Recently in Recordings
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 Aug 2012
Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul
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.
Perlman’s playing, unmistakable from the first, interacts with the
cantorial voice mirroring it, sounding an ethereal descant over it or leading
the supporting band. His playing represents the vision of the collection, and
sets the tone for each piece. Cantor Yitzhak Meir Helfgot, musically so well
matched to Mr. Perlman, is the vocal soloist whose extraordinary voice and
abilities prove an irresistible draw. The ten selections, taken mostly from the
traditional liturgy, are sung to long-beloved tunes emblematic of the musical
palette of Ashkenazic Jewry; the refined arrangements by Hankus Netsky with
Jesse Gelber and Dmitri Slepovitch should be as appealing to the
khazones newcomer as they are familiar to the khazones
connoisseur. In its intimacy, spontaneity and captivating interpolations of
dance within song, the presentation is novel, but the album is not a novelty:
gimmickry and kitsch are wholly absent. An atmosphere arises akin to that of a
kumsitz or farbrengen, a bit informal, but spiritually
elevated. In this virtual setting, one gathers with wonderful musicians of
varied experiences and backgrounds for the sake of an outpouring of the Jewish
soul to God. Instrumentalists, who traditionally put their fiddles,
tsimbl, clarinets and horns away on the Sabbath and Jewish holy days,
play as if they were Cantor Helfgot’s meshorerim, in music whose
natural setting is the shul [synagogue], the Shabbos
[Sabbath] table, the simcha [joyous occasion] or the stage.
Of the five pieces customary for shul—T’filas
Tal [Prayer for Dew], Yism’chu [They Shall Rejoice],
R’tzay [Be Favorable], Sheyibone Bays Hamikdosh [May
the Holy Temple Be Rebuilt], Kol Nidre [All Vows]—the
R’tzay and Sheyibone Bays Hamikdosh are said daily, in
fact, multiple times a day. Yitzhak Schlossberg’s R’tzay
and Israel Schorr’s Sheyibone elaborate these prayers. Both
texts ask for God’s favor that the Temple be rebuilt and the Temple
service be restored. Schlossberg’s R’tzay pleads the case
for the acceptance of Israel’s prayers with the kind of heightened
vocalization—the krekhts—and sheer persistence that is
characteristic of khazones. Accompaniment is minimal. By contrast,
Schorr’s Sheyibone is a catchy folk-like tune punctuated by
vocal displays ascending to high B-flat, high C and a bit beyond, before
returning to the earthier main tune. This too is a pleading, but grounded in a
tune both delightful and unforgettable.
Yism’chu, a prayer of rejoicing in the Sabbath, precedes
R’tzay during the Sabbath day mussaf service. It is
sung to an old Hassidic tune that became widely used in non-Hassidic circles
thanks to recording and publication. As a prayer of rejoicing, the weight of
pleading and heightened text expression is lifted. The folk instruments come
forward and a dance in the spirit of Sabbath joy emerges to finish the piece.
Hopeful more than joyful, T’filas Tal expresses Israel’s
utter reliance upon God to draw blessings down upon the land of Israel. Dew
signifies favor, enlightenment, sweetness and abundance: a good decree. Heard
once a year on the first day of Passover, it is a composition of the legendary
cantor Yossele Rosenblatt. From its overall earnest tone, cadenza opportunities
emanate that take flight for both cantor and violinist.
There is no music on the album more famous than that of Kol Nidrei.
Arnold Schoenberg, who himself set Kol Nidrei, observed that it is not
a single melody or set composition, but a collection of melodic turns that can
be rendered in highly individual ways. It is chanted in the evening prior to
Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement]. In a real sense, Kol Nidrei is
a legal proceeding that must conclude before nightfall concerning the
nullification of vows. As stressful as a court appearance is, that stress is
never reflected in Cantor Helfgot’s voice or in the arrangement, which
prefers intimacy to monumentality. The piece begins with a prelude for the
violin based on a tune Elie Wiesel sings in his congregation. The accompaniment
is a gentle whisper as Cantor Helfgot begins. While his voice soars through the
familiar melodic turns, it never sounds strained, nor does the music ever sound
too facile. The violin returns with the High Holy Days nusach offered
in the most humble and pure fashion. The ornamented final D-flat is sufficient
Other works include the Mizmor L’Dovid [23rd Psalm] of Ben
Zion Shenker, the great exponent of the Hassidic music of Modzitz, sung widely
at the Sabbath table, and the Zionist theatrical piece, Shoyfer shel
Moshiach of Abraham Goldfaden. The preference is for music with a
connection to Judaism in its immediacy as opposed to music that is already at a
remove from Jewish life, like the famous Oyfn Pripetchik. Electronics,
key change gimmicks and other elements of pop music are avoided. There is more
than sufficient tonal variety thanks to the keys chosen for the arrangements.
This album’s stylistic affinities lie with Schubert Lieder and
the orchestrations of Joseph Rumshinsky.
What is the album about? This is answered in the first number, A
Dudele, a song by the Hassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev
(1740-1809). The song, like the psalm and liturgical pieces, is directed to the
Ribbono shel Olam [Master of the Universe]. What begins as a
rhetorically intensified cry for God’s attention transforms itself into
an acknowledgment of God’s omnipresence and nearness. With that
realization the rhetorical formalities fall away as a desire for closeness
becomes more insistent. It is this particular desire for closeness to the
Divine on behalf of the individual, the family, the community, the nation and
the world that ultimately speaks to a shared universal desire full of great
hope. In this respect, this album should speak to a wide audience.
Steven J. Cahn, Ph.D.
University of Cincinnati