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.
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