Recently in Recordings
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.
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?
28 Mar 2012
Historical Performances from Covent Garden: Barbiere, La traviata and Tosca
Once the province of only the most dedicated opera fanatics, mid-20th century recordings of privately taped live performances have become more widely available.
ICA Classics appears to be a label dedicated to in-house tapes of live
Covent Garden performances of the mid-to-late Fifties. Of the three sets
reviewed here, all share constricted audio that mutes the orchestra but gives
voices — at least the stronger ones — satisfactory prominence. Tape hiss,
while audible, will not bother any but the most sensitive after a short period
of adjustment. The question becomes then — how many “carats” can be
ascribed for these nuggets from one of opera’s supposed Golden Ages?
The most fun comes with the 1960 Il Barbiere di Siviglia, with
conductor Carlo Maria Giulini leading a tastefully raucous performance. The
audience takes longer than the singers to warm up, by the time act one
concludes, the stage action has broken through any stereotypical British
reserve, and the extended bouts of laughter will make most any listener
impatient to know what was happening on stage. Rolando Panerai sings a
youthful, confident Figaro, but most of the laughter seems centered around the
Bartolo of Fernando Corena. Luigi Alva offers a stylish Conte d’Almaviva, and
for some of us, it’s nice to end this opera without the extended aria Rossini
cut and later used in Cenerentola. Juan Diego Florez fires up standing ovations
with this piece when he takes on the role, but it is narratively redundant and
shifts the focus away from what should be an ensemble finale. Teresa Berganza
made Rosina a specialty. There is much evidence here of the special quality she
brought to the role — feminine and feisty — but either the stage action
placed her further from the source microphone or the quality of her voice was
not as susceptible to off-stage miking. Her vocal effect is dimmed by a
A couple of years before that 1960 performance Maria Callas made a notable
appearance as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. Although still in her
mid-30s, 1958 finds Callas in variable voice. The middle still has warmth and
agility, but the top is awkwardly approached and often unpleasant, although
Callas holds onto high notes as if hoping the quality will improve through
sheer determination. Act three comes off best, as she doesn’t have to extend
upwards as much. Then again, it may have been an off-night for everyone. The
stylish light tenor Cesare Valletti starts off “Un di felice” as if unsure
of the key, and then seems to struggle with conductor Nicola Rescigno over
tempo. He improves as the night progresses, but this is probably not a
performance he would have wanted a permanent record of. Mario Zanasi is a
competent Germont, not much more. This is a document for Callas-philes.
And for those still adhering to a supposed “Callas vs. Tebaldi” fan
feud, the 1955 Tosca finds Tebaldi in glorious voice. Although the
great soprano tends to let the sheer beauty and size of her voice carry much of
the characterization, she does offer some moments of personal insight,
including a spookily whispered repetition of “Mori!” at Scarpia’s death,
and a sudden scream as her own final leap. For Cavaradossi Ferruccio Tagliavini
pushes his voice forward, perhaps to match Tebaldi. While retaining his
individual sound, Tagliavini stays at one emotional pitch, even in his act
three showpiece. The biggest and saddest surprise is the Scarpia of Tito Gobbi.
This is a role with which he will forever be identified, but as recorded here,
he sounds dry all night, shouting for effect. One grows eager for Tosca to get
her revenge. Conductor Franceso Molinari-Pradelli supports Puccini and the
singers well, including a soprano “boy shepherd” in act three who sounds
exactly like a mature soprano.
ICA Classics provides a brief booklet note that gives some basic details
about the run of performances from which the recordings are drawn.
Unsurprisingly, those commentators find each performance to be a long-lost gem.
At budget price, there’s not much risk for the curious fan who would like to
close his or her eyes, hop in an imaginary time machine and imagine themselves
in London for these performances. Of the three, only the Barbiere gets
a recommendation here.