Recently in Recordings
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
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
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?
18 Aug 2010
Robert Schumann’s only opera Genoveva (1850) is best known as a failure in its time and has since fallen into the list of succès d’estime, but with this new release, based on a production intended for television, conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt champions the work in his second recording of the score.
The plot of Genoveva is based on legendary Genevieve de Brabant, who is associated with the historic thirteenth-century figure Marie de Brabant, who was married to Louis II of Bavaria. The story concerns the machinations of Golo to seduce Genoveva, and when she spurns him, Golo decides to convince her husband Siegfried to murder her as punishment for infidelity. While Golo and the sorceress Margaretha conspire to put forth this scheme, Siegfried ultimately learns the truth and spares Genoveva. While some connect this story with that of Elsa of Brabant, as set in music as Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, various elements of the narrative suggest deeper, symbolic elements at work, with a magic mirror, the apparition of the Virgin Mary, the ghost of Drago, a member of the household whose death is the result of Golo’s schemes (and thus a kind of Doppelgänger), to suggest a rather modern fairy tale. The libretto is by Robert Reinick and Schumann himself, rather than adapted from the versions that Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Hebbel had already published. The inspiration Schumann had taken from Wagner for setting a German legend to music seems connected to his personal involvement with the text.
Among the handful of recordings of this work, the present performance is the only staged one, and it gives a sense of the opera as Schumann intended it. While it is possible to appreciate the score as a sound recording, the full impact of the score is possible only when it is seen on stage. It is a neglected work that deserves rehearing, a case that Harnoncourt makes in this intensive recording and which benefits from the modernist staging of the score. While it is possible to dispute the use of modern dress for this opera, a case may also be made for disallowing the trappings of costume drama so as not to compromise the music with connotations that might draw other associations into this relatively unfamiliar work. (The overture is family from concert performances, and it receives an effective reading here.)
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Juliane Banse in the title role, who performs the role with appropriate expression and suitable emotion. When necessary, her exclamations punctuate the line fittingly, and her phrasing underscores the text well. The extended duet with Golo in the second act is persuasive, as the virtuous Genoveva resists the lust of Golo, and it is not just phrasing that makes the difference, but the pacing between Banse and Mathey, which allow the lines to combine well. Banse is convincing as Genoveva, with her fine musical presence supported by the physical portrayal of her character. As Siegfried’s deceitful friend Golo, Mathey creates the character with appropriate passion and without overplaying the lecherous elements. His Golo is self-serving, with the lust driven by jealously, rather than anything else, and Mathey contrasts well Martin Gantner’s characterization of the duped husband Siegfried.
Supported by the Cornelia Kallische as the sorceress Margaretha, the principals work together well in establishing a musical tension and emotional pitch that makes this performance compelling. While it may be difficult to support the contention in the liner notes about Genoveva being the most significant opera of the second half of the nineteenth century, the sustained scenes and anticipate the innovation Wagner would introduce fifteen years later in Tristan und Isolde, and as much as comparisons can be made between Schumann’s opera and Wagner’s earlier score for Lohengrin, the emotional situation in Genoveva has a relationship to the groundbreaking score Wagner would compose in Tristan.
It is laudable to find this production available both in Blu-ray and DVD formats, so that both media can take advantage of this powerful work. Blu-ray offers the refinements of visual display and audio that support the fine efforts of Harnoncourt in creating an excellent performance that merits attention. As the celebrations of Schumann include reissues of fine recordings of the composer’s more familiar works, Harnoncourt deserves congratulations for his efforts to bring out a score that is not familiar yet, through his shaping of Genoveva makes a case for knowing this score better.
James L. Zychowicz