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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.
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.