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?
01 May 2007
ROSSINI: Bianca e Falliero
Dynamic brought its cameras to the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy, in August 2005 to
record Bianca e Falliero, one of Rossini's so-called “serious” operas, and one that had only been rescued from many decades of neglect by the festival itself, in 1986.
The very long first act takes it time to set up a basic situation. Contareno, a Venetian noble,
wants his daughter to marry Capellio, a sometime enemy. Bianca, the daughter, however, is in
love with a military hero, Falliero. Contareno threatens Bianca, forcing her to submit to the
marriage, but Falliero breaks up the ceremony. In act two he manages to meet Bianca alone, only
to have to flee. When caught at the Spanish Embassy, he is arrested. In the prolonged climax,
Falliero faces execution as a traitor to Venice, but Bianca’s protestations of love convince
Capellio to release her from the marriage to him, and eventually Contareno relents as well.
Characters in such a scenario do not have “arcs” — they tend to veer with manic speed from
exulting in triumph, through declarations of love, to cries of despair. The prolonged exposition of
the first act makes for slow-going, but Rossini composed some wonderful music for the second
act, with its greater variety of situation.
As with the better-known Tancredi, Rossini wrote the heroic lead for a mezzo, and Daniella
Barcellona would surely have delighted the composer. Almost twice as tall as her soprano, Maria
Bayo, Barcellona can use her size to effect a masculine pose. More importantly, her strong yet
flexible instrument delivers the music with style. And it takes some formidable singing to make a
viewer overlook the hideous costume forced upon Barcellona, a bizarre mish-mash of fur apron,
silky ruffled sleeves and leather. Perhaps her wild mane of hair is meant to evoke that of a lion,
since a huge representation of that animal, symbolic of the city, also dominates the staging of
Although close-ups reveal that Bayo is not truly of ingenue-age, in this performance her light
soprano sounds fresh. The duets with Barcellona have electricity, and her final scenes come off
especially well. The tenor lead here is the bad guy, Contareno, and the able Francesco Meli sings
him from a wheel-chair. At first your reviewer wondered if this was a director’s conceit, but the
Meli’s crutches at curtain indicate otherwise. The explanation for the painter and easel
throughout much of act one remains elusive.
Director Jean-Louis Martinoty tries to keep the action comprehensible and fresh, with the effort
being rather more evident than any success. The rear of the stage is often an enclosed space, and
occasionally Martinoty stages tableaux, such as Bianca asleep on a bed when Falliero reminisces
about her from his holding cell, and a fantasy wedding for the two lovers. A libretto like this
probably would be too nakedly archaic in a truly traditional production, while some updating or
director’s conceit would crush its fragile structure. Martinoty hasn’t found the solution, but he
hasn’t mangled the opera either.
The handsome sets are by Hans Schavernioch, and Daniel Ogier designed the attractive
costumes, apart from the misbegotten one for Falliero.
And since singing is what it’s all about in such an opera, special mention must be made of the
cameo by tenor Karel Pajer, actually double cast as Officer/Usher. His pungent, high-lying voice
melds beautifully with Barcellona in a short prison scene.
Rossinians will need no urging, but other opera fans should consider this set for the singing of
Barcellona and Bayo, especially in the strong second act.