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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.
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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
20 May 2010
Great Operatic Arias with Gerald Finley
Listeners who have appreciated Gerald Finley’s stylish and moving
singing of baritone roles in operas by Mozart and other composers will be
pleased with the recent CD release of Great Operatic Arias in English.
In addition to Don Giovanni’s famous duet with Zerlina, several roles
created by Finley on stage are featured in excerpt on this recording. Arias
from Doctor Atomic by John Adams and The Silver Tassie by
Mark-Anthony Turnage are performed here by Finley with great commitment,
reminiscent indeed of his original live performances. One also has the
opportunity to hear Finley in less accustomed repertoire by Weber, Donizetti,
Puccini, and Wagner. Several of the excerpts performed are operatic ensembles
or duets in which Finley is well supported by soloist colleagues and the
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir. The London Philharmonic Orchestra provides
accompaniment under the skillful direction of Edward Gardner.
In the earliest pieces composed and featured in this collection, the duet
from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and an aria from Weber’s
Euryanthe, Finley shows his characteristic ability to inhabit a role,
so that he sings and acts with his voice as one. In both excerpts Finley
communicates urgency and emotions that suggest a complexity of character.
Lysiart’s aria from Euryanthe begins with a declamatory style at
which Finley excels, his diction matching the soul-searching questions of the
character. As the piece increases in melodic interest Finley’s approach
gains intensity with full decorative force layered onto phrases such as
“death and vengeance.” At the close of this scene, the longest in
the collection, one has gazed via Finley’s interpretive singing into the
conflicting sides of Lysiart’s character, the forces of destruction
ultimately winning the upper hand. The duet from Don Giovanni, “Là ci
darem la mano,” shared here with Lucy Crowe and performed as “There
will my arms enfold you,” illustrates well the rich legato, which is a
hallmark of Finley’s singing in such roles where it is appropriate. One
can sense the voice performing the act of a seductive embrace as he allows the
lines to flow with baritonal resonance.
In yet other styles Finley makes an equally strong impression, such as
Robert’s aria “My only beloved Matilde I claim” from
Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. In this piece, requiring a strong lyrical
approach punctuated by dramatic accents Finley builds gradually in his
contemplation of the mutual passion with his beloved. During the initial
recitation the singer emphasizes Matilde’s name and its effect on Robert;
here Finley intones the word “overpower” in order to give musical
expression to his ardor. As often, it is refreshing to listen to Finley sing
such words or phrases forte and in upper registers without giving the
least sign of strain. Further accents on “her face” and “her
eyes” lead to the acceptance of Matilde’s physical
“perfection” — and its communication of emotion — with
a carefully modulated coloration of the voice. In the repeat of the
text’s first half the dramatic result is underlined by Finley’s
sustained pitches on “like flame or like wine,” with which the aria
In those contemporary operatic selections here included, which were
originally composed to English texts, Finley’s performances set a
standard for the repertoire. The aria sung by Harry from Turnage’s opera
The Silver Tassie is performed just before the lead character must
return to the trenches of World War I after having spent leave-time in his
native Dublin. After a dissonant orchestral beginning each verse accompanied by
a simple, repeating line serves as an understated reflection on service and the
toll it takes on individual feelings or private loyalties. Finley approaches
the overtly song-like nature of the piece as an exercise in variation. He sings
the first four verses softly, nearly piano, in a melancholy yet
determined resolve to fulfill his military duty while not forgetting the calls
of the homeland. Although each line follows essentially the same pattern, the
vocal decorations are varied subtly just before or at the point of the
end-rhymes. The omnipresent mood of war is suggested by an orchestral intrusion
starting at the mid-point of the aria and returning intermittently until the
end. Finley responds to these reminders of conflict by inflecting his
statements with controlled yet rising pitches, which essentially yield a
disciplined variation of the opening lines. The old is confronted by the new,
as inevitable change caused by the War is registered in the spirit of Harry and
his generation. The second piece from this group is the aria “Batter my
heart” from John Adams’s opera Doctor Atomic.
Finley’s performance as Oppenheimer in this work has been celebrated in
various productions throughout the operatic world, e.g. at Lyric Opera of
Chicago. Here the justly chosen aria, based on a poem by John Donne, showcases
both the music and Finley’s association with it. The dilemma of
Oppenheimer in his work on the horrific weapon causes him to turn to God and to
appeal for renewal in his feelings for humanity. Finley negotiates convincingly
the undulating intonations in the first four verses and their repetition, as
exemplified in the lyrics “three person’d God” and
“break, blow, burn, and make me new.” These verses are surrounded
by intricate orchestral colorings functioning almost as an interlude of
contemplation for the main character. As Finley’s voice rises with
intense expression on individual words (“never shall be free,”
“except you ravish me”), the listener senses the inner
struggles which continue beyond the moment of appeal.
As an example of Finley’s versatility in other repertoire we may look
to Antonio’s scena from Linda di Chamounix —
composed as an aria and duet sung together with the figure of Maddalena —
during which the father’s fears for Linda are expressed. In the
introductory aria Finley demonstrates a mastery of bel canto singing in his
ideal combination of broad legato and carefully placed decorative
melismas on key words such as “altar” and “father.” The
accompanying duet shared with Anne Marie Gibbons illustrates Finley’s
skill at participating in a vocal line with an emphasis on expressive ensemble
singing. The remaining selections in this cd are well chosen and give
indication of Finley’s potential future projects for both operatic stage
and recording. Several of the translations used in this cd were recently
commissioned or produced at the time of the recording.