Recently in Recordings
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.
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?
14 Sep 2008
Mozart, Rossini and Verdi at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Of these three productions staged for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the beautifully dressed Entführung and refined Tancredi present the company as a theater for tasteful, stylish productions, just a tad on the dull side.
Not the Falstaff. Luca Ronconi's staging moves the action up to 20th century Britain, with the housewives thoroughly middle-class, in costumes suggesting a 1950s' time frame. However, Falstaff's henchmen sport punk hair stylings and accouterments, and the Fat Knight himself is a rouged, bleached sleazebag, just another glass of potted wine away from total dissolution.
Christoph Wagenknecht's handsome sets for Die Entführung aus dem Serail have a kaleidoscope effect, with a mix of ornate Arabic designs adorning screens and lattices. The costumes of Catherine Voeffray have the imagination and detail of the best film costumes. But their work is let down by the pedestrian direction of Eike Gramss. Dialogue scenes stop time, with leaden pauses and perfunctory movement. The key casting of Entführung, oddly enough, is the non-singing role of the pasha Selim. If he does not have the power and charisma needed, the drama falls flat, and though Markus John is not wholly inadequate, his scenes never come to life. Rainer Trost's Belmonte makes for a very bland hero, both as actor and singer. Eva Mei sings wonderfully as Konstanze, her technique more than capable in this very difficult role. But she seems so reserved, or self-possessed, that the drama never engages. Patrizia Ciofi and Mehrzad Montazeri outshine their co-stars as the other couple, and Kurt Rydl hams it up amusingly enough as Osmin. Zubin Mehta gives the star performance here, leading the Florentine forces in a dynamic, exciting reading of this great score.
Besides directing, Pier Luigi Pizzi designed the sets and costumes for Tancredi. His impeccable taste means that the production pleases the eye, with the off-white marble flooring and columns contrasting well with the red, black, and white spectrum of the costumes. The challenge of staging any dramatic Rossini comes with deciding how seriously to take the largely preposterous goings-on. Pizzi's decorous approach mostly skirts the risible without taking itself too seriously, although one silhouette effect of the hero (a pants role for mezzo) as he enters on a sailboat goes on a bit long and may prompt a giggle or two. An excellent cast delivers the bel canto goods, with Daniella Barcellona physically and artistically imposing in the title role, experienced tenor Raúl Giménez handling expertly the high line of his role, and Darina Takova moving her large voice around fairly nimbly. Riccardo Frizza and the Florentine forces keep the music moving without rushing.
The decorous and tasteful don't play a large role in Luca Ronconi's Falstaff, with sets by Margherita Palli and costumes from Carlo Maria Diappi. Some fans of Verdi's autumnal comedy will take offense at the updating (to a time-warp mix of late 20th century UK society, with the housewives in floral jersey dresses of the 1950s and Falstaff's henchmen in the studded leather and dyed Mohawks of the '80s and '90s). Ruggero Raimondi's portrayal will dismay some as well. Instead of the usual tubby charmer who may indulge a bit too much in ale and mead, Raimondi's Falstaff has luridly bleached hair, rouged cheeks, and the bulbous belly of an alcoholic. In other words, this is a Falstaff who truly deserves a comeuppance at the hands of the wives, even if they strut and scheme with a self-confidence that borders on the arrogant.
For those open to Ronconi's approach, this Falstaff will succeed in many ways. The set design enables a constant flow of fresh perspectives on the action, with the transformation to the forest in the final act a particular delight. The comedy now has the same edge and sharp pace of Verdi's miraculous score, and with that wonderful veteran Zubin Mehta back in charge, not a delightful moment is wasted. It's Raimondi's show, and he owns every moment, but his supporting cast is right there with him. Barbara Frittoli has never been more beautiful or vocally appealing as Mrs. Ford, and Manual Lanza makes for a properly stuffy and smug husband. Daniil Shtoda and Mariola Cantarero don't wear out their welcome as the lovers, and Elena Zilio's spinsterish Mrs. Quickly, clinging to her handbag, brings a fresh look to the role. Note must be made of the hilarious Gianluca Floris and Luigi Roni as Bardolfo and Pistola.
All three of these DVDs have deserving qualities. However, if the Opera Today reader has a dislike for the more risky stagings, the Falstaff may not be advised, no matter how much it pleased your reviewer. The Mozart and Rossini are safe choices for lovers of those two operas.