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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.
29 Aug 2010
David McVicar’s Salome
This high-concept Salome takes place in Nazi Germany.The set has two levels: on top, Herod revels with the banqueters; below, we see a dingy basement, full of kitchen workers, relaxed soldiers, and the prostitutes who help them relax.
To the left is a large manhole cover, under which Jochanaan
fulminates; to the right is a spiral staircase, lit by a harsh moon.
It is easy to see why the director, David McVicar, would be attracted to
this rehistoricizing. Suddenly the little ghost-waltz that accompanies Salome
near her entrance (“Ich will nicht hineingehn”) becomes something
like diegetic music; the extreme cruelty of much of the action becomes
institutionalized as state policy; and we may recall, with a slight shiver,
that Strauss’s only recordings as a opera conductor are of fragments from
two 1942 performances of Salome. On the other hand, the opera’s
treatment of the disputatious Jews is unsympathetic, and the Nietzschean
Strauss said that he regarded Jochanaan in particular as a clown; so McVicar
skirts a dangerous area of interpretation, in which the Jews of the Third Reich
might seem to deserve what they get. Possibly McVicar tried to avoid this by
playing down the comedy of the disputation-fugue: the Jews look at one another
like mildly peeved intellectuals.
Wilde regarded Salome and John the Baptist as occult twins, and even
contemplated a sequel in which Salome, still alive after being crushed by the
soldiers’ shields, put on a hair-shirt and started to preach the gospel
of Jesus in the wilderness; eventually she would make her way to France and
fall through the frozen Rhône—the ice would refreeze leaving only her
head visible. Nadja Michael’s Salome is hectoring, brutal,
unseductive—she is a sexual being only through sadism. She doesn’t
cajole Narraboth into opening the cistern: she browbeats him, and even pushes
him to the floor when he capitulates. Michael raves powerfully throughout the
opera, and sings powerfully too, though she doesn’t always hit the
correct notes, and there’s a distracting warble in her voice, almost the
warble of 1940s pop singers.
Michael Volle’s Jochanaan is everything you could want: shirtless,
dressed in a long drab Jewish coat with a phallic belt-dangle, he is a potent
lunatic, uncontrolled in his gestures as he reels across the stage, but
superbly controlled in his voice. When he sings of Herodias’
lovers—the young Egyptians in their delicate linen and hyacinth stones
and golden shields and gigantic bodies—he writhes on the floor, as if he
were caught up in some sexual trance at the thought of these beautiful young
foreigners. This is how the production emphasizes the way in which Jochanaan
and Salome are doubles: they are both obsessive-compulsives,
obsessive-convulsives, mad with lust.
The unhappy aspect of this production is the Herod of Thomas Moser. Moser
can make a handsome sound, but he’s a somewhat listless presence, loud
but bland. Philippe Jordan, the brilliant conductor, makes the opera move like
the wind (as all Strauss opera, particularly the schmaltzy ones, should move)
except when Moser sings: then momentum is lost, perhaps owing to Moser’s
flaccid, rhythmically inexact phrasing. His one impressive scene is a silent
one, during Salome’s dance, here staged as a black-out scene in which
Herod and Salome play together with a Salome-shaped doll, a dress-maker’s
dummy, a large dressing-mirror, and a long rack of dresses—it’s a
lovely conceit, as Salome enters Herod’s fantasy-world of fetishes and
idols, deflections of sexuality onto dead images. Wilde’s Salome was
never anything much more than an image in a mirror: “She is like the
shadow of a white rose in a mirror of silver,” Narraboth says, and in her
dance she dances her way right into the glass that she, in some sense, never