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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
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.
21 Jan 2007
CUYÁS: La Fattucchiera
The sleeve notes of this interesting issue state that “ any comparison between La Fattucchiera and Italian bel canto models by Bellini or Donizetti would be too easy though it became commonplace to describe him (= Cuyàs) as the continuator of the school of Bellini.
It would be an error nowadays tot try to equate the two.”
Well, I invite every opera collector to listen to the few bars of orchestral
accompaniment in the first act. I’m fairly sure every one of them will tell me that
this is Norma and I’ve rarely heard such blatant copying of the Sicilian’s score. I
agree willingly that some of the arias and duets seem to have more of a
Donizettean whiff than a Bellinian one but this only proves that Cuyàs’
contemporaries recognized what they heard. This is not to say that the opera is just
uninspired piracy. But a first opera by a 22-year old composer will naturally
follow the examples of his elders. Cuyàs honours all true and tried forms of his
time. Conjuring up evil spirits is done with a nice and lilting waltz which makes
one smile (the witches in Verdi’s Macbeth are truly impressive in comparison).
Some of the joints between musical numbers are often clumsy. On the other hand
the composer succeeds very well in the often long dialogues between singers and
a chorus which has a far bigger role than usual at the time. And I’m glad to say
that Cunyàs knows how to write a tune. It struck me after repeated hearings that
while some of Donizetti’s works on Opera Rara don’t get under your skin,
Cunyàs’ labour does. As he died of tuberculosis at only 22, nobody can be sure he
would have kept his promise but promise it definitely was.
The recording is boosted tremendously by the strong cast though some of the
names will mean next to nothing to a lot of collectors. The best known singer is
tenor José Sempere, a lyric tenor with quite a lot of steel in the voice; not unlike
Alfredro Kraus. Sempere’s sound is a little bit fuller and less nasal. Often he
doesn’t have the older tenor’s sense of style but here he is on his best behaviour
and sings with restraint and power when necessary and his high notes ring out.
Ofèlia Sala is a splendid sure-footed Ismalia, technically astute in her coloratura
with only an acid hint at the top of the voice. Claudia Marchi as the witch shows
off a high and rich mezzo while Simon Orfila offers a full bass-baritone. Even
Javier Franco as the second baritone has the necessary volume and voice needed
for the role; often rare in such almost world premières where record companies
(witness Bongiovanni) have to accept less talented singers willing to learn a role
for just one or two performances. Josep Pons conducts the able orchestra of the
Barcelona Liceu and he is rhythmically alert and gives a nice flow to the music,
nicely skating over some of the crudities of some entries and exits.
It’s a pity that the recording, magnificently presented as a small book, is marred by
carelessness in the sleeve notes which are so important for a completely unknown
opera. I know of more than one collector who buys every Opera Rara issue just for
the wonderful notes. Cunyàs is not helped by just 20 lines of biography which
moreover are mistakenly printed twice in Spanish instead of English. The libretto
is in Italian only and one sorely misses a page with track information (nor is there
a hint in the libretto to tell one where a new track starts). And there should at least
have been a small line for non-Italian speakers telling them that La Fattucchiera
means fortune-teller. A pity, as every lover of the bel canto age will enjoy the