20 May 2007
This recording is a souvenir in more than one sense.
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 Magdalena Kožená.
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 archives.
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.
This recording is a souvenir in more than one sense.
The enthusiasm of the public, here still clearly audible, would wane only a few years later. This was one of the last years that Italians were still a majority in the arena. Soon after, tourists staying at Lago di Garda (the Garda lake) would take over. They didn’t know the repertoire, they didn’t know the singers and they didn’t know the applause codes; they just came for an evening out. And at the same time younger Italians were staying away because they preferred ‘il rock’. This was also one of the last years where a major cast would be completely composed of Italian singers.
Of course the opera may be called Aida but the real reason for this issue is the Radamès. By 1972 Corelli’s voice had started to dry up quite a bit as is clear from some of his Met performances. This is noticeable, too, in the first act. Though his high B is still very impressive in ‘Celeste Aida’, he nevertheless has to cut short the note. He also has a tendency to sing in big outbursts, mostly to cover up the fact that his once inexhaustible breath is now far shorter. I wonder if he took the pains to warm up properly, or if he did, did his voice need a very long time to regain its juicy quality? [The same thing happened when I heard him for the last time at the arena in 1975.] By the third act, the dryness has largely gone and we once more hear a lot of glorious sound and the breath is doing better as well. There are a few impressive and long pianissimi in the big duet, yet he clearly has reserves enough for an extremely long ‘ioooooo resta a te’ at the end of the act. And contrary to some of his performances at the Met, he knows this public will not accept just posing and not singing in the ensembles.
He has some worthy partners at his side. Luisa Maragliano is not a first class soprano; more of a cross between a poor man’s Tebaldi and the same man’s Stella. But she has the volume, too, for the arena. In her first aria she proves she has a lot of chest tones and some phrasing reminding us more of Santuzza than Aida but it is true we would be happy nowadays with such a strong Italian spinto. In her second aria she leaves verismo behind her though I have a feeling this has more to do with every soprano’s fear for that horribly exposed C. She almost creeps towards the note and still it goes flat.
I remember Luisa Bordin Nave as a fine Amneris on those evenings we had to do without the wonderful Fiorenza Cossotto. The voice very much resembled Cossotto’s though without the latter’s shattering power and silvery edge but still a sound to be treasured. Gian Piero Mastromei had some of his happiest moments in the arena. His big sound was a little bit rough and not apt for the more lyrical Verdi roles but as Amonasro (and as a splendid Scarpia one year later with Domingo and Santunione) this was more a quality than a liability.
The smaller roles could still be filled by major voices. Agostino Ferrin is a splendid Ramfis with a rounded and interesting bass; so much more beautiful than the ubiquitous Bonaldo Giaotti I often had to bear with. And someone with the interesting timbre and big voice of Giovanni Foiani (the only one on scene always a few inches taller than Corelli) wouldn’t sing comprimario parts these days. Veteran Oliviero de Fabritiis has his musicians well in hands in the difficult arena acoustics (for the orchestra only, not for the singers) but is clearly aware of the fact that the public has come for Corelli and therefore indulges him in his ways. The sound picture is not perfect but better than most arena recordings I have heard.