18 May 2010
Bellini's Norma at Gran Teatre del Liceu
Some fortunate operas have any number of fine live versions available on DVD.
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.
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.
Some fortunate operas have any number of fine live versions available on DVD.
Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, however, is not one such. Many would agree with your reviewer that the best choice is the famed recording made one windy night in Orange, with Montserrat Caballe and Jon Vickers. Neither sound and video for that version can be called excellent, but such is the power of the performance that allowances are easily made. Over three decades later, there is no real rival. And this latest recorded staging, from Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu in 2007, poses no real challenge.
Stage director Francisco Negrin does conventional work with the singers, who are trapped in the monolithic and monochromatic sets of Anthony Baker. Tradiotionalists will bemoan the lack of greenery for this story of the Druids under Roman control; indeed, Negrin and Baker see the Druid’s world as blue-tinged. After an opening chorus which seems to be taking place in some turquoise-tiled Turkish bath, the stage picture settles in as two or three intersecting stone walls sections of towering height. With almost no props — so that sleeping characters, as is becoming almost a cliche, repose on the stage floor — Negrin needs a cast of physical singing actors to bring the drama to life. He doesn’t have one.
Fiorenze Cedolins as Norma has the regal bearing, but both her vocalism and her characterization are one-dimensional. In her singing she offers a steady emission of sound, and for acting she lifts her head and peers down at the lesser beings around her. She evokes no sympathy. Sonia Ganassi makes for an attractive Adalgisa, and the famous act-two duet with Norma earns both leading ladies a happy Barcelona audience’s fervid applause at final curtain. Their rivalry and reconciliation might be more powerful if the man at the heart of the triangle were performed more charismatically than Vincenzo La Scola can manage. Negrin can’t do much more than let him grimace and stride purposefully, and the tenor’s instrument sounds dry, if powerful enough. Andrea Papi’s Oroveso barks at the moon like an old Druid dog.
The Liceu forces play beautifully for conductor Giuliano Carella, who does try to produce musically the dramatic force missing from the stage action, even getting a bit manic in the overture. Arthaus Musik spreads the performance onto two discs, but there are no special features. Caballe and Vickers in Orange remain the artists to go to for a powerful Norma on DVD.