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.
18 Dec 2011
“A Year at King’s”
This recent recording of the men and boys from King’s College, Cambridge, is an anthology organized around the texts and themes of the liturgical year, a scheme that offers ample opportunity for diverse works—in that sense the recording feels something like a “sampler”—but a scheme that also reflects the real experience of the daily life of the choir which sings demanding choral services six days of the week in term time.
Some of the works
on the recording like Tallis’s extraordinary 40-voice motet, “Spem in
alium,” or Gregorio Allegri’s fabled setting of “Miserere” are by now
well-entrenched in the modern ear. How they acheived that status, however, owes
a deep debt to pioneering recordings by the choir under the direction of Sir
David Willcocks (the “Miserere” in 1963 and “Spem” in 1965). The recent
versions stand in the echo of the earlier, amply reconfirming the persistence
of a King’s style, but also the lasting associations of the works with the
The choir is one of many “Oxbridge” choral foundations, of course,
though in reputation and reception they have arguably a singular status; in the
broader world they represent the idealized standard of the English collegiate
tradition and they set the bar very high, indeed. Their idealized position has
been nurtured by the BBC broadcasts of their Christmas Festival of Nine Lessons
and Carols and by a robust legacy of recording, begun under Willcocks. But the
idealization also derives from the cultivation of a singularity of sound,
impeccable, pristine, warm, smoothly blended, seemingly effortless. This is all
predictably and gratifyingly manifest in “A Year at King’s.” If there is
any downside, it is that there are no surprises.
The warmth of the sound—tone embued with the kiss of candlelight--is
particularly rewarding in two Advent antiphons by the Estonian Arvo Pärt, but
even in other styles it figures characteristically, as in Palestrina’s
exuberant Christmas motet, “Hodie Christus natus est.” And if the sound is
warm, it is also flexibly evocative. The pristine clarity of the trebles, for
instance, well serves the astral imagery of Lassus’s Epiphany motet,
“Videntes stellam magi,” whereas the richness of the lower voices undergird
the presence of the aged Simeon in Eccard’s motet for the Presentation,
“When to the Temple.”
These are pieces whose performances and very selection are unsurprising. In
a context so shaped by notions of tradition, it has been significant, however,
that King’s has regularly commissioned new works for their famous carol
service. The commission for 2005, John Tavener’s “Away in a Manger,” is
recorded here, a welcome toying with familiarity. Tavener uses the well-known
text—the strand of familiarity—while in harmonic and dynamic range he
pushes the bounds of expectancy, and in the absence of the familiar tune, gives
a haunting new shape to the lullaby. Given the number of Christmas commissions
that King’s has now amassed and their high quality, a new recording of them
as a group would be a most welcome project; the Tavener here whets the
One “member of the ensemble” deserves special mention, and that is the
chapel itself. The King’s sound bears the golden touch of its acoustical
environment, and one might easily imagine that the marvelous sustaining power
in the singing of works like Barber’s “Agnus Dei,” a reworking of the
well-known “Adagio for Strings,” is the fruit of the daily singing in so
wondrous a space.
A year at King’s would seem altogether too short a time to sample the
glories of the choir; “A Year at King’s,” however, makes for a good step
in that direction.