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.
21 Feb 2007
Victoria de los Angeles performs Ravel, Debussy & Duparc
Carmen was one of Victoria de los Angeles’ favorite roles and she brought to it much that we
hear on this recording of French songs: a winsome voice without heavy vibrato, a close attention to musical detail, and an evident understanding of the French words that she conveys, if not with an impeccable accent, at least with a convincingly understandable pronunciation.
As a Spanish
singer in a French opera set in Spain, her interpretation had an organic integrity that added
authenticity to the operatic visit to her home country.
We enjoy a similar musical voyage on this EMI re-release of songs by Ravel, Debussy and
Duparc. The Ravel songs provide an ethnic travelogue in Tristan Klingsor’s fantastic text to
Shéhérazade and in actual ethnic songs from around the Mediterranean region in the Cinq
Mélodies Populaires Grecques, the Chants Populaires, and the Deux Mélodies Hébraïques. The
Debussy songs provide imaginary time travel to the worlds of Watteau paintings in the Fêtes
Galantes and to an imaginary ancient Greece in the Chansons de Bilitis. The Debussy songs and
the Ravel Chants Populaires are accompanied by Gonzalo Soriano on the piano; the rest have
These songs were recorded in 1963 and 1967 when the singer was in her prime vocally and we
hear none of the roughness that crept in as financial concerns caused her to extend her career.
Still, it has to be acknowledged that in the upper registers, her voice, while retaining a beautiful
purity, does not really blossom. Thus the sound that transports some listeners does not excite
everyone. To my ear, this pure tone works very well in most of this repertoire. Ravel’s ethnic
songs have a directness from which a heavier vibrato would detract. Thus the Chants
Populaires, infrequently recorded, are very successful. The ubiquitous Cinq Mélodies
Populaires Grecques bring out the endearing warmth of her personality, but the orchestral
accompaniment, while adding color, perhaps makes a bigger production of these songs than they
should have (only two of the orchestrations are by Ravel himself). The Deux Mélodies
Hébraïques are simple and, especially in the case of the Kaddisch, worshipful. A quick
comparison with Cecilia Bartoli’s performance of these songs and the Chants Populaires on her
1996 Chant d’Amour disc shows Bartoli having a richer sound but less clearly understandable
texts. Bartoli also sings these songs in Hebrew rather than French, and noticeably modifies her
voice to sound childlike in the son’s section of the dialogue in the Chanson Hebraïque.
There is also much to like in De los Angeles’s performance of the Debussy songs. Again, the
purity and containment of her vocal sound bring out the ironic detachment as well as the charm
of the Fêtes Galantes set. Her performance of the Chansons de Bilitis beautifully evokes what
Graham Johnson calls their “Delphic spirituality”, where the eroticism is “veiled, understated,
and under-age”. Her ability to sound vulnerable while using her whole voice draws us into the
heart of the young woman encountering the birth, consummation and death of erotic passion.
Again, one can compare with more recent performances. Dawn Upshaw on her 2004 Voices of
Light presents a more sharply defined emotional range: more intensely passionate in “La
Chevelure,” while backing off the (already fairly transparent) sound to sound more childlike in
places. By contrast, René Fleming on her 2001 Night Songs has a less focused sound with more
pronounced legato than either of the others. There is more shimmer in the higher registers, but
less personality in the interpretation. De los Angeles’s final Debussy song is the troubled “Noël
des enfants qui n’ont plus de maison”, written by the aged Debussy in horror at the devastation of
World War I. Again, De los Angeles’s sincerity and pure timbre allow her to sing unaffectedly
as one of the displaced children regretting the loss of “our little beds” (as well as the rest of their
villages, families, and daily lives).
It is in the Ravel Shéhérazade, and the orchestrated Duparc songs that admirers of a richer
sounding voice may be disappointed in this program. In the expansive “Asie”, which opens the
entire disc and describes a fantasy voyage across the continent, exploring every dark nook and
cranny before returning home to tell one’s friends about it, the changing colors of the travelogue
are heard in the orchestra rather than in the singer’s voice. However, the two more intimate
songs that follow are quite effective, particularly when one takes into account that they both deal
with erotic passion that under the circumstances cannot or will not be pursued, so the singer’s
contained sound works well.
There is no faulting de los Angeles’s emotion, musicality or technique in the Duparc songs that
close the disc. Duparc himself might object to the performance, since he apparently was annoyed
to hear a woman’s voice sing a man’s song. And of course, those who are drawn to Duparc
among French composers because he is more like their real love, Wagner, than many others, will
want to hear a bigger vocal sound than de los Angeles offers. Nevertheless, she does bring off
the intimacy of the opening of “Phydilé” very well, and when the sonic landscape opens out in
the climax, she is able to fill it effectively without pushing her voice, reminding us once again of
her very successful operatic career.
It should be noted that this disc, released as part of EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century”
series, has been completely remastered at Abbey Road studios. Fans of Victoria de los Angeles
should know that all of these performances are also available on the multi-disc set entitled The
Fabulous Victoria de los Angeles. Since I had that set already, I compared some of the tracks on
my own equipment and that of my audiophile brother-in-law, and he and I both agreed that her
middle voice in particular is better captured on the older discs, so I wouldn’t advise buying this
disc if you have the older set, or are enough of a fan to consider acquiring it (last I checked it’s
still available). The new release includes a 2006 essay by John Steane (in English and in German
translation) discussing the songs and the singer, as well as texts and German and English
translations of the songs.