08 Feb 2007
Sorry my friends, but this rich-looking DVD has a feature that disqualifies it for me.
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.
Sorry my friends, but this rich-looking DVD has a feature that disqualifies it for me.
It is synchronized and though the singers do very well and open their mouths at the appropriate moment you still pay attention to it and you are unable to forget it during the whole performance as you see the physical challenge of singing is absent. It’s not that I throw away all and everything operatic that is synchronized. I regret it but I’ve still looked spell-bound at Franco Corelli’s Canio of 1954 or Moffo’s Butterfly of a few years later but in those days it was actually quite impossible to broadcast a big opera from small cramped TV studio — though a RAI colleague once told me the real reason for synchronizing was the fact nobody in an Italian TV studio could ever keep his/her mouth shut. By 1982 when this Rigoletto was filmed, camera sensitivity and lighting had proceeded so much that synchronizing was no longer necessary and house broadcasting was the rule. Therefore the real reason of this outmoded operatic TV-movie is the intricate and opulent production by Ponelle. If one didn’t know better one would swear it was by Zeffirelli due to the number of courtiers and the orgy taking place in the first act. Ponelle preferred to take his Piave/Verdi libretto literally. He uses the Gonzaga palace and the city of Mantova as a real life set and designs a very realistic production. It makes for some magnificent sights at first but in the end it is somewhat unsatisfactory as this is the Gonzaga place I and million of tourists know it nowadays; stripped of its pictures by young Pieter Paul Rubens, its tapestries and its murals. The contrast between the fine costumes and the bare walls doesn’t make the sets believable. As always Ponelle had some brilliant ideas like the duke paying off the maid. Photography and camera handling is exemplary and rarely I have watched such a judicious mix of close-ups, medium and panoramic shots. Realism however has a price; one has to do it consequently as otherwise everything results in make-believe and this is what one gets here. During the abduction there is more than light enough for Rigoletto to read a book, even blind-folded. Gualtier Maldé, Gilda’s poor student, looks exactly what he is: the rich duke in one of his less exuberant outfits but still the duke. And Sparafucile succeeds in stabbing Gilda without spilling a drop of blood.
The singers too are not always very believable as actors. Not Pavarotti, who acts very convincingly and whose clothes are a masterpiece of camouflage. But Gruberova doesn’t look very virginal (rather difficult when one has twice the age of an 18-year old girl) or sexy. In a live broadcast in the house every opera fan has no problems when the soprano is a bit too ripe but in a grandiose film one has other expectations and the conventions are different. The vocalizing too has some ripeness problems. Here Gruberova is the best with an exemplary sung Gilda, displaying her formidable technique. Ingvar Wixell however is not suited to the role. The voice lies too high and has no heft in the big outbursts. His is a very lyric baritone, apt for introspection in ‘Pari siamo’ or the first act duet but in ‘Cortigiani, vil razza’ and in the vendetta duet his voice lacks power and rage.
The ‘raison d’être’ of the movie can be deduced from the sleeve portrait: no Rigoletto or Gilda but the duke as the opera is regarded as a vehicle for the star tenor. I think this is for Pavarotti-die-hards only who want to see their hero. He had a career of twenty years behind him when he recorded the sound track and the mellifluousness was slowly going away, leaving us with the rather monochromatic sound of his later days. He is often straining and his top note in ‘Possente amor’ is no longer a thing of beauty and strengt. For the great Pavarotti one has to purchase his famous RAI performance of 1966 (Scotto, Paskalis) or the official Decca recording of 1971. Of course, one would be happy with such a vocal display in any performance one goes to; but Pavarotti here is his own biggest competitor and he loses out to his younger self. Riccardo Chailly and his Vienna Philharmonic assist the singers (recorded prominently) ably though I cannot say he throws a new or very revealing light on the score.