Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
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.
14 Nov 2007
Portraits of Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Olga Borodina
Philips decided some time ago that it no longer needed to be the audio representative for two fine contemporary singers of Russian origin, mezzo Olga Borodina and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
But the company is more than
happy to recycle selections from the recordings the two artists made for the
label and issue them in two-CD sets in their "Portrait" series.
The slim booklets for each set feature a cover photograph of the artist,
with both clutching themselves and turning an enigmatic, suggestive smile to
the camera. After the track listing comes a short bio in three languages, and
then a page of all the producers, engineers, and recording locales of the
original releases. No texts, of course.
As a retrospective of each singer's early maturity, the Hvorostovsky
Portrait has an edge over Borodina's. CD 1 of the baritone's set has
three Verdi arias from a recording with Valery Gergiev, and then 5 bel canto
selections with Ion Marin. Then Gergiev returns, leading the Rotterdam
Philharmonic in providing Hvorostovsky's support for the big Tchaikovsky
baritone arias from Eugene Onegin and Pique Dame. The Kirov
plays for Gergiev in the final 5 tracks of more Russian repertory
(Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein, and Rimsky-Korsakov).
This gives the listener an excellent taste of Hvorostovsky's operatic
skills, his gorgeous tone and enviable breath control on display in every
selection. Some find the voice almost too pretty for Verdi, but surely the
baritone's Rodrigo from Don Carlo is without peer on the contemporary opera
scene. The Largo al factotum is high-spirited, even without that
traditional last falsetto cry of "Feeee-ga-ro." In the Russian pieces, the
years have only added to the artist's depth of characterization, though these
early 1990's recordings certainly satisfy on the sheer basis of vocal
Disc two begins with some "antiche arien," including Handel's Ombra
mai fu. As Borodina also sings this on her set, this allows for a point
of comparison. The mezzo lets her gorgeous voice fill out the melodic line,
lusciously but ostentatiously. Hvorostovsky somehow seems to let his voice
support the melody's innate loveliness, rather than compete with it, and his
version is the lovelier for it. Some Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff songs
follow, with piano accompaniment. An excellent recitalist, Hvorostovsky
manages the tricky feat of making a recording feel like an intimate
encounter. The dramatic conclusion of the set comes with Gergiev again
leading the Kirov as the baritone sings the Shostakovich orchestration of
Moussorgsky's "Songs and Dances of Death." Hvorostovsky's is not the darkest
of voices, and he doesn't try to force an ugly edge. Instead, the very
silkiness of his delivery plays against the text in a way that presents a
sinister effect. There are more potent versions, but the music is very well
Borodina's set does more skipping around in musical eras. It starts with
Dalila's big aria, then two from Rossini's Rosina. The Ombra mai fu
is followed by Preziosilla's numbers from the Gergiev La Forza del
Destino set. Instead of showing off the singer's versatility,
unfortunately, this arrangement tends to emphasize the sameness of her
artistic approach, which basically amounts to a reliance on the beauty of her
instrument over characterization. Yes, she can sing Ponchielli, and Berlioz,
and Purcell - but the singing doesn't reflect much of an awareness that these
are very different composers.
The second disc, thankfully, is dedicated to Russian repertory (except for
three quite charming songs from Falla's Siete canciones populares
españolas. Whether in song or opera, Borodina in her native tongue has
a life and a sensitivity in her singing less apparent in other languages.
Here the undeniable lusciousness of her instrument is partnered with a
detailed interpretative stance, and the greatness of her artistry is
undeniable. The disc ends with a luscious performance of a Psalm from
Rachmaninoff's Vespers. Even the famously glum Rachmaninoff would
have smiled at the beauty here.
The many original releases that both these compilations came from would be
very hard to track down these days, so fans of either singer who missed out
on those discs should look for these "Portrait" CDs.