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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.
24 Mar 2012
Lucia and the glass harmonica
Flute players in opera orchestra around the world must look forward to the frequent appearances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, knowing that while the stage spotlight in the mad scene will be on the soprano, the orchestral spotlight will be on their instrument.
the conductor follows the fashion of adhering to the composer’s original thought and employing a glass harmonica in place of the flute. And that occurs more and more often. Two pieces of evidence here: a 2006 Bergamo Musica Festival production, and perhaps more surprisingly, the 2010 Mariinksy Theater recording. In both cases, the glass harmonica definitely adds to the creepy atmosphere of the scene. The Mariinsky recording offers a sharper aural picture, and the glass harmonicist etches a very clean line of echoing response to soprano Natalie Dessay. The glass harmonica counterpart in the Bergamo recording seems to be caught further from the microphones, slightly dulling the intended effect.
However, in most other respects the Bergamo version scores points over the Mariinsky. Some might have wondered if the starry names associated with the Mariinksy would mean a rival to the opera’s best recorded versions might be appearing. Such is not the case. Conductor Valery Gergiev has a broad symphonic repertoire, but his leadership of Italian opera has received mixed notices. Here, he sustains a poised reading, with no errant tempos or capricious highlighting of stray orchestral detail. Ultimately, however, the reading is a bit dull. More of that Gergiev idiosyncrasy might have helped. The supporting cast is mostly Russian (or at least house singers of the Mariinsky). The heavy tones of Vladislav Sulimsky’s Enrico and Ilya Bannik’s Raimondo blur the characters and veer toward cartoonish villainy.
Gergiev has two superstars as his leads. Lucia is a Natalie Dessay specialty, but this recording almost clinically details the wear and stresses on her instrument from her most recent vocal crisis. The voice is intact, but the suppleness is gone, and high notes fly uncomfortably close to screech territory. Surprisingly, Piotr Bezcala also seems to be in less than ideal voice, with his long final scene occasionally rushed and forced. Both have behind them many finer performances in these roles.
The recordings coming from the Mariinksy label benefit from handsome art design and traditionally generous booklets.
The Naxos, on the other hand, has a thin booklet and nothing else (this is the audio version of a performance also available from Naxos on DVD). The live production was nothing special to look at, and the audio version allows listeners to focus on what an idiomatic conductor and orchestra can provide, as well as the less starry but very capable cast.
Luca Grassi as Enrico and Enrico Giuseppe Iori as Raimondo both possess the right sound for their roles. As Edgardo, the Naxos offers Roberto De Blasio, a rising tenor who has started to pick up a few Metropolitan Opera assignments in the last season. He has just the right weight for the role - masculine, yet limber. In the years since this 2006 recording, he has hopefully brought some more distinctive coloring to his singing. In the title role, Désirée Rancatore puts on a high note display, with crisp coloratura. The middle voice, however, sags under a loose vibrato. Dessay may sound exhausted in her mad scene (not inappropriate), but Rancatore exhausts her listeners in hers, with more of an assault on the scene than an interpretation.
If neither of these versions comes anywhere close the best of the many available recordings of Lucia, the Naxos still deserves the edge for its fluency and old-fashioned commitment.