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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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
13 Apr 2012
Lulu by Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona
Released in late 2011, Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD of the new staging of Berg’s Lulu at the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona is an excellent contribution to the discography of this fascinating opera.
The production was designed by Pierre André Weitz, with stage direction by Olivier Py, and its post-modern approach supports Berg’s score through its vivid settings and facile staging. Unlike the conventional staging of Lulu, as found in another recent DVD which preserves the 1977 Metropolitan Opera premiere of the opera (filmed in 1980), this Barcelona staging plays upon the surrealistic elements of the work to powerful effect. With excellent sound and intense visuals, this recent DG release is a compelling presentation of Lulu.
The casting is impressive, with Lulu played by Patricia Petibon, and Alwa by Paul Groves. Both singers are fully engaged in their characters both dramatically and vocally. Petibon brings out the vulnerability of Lulu along with her ruthlessness. As the narrative takes the Lulu into increasingly complex situations, Petibon expresses her character’s desperation in her acting and vocal tone, with a sense of timing that serves the music and the dram. Yet at the end, when Lulu becomes a prostitute in London, Petibon brings a sense of detachment to the climax, which allows the action to focus on the actions of Ashley Holland as Jack the Ripper and reactions of Julia Juon as Countess Geschwitz. Petibon’s subtlety allows the staging to emphasize the tragedy, and also brings out the lyrical emphases in various numbers, as with Lulu’s Lied (“Wenn sich die Menschen” in the first scene of act two.
As Alwa Paul Groves is appealing for performative reasons. The role is well within Groves’ abilities, which receives fine voice in this video. His delivery of the passage “Über die ließe sich freilich eine interessante Oper schreiben” is memorable for the way it works well in the scene yet seems like commentary on the work itself. His clear enunciation of the text and sense of line supports both the part of Alwa and also his strangely intense relationship with Lulu.
Ashley Holland brings a similar command to the dual role of Dr. Schön and Jack the Ripper, a quality which allows him to build the dramatic and musical tension in the first part of the opera and then, at the end, to bring it to its tragic ending. Holland’s Dr. Schön interacts well with Petibon’s Lulu, as well as the other characters. The complex relationship between Dr. Schön as father and Alwa as his son emerges with appropriate edginess in this production. At the same time the final scene hinges on Holland’s intensity as Jack the Ripper.
With the role of Countess Geschwitz, Julia Juon creates a sympathetic persona as Lulu’s erstwhile lover and dramatic Doppelgänger. Introduced only in the second act, it is important for anyone taking on the role of Geschwitz to create a solid impression, and Juon does so from the start. Her obsession with Lulu emerges without overstatement, with her final lines haunting. Juon’s performance stands well with Petibon’s, as the two women create strong impressions throughout the performance.
Supporting all of this is the fine leadership of Michael Boder, who brings a fine sense of timing and balance to excellent sound of the DVD. Boder’s interpretation is strong, as it reflects his sense of interactions of instrumental and vocal music in this complex score. The orchestral outbursts have their place in the drama, and are nicely integrated into the polished whole of the production.
Yet throughout the performance, the staging stands out for the bold approach to this landmark twentieth-century opera. The carefully considered and and well-thought details make support work. While this results in some provocative images, the results does not seem gratuitous Labeled with a parental advisory for adult content, this DVD makes a provocative staging available to a wide audience. The sensuality of the work emerges in overt elements, like the suggestion of sexual intimacy and the alluring sense of bodies in depicting the lust that is part of the libretto. As strong as this aspect of the production may be, it is never out of place or sensationalist. Rather, this staging makes use of those elements to bring out the narrative elements in ways that sometimes fall short in other productions. At the same time the vivid use of animal images in the prologue and first act make Wedekind’s text come to life memorably. In addition Brechtian elements emerge in the placards with slogans in various languages that punctuate some of the scenes. “Meine Seele” or “I hate sex” seen to be non-sequiturs on their own, but contribute to the entire experience when viewed within the mise-en-scène of this Lulu. As these and other elements work together well in this production, they bring a powerful focus on the dramatic aspects of Berg’s opera in a performance that includes some of the finest interpreters of the work in the first decade of the twenty-first century. A modern conception of the opera, this Lulu is simultaneously accessible for its solid conception of this seminal twentieth-century opera.