Recently in Recordings
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.
07 Jan 2008
ROUSSEAU: Le Devin du Village
This is a valuable new recording of a work that is only rarely heard, but was widely influential and wildly popular during the eighteenth century. Philosophe Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote both the libretto and the music, with mixed success.
Although it was the first time a composer had
written his own libretto, and Rousseau wanted to demonstrate a new method of
setting French text to music in the Italian taste, the dramatic pacing leaves
much to be desired and the quality of musical composition is uneven. Some of
the musical numbers are quite catchy (Colette’s entrance aria “J’ai
perdu tout mon bonheur,” for example, was said to have been sung all day
long, off-key, by King Louis XV on the day following the first court
performance) but others, such as the muddily-scored “Colin revient à sa
bergère,” are aimless, weak, and interminable. Charles Burney, who adapted
the opera for English-speaking audiences in the 1770s, thought it went on far
too long after Colette and Colin find true love and happiness. He was right,
but eighteenth-century audiences apparently disagreed: the opera racked up at
least 350 performances in its first fifty years.
This production, by rising young performers in the first year of an annual
summer opera festival at the Swiss Castle Waldegg (a Baroque jewel, see the
pictures at http://www.schloss-waldegg.ch/), is
classified as a live performance, but it is almost completely free of the
drawbacks of live recordings: no coughing or clapping, no clumping feet or
fade-outs as the singers move around, and good balance between singers and
orchestra. The CD, co-produced by Swiss Radio DRS 2, contains the complete
opera — except for a few verses of one seemingly-endless ensemble number
— including recitatives, a pantomime, and a ballet divertissement. An
almost-complete libretto is included: the song texts are all there, but
Rousseau’s stage directions for the pantomime are not. The lengthy
pantomime music sounds pointless unless you know the accompanying story about
a village girl, her sweetheart, and a courtier with a diamond necklace, which
starts off like a farmer’s-daughter joke and but ends as a mini-morality
The singing is pleasing and competent, as is the period-instrument band.
The CD booklet is mostly silent about the nature of the orchestra, which is a
shame, because the Cantus Firmus Consort overcomes the limitations of their
18th-century instruments rather well, especially the maniacally energetic
bassoonist. It appears that for this performance Rousseau’s scoring
(doubled or tripled strings, continuo, and pairs of oboes and flutes), has
been augmented by horns, tambour and bells. The extra percussion works well,
as it is mostly used on instrumental dances, but the raucous horns (probably
big-throated German/Bohemian hunting horns, rather than the smaller and more
delicate French instrument) are too prominent and too continuous for the
early 1750s, when horns were still a novelty in Paris orchestras.
The Soothsayer (Le Devin), Dominik Wörner, is an agreeable and
agile baritone, although his German vowels sometimes get the better of his
French diction. Michael Feyfar does well for a modern tenor attempting to
reproduce the 18th century French haute-contre voice, but he has to use his
head voice a bit too often in the upper range, and only sometimes achieves a
smooth passage between the two ranges. The star of the show (both in
Rousseau’s plot and in this performance) is Colette (soprano Gabriela
Bürgler); her tone is natural, light, and silvery, her ornamented repeats in
the arias are tasteful, and her rage aria “Si des gallants de la ville”
causes sparks to fly.
University of California, Davis