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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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
24 Jun 2007
ROSSINI: Il Viaggio a Reims
Il Viaggio a Reims was a pièce d’occasion, part of the official tributes to Charles X of France on his coronation in 1825, but unlike most such creations – which tend to dreary platitudes of the Oscar speech variety – Viaggio has a cheeky personality and delicious music from Rossini at the top of his game, music he planned to recycle in subsequent operas – which he did.
arrived in Paris (lured from Naples by a huge stipend), he wanted to convince the powers that be,
from King Charles to the opera-goer in the street, that he was an excellent investment. In fact,
after Charles’s downfall in 1830, he had to sue the next regime to keep his income, and he
stopped writing operas altogether.
Viaggio has no plot to speak of. An inn-full of aristocratic tourists heading for Reims for the
coronation are stranded (no horses) and decide to celebrate the event right where they are. We
follow a series of amorous intrigues combined with political in-jokes – the Russian count
suspects his Polish marchesa, but the Austrian baron (a student of harmony) reconciles these
lovers; the English milord conceals his passion for the Roman chanteuse (that is, the possibility
that Britain might return to Catholicism), and the Parisian cares more about the safety of her
wardrobe than a lover’s doubtful fidelity.
But the stock political one-liners become delicious when turned into Rossini arias and duets.
(Why isn’t this guy writing for Saturday Night Live?) To everyone’s surprise (including, no
doubt, Rossini’s, wherever he is), Viaggio has lately become an international hit – perhaps
because it gives so many singers a chance to shine, however briefly. Its huge number of more or
less equal soloists makes Viaggio ideal for conservatories with bel canto studies – Rossini does
not damage immature voices, as Wagner or Verdi easily may. Too, any Viaggio gives costume
designers opportunities to be as silly as they like, and Mireille Dessingy has gone for it here:
purple stripes, leather dusters, crazy bustles and hats, plaid suits of outlandish hue. Behind the
action, Maestro Gergiev conducts “under cover” in a slouch hat and trench coat.
Though these performances were given at the Châtelet in Paris, the singers hail from the
Academy of Young Singers at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre (aka Kirov), and since singers
from Russia’s many nationalities are nowadays flooding west, we may glimpse here some of the
stars of tomorrow. Gergiev clearly intends to train the next generation to a better feel for Italian
style than Russian singers used to have, and the results are commendable if imperfect: while few
of these youngsters screech or whine as older Russians often did, and their fioritura is often
superb, many of them run out of breath before their melodies do, and bark rather than conclude
the line musically. Most of them sing Italian clearly, though, all of them are agile comic actors,
and the Parisian audience is appreciative.
The most attractive and able voices belong to Anna Kiknadze as the Polish marchesa, whose low
mezzo, a ripe Rossini sound, resembles Borodina's, Irma Guigolachvili’s gracious lyric
soprano as Corinna, Larissa Youdina’s flamboyant coloratura as the fashion-conscious Parisian,
Anastasia Belyaeva’s pleasing light soprano as the chic innkeeper, Daniil Shtoda’s exciting but
sometimes breathless tenor as the jealous Russian, and Alexei Safiouline’s castanetted “Spanish”