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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.
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