Recently in Recordings
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.
01 Dec 2006
Sweet was the Song
I doubt that this recital disc, recorded in 2004, could have been intended as a memorial to Arne Dorumsgaard, who died in March of 2006, but the composer’s centrality to the program, and the poetic themes of death, sleep, and mortality that recur in the Elizabethan texts, enable such an interpretation.
The recital’s actual theme is Elizabethan poetry as set
by British composers of the period or of the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, all performed by tenor Robert Bracey and pianist Andrew Harley.
The final 15 minutes of the 70-minute program are given over to a performance
of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Four Hymns for Tenor, Piano and
Viola, where they are joined by a fellow member of the University of
North Carolina faculty, violist Scott Rawls.
Within the vocal music world, Dorumsgaard is best known for his 22-volume
Canzone Scordate, sensitive arrangements for voice and piano of a
wide variety of songs that would not otherwise be available to artists in
vocal-piano recitals: European folk songs, old songs in French, Italian, and
German, as well as the songs on this disc, most of which were originally lute
songs by Elizabethan-period composers John Dowland, John Bartlet, and John
Attey. Other artists who have recorded his arrangements include Frederica von
Stade and Gerard Souzay, as well as Kirsten Flagstad, who recorded a recital
of Dorumsgaard’s original songs in Norwegian along with a selection of
his arrangements. (The best source of information on him that I have found
online is his obituary.)
The present disc begins with five settings of Elizabethan poetry by Roger
Quilter, whose skillful settings of the texts and interesting but unobtrusive
accompaniments draw us in and introduce three texts that we will hear again
later in the program: Shakespeare’s “O Mistress Mine” and
“Come away death”, and the anonymous “Weep you no
more”, all of which intertwine the themes of love and death, through
grief for the beloved, grief for oneself at being scorned by the beloved, or
an exhortation to love now as death will come soon enough.
This set is followed by a generous selection of Dorumsgaard’s
arrangements. As the tunes, if not the arrangements, are contemporary with
the poetry itself, this section gives a taste of the musical environment in
which the poets wrote the texts. The difficulty I have with this section is
that there is insufficient contrast among the songs to keep my interest
engaged all the way through. With the exception of the minute given over to
the energetic “What thing is love?” the music is fairly languid.
There are ten English lute song arrangements available in the Canzone
Scordate; the artists present six here, then wisely follow with
Dorumsgaard’s arrangement of Thomas Arne’s eighteenth-century
setting of Shakespeare’s “Come away death”, which adds some
stylistic contrast and eases the transition toward the more modern music.
We re-enter the twentieth century with Eric Thiman’s “The
Silver Swan”, a bird whose song in dying makes the statement
“More Geese than Swans now live—more fools than wise”,
which is curmudgeonly but perhaps fitting as a follow-up to the work of
Dorumsgaard, who gave up original composition and devoted himself to
arrangements of earlier music. As if to emphasize the contrast between the
earlier era and the present, the next song is Gustav Holst’s
“Weep you no more”, a text heard twice before as set by Quilter
and Dowland, but noticeably different from either in Holst’s
Wagner-influenced harmonies. The Germanic influence continues into Ivor
Gurney’s delicately lush setting of “Sleep”, a text which
reappears two songs later in an equally fine setting by Peter Warlock, who
counted among his many musical influences both Roger Quilter and the music of
the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Thus it is fitting that the
Elizabethan-inspired section of the program closes with several more of
Warlock’s songs to Elizabethan texts, finishing with the lively
“As ever I saw”.
By this point in the program, we have spent about 55 minutes hearing a
variety of musical styles unified by the poetry of a single glorious era in
English literature. Bracey sings the songs in an engaged but straightforward
style that doesn’t vary in color much beyond a consistently ringing
timbre that grew a bit tiring for this listener after a while. But when the
sonic landscape opens out with the addition of the viola and the more
triumphant, extroverted music of Vaughan Williams’ 4 Hymns,
Bracey comes into his own. According to the CD booklet, he won first prize in
the Oratorio Society of New York’s Annual International Solo
Competition in 2002, and his skill with that style of music translates well
to this piece, which opens with the two instruments playing at full volume
and the voice cutting through as a triumphant recitative. In the more
meditative second and third songs, the warmth of the viola brings out a
warmth in Bracey’s voice which, if it was there, was not as pronounced
earlier in the recital, when it would have been welcome. An echo of the
triumph of the first song is heard in the concluding “Evening
Hymn” with its evocative ground bass in the piano part of the first and
last verses of the voice, continuing under the viola’s postlude that
gradually fades into quiet as evening falls.
The booklet includes texts of the songs and notes on the composers
represented in the program, as well as biographies of the artists and
publication information on the songs.