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.
20 Oct 2008
BACH: St. Matthew Passion (excerpts)
There is much to admire in Masaaki Suzuki’s Bach performances with the Bach Collegium Japan, and this recording of excerpts from the St. Matthew Passion will remind the listener of the diverse ways in which this is so.
Among Bach ensembles, few can rival the Bach Collegium Japan for
clarity and control, a control that is unflaggingly maintained, though best
heard here in stunningly beautiful soft passages. Two chorales, the
emblematic “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” and “Wenn ich
einmal soll scheiden,” emerge here not as familiar pauses between
events, but as moments of depth, deepened through the breathtaking control of
the rendition. Sometimes the control has a shadow side: for instance, in the
canonic duet with choral interjections, “So ist mein Jesus nun
gefangen,” the solo lines lament Jesus’s being led away captive
while the choir, in their role as the crowd of onlookers, exclaim their
objection: “let him go, stop, unbind him!” Here the choir seems
rather too controlled and soft; the objections become more like furtive
comments among the crowd than forceful attempts to intercede. More’s
the pity, as in other instances like the chorus “Sind Blitze, sind
Donner,” the ensemble has fury and force in ample proportions.
If the ensemble is distinctive in its control and cultivation of the soft
dynamic, the soloists are sensitive in this way, as well. The soprano aria,
“Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben,” sung by Nancy Argenta, is
exquisite in its intimacy, and both Peter Kooij as Jesus and Gerd Türk as the
Evangelist also show consummate ease in the full dynamic range of their
roles—the dramatic force of certain passages is keenly exciting, but it
is, I think, the soft passages that are the most memorable.
The excerpt format of the recording invites one to consider the selections
as self-standing moments rather than part of the dramatic flow. And in that
light, the alto aria, “Erbarme dich” is easily one of the high
points of the recording. Counter-tenor Robin Blaze is at his best here with a
soaring high range and compellingly engaging sense of line. And the rich
interplay with the ornamental violin playing of Natsumi Wakamatsu makes for
especially rapturous counterpoint.
The recording is not problem-free, however. In the imposing chorale
fantasia on “O Mensch bewein dein Sünde gross,” the treble cantus
firmus adds the sound of children’s choir, a well-considered echo of
Bach’s scoring of the opening chorus. However, here it is precisely
echo that is the problem. The cantus firmus sounds as though it is
being sung somewhere else, and that somewhere else seems to
have an exaggerated reverberation at odds with the main acoustic of the
performance. The effect is both surprising and jarring.
Another problem surfaces in the excerpt format of the recording itself.
Apart from the economic attraction of a one-disc affair, it is difficult to
see the gain and easy to perceive the loss. In a number of the excerpts,
there is a clear intent to provide a degree of cohesion, and that is welcome.
But in other instances arias are severed from their immediate surroundings,
which leads to disjuncture, ambiguity of reference and context, and the loss
of the characteristic ebb and flow of declamation and lyricism. Instead, the
isolated moments emerge as independent “favorites.” If one wants
to listen to one’s favorites, the CD format in general makes that an
easy thing to do. The record producers do not need to devise excerpt
recordings to make this convenient. And in devising recordings of excerpts,
they invite the listener to consider the work shorn of its beauty of
integration. That’s a sad loss.