Recently in Recordings
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?
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.
06 Sep 2007
Among the available videos of Richard Strauss’s Elektra, the recently released DVD of the live broadcast from 16 February 1980 stands out for capturing the exciting of an all-star international cast that included the famous Birgit Nilsson in the title role.
For various reasons expressed in the booklet that accompanies the recording, Nilsson had been away from New York for some time, and her return for this performance was a special occasion that culminated in the live broadcast. This DVD reproduces the televised performance that conveys the immediacy of the experience at the Met. While the opening trailer is the same that has been used for other Live from the Met productions, the performance suggests the spontaneity that accompanied Nilsson’s return.
For this performance Levine used one of the Met’s reliable productions, one created by Herbert Graf and which is a conventional way of presenting the opera. The costumes by Rudolf Heinrich reflect the fin-de-siècle opulence in their stylized evocations of ancient Greece, especially in the accoutrements for Klytämnestra. Yet overall, the DVD gives the sense of being at the Met for one of the operas it has done well over the years.
Typical of the Met in 1980, the cast included Leonie Rysanek, who was also part of another video recording of this opera made around the same time that Karl Böhm led. Along with her, Mignon Dunn sang the role of Klytämnestra, with Robert Nagy as her lover Aegisth. Donald McIntyre was Orest, Elektra’s brother and the vehicle of revenge on Klytämnestra for her murder of Agamemnon, their father.
It is a quite competent performance that stands apart from other DVDs because of its single-take as a live broadcast. While some pitch problems occur, they are minor compared to the generally fine and spirited performances of all the principals. Rysanek works well with Nilsson in roles that are comfortable for both singers. As strong as both performers are, their voices are sometimes obscured by the orchestra, which emerges perhaps too strongly in the recording. It is possible to accommodate that imbalance through the fine acting that both of those performers brought to the stage.
Mignon Dunn contributed a suitably imperious quality to the role of Klytämnestra, and with it gave the part the lyrical quality that some performers eschew in deference to readings that can be closer to Sprechstimme. Likewise, Orest requires a heroic sound that must not seem like a caricature, and McIntyre captures the part well. He and the rest of the cast work well with Nilsson in bringing out the dramatic qualities of the music in this signally modern interpretation of the Greek myth. In the end, though, it is Elektra who must elicit the cathartic moment, and Nilsson delivers her part memorably. While her finale dance may not have the visual pathos that comes with the streaks of rain that characterize Böhm’s film, her mimed madness is effective in this live performance.
The disc includes the extensive curtain calls that demonstrate the respect the Met audience expressed for Nilsson and Levine. All of the curtain calls are left in, along with shots of the cast behind the curtain, as they heard the acclaim of the audience, It is particularly impressive to heard the rhythmic applause that started after almost eight minutes of the ovation and brought Nilsson out for a solo bow after twelve minutes. In addition to the opera, the DVD includes bonus tracks of Nilsson singing Isolde’s narrative from Tristan und Isolde, which Nilsson performed at the Met Centennial celebration in 1983. This concert performance of the excerpt is memorable and serves to document further Nilsson’s association with the Met and Levine.
Another excerpt included on this disc is a relatively short tribute that Nilsson gave at the 1996 twenty-fifth anniversary of Levine’s tenure at the Met. In that cut Nilsson alluded to the 1980 production of Elektra and the part it played in her career – she ended her salute to Levine with a solo Walküre call of “Ho-jo-to-ho.” A tribute to Levine, it is a valedictory to a career well sung.
James L. Zychowicz