of both a production true to the essence of the opera's story and yet imaginative, evocative, and truly contemporary.
On this global picture of opera stagings, where does this Euroarts DVD of a Leipzig Un ballo in maschera fall? Nowhere. It is not on the same planet. Director Ermanno Olmi and designer Arnaldo Pomodoro appear to operate in their own dimension. "Cloud cuckoo land" would be your reviewer's guess.
The problem lies in the sheer baffling oddness of the production, which doesn't appear to be symbolic or referential. The singers perform as if they are in a traditional production. But where they are, dressed as they are, remains bewildering. After some fairly traditional peasants appear to sing the king's praises, military men appear in oddly cut tunic-jackets, carrying spears. Riccardo wears an upscale, monk-like gunny-sack brown affair, and the unfortunate Renato must perform in a laughable silver-lamè outfit. Court ladies stroll on in gowns with bizarre ruffled sleeves and hoop skirts. The men sport a sort of stiff beret, and the women have fan-like headdresses. The cast tends to move into position and stand stiffly before a painted backdrop of odd metallic slashes and cross-hatches. This is not the Boston of the revised libretto or the Swedish court of the original setting. In fact, it appears to be a cross between The Wizard of Oz and a Star Trek episode.
As odd as the opening act strikes the viewer, the Ulrica episode takes the production down several levels. Her psychic sessions are held in a run-down basement that has spike-like columns piercing through at odd angles. Costumed as an inter-stellar porcupine, Anna Maria Chiuri, a strong Ulrica, is allowed almost no physical movement above the waist, but give her credit - she makes use of some very expressive eyebrows.
For act three, a reasonable facsimile of a room gets wheeled onstage, and when Ricardo appears to sing his aria, he sings from behind a desk in a space beside a wall, on the other side of which Amelia sits despondently. The director and designers deserve credit for that effective idea, but then the ball begins, and the descent into weirdness resumes. With the cast so obviously in "maschera" to begin with, the production team goes for oddly shaped gold-flaked masks of various shapes, including a donut-shaped one for tenor Massimiliano Pisapia (emphasis on the "mass"). After Renato stabs the King (your reviewer expected a ray gun blast), four game dancers lift the hefty singer up and carry him around the ramp of a circular platform, at the top of which Amelia joins him for the final lines. This is not recommended emergency procedure for stabbing victims.
Non-sensical and laughable, the whole affair seems to be a display piece for the set and costuming inspirations of the creators, with no explicable rationale your reviewer could discern.
In the meanwhile, a cast of unfamiliar names gives decent performances. Pisapia has a lot of voice, although the top lacks the security and sheen that would help ameliorate the dulling effect of his unimpressive physique and deportment. Chiara Taigi, a striking woman with a passing resemblance to the slimmed-down Deborah Voigt, tends to get shrieky at the top. Judging her acting in this production would not be fair. Franco Vassallo gets the heartiest response at curtain; he has more even production from bottom to top than the two leads, though the basic instrument is not especially attractive.
The two best singers appear in smaller roles. Eun Yee You makes a charming Oscar, and has some fun with her cheesy ensemble at the end, as she totters around on outsized platform shoes. And the Samuel of Tuomas Pursio impresses with a rich, handsome bass.
The best contribution of the evening comes from conductor Riccardo Chailly and his Leipzig Gewandhausorchester. Verdi could ask no more in terms of energy, impetus, and drama. If only the production didn't work so hard to distract from the musical performance.