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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.
12 Jan 2007
Le Donne di Puccini
The recording date is given as November the 12th 1994. Since recording sessions usually last more than one day, and as a radio orchestra is playing, we may safely assume this CD to be derived from a public broadcasted concert by the ‘4 sopranos’ capitalizing on the concept made popular by Domingo, Carreras, and Pavarotti.
Though no mention is made of an anniversary tribute, it can be no coincidence the concert almost exactly takes place 70 years after the composer’s death in Elsene (one of the separate municipalities which make up the Brussels metropolis).
The trouble with this kind of collection is the harsh reality that most opera lovers nowadays admire and recognize Puccini’s genius while at the same time feeling slightly bored by the umpteenth recorded version of “Vissi d’arte”. After having listened 130 times to “Nessun dorma” for an article on the aria, I experienced a myriad of responses, as I had forgotten this one or that one, and together with new acquisitions there must be more than 160 tenors who have recorded the aria. I’ve never wanted to repeat that experience but most collectors will inevitably compare Gruberova and company with all the legendary recordings to be found in most opera lovers’ collections. I readily believe a live audience still can have fun with such a Puccini concert but on CD, the challenges are so much bigger as a recording is theoretically meant for eternity.
Gabriela Benackova opens the show and after having listened to the whole CD it can firmly be stated that she is the best suited to this kind of music, as she has the warm enveloping sound necessary. She has the good idea to open with the less hackneyed “Addio, addio mio dolce amor” from Edgar; the one aria sung at the composer’s burial by the formidable Hina Spani. Benackova is a match for Scotto and Varady and a lot of other Puccinians who have recorded the piece. In Manon Lescaut, however, she cannot hide her frayed top which becomes a yell at the high C. Her vocal means nevertheless outdistance Eva Marton’s efforts. By 1994 the Hungarian soprano was still the possessor of a very large voice though the amount of decibels was no longer marked by beauty of sound. In “Vissi d’arte” she is clearly short of breath; in “Tu, tu, piccolo iddio” she flattens and sings shrilly. Strangely enough, she is at her disciplined best in Angelica’s “Senza mamma,” a role one doesn’t associate with Marton. The other big voice, Gwyneth Jones, carefully husbands her voice in “Laggiù nel Soledad”, singing light on the breath and with the infamous wobble not very obtrusive. “In questa reggia” is even steady though she never had a very distinct vocal personality. It’s only in the ‘tre enigmi’ part of the aria she goes wrong and finishes the aria with a painfully flat note, honestly recorded and not smoothed away but maybe not the best way to conclude a CD.
I’ve left discussion of Gruberova for the last (as this is her own label) and Puccini isn’t the repertoire she is known for. I was quite surprised as she is excellent in every aria she sings. The sound has more vibrato and colour than usual (the voice was often not kissed by the mike as her volume is far bigger than one assumes from some recordings). Moreover she can easily float her voice in such pieces as Doretta’s dream or Liu’s request to Kalaf. She is not a real rival for young Price’s ‘blue’ recital but she is a good contender. Of course she gets the “Babbino caro” in this concert and here she is very convincing as well though on record she must give place to De los Angeles or Te Kanawa. The late Garcia Navarro is a good accompanist though it is clear (very clear indeed with Gruberova) that on such a night the sopranos decide the tempi and the conductor courteously indulges them.