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?
21 Mar 2007
Große Opernchöre — Great Opera Choirs
In setting the scene or furthering the action on stage, the opera chorus often provides some
memorable aural scenery in works by composers from Claudio Monteverdi to Arnold
Schoenberg, and this collection offers a representative selection of examples from both those
composers, and well as a number of others. Recorded on 14 January 2004, this concert of the
Stuttgart Staatsopernchor and Staatsorchester offered a program devoted to memorable choruses.
The selection offered here is as diverse as the function of the chorus in the works represented,
and this points to the demanding role the chorus has in this genre.
Audiences may be familiar with the version of Borodin’s “Polevtsian Dances” from Prince Igor
in its orchestral form, but the music properly belongs to the chorus, who commands the stage for
the quarter hour of this scene. As an opening number in this compilation, it is impressive for the
stylistic demands placed on the ensemble, and the skill of the Stuttgart group offers a convincing
reading of this work. Full of the exoticism found in modal passages, spare and unusual scorings,
percussive interludes, and other sound effects. To these sounds the choral forces contribute their
own particular colors as Borodin juxtaposed men’s and women’s voices, contrasted smaller
ensembles with larger ones, and otherwise manipulated the chorus just as he deftly scored the
Some of the choruses are well known enough to have taken on a life of their own, as is the case
with the “Triumphal March” from Verdi’s Aida, and its performance here conveys majesty
without ostentation. Schrottner offers a crisp reading and avoids indulging the cliches that can
mar the piece. As with the excerpt from Prince Igor, Verdi scored the chorus with a variety of
colors to suggest the various groups enslaved by the Egyptian pharaoh, and the vocal timbres that
the Staatsopernchor brings to the piece are varied sufficiently to create such a sonic tableau.
Other choruses can be more atmospheric, as with the one from Pagliacci, “Andiam, andiam,”
which often blends into the staging of Leoncavallo’s opera. Performed apart from Pagliacci, this
chorus is effective by itself, and resembles in some ways the famous chorus from Mascagni’s
Cavalleria Rusticana with its nuanced choral scene-painting. It is an excellent choice for a
concert of opera choruses because of the rare occasions when this excerpt from Pagliacci is
heard on its own. Likewise, it is a pleasure to encounter the chorus “Wo ist Moses?” from
Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron on this recording. A satisfying excerpt on its own merits, its
presence here calls attention to the role the chorus has in that opera. Similarly, the chorus of
nymphs and shepherds from Monteverdi’s Orfeo is a fine choice, which represents some of the
earliest efforts to include the chorus in the genre. Balancing some of the more familiar choral
excerpts, these latter two are worth hearing separately, so that audiences can appreciate their
character and which, in turn, adds to the depth of the operas to which each belongs.
Such ensembles can function as characters in their own rite, as with the chorus of exiles from
Verdi’s Macbeth or the Russian people in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. With the latter, the
Stuttgart chorus is highly effective in creating the dramatic tension required in the prologue. The
famous “Coronation Scene” requires a strong chorus to set the scene, and this performance offers
a fine reading of Mussorgsky’s score. Its dark colors reflect the Russian populace well, just as the
lower female voices needed in the first-act “Witches’ Chorus” from Verdi’s Macbeth is
appropriately dark in its execution. A well-known excerpt, it is a fine example that uses
exclusively women’s voices.
The performance is exemplary, and the recording suggests studio quality, with audience and
stages sounds virtually imperceptible. Yet after the last track, the enthusiastic applause shows
that this was recorded live and benefitted from the dynamism that arises when an audience is
present. The chorus involved certainly would know how to react to the situation, and they carry
themselves with elan and intensity. As much as recordings of opera choruses can sometimes,
blur, this particular recording contains some fine choices that are not often encountered.
James L. Zychowicz