Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
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.
30 May 2007
Just as sausage can be best enjoyed without any extensive knowledge of its preparation and
contents, one should slide slowly into the luxuriant bath that is Massenet’s Esclarmonde and leave the libretto far to the side.
Decca, in its Classic Opera series, does provide a French/English
libretto, along with a synopsis. A health warning should accompany these items; one could laugh
oneself into apoplexy at the ludicrous, unmotivated, all-effect-no-cause goings on. But with a
fine cast and a true believer in the score, Richard Bonynge, leading the National Philharmonic
Orchestra, the recording makes for an irresistible, artery-clogging treat.
In Byzantium, magician/emperor Phorcas (the forecast is for silliness) plans a tournament, at the
conclusion of which, the winner will take the hand of his daughter, Esclarmonde. She must wait
until her 20th year for this momentous day, but the hard-headed minx has the hots for the hero
Roland. She casts a spell to bring him to an enchanted island, entrances him in ways a valiant
soldier appreciates, but forbids him to look beneath her veil, let alone ask her name. Being the
great hero that he is, Roland saves his hometown from a crushing military defeat, but then he
refuses the hand of the King’s daughter, since he loves Esclarmonde. Having affronted the King,
Roland has to reveal his reason, which breaks his vow to Esclarmonde. She would forgive him,
but her father forbids it and forces her to renounce the hero to save his life. However, upon her
20th birthday, the tournament is held, and the masked knight who wins both the contest and
Esclarmonde is — Roland!
So we have a mish-mash of early Wagner, especially Lohengrin, and a bit of Alcina. It takes a
prologue, four acts and an epilogue for Massenet to deliver this nonsense, and though Decca
could have squeezed the opera onto two discs, they chose to preserve the illusion of dramatic
coherence by spreading it out by act breaks over three discs. Massenet’s melodic inspiration
didn't blossom as lyrically as in his more famous scores, but his gift for orchestral color gets a
full work out. Horns dominate, aside large, almost cantata-like blocks of music for chorus.
Bonygne assembled a tremendous cast, starting with his wife, Joan Sutherland. Esclarmonde lies
between her studio triumph as Turandot and her many stage successes in bel canto roles.
Sutherland gets to sing more lyrically and passionately than one usually expects from her, and
she sounds simply gorgeous. As Roland, Giacomo Aragall gives evidence of the beauty and
power of his voice that makes one shake one’s head that he never quite established himself as the
star he could have been. The supporting cast, all excellent, features Huguette Tourangeau,
Clifford Grant, Louis Quilico, Robert Lloyd, and a young Graham Clark.
So depending on one’s appetite for high-fat, low-protein musical concoctions, this Esclarmonde
will either delight or revolt. The opera certainly couldn't receive a finer performance.