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?
02 May 2007
OFFENBACH: Orpheus in der Unterwelt (Orphée aux enfers)
Filmed for television in 1971, this performance of the German translation of Orphée aux enfers (1858) as Orpheus in der Unterwelt breaks the conventional wisdom that some espouse about the weaknesses of opera or opera when conceived for the small screen.
Even at the distance of over
35 years, this production of one of Offenbach’s best-known works transcends the screen as a
quite engaging video that works well in this well-conceived translation.
In using fantasy to parody the conventional story of Orpheus, Offenbach created an operetta that
at once through the story on its ear and also satirized the bourgeois aspects of his culture. With
Euridice as not entirely unwilling about leaving her mundane existence, Offenbach creates a
character who is also skeptical about her life in the supernatural domain. The trade-offs that are
part of the world weigh strongly in the plot. At the same time, the revolt of the gods and
goddesses against Zeus because of their unflagging diet of ambrosia and nectar is a foil that
reflects the uprisings in Europe, including France in 1848. Characterized by some as frenetic
when it comes to the flow of ideas, Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers demands an a style of
production that allows the ideas to flow easily between musical numbers and pieces. While this is
possible on stage, it is impossible to miss when filmed, and this production succeeds in capturing
the momentum that is essential to this work. Janowski and the crew responsible for this
production created production that is works cinematically, while not losing any sense of theater
and, most of all, the musical style.
Over the years, productions have depicted the setting in various ways, with some degree of
contrast supporting the difference between earthly life and the divine. This production uses the
frame of the television to allow the character eponymously named Public Opinion to lead the
viewer to the television screen that reveals the production. As to earthly existence, it is somewhat
plainly German and definitely peasant, while the gods have the obligatory gowned costumes that
are sometimes adorned with accouterments connected to the identity of various individuals.
As to the specific character of this production, it is a product of the 1970s, with some of pop-art
primary colors characterizing some sets, while several of the women’s costumes suggest the
Carnaby-street sensibility that may suggest the time. One element that dates the production is
Public Opinion’s skirt made of covers of Life magazine, which is no longer published in the
format popular at the time. At present, the slender pictorial entitled Life that some US
newspapers carry is a shadow of the more substantial periodical that appeared in the 1960s and
1970s. Yet these are minor quibbles, that should not detract from the overriding quality of the
production that remains evident after three decades.
Notwithstanding the involvement of forces from the Hamburg Opera, this production is
essentially a film of the operetta, not a film of a performance on stage. By using this approach,
the director can effect the quick transitions and establish pacing that allows the production to
flow smoothly between scenes. Likewise, the audience is absent, but unlike some filmed opera
that suffer from the lack of the dynamic involvement of the audience, the performance is as vital
as if it were performed in a theater.
The production included actors from the popular stage, both musical and otherwise, as well as
some fine singers, William Workman as Pluto and Franz Grundheber as Mars stand out for their
fine vocal work. Yet the singing actress Inge Meysel as Juno plays the role affably, with her
moment of confusion between revolution and resolution is worthy of a seasoned Ruth in Gilbert
and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. As John Styx, a role akin to that of the jailer in Johann
Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, Theo Lingen delivers a finely comic line that emerges both in his
acting and singing. The other performances are equally fine, and the entire cast works well in the
various ensembles that interweave the work. Overall the spoken German is a model of clarity,
but those who do not understand the language have the benefit of subtitles in English, German,
French, Italian, Spanish, thus making this fine performance accessible to a wide audience. The
sound is quite good, and the recording quality high. From the display, it appears that this is a
transfer, but there are no distortions in the digital images.
Of course, Offenbach’s famous “Can-can” occurs at the end of the work, and it conveys the spirit
of the work, albeit with a Teutonic accent. That number, as well as the entire production, is worth
viewing. Although some may prefer their Orphée in French, this German translation is every bit
as lively as some of the finer Gallic productions. Listed on the DVD case as a “Historical Studio
Production from the Hamburg State Opera 1971,” this rubric should by no means convey the
sense of a dusty, old artifact. Even the warning about the quality of the original film is, perhaps,
overly cautious, this is a fine production that has much to offer decades it was first viewed.
James L. Zychowicz