Recently in Recordings
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.
07 Jan 2007
The cover art for the Opus Arts DVD of Wagner's Siegfried, from the Nederlandse Opera in 1999, features Mime, as impersonated by Graham Clark, in amazing make-up and costume: a bald, bulging head almost split down the middle by a furrow of anxiety, and clad in a ghastly green insect-like carapace, including wire-like hair and a bobbing tail-sack.
But that alone doesn't make Clark's Mime worthy of the cover - he simply dominates the performance due to both his own inimitable energy and commitment, and also, unfortunately, due to the lesser success of his colleagues.
Pierre Audi's production, with designs by George Tsypin, can't really be defined by locale or time period. The innovation here is a ramp between the audience and the orchestra, corralled into a modified pit and nearly always visible behind the singers, the musicians' score desks' lights making an eerie backdrop. The conventional stage area comes into play only for a few key moments, such as the awakenings of Fafner and Brunhillde (neither particularly well-staged). Singing on the ramp, before the orchestra, may have had some advantages for the singers. This DVD has refreshingly realistic sound, and all the singers at least seem capable of delivering their individual role's requirements.
Don't expect much more, however. Heinz Kruse takes on the notoriously difficult title role, and vocally, he does a decent job. His tone lacks the heroic glamour Wagner probably wished, and there are times in act one where there seem to be two Mime's on the stage. Out of respect for Kruse's capable performance, your reviewer will not belabor the fact that as a stage presence he is decidedly not the handsome young hero of the libretto.
The cycle's Wotan, John Bröcheler, makes his way through the role without touching any of the many veins of this complex character: tragic, lustful, bombastic, visionary. The final confrontation between the hero Wotan wanted to save his world, and Wotan himself, realizing his world is beyond salvation, is twice-injured: by the singers' lack of inspiration and the clumsy depiction of the spear (here a sort of metal pole hanging from who knows where).
One risky but successful venture has the Forest Bird sung and performed by a boy soprano, Stefan Pangratz. The intonation issues that usually plague such young singers are thankfully absent, and he makes an appealing figure in his brief time on stage. Henk Smit's Alberich, Carsten Stabell's Fafner, and Anne Gjevang's Erda fill out the cast adequately.
And at opera's end, of course, Brunnhilde welcomes the sun (here an enormous bank of lights looking rather like an oversized tanning bed). A beautiful and affecting Sieglinde in the Boulez Walkure from Bayreuth, Jeannnine Altemeyer has the stage charisma to portray Wotan's rebellious daughter. Her passion and fear come across, but when the music asks for ecstasy at a higher level, the tone loses strength. The final duet becomes more a test of endurance, with both singers straining.
But Clark's odious Mime saves the show, clambering, scheming, scampering, and singing with wicked delight. The star of the show gets the cover, quite naturally.