01 Apr 2010
Otello (Salzburg Festival 2008) on Blu-Ray
There are two reasons why you need to see the new Otello DVD (Salzburg Festival 2008).
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 Magdalena Kožená.
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 archives.
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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.
There are two reasons why you need to see the new Otello DVD (Salzburg Festival 2008).
The first is the soprano Marina Poplavskaya, a nearly perfect Desdemona, despite the fact that she’s in no way fragile, shy, or ingenuous. Her emotions span the whole Shakespearean range from extreme tenderness to subdued anger — she’s a Desdemona to be reckoned with. Shakespeare includes a wit-contest between Iago and Desdemona, a scene missing from the opera and often cut from the play, in which Desdemona shows a playful, even flashy side — Poplavskaya gives us this intelligence and more. And her singing is beautiful: during the last “Salce!” in the second verse of the “Willow Song,” she fines her voice down until it sounds like the English horn that’s about to echo it, as if you weren’t sure where the singing stopped and the soulless nymph in the orchestra began. (All the singing in this performance is beautiful, though Aleksandrs Antonenko, the Otello, and Carlos Álvarez, the Jago, are both somewhat stolid, monochromatic presences, one all hysterical impulse, the other all forthright snarl.)
The second reason is Riccardo Muti’s decision to include the rarely-heard 1894 Paris version of the Act 3 finale, in which Verdi thinned the texture of the choral-orchestral mass. This has the advantage that Iago’s instructions to Roderigo to kill Cassio can be clearly understood, but great disadvantage that the surge of energy, the urgent darkening that begins when Iago sings “Una parola,” never manifests itself — the familiar 1887 version is the more powerful experience. The director Stephen Langridge, in the Salzburg production, casts a green light over the actors in this scene, providing a Shakespearean touch missing from the opera: Iago tells Othello to beware a green-eyed monster, but Jago tells Otello to fear a dark, blind, living hydra — “occhi verdi” never appear in Boito’s text.
Langridge’s production is better to think about than to look at, though he provides a sort of framed mini-stage at the center, and it occasionally appears that Jago is showing Otello a slide show of infidelity — I like that. Langridge takes tremendous care with the choral scenes: “Fuoco di gioia!” shows some bawdy women nearly raping a young boy, as if Jago, all horned evil, were in charge of the staging even before the plot is hatched; and during “Dove guardi splendono” Desdemona is given first a conch, then a small plaster statue of Venus — Langridge was clearly remembering “Venere splende” in Act 1, Otello’s last words in the love duet. During the vengeance duet Otello will smash the statue; at the beginning of Act 4 Desdemona will try absently to re-attach the head. Iconoclasm is the basic modality of this production, appropriately enough in a play about the shattering of reputation.
In fact Langridge shatters the stage itself. During the storm, a vast jagged crack, like a cartoon image of an earthquake, opens in the floor; and at the end of Act 3, as Jago wonders what would stop him from putting his foot on Otello’s skull, he stomps on a low wide glass platform, which breaks in two — the rear half lifts in the air, and its huge sharp zigzags will brood over the rest of the action. Verdi and Boito disagreed about the handling of the Act 3 finale — Verdi suggested to Boito that he write verses about a new invasion: “Suddenly in the distance are heard drums, trumpets, cannon fire, etc., etc…“The Turks! The Turks! Populace and soldiers invade the stage. All are surprised and frightened! Otello recovers himself and stands erect like a lion”; Boito replied, “That attack of the Turks seems to me like a fist breaking the window of a room where two people are about to die of asphyxiation. That private atmosphere of death so carefully created by Shakespeare suddenly vanishes …” The Langridge fracturing of the glass platform is the fist breaking the window: to some extent it gives the effect that Verdi initially wanted; but the composer himself came to agree with Boito, that a certain claustrophobia was a better idea.
See below for this recording in standard DVD format: