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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.
06 Oct 2008
VERDI: Requiem / Quattro pezzi sacri
Presented in its fine line of “Originals,” Decca’s reissue of Solti’s famous 1967 recording of Verdi’s Requiem is actually offered with another fine recording, the same conductor’s 1977/78 performance of the Quattro pezzi sacri.
It is a logical pairing that brings together two works that fit well together in representing Verdi’s major efforts in sacred music.
Originally recorded in the Sofiensaal, Vienna, Solti’s recording of the Requiem is a durable performance that serves as a touchstone for modern Verdi performances. The performing forces represent the finest of the day, with Requiem involving the Chorus of the Vienna Staatsoper, the Vienna Philharmonic, and soloists who would command the international opera scene for the decades that followed: Dame Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, two women who had just begun to work together in reestablishing bel canto opera; Luciano Pavarotti, the tenor who would become a household name for fine singing worldwide; and Martti Talvela, the Finnish bass who had worked with Sir Georg Solti in recording the monumental Ring cycle for Decca. Solti himself would lead the Chicago Symphony in taking its reputation into international circles. These are remarkable forces to approach any work, and they are all the more impressive for creating one of the finest recordings of Verdi’s Requiem.
Solti’s interpretation of Verdi’s Requiem remains an essential accomplishment of his recording career. In approaching one of the best-known choral works of the nineteenth century, Solti introduced the precision that was part of his genius. In addition, his sense of drama made the famous “Dies irae” section into an awe-inspiring tableau not just through the volume of the forces involved, but in the timing that allowed Verdi’s syncopations to jolt the listener. Not only could he create such grand effects, Solti could establish the sense of intimate, almost chamber-music effect, that other parts of the Requiem demand, as in the “Lacrimosa.” In this piece, the mezzo accompanies the tenor in some passages, and Solti allows the women of the chorus to support the mezzo later in the movement and achieve a similar delicacy. When the full chorus enters, the result is impressively moving for its balance. The diction is always clear, with articulations appropriately unified, and this is evident in the opening of the “Libera me,” one of the defining sections of this outstanding work that brings an almost operatic idiom to the religious text. The close miking of Sutherland in this piece stands in contrasts to the somewhat distant reprise of the “Dies irae,” a distinction that sets a studio performance like this one from a live concert. More importantly, details like these are readily accessible in the remastering of this performance. Improvements are subtle and support the overall effect, which has always been impressive. In some ways this CD release allows the character of the solo voices to emerge clearly. Thus Marilyn Horne’s vibrant voice has a sense of immediacy, like the resonance that distinguishes Martti Talvela’s rendering of the bass parts in this work. Moreover, those familiar with the later recordings of Luciano Pavarotti should appreciate the tenor’s exceptional performance in this relatively early release, which stands as testimony of his unique talent.
In addition to this exceptional reading of Verdi’s Requiem, this release includes Solti’s performance of the Quattro Pezzi Sacri that was he recorded approximately a decade later. Albeit with different forces than he used with the Requiem, the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra are equally impressive in this release. In assembling these pieces from the latter part of his career, Verdi combined three Marian prayers, “Ave Maria,” “Stabat Mater,” and “Laudi alla Vergine Maria,” along with the ancient Ambrosian hymn “Te Deum.” A text that is associated with the liturgy of the hours, Verdi’s setting of the “Te Deum” stands alongside those of such composers as Haydn, Mozart, Berlioz, Dvořák, and Bruckner. In Solti’s hands, the dramatic power of Verdi’s setting is apparent, yet always fitting into the structure of the music. This is similar to the way in which Solti treated the “Stabat Mater,” a challenging piece in itself because of the variety of textures and timbres, as well as the expressive demands. Verdi’s Te Deum is even more demanding, and Solti’s efforts are admirable. Dramatic and intense, it remains impressive, and those who have not heard it recently will find easy access to the performance in this appropriately entitled “Legendary Recording” rerelease of Verdi’s Requiem.
James L. Zychowicz