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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.
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.
04 Dec 2007
KINKEL: An Imaginary Voyage through Europe. 32 Songs
Johanna Kinkel (1810-1858) was a talented contemporary of Fanny Hensel, and other fine musicians of the first half of the nineteenth century. Her legacy includes some fine Lieder, which are collected as An Imaginary Voyage through Europe in an arrangement that represents the various themes she explored in her music.
While the idea of a trip through the Continent is not explicitly part of Kinkel’s work, it offers some useful points of reference for listening to works that are essentially unknown, yet deserving attention. Moreover, the extensive notes by the soprano Ingrid Smithüsen are a fine introduction to Kinkel’s career.
From the works presented here, the music itself is engaging, with the songs found on this CD intriguing for their natural-sounding vocalism and well crafted accompaniments. Elements redolent of the folk idiom are part of some songs, while others suggest the influence of bel canto; elsewhere, as in “Abschied von Italian” (op. 16, no 3), the music verges on a popular-sounding idiom that breaks free from some of the foursquare style of conventional Lieder. While the arrangement of the recording accentuates some of the national styles of the texts themselves, the music is not overtly nationalistic. Some formulations that connote Scottish lyricism are part of the “Auld Rob Morris,” a setting of a folk text, as indicated in the liner notes. Yet the arrangement is a convenience for presenting this large selection of Kinkel’s songs, rather than an attempt to lock her works into the sometimes artificial categories associated with musical nationalism. Instead, lyricism prevails throughout the songs, with accompaniments that support the vocal line. Her sense of rhythm and meter allows the texts to emerge clearly, with a natural declamation that stops short of the Angst that would emerge in the Lieder of the latter part of the nineteenth century.
As much as it is possible to enjoy songs associated with the Rhine, Spain, Italy, Scotland, and France, other themes are included, like “Revolution,” “Kinderland,” and “Geisterwelt.” “Auf, whole auf Ihr Condioten” (op. 18, no. 3) is a kind of march-song that Smithüsen included with “Demokratenlied (a song without an opus designation) under the label “Revolution.” These songs show Kinkel in a somewhat popular idiom that the texts certainly require. As to the texts, a number are by Kinkel herself, with some by her second husband Gottfried Kinkel. Other songs make use of texts by poets who became associated with Lieder, like Heinrich Heine and Adalbert von Chamisso. As Smithüsen mentions in her notes, Kinkel was part of Bettina von Armin’s salon, where she met such individuals as Chamisso. In fact, some details of her life reveal how closely Kinkel was associated with some of the more important figures of her day.
The performances on this recording are laudable for various reasons, not the least is the interpretations that are persuasive enough to suggest rehearing some of the selections. Smithüsen is a fine interpreter of these Lieder, with her focused and expressive voice shaping each of the songs with the individuality the music requires. Smithüsen is effective because of her ability to bring out details, without relying on histrionics or other elements that are not idiomatic. At the same time, the accompaniments by Thomas Palm support Smithüsen throughout the recording. The use of fortepiano is fitting, and while its lighter sound may be jarring upon hearing the first selections, it proves to be a fine means of allowing the vocal lines to emerge clearly. The recording captures the nuanced sounds of the fortepiano well. Palm is a sensitive accompanist, and his ability to support some of the more overtly demonstrative songs, like “Thurm und Fluth” (op. 19, no. 6) is welcome.
Those unfamiliar with Kinkel will find this recording to be an excellent introduction to her music. At the same time, this CD expands the world of Lieder in the first half of the nineteenth century. Her music is certainly appealing enough to stand alongside some of the other figures of the time. Those who want to fuller image of music-making in the first half of the nineteenth century may find some insights in exploring Kinkel’s work. More than that, the music itself is evidence of the composer’s talent and accomplishments.
James L. Zychowicz