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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?
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.
13 Apr 2012
Lulu by the Metropolitan Opera
A recent release by the Metropolitan Opera, this two-disc set makes available on DVD the famous performance of Berg’s Lulu that was broadcast on 20 December 1980 as part of the PBS series “Live from the Met.”
Based on the production that received its Met premiere in 1977, this video makes available John Dexter’s classic presentation of Berg’s opera that James Levine conductor over three decades ago. The Met’s production was a major event because the three-act version of Berg’s score was still new, with houses vying to program it. Even though the opera received a number of fine productions since then, this production of the Met’s Lulu remains a strong and insightful performance, which Levine led masterfully.
Dexter’s staging offers a conventional approach to this unconventional opera, with wonderfully detailed interiors that give a sense of realism to this extraordinary score. While various obvious places in the video do not disclose the fact that this is a filmed opera rather than an opera conceived as a film, the direction gives a sense of intimacy which allows the viewers to observe the work from a closer perspective than if they were in the audience. It is a credit to the sensitivity of the production staff involved with the film that they were able to convey the interactions well, as in the finale scene of Act 2. Yet the film also gives a sense of this specific production with its closeups of Levine conducting from the pit, especially in the orchestral numbers that are part of Berg’s score.
One element unique to this production is the setting of the film music ingeniously. With its use of stills which resemble Manga, the section has a timeless quality which fits well into the live action used for the rest of the film. The sepia-tone images and art-deco are entirely appropriate to the production, with a good sense of cinematic continuity.
The cast was outstanding in its days and their efforts remain laudable. Julia Migenes, perhaps known best for her depiction of Carmen in the film of the opera, is a solid, convincing Lulu. In this role Migenes combines her strong acting abilities with her command of the role. Her coquettish behavior in the first act gives way to an increasingly manipulative persona, which Migenes also expresses well vocally. The penultimate scene in the third act gives a fine sense of how Migenes handles this complex role.
As Countess Geschwitz, Evelyn Lear gives a classic performance which merits attention for the details she brings to its performance. Lear’s Geschwitz is appealing for the dimensions it offers, as both a foil for some aspects of Lulu and as an individual with a compelling presence. Lear offers a Geschwitz with consummate style, which fits well into the production, especially in her impassioned final scene. Likewise, Kenneth Riegel’s Alwa is memorable for the musical and dramatic depth it offers. Riegel’s supple voice works well in this production, where his voice is neither lost in the full orchestral sound nor harsh in the more dramatic passages of the role.
The casting is evenly strong, with both the solo passages and ensembles well executed. The opening scene of the third act offers a brilliant rendering of the cocktail party depicted in the libretto, with the solo voices intersecting the ensemble and orchestra with appropriate style. Frank Mazura gives a strong performance in the dual role of Dr. Schön and Jack the Ripper, as does Andrew Foldi as Schigolch. These and the entire cast work well under Levine’s leadership, which shaped this performance from start to finish.
It is difficult to fault this classic performance of Lulu, except for some aspects that are out of the control of the Met. The color was fine for television in 1980, but it seems faded, even in this well-produced DVD. The sound is rendered well, but suffers at times from the necessary placement of microphones for the broadcast. While not a major obstacle, such details serve as reminders that this is a television broadcast, not a studio recording of the opera. Thus, the subtitles are entirely in English, as would occur in a broadcast. Yet it would be useful to have the original German text as an option for the subtitles.
With several productions of Lulu available on DVD, this one is a solid choice. Dramatically and musically compelling, this performance has much to recommend. The sensuality implicit in the score is not overtly depicted, and so the parental warnings that occur with other releases of this opera are absent from this video. More than that, this performance has historic significance for being part of the production that introduced the Met’s audiences to Berg’s famous opera.