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.
26 Feb 2007
Cori Spezzati: Venetian Polychoral Music
If there ever was a moment where architecture and music became passionately tied to one another, it would be when the polychoral music of the 16th century was tied to St. Mark’s
cathedral in Venice.
By placing choral members in various positions across the chapel, the
western choir leaders created the first ‘surround sound’ experience. Cori Spezzati or, “Divided
Chorus” was the method in which this polychoral music was positioned across the chapel to
create such a spellbinding effect. Of all composers working in this genre, Giovanni Gabrieli
seemed most capable of creating such magic. This method rooted itself in Venice partially with
thanks to St Marks Cathedrals choirmaster and composer Adrian Willaert. He formed the
connective tissue between post-Josquin De Prez composition and what we now hear on this
masterful compact disc presented to us by the Chamber Choir of Europe.
This recording, also offered as a Super Audio CD, displays the composers who flourished under
the Venetian School established by Willaert. The Chamber Choir of Europe presents us with a
dazzling performance centered on the secular madrigal and sacred works of Andrea and Giovanni
Gabrieli and Claudio Merulo. Performances of pieces by Andrea Gabrieli, who studied under
Willaert, provide a link from the Franco-Netherlandish style to a later style typical of Venetian
polychoral music, exemplified by his nephew, Giovanni.
Listening to these transitions, we can be thankful that Giovanni kept copious records of his
uncle’s work. He kept a scrupulous eye on the past, but Giovanni was an innovator for his time,
and even when compared to his uncle. Andrea’s “Alla battaaglia” or “A le guancie de rose” are
simple, direct and uncomplicated compared to Giovanni’s “Amor dove mi guidi” which employs
three four-part choirs. Even Giovanni’s “Kyrie eleison” a massive sounding call and response
between choirs - showcases a change in composition and choir organization from Andrea’s
Giovanni is surely the cinemascopic composer of the Venetian school of polyphonic vocal music
on this disc. His madrigals show a quality and complexity that the other composers featured on
“Cori Spezzati” lack. However, Willaert, who played such an integral part in this genre, seems
shortchanged with merely one minuscule yet scintillating piece, “Oh bene mio.” The listener will
benefit from hearing this piece; not only does it refer to the root of the art form of the madrigal,
but one can follow its evolution by listening to Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli afterward.
“Cori Spezzati” makes a curious inclusion of three composers from outside of the Venetian
school, sent by their kings to study with Giovanni Gabrieli, master his style and return to their
respective countries with their own version of the polychoral music of Venice in hand. Still, the
madrigals of Johann Grabbe, Hans Nielson and Mogens Perdersøn do serve more than historical
interest. Grabbe’s “Cor Mio” and Nielson’s “Deh dolce anima” sound slightly more dark and
brooding than Giovanni’s preceding, “Alma cortee s’e bella”. They lack the intensity and
elaborations either Gabrieli. But their presence on this album brings the listener a wider scope
and variety of the mid-sixteenth century’s polychoral spectrum.
“Cori Spezzati” is an exquisite recording. The Chamber Choir of Europe perform near flawlessly
and offer the listener a world of stereoscopic sound and vocal beauty. Only the mostly-English
liner notes pose a problem; they lyrics are translated into German. But language should not deter
one from hearing a piece such as Giovanni’s “Kyrie eleison”, whose vocals spiral to the heavens
and almost echo or cascade off of one another. The beauty of this piece and others on “Cori
Spezzati” is as impressive and miraculous as Saint Marks itself.