Recently in Recordings
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
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’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.
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?
27 Feb 2007
As familiar Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser is, the opera benefits from solid performances that bring together fine singing, exquisite orchestral playing, and effective staging, and the Metropolitan Opera’s 1982 production conducted by James Levine gave audiences an exemplary performance that remains a touchstone for this work.
At the time this production was staged, reviews called attention to the quality of this particular effort on the part of the Metropolitan Opera and the leadership of James Levine. Based on performances given on 22 November and 20
December 1982 for a broadcast of “Live from the Met,” this 2006 DVD release demonstrates the
lasting power of this production of the Paris version of Wagner’s opera.
A tradition staging, akin to the Met’s famous broadcast and, later, DVD release of Wagner’s
Ring der Nibelungen, this production is faithful to the conventional treatment of the text as a
fully medieval tale, albeit, the medievalism that Wagner brought to the public. Eschewing
avant-garde theatrics and abstract imagery, the qualities of this production reside in the
faithfulness to the traditional settings associated with the opera, including the colors and shading
that bring the work to life on stage and in the imagination of the audience. The famous opening
scene in Venusberg benefits from the choreography that points to the sensuality the composer
intended, without necessarily indulging in excessive display. With the orchestral playing
underscoring the scene, it serves as a fitting introduction to the opening exchange between
Tannhäuser, as portrayed by the American tenor Richard Cassilly, and Venus, sung here by the
late Tatiana Troyanos. The reviews of the time praised Cassily for his fine sense of drama, and
this video preserves his nuanced performance, as well as Troyanos’s elegant and compelling
depiction of Venus. The two performers clearly worked well together, both vocally and
dramatically, with body language that reinforces the meaning of the text of the emotion of the
music in this Otto Schenk production.
After immersing the audience and performers in the seductive world of Venusberg in the opening
of the first act, the transformation to a stark countryside demonstrates the gulf between those
world. The chorale-lilke hymn of pilgrims awakens Tannhäuser in the real work, with the choral
textures flawlessly underscoring the scene. As traditional as this staging is, the flawless execution
demonstrates how effective such a setting can be.
The staging gives way in the second act to the German court, the staging recreates in tableau the
kinds of images found in illustrations from the period, and it is this sense of an authentic setting
that conveys the artistic space for the performers to make the work come alive. Playing off the
greeting of Venus at the beginning of the opera, Wagner’s overt parallelism is having the
Christian Elizabeth welcome everyone to the German court, and Eva Marton conveys an elegant
presence that stands alongside her other opera roles (notably a stunning Turandot from the Met,
also available on DVD). Marton’s vocal coloring helps to delineate her character. The overt
welcoming of “Dich, teure Halle” shifts to a more personal tone as Elizabeth interacts with
Tannhäuser and defends him. Yet her interpretation of the extended prayer scene in the third act
is even more impassioned in its parallel of the intensity that Troyanos brings to her sensual
interpretation of Venus.
As Wolfram von Eschenbach, Bernd Weikl is quite effective, with a ringing baritone sound that
plays off Cassily’s tenor. Yet the extended “Blick’ ich umher” shows Weikl’s commanding
vocality that anticipates his fine work in the third act. John Macurdy is a solid Landgraf, with
proper stage presence, and the other men fit well the court that Wagner created in what becomes
essentially a morality play in the final act. While the third act maintains the traditional staging of
the opera in its medieval trappings, the interpretation diverges a bit. Levine focuses on the more
recitative-like exchanges in the third act, which contrast pointedly the more isolated lyricism
“Song to the Evening Star” of Wolfram and Elizabeth’s “Allmächt’ge Jungfrau.” The dramaturgy
verges, at times, to expressionist images, as the closeups on Cassilly point to a Tannhäuser on the
edge of reality. This sets up the dénouement, which resolves the conflict implicit in the story, as
pure and sacred love redeem the more self-directed hedonism that attracted Tannhäuser almost to
the end. Wolfram is an agent of salvation, and Weikl acts well with Cassilly in bring out the
inner struggle that essentially involves both of them.
It is a triumphant presentation that is captured well on for television and preserved here on DVD.
The limitations that exist with filming opera on stage are mitigated by varying camera angles and
a careful selection of long shots and close ups. At times the production captures the intimacy of
the stage in ways that would be difficult to see from the audience’s perspective. A quarter century
after its presentation on stage and subsequent broadcast, this Met performance remains
compelling for musical, dramatic, and scenic qualities that coalesce here. The final bows seem all
to swift for such an impressive production, and it calls to mind the late evenings that typified
many productions of “Live from the Met.”
The two-DVD set is accompanied by a useful booklet that includes a detailed listing of the
tracks, along with a synopsis of the scenes. It does not include a full libretto, but the text is
readily available. In terms of presentation, the DVD is appropriate to an international audience
with subtitles available in German, French, English, Castillian Spanish, and Chinese. The sound
allows for DTS and Dolby Digital. Not listed in the booklet are the bonuses found on the DVD,
which include a photo gallery that documents the continuing presence of Tannhäuser in the
repertoire of the Met. (The other bonus is an extensive set of excerpts from Deutsche
Grammophon’s DVD of the Patrice Chereau’s Ring for Bayreuth, and it is unfortunate that space
was not devoted to the Met’s Ring, also available on the same label.) As a whole, this DVD
presents a solid production of Tannhäuser that bears repeated viewings.