Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
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.
16 Feb 2012
Pountney directs Verdi’s Forza for Vienna
One of the guiding principles of the revisionist (if not intervisionist) school of opera directing commonly called “regie-theater” is that certain outdated dramatic conventions in the librettos of many great operas can actually interfere with a contemporary audience’s ability to perceive the true artistic worth of the work of art.
Instead of tears, titters can be produced if in the last act of Rigoletto, the soprano looks ridiculous dressed as a boy and the stage action makes it impossible to believe that she survived the stabbing by Sparafucile. The truth of Verdi’s music and fine singing can overcome that reaction, but a talented director can also help, by re-conceptualizing the scene. On an abstract set, in some other historical context or in contemporary dress, the action no longer feels cramped by expectations of theatrical naturalism. At least, that’s the idea
Verdi and Piave’s La Forza del Destino can make Rigoletto’s story seem like something from Samuel Beckett. After an opening built around an errant gunshot that kills the enraged father of Leonora, who is about to elope with her lover Don Alvaro, the rest of the opera belabors coincidence amid tangentially related episodes (what does Preziosilla have to do with anything?) as Leonora’s brother seeks revenge on both his sister and her lover. No one who knows his work expects David Pountney to go the traditional route with this opera.
After viewing the 2008 production of Forza Pountney brought to the Vienna State Opera, however, the question is, what route did he choose? Working with set designer Richard Hudson, Pountney strips the opera of any geographical reality. The first half plays out on a white ramp with one end closed off in the shape of a wall. For the second half, with its battle scenes, some tower structures are added, with the platform remaining as a foundation. Costuming of the three leads tends to the drab and ordinary, with a decidedly contemporary look to the suits Hudson provides the men. Then Preziosilla dances on in a cowgirl costume, surrounded by Vegas showboys and showgirls in complementary outfits, and that fatal whiff of directorial condescension to the material creeps in. Instead of diverting a contemporary audience from the problematic nature of the Forza libretto, Pountney’s approach emphasizes the weaknesses.
The only strength Pountney brings to the show comes in his work with Nina Stemme, the Leonora. She is a tragic character almost from the start and as such risks tiring an audience with her constant pathetic appeal. Stemme adds a core of strength to the character, and though her voice lacks that warmth often called “Italianate,” her secure and smooth delivery are admirable. As her brother, Carlos Álvarez spends the entire show glowering, and though he has the right sound for the part — masculine, authoritative — he borders on comic villainy. The late Salvatore Licitra demonstrates why his once-promising career never quite fulfilled itself. He looks good, and at moments has exactly the heroic tenor sound one wants. Then he slips into lazy phrasing and passages where his intonation veers sadly off-course. Still, with so few singers able to take on these roles these days, his loss remains a very sad one.
Add to Pountney’s “ideas” having Alastair Miles sing both Leonora’s father and Padre Guardino. Miles handles both parts with impressive command, but if some point is being made, it barely seems worth considering. And do the tunics Miles and Licitra have to wear in the opening and closing scenes have some symbolic import? If not, they do serve the function of being unattractive.
Zubin Mehta also conducted a Forza released on DVD a few years ago. He knows his Verdi, and the singers never lack for dramatic support. The Unitel set has a thin booklet and no other special features. The credit sequence, with its animated sequence of a gun firing a bullet superimposed over rehearsal footage is a bad mixture of possibly good individual ideas. Even worse is when the gun imagery returns during the opera proper. Karina Fibich, credited as video director, should have rethought that one (perhaps it was Pountney’s idea).
So, for Forza on DVD, the best choice remains that old black and white version with Tebaldi and Corelli, on sets so flimsy they wrinkle when touched. It is doubtful even those singers could save, however, Pountney’s misguided approach.