Recently in Recordings
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.
02 Feb 2011
I Puritani, Glyndebourne 1960
It’s a joy to watch an athlete finding her legs, especially when you
know she’ll achieve her feat superbly, matchlessly, with supreme grace. I
first heard Sutherland sing I Puritani (three times) during the famous
Met run of 1976.
By that time she knew where each note should be placed and how
to make it land there, how to prepare, how to hold back, when to launch, what
would make her tired, what she could get away with. Even so, on the first night
of the run, she was visibly exhausted at the final curtain, grateful for our
ovations but more grateful that it was over. By the final performance she was
in clover, dancing on the stage (after the repeat of the cabaletta, too!),
extracting individual roses from the bouquet she’d caught to bestow one
on Pavarotti, another on Bonynge. Then, laughing, she tossed a few our way and
blew us kisses. Of course, by then, I knew her first commercial recording of
the opera, the one from 1963 with Pierre Duval shrilling those wild falsetto
E’s to try to match her in the duet.
But the recording at hand, from Glyndebourne in 1960, is her first essay at
the role. Although Nicola Filiacuridi is by no means disgraceful as Arturo (he
simply omits the highest phrases, allowing Sutherland to take them alone) and
John Kentish sings “Ah! per sempre io ti perdei” with enviable
velvet, purchasers of this set will be Sutherland fans eager to hear her first
attempt on the part. They won’t be disappointed, but this won’t be
the Elvira they remember.
There is the omission of the final cabaletta, “Ah! sento al mio
bell’angelo” for one thing. The number was a Bellini afterthought
in any case, and Muti and other “prima la littera” conductors have
preferred to do without it. The finale may sound strange to those familiar with
the Bonynge version, for there is not a peep from the soprano through the
entire concluding rejoicing.
But that’s not significant. What is fascinating is that, throughout
the performance, Sutherland is not sure of herself when she goes for
the E-flats and D’s. A friend of mine used to scoff at those of us who
only heard her in the seventies and eighties: “The chances she used to
take! She was fearless!” He referred particularly to a
Puritani he had heard her sing with the American Opera Society. That
may be the most exciting pirate Puritani to have; I don’t know
if it’s even available.
Glyndebourne was not her first exposure to the music, at least of the Act II
Mad Scene. She had studied that in her first days of working with Bonynge, her
first approaches to bel canto; famously she sang it as part of her audition for
Covent Garden—to the management’s bewilderment. They thought they
were getting a dramatic soprano, which had been her stated objective hitherto;
they had no experience of a dramatic coloratura. Aside from Callas, who had
performed Puritani with Serafin in Venice a few years earlier but was
unknown in London, no one had. The revival and renewal of this repertory seemed
a very long shot to anyone in the business. They had no idea what to make of
Sutherland, and they made very little for several years.
Sutherland’s first Bellini role was, notoriously, Clotilda to
Callas’s first Norma at Covent Garden. Glyndebourne, where she had
earlier sung Donna Anna, the Countess and Madame Hertz in Der
Schauspieldirektor, was her first crack at any Bellini lead. She is strong
here in the angry music of her duet in scene 2 and her voice has the heavier
quality, what I call the “golden” voice, that would become most
familiar to the world by the end of the decade. The “silver” voice
appears with “Son vergin vezzosa” in scene 3, and it is here that
she seems tentative, as if she could not as yet believe that it was easy to
sing this music. It wasn’t easy for anybody else, after all. She does not
seem certain when she glides to the top of a run that the proper note will come
out, and she is therefore audibly nervous about putting full weight on it.
There is a flutter where we are used (in Sutherland Elviras) to certainty. But
this is not inappropriate to the airy, fantastical nature of Elvira Walton in
these early scenes.
Where Sutherland comes into her own is the often ignored first Mad Scene,
the one at the conclusion of Act I, beginning with “Oh! vieni al
tempio.” This is as exquisite a piece of simple singing as she ever did,
caressing the line, breathing it, without overdoing the melodrama of the
situation. (The choral comment takes care of that.) Too, admirers will treasure
the different qualities she brings to Elvira’s changes of mood in Act
II—and regret Maestro Gui’s decision to cut repeats and what would
no doubt have been extraordinary bursts of ornament. The very highest points of
the Act III duet are marked by a certain effort to scoop up to the note that
will be faulted by purists, and this tendency, alas, would become the rule in
her last decade of singing. By the time she sang Puritani at the Met
for the last time, late in 1986, her performance was somewhat painful to those
who remembered her great days. She still sang much of it beautifully (and had
the sense to lower the line here and there), but the lazy pitch and rhythm were
considerably more marked. She was no longer herself, and she no longer seemed
to be enjoying herself singing it.
It is fascinating, as well as a vocal delight, to have this document of her
first essay. Dare one hope that her Mozart essays also linger somewhere in the