20 Feb 2007
MOZART: Die Hochzeit des Figaro
Yes, the German title must be employed for this filmed Nozze en Deutsch from 1967.
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 Magdalena Kožená.
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 archives.
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.
Yes, the German title must be employed for this filmed Nozze en Deutsch from 1967.
That was the year of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Bonnie and Clyde, but the boisterous, iconoclastic mood of those times remains far, far away inside the Hamburg opera house. The cameras capture — in unsubtle color reminiscent of the “coloring” of b&w films by Ted Turner — a handsome, well-directed traditional production. As a snapshot of a typical, but classy, performance of a standard work at a German opera house in a time now long, long ago, this restored DVD makes for a charming treasure.
The charm begins with a “backstage” perspective as a prompter calls for the conductor, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, who offers an avuncular smile as he enters the pit and cues the overture. Cameras then go into the dressing room, briefly catching sight of most of the principals finishing their make-up or tidying their costume. Eventually our Figaro, Heinz Blankenburg (an American, by the way) passes by, and the camera follows him onto the stage, where the curtain rises at the end of the overture and we see a full house ready for the show.
But that is just a director's trick; this is not a performance filmed before a live audience, as the obviously canned applause at the end of each act indicates. The lip-syncing quickly becomes apparent, as well as a “studio echo” heard in forte passages. However, the film director (Joachim Hess) stays true to the essence of a stage performance, with many wide shots that wisely capture the stage action. Because of the opening sequence, the cast and credits roll after the first act.
The cast's winning verve and comfort in their roles trump any regrets about the dated nature of the presentation. While Blankenburg may play up Figaro's hearty good nature a bit much, he makes for a creditable foil to the excellent Count of Tom Krause. This is a classic portrayal, capturing the Count's lust, temper, frustration, awareness of his own bad behavior — and sung impeccably. Cute but not cutesy, Edith Mathis presents an adorable Susanna. Arlene Saunders doesn't quite have the richness of voice to really score in the Countess's big arias, but she acts well. Though Elisabeth Steiner never looks for a moment like a boy as Cherubino, her high spirits carry her through, along with her attractive voice.
Why has Arthaus provided such a hideous graphic design for the cover? A disgusting greenish wallpaper, thankfully unseen in the production, makes a backdrop for b&w photos of the cast, giving an incorrect impression of the film's content. The booklet essay, however, is a model of its kind, with a fine note on the opera, this production, and cast biographies. The subtitles have only one unfortunate misstep, when a character says of the Count that it is “not his wife who wets his appetite.” Kinky.
As the critical cliche goes, this should not be anyone's only DVD of the Mozart-da Ponte masterpiece. For the many, many lovers of this work, however, a lot of enjoyment awaits them inside that unfortunate cover.