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.
27 Apr 2008
Bruckner: Symphony no. 8 in C minor, WAB 108 (1890 [Second Version])
As difficult as it is to identify a single score as representative of its composer, Symphony no. 8 in C minor by Anton Bruckner is an essential work that may be regarded as the quintessence of his accomplishments in the form.
While a number of fine sound recordings exist to convey the aural images of the work, live performances of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony convey the dynamic elements of the score, as conductor interacts with his players to bring out the various elements of this powerful work. Among the recent DVD releases is a compelling performance of this work led by Kent Nagano. In fact, this video appears under the label “Kent Nagano Conducts Classical Masterpieces,” the Arthaus Musik has issued on DVD series of six concerts of essential works, which include Mozart’s Symphony no. 41 “Jupiter”, Beethoven’s Symphony no. 3 “Eroica”, Schumann’s Symphony no. 3 “Rhenish”, Brahms’ Symphony no. 4, and Richard Strauss’s "Alpine" Symphony, an well-chosen group of pieces that deserve such attention.
The recording is based on a broadcast from German television, which results in high-resolution images typical of the European idiom. With clear details, from the shadows caused by the lighting on the stage to the grain of the wood in the violins and other string instruments, the recording conveys a sense of immediacy. Beyond such a technical feature, the images also show Nagano clearly, as he brings the players together in this complex and demanding score. While the film captures his conducting well enough, a series like this would benefit from an inset of a camera trained on the conductor, so that it would be possible to view Nagano between the times when the camera currently shows him directly. Caught sometimes mid-phrase, and even then perhaps en route to a crescendo or diminuendo, the suddenly view of the conductor seems abrupt, but is certainly not unwelcome. That kind of mixture of images, a convention with DVDs of concert performances, can function, at times, at odds, with the musical line. While these kinds of shots sometimes intrude upon the performance, they can be effective in certain passages of the Finale.
As to the performance itself, the Orchestra has given a memorable reading of Bruckner’s score, with a rich, full sound, and remarkable ensemble. The brass are strong without resorting to stentorian tactics, and the chorale-like passages wonderfully resonant. Likewise, the woodwinds work well together, with the resulting precision bringing the score to sonic life. Percussion with Bruckner sometimes serve a supportive role, but with the Finale, the timpani are prominent and lead the ensemble in conveying the driving rhythms that are essential to the movement. In fact, all the forces of the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester come together with conviction in a powerful reading of the concluding movement in which Nagano demonstrates his mastery of the score. Dramatic without pandering to cliché, thunderous without playing for sheer volume, the Finale works well in Nagano’s hands, and it summarizes, in a sense, his efforts in bringing this work into the series of masterpieces that are the subject of the DVD recordings.
In addition to this performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, the DVD includes a documentary about the work, and at approximately 52 minutes – over half the length of the performance, it is a substantial part of the recording. While the documentary concerns the Symphony featured on this DVD, its label as part five, suggests some relationship to the four recordings that precede it in the set. Yet the film stands alone, and serves as an introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Bruckner in general and who might want some background about the music performed in the concert. This presentation involves some lengthy segments from the concert itself and involves imagines of familiar Bruckner iconography, along with some nature shots. It is intriguing that the producer used animation (led by Martin Mißfeldt and Gerhard Hahn) to depict some quotations from primary sources. Yet the excerpts from the rehearsals, including interviews with performers, help to support the performance recorded on this DVD. Overall, though, the documentary functions well as a pedagogical tool for this work, as the others similarly support the other pieces featured in Nagano’s series of “Masterpieces” of orchestral literature. It is a welcome addition to the concerts available on DVD and a fine performance that merits attention outside the set of Classical Masterpieces.
James L. Zychowicz