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?
20 Oct 2008
Among the recent releases on DVD of Rolf Liebermann's productions of operas from the Hamburg Opera conceived for television in the late 1960s, Beethoven's Fidelio is impressive for the use of the medium of film to bring out the personal aspects of this intensive opera.
The close-ups and intimate settings that are part of the staging make visual sense and support the music well. Based on the staging used at the Hamburg Opera, this recording from 1968 is of more than historic interest. Rather, the unique perspective from this television production conveys the appropriate immediacy to the work that sometimes escapes live performances on stage. The ensemble "Mir ist so wunderbar" becomes here an aside for the principals who are able to step out of the action momentarily to reflect on the situation, and their carefully placement on stage anticipates their roles in the drama as it resumes, notably with Leonore/Fidelio in the forefront, and Rocco in the center.
The cast is uniformly strong, with all the roles cast with some of the finest singers of the day. Anja Silja created a believable Leonore/Fidelio, and her costumes suggests a plausible disguise for the wife who seeks her long-imprisoned husband. Vocally, Silja offers a strong performance in this demanding role. In the aria "Abscheulicher," though Silja's lighter touch allows for security in the upper register of this demanding number. She is, perhaps, less anxious than Karita Mattila in the more recent film of the modern staging presented at the Metropolitan Opera. Likewise, the studio-style sound is a little less immediate in this number, which benefits in stage performances from the intersection of the voice an winds in various passages of this turning point in Fidelio. Most of all, the clarity Silja brings to this aria is noteworthy in itself, and throughout the film Silja's stage presence emerges within the studio performance.
In addition Lucia Popp stands out as an intensive and smart Marzelline, the daughter of the jailer Rocco. Popp's resonant voice is memorable, and the ensembles in which she participates stand out in this recording. Those who did not have the opportunity to hear Popp in performance have the opportunity to see her interact well in this production. Likewise, Richard Cassilly delivers a fine performance as Florestan, which involves not only the vocal inflection necessary for his role as the long-imprisoned husband, but also suggests the confinement in his movements and facial gestures. His Ernst Wiemann is a solid Rocco, a role that sounds at once familiar and believable. The other cast members are fine, particularly Theo Adam, who performed the role of Pizzaro into the mid-1980s.
The production itself makes use of traditional settings effectively, and the intimacy that comes from close-ups enhances the drama. The scene with the entrance of the prisoners is particularly effective, as the ensemble emerges as a body and reacts simultaneously to the rare opportunity to be in the open air. It is unfortunate that the television production did not begin with the play of light that occurs in the middle of the number. Nevertheless, the blocking that accompanies the "O Freiheit" section creates a fine effect and the subdued intonations among solo voices are remarkably effective in this staging.
The events in the second act work well in this film, as the set design and director create a sense of depth in the scene that involves Florestan. While conventional stagings laudable present the scene in various, creative ways on stage, the medium of film allows for the illusory effect of being within the prison and removed from the more light-filled action of the preceding act. As in earlier, scenes, the camera allows a sense of intimacy such that Leonore can communicate with Florestan, even while Rocco is occupied with his task, and this contributes to the tension that leads to the dénouement, where Leonore reveals her identity and stymies Pizzaro. Silja fulfills the promise she expressed in the previous act, while never upstaging Richard Cassilly in his role as her spouse. Both performers work well together in the final scene, which is also laudable for its faithfulness to the Spanish setting of the opera.
Arthaus deserves credit for restoring and making available this and other television productions of operas from 1968 and 1969. Unlike the operas televised in the United States, which often brought the stage to the small screen, this series of broadcasts from Germany reconceived productions from the Hamburg Opera for the idiom. In a way the American broadcasts from Wolftrap aired in the 1970s owe a debt to these groundbreaking films by Lieberman. Some, like the production of Penderecki's Die Teufel von Loudon brought new works to a wide audience, while others, like this one of Fidelio, preserve a conventional staging with an excellent cast. While Arthaus acknowledges that this DVD and others are restorations, the imperfections are relatively minor and should by no means detract from appreciating the efforts. This is a fine Fidelio that deserves attention not only for historic interest, but also on its own merits.
James L. Zychowicz