Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Bernarda Fink Sings Mahler Lieder

Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Hänsel und Gretel

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.

Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

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

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.

Amore e Tormento

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.’ 

Rivals—Arias for Farinelli & Co.

In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi. 

Verdi at the Old MET

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.

Italo Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre re

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. 

Così fan tutte from DG

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. 

Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber

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.

Adriana Lecouvreur from Decca

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.

Lawrence Brownlee’s Spiritual Sketches

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.

Great Wagner Conductors from DG

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.

Great Wagner Singers from DG

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.

Adding Movie Magic to The Magic Flute

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?

L’Incoronazione di Poppea from Virgin Classics

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. 

Saverio Mercadante: I due Figaro

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.

Christian Thielemann’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

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. 

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Victoria de los Angeles performs Ravel, Debussy & Duparc
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.

Victoria de los Angeles performs Ravel, Debussy & Duparc

Victoria de los Angeles, soprano, Gonzalo Soriano, piano, Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Georges Prêtre

EMI Classics 0094634582421 (Angel); 0094634582124 (Dog and Trumpet) 0094634582155 (Digital) [CD]

$11.99  Click to buy

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 orchestral accompaniment.

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.

Barbara Miller

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):