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.
10 Jan 2007
MARTINŮ: Peach Blossom; The Orphan and Other Songs
The artsong in the twentieth century benefits from the efforts of national composers, like Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959), who stimulated the genre by incorporating regional folk elements into their music.
While Martinů had composed over a hundred songs around 1910, those remain unpublished and do not represent his efforts in this area of composition as the works he composed later, in the 1930s and early 1940s, when he composed many of the works recorded on this CD. In contrast to his earlier music, Martinů had already turned to folk music for his inspiration, and without entirely abandoning entirely some of the stylistic traits as French music, which had been a force in his creative life, he infused his efforts with ideas found in his native Bohemian folk tradition. Almost the domain of cognoscenti of solo vocal music, this recording brings Martinů’s efforts in this area to a wider audience in a single CD that offers a representative selection of his music in this style.
The various songs in this recording date from around 1930–1942, when Martinů indulged in song writing. While some of the songs used texts translated into Czech from other languages, most of the pieces are based on Czech poetry, either from collections of verse or found with folk songs. Some songs are from collections of two or three pieces, while others, like the 1942 collection Nový Špalíček (New Anthology), based on specifically Moravian texts, are more extensive. Two of the pieces derive from a larger work, Hry o Marii (1935), the so-called Miracles of Mary that is included in work-lists with Martinů’s sixteen operas.
As to the music itself, it is difficult not to find the works engaging musically. Sometimes the overt simplicity is captures the folk idiom well, while elsewhere the speech rhythms urge the listener to pay attention to the text and what is being said. The rhythms are, at times, reminiscent of those found in Janáček’s late vocal works. The interplay between vocal line and accompaniment is critical, and an excellent example of this may be found in Martinů’s setting of Guillaume Apolinaire’s Saltimbanques, a playful piece in which the music fits well into the title of the piece that involves tumblers — acrobats, as the musicologist Geoffrey Chew, the translator of the text in the accompanying booklet has it.
In fact, it is useful for those interested to listen to the music with the texts in hand, so as not to miss any of the nuances of the pieces that are found in the texts. While some recent Naxos recordings include just a URL to texts and translations at its website, this particular recording includes all of them in the booklet that accompanies the CD. To understand the composer’s intentions in these pieces, it is important to listen to the music with the texts in hand. Without suggesting anything obscure or otherwise pejorative about the music, the works require such close reading because they are hardly as familiar to modern audiences as the more standard Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler, and Strauss, and thus require more effort to listen to Martinů’s well-crafted settings as the music of those other composers, whose text are relatively more familiar. This is not to suggest anything arcane or remote about the music, which is in itself quite effective.
The performances of Olga Černá and Jitka Čechová demonstrate their familiarity with the music. As a native speaker, Černá brings nuances to the performances that others simply cannot convey, and her readings are engaging for the inflections she offers that go beyond the literal meaning of the texts. Likewise, the accompaniments benefit from the approach Čechová has taken in executing it well. While the music may be, at time, simple sound, its qualities stem from the clear articulations and chiseled rhythms that Čechová brings to all of the pieces. Her strengths are apparent throughout the recording, and are all the more appealing in the solo passages that allow her move out of the role of accompanist and take on the solo part. At the same time Černá’s fine voice deserves to be heard in other music, including works by Janáček, because of her sensitivity to the language, and element that is almost necessary for the effective performance of Smetana’s operas.
While Martinů’s reputation rests mainly on instrumental music, the vocal works reveal of different side of his art. Like the operas that are part of his compositional legacy, the songs deserve attention, and it is good to know that the International Bohuslav Martinů Society and the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation sponsored the performanced and supported the production of this CD that brings to light a fine selection of songs by this Czech composer. While this selection is just under and hour in duration, it serves well in bringing to light a further development of the artsong in the hands of one of the finest exponents of Czech music in the twentieth century.
James L. Zychowicz