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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.
08 Mar 2007
WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Recorded between 18 and 29 June 1984 at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, this production of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nűrnberg makes a classic presentation of the opera available in a two-DVD set issued in 2006 by Deutsche Grammophon.
As a televised production, the
overture lacks the usual audience shots or pans over the orchestra. Instead, the period line
drawings of Nűrnberg, along with maps of the city, offer a departure that also maintains the
visual interest. Unlike some other operas released by Deutsche Grammophon, this performance
was made for television and, as such, represents a studio recording rather than the kind of live
stage performance broadcast on "Live from the Met" or other, similar means. As such, the visual
aspect of the performance is quite effective, with lighting and angles responsive to the studio
used for the recording. That stated, the ambiance is not as full as can occur in a conventional
opera house, where a level of resonance adds to the overall effect.
That aside, the staging is by Wolfgang Wagner, who also directed the production, which included
an essentially all-star cast. The principals are, for the most part familiar names and voices, and
there is no question about the talented musicians involved with this particular Meistersinger.
Since this performance was recorded over two decades ago, some of the then-new singers have
become familiar to many audiences, and the choices seem well-thought. One anomaly, though,
occurs with the character of Hans Sachs. It is customary to encounter relatively young performers
cast in the roles of David and Walther, but the choice of then-young Bernd Weikl as Hans Sachs
contributed a new and effective dynamic to this recording.
Much can be said, though, for the attention to detail that emerges in a filmed production like this
one. Conducted by the durable Horst Stein, it is a solid performance that delivers the score
without any surprising or idiosyncratic interpretations. At the core of this production is Hans
Sachs, whose humanity precipitates the resolution of the drama, and Weikl has created
memorable interpretation. His rich, supple tone is consistently present, as he anchors the fine cast
from the opening through the end. He clearly knows the role, both vocally and dramatically, with
gestures and body language that are fully in character — his Sachs is worth knowing, and Weikl's
performance stands well with that of other fine singers who have made him come alive on stage.
Yet it is hard to appreciate the character of Sachs without a believable Beckmesser, and Hermann
Prey rendered the thorny personage well. It seems all too easy to portray Beckmesser as a
caricature, but that kind of depiction falls short of the needs of this libretto. Prey brings out the
earnestness of Beckmesser from the start, with a fine delivery of the role.
With the rest of the cast, the performances are reliable, but undifferentiated. It seems that in the
conception of this production, the various characters and their music merge into a more unified
ensemble, just as the various themes coalesce in the overture and other instrumental portions of
the opera. This approach is not without its interest, as it calls attention to the various musical
elements of the work. Yet the concept of music drama that Wagner had delineated by the time he
composed Die Meistersinger requires a balance between the dramatic elements with musical
finesse, and some overt theatricality has its place in performances of this opera. With several
other fine DVDs of Die Meistersinger von Nűrnberg currently available, it is difficult not to draw
comparisons with other performances. The dynamic tension of the other Deutsche Grammophon
DVD, the more recent one from the Met, stands in contrast to this more stagey one from
Bayreuth, and a comparison of the two points to the differences that can occur when an audience
is part of the recording. It is, perhaps, the lack of the live stage that affects the sense of drama
that is critical to opera, and if the present Bayreuth DVD is lacking, the absence of such dramatic
tension must be noted.
While the sound is a bit dry, it is nonetheless clear, without balance problems. As a DVD, rather
than a CD, a choice of sound exists, to PCM Stereo or DTS sound, as is the case with other
releases from Deutsche Grammophon. This particular DVD appears to be marketed to the
English-speaking world, since information about the production, like rubrics for stage direction,
costumes, etc., as well as the digital navigation, are in English. The booklet includes full track
listings, plus a synopsis of the libretto for each of the tracks. All in all, this is a fine performance
that preserves performances of excellent Wagnerians, and it is for their work that this recording
has much to recommend.
James L. Zychowicz