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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.
10 Jan 2007
MOZART: Così fan tutte
The booklet essay by Gottfried Kraus (translated from the German by Stewart Spencer) for this TDK release of the 1983 Salzburg Così fan tutte presents an intriguing history of the opera, with the Austrian festival taking in a central role in the work’s return to the standard repertory.
Kraus also suggests that this 1983 production turned out to be the last truly successful one in Salzburg, without detailing why Così fan tuttes since then have failed to find success in his eyes.
Michael Hampe’s handsome production moves quickly, with a white curtain descending for scene changes in acts during recitatives. The muted colors, detailed costumes, and tasteful furnishings give a sense of realism to the goings-on — not necessarily a good thing for this opera with its plot of two sisters in love with two men whom they are unable to recognize when they appear under disguise, to test the women’s virtue in a gambit proposed by the elder, cynical Don Alfonso. However, it is also best not to ham up the comic aspects, as the emotional repercussions of the stupid game begin to cut deeply in act two. Hampe directs intelligently, keeping each moment true to that scene’s shade of the story’s shifting tones (sets and costumes are by Mauro Pagano).
TDK has chosen as its star the conductor, Riccardo Muti. He has a large cover shot on the case, another on the rear (the men are only seen in their “Albanian” disguise, and the Don and Despina the maid, not at all). Open the booklet, and there is Muti again, looking handsome and vaguely satanic, all in black amongst the brilliant red seats of the auditorium. The brisk, emphatic overture reveals the maestro in full control. There may be more tender Mozart, or more majestic, but for detail and precision, Muti is hard to beat.
The cast lacks star glamour, but certainly not talent. The sisters receive strong portrayals from Margaret Marshall (Fiordiligi) and Ann Murray (Dorabella). Each captures the essence of her role (Fiordiligi’s wavering pride and Dorabella’s sensual flightiness). However, a more sumptuous soprano could bring more to Fiordiligi’s music, and as Dorabella, Murray’s dark instrument lays on a certain heaviness.
The “boys” are a youthful, strong James Morris (Guglielmo) and the dependable lyric tenor Francisco Araiza. Morris’s second act solo scene earns him the strongest ovation of the night.
Veteran Sesto Bruscantini so far underplays his character’s cynicism and misanthropy that it becomes unclear why he bothers with his nasty little ploy. At least he does not growl his way through the role, as has been known to happen. And stealing the show every time she appears, Kathleen Battle’s Despina sings and act with charm and wit and most gratefully, allows us a few moments away from the opera’s claustrophobic focus on its leads.
So as essay writer Gottfried Kraus suggests, this traditional production has classical elegance. For those looking for a more contemporary approach, check out the recent Berlin production set in the Swinging Sixties.