Recently in Recordings
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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
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.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
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.
28 Dec 2006
MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov
One of the best opera DVDs released in 2006 was the Salzburg La Traviata, with Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko able to make full use of their vocal charisma and acting skills in Willy Decker's sharp, sexy production.
Now TDK has released another fine Decker effort, Boris Godunov, with sets and costumes designed by John MacFarlane. Recorded in October 2004 at the Liceu in Barcelona, the staging displays all of Decker's strengths, from the preference for contemporary costumes and a spare set with a few well-chosen props to, most importantly, a great talent for dramatic, involving stage movement.
In a short pantomime as the opera begins, the son of Tsar Ivan, Dmitri, plays with a crown as he sits on the frame of a huge, over-turned golden chair. Three sinister men approach him, surround him, and leave his murdered body on the ground, as the chorus streams in from the rear to call for Boris to take the throne. That huge chair dominates the action in most scenes, carried in and out, sometimes with Boris astride it. Decker also uses painted images of Dmitri as a constant reminder of the guilt secret behind Boris's rise to power. Decker manages to employ these devices without making overt, symbolic statements - the images truly highlight the action, rather than simply interpret it. The resulting effect makes the drama all the more involving, where a more plush, traditional approach can distance some audiences from the story.
Matti Salminen surely deserves a showcase performance opportunity such as this opera provides. A strong, commanding bass, he is also an imposing stage presence, never overplaying but always finding the heart of each moment. The roar of respect and affection at his solo curtain call shows that the Barcelona audience knew what a great singer had just performed for them.
Among the more well-known members of the strong supporting cast, special commendation must go to the wonderfully slimy Shuisky of Philip Langridge, Eric Halfvarson's conflicted Pimen, and Brian Asawa's amazingly effective Fyodor (Boris's adolescent son). Tenor Pär Lindskog makes an impressive contribution as the Pretender who claims to be Dmitri.
The production uses Mussorgsky's first version, with no intermission. Conductor Sebastian Weigle revels in the raw power of the composer's scoring, sometimes letting it ride over the singers.
Decker takes the work seriously, as a story that resonates with a contemporary audience, and that may be the greatest tribute that can be paid to Mussorgsky's masterwork. Visually entrancing and nobly sung, this Boris Godunov also ranks as one of the best of 2006. And those who want more of Matti Salminen after viewing this DVD are urged to view his devastating work in Einojuhani Rautavaara's Rasputin, also available on DVD.