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Richard Wagner

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

September 20

Mass exodus warning for the Met’s opening night

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThe opening production of Tristan and Isolde, conducted on Monday by Simon Rattle and sung by Nina Stemme and Stuart Skelton, has suffered an unfortunate clash with the first Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton TV debate. Bloomberg reports: Julie Macklowe, founder of skincare-products maker vbeaute, is splitting her evening, starting with Wagner’s tragic love story and then leaving Lincoln Center “to catch the slugfest” before the final act. “There will probably be a mass exodus out of the opera then,” she said. There could also be a similar walkout from the live simulcast crowd on Times Square.

Guardian

September 23

Why Wagner's Tristan und Isolde is the ultimate opera

The Met’s new season begins with a uniquely potent four-hour hymn to love, sex and death – at the end of which the audience may feel as if they have witnessed something revelatory, even life-changing In my experience, Wagner gets a different sort of audience from most opera. More men; more people who come along on their own. Verdians, Mozartians come to be enriched and entertained. Perfect Wagnerites come to find the meaning of life.I was once sitting behind the late Bernard Levin, a noted British journalist and essayist, during a performance of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, the final part of the Ring cycle, at Covent Garden. At the end of the marathon performance – all of the later Wagner operas are marathons – an excited American woman came up to Levin. “Mr Levin,” she said, “was it significant that Siegfried and Hagen [the villain of the opera] were both wearing green costumes?” She thought she had found the key to the Ring. Continue reading...




Royal Opera House

September 16

Norma musical highlight: ‘Casta diva’

Sonya Yoncheva as Norma in Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper ‘Casta diva’ is an aria from Vincenzo Bellini ’s 1831 opera Norma . It takes place in Act I, shortly after the title character’s first entrance. Bellini originally wrote the role for his friend Giuditta Pasta and the part is considered one of the most challenging roles in the repertory – for a variety of reasons, although particularly the music. It requires a flexible voice that also has tremendous power over a wide range. ‘Casta diva’ is a prime example not only of bel canto (the generic term for a style of music popular in early 19th-century Italy, where high importance is placed on vocal beauty), but also of Bellini’s own distinctive style. Where does it take place in the opera? ‘Casta diva’ takes place in Act I scene 3. Before the aria, we have encountered Norma’s father Oroveso and his followers. They’re eager for war, but they have to wait for approval from Norma, who as priestess has the final say. We then meet Norma’s secret lover Pollione, an enemy of her people. We learn that he’s fallen out of love with Norma and wishes to abandon her and their two children. Then comes ‘Casta diva’. In the preceding recitative Norma argues with Oroveso about the need for war; in the aria itself she leads her people in a serene prayer for peace. This calm doesn’t last long, though – soon Pollione’s outrageous behaviour will lead Norma to give the signal for war. What do the words mean? Read our line-by-line translation of librettist Felice Romani ’s original Italian text, created in 2016 by Royal Opera House surtitler Kenneth Chalmers: Recitative: ‘Sediziose voci, voci di guerra’ Norma Sediziose voci, voci di guerra Avvi chi alzarsi attenta Presso all’ara del Dio? V’ha chi presume Dettar responsi alla veggente Norma, E di Roma affrettar il fato arcano? Ei non dipende, no, non dipende Da potere umano.Oroveso E fino a quando oppressi Ne vorrai tu? Contaminate assai Non fur le patrie selve E i templi aviti Dall’aquile latine? Omai di Brenno oziosa Non può starsi la spada.Chorus Si brandisca una volta! Norma E infranta cada. Infranta, sì, se alcun di voi snudarla Anzi tempo pretende. Ancor non sono della nostra vendetta i dì maturi. Delle sicambre scuri Sono i pili romani ancor più forti. Oroveso and Chorus E che t’annunzia il Dio? Parla! Quai sorti? Norma Io ne’ volumi arcani leggo del cielo, In pagine di morte Della superba Roma è scritto il nome. Ella un giorno morrà, Ma non per voi. Morrà pei vizi suoi, Qual consunta morrà. L’ora aspettate, l’ora fatal Che compia il gran decreto. Pace v’intimo E il sacro vischio io mieto. Norma Are there those who would call for rebellion and war at the altar of god? Would some put words into the mouth of the prophetess Norma and hasten Rome’s unknown fate? It does not depend on human might.Oroveso How long would you have us oppressed? Have our woods and the temples of our ancestors not been tainted enough by Roman symbols? The sword of Brennus cannot now lie idle.Chorus Raise it up! Norma And it will shatter and fall. Yes, shatter if any one of you tries to unsheathe it before time. The time of our revenge has yet to come. Roman spears are still more mighty than the axes of the Sicambri Oroveso and Chorus What has god told you? What is our fate? Norma I read the secrets in the stars. Proud Rome’s name is written on the page of death. One day she will die, but not through your doing. She will die eaten away by her own vices. Wait for the fateful hour when this will come to pass I counsel peace, and gather sacred mistletoe. Aria: ‘Casta diva’ Casta diva, che inargenti Queste sacre antiche piante, Al noi volgi il bel sembiante, Senza nube e senza vel!Tempra, o Diva, Tempra tu de’ cori ardenti, Tempra ancora lo zelo audace. Spargi in terra quella pace Che regnar tu fai nel ciel. Chaste goddess, you cast a silver light upon these age-old, sacred trees. Turn your lovely face to us unclouded and unveiled.O goddess, calm the fire that burns in these hearts Calm their fearless zeal. Spread across the earth that same peace that rules the heavens by your power. What makes the music so memorable? Verdi once praised Bellini’s ‘long, long, long melodies; melodies such as no one had written before him’. ‘Casta diva’, along with several other passages from Norma, exemplify this trait. In the aria Norma sings in incredibly long, smooth lines, embellished with the intricate ornamentation that is a distinctive feature of bel canto. The accompanying orchestration is initially quite light, with lilting strings and a flute obbligato in counterpoint to Norma’s voice. Bellini gradually thickens the orchestral sound and adds in a sotto voce chorus, to build the aria in a long crescendo that is a superb intensification of this ardent prayer for peace. Take a look at the full score of ‘Casta diva’ (from p.115 for the recitative, from p.123 for the aria), from IMSLP . Norma’s other musical highlights Norma is one of Bellini’s greatest works and the piece as a whole makes for thrilling drama. The love triangle of Norma, Pollione and Norma’s rival Adalgisa requires three exceptional singers, and Bellini draws on their skills to the full in the intense trio ‘Oh! di qual sei tu vittima’ that ends Act I (an innovation of Bellini’s, replacing the more usual chorus number). Norma and Adalgisa share two wonderful duets ‘Sola, furtiva, al tempio’ and ‘Si, fino all’ore estreme’, their voices entwining in rapturous beauty, while the fiery Norma/Pollione duet ‘In mia man alfin tu sei’ is irresistible in quite a different way. The war-hungry chorus sing a violent hymn in ‘Guerra, guerra! Le galliche selve’, while the long Act II finale ‘Qual cor tradisti’ brings the opera to its overwhelming climax. Classic recordings Maria Callas is Norma’s most famous exponent and made it a signature role. She made numerous recordings but musicologist Roger Parker for Radio 3 selected her recording with Tullio Serafin for La Scala, Milan , as his favourite. Montserrat Caballé is probably the only other 20th-century singer really to challenge Callas’s dominance, but recordings by Joan Sutherland , Shirley Verrett , Beverly Sills , Renata Scotto and Anita Cerquetti also have their merits (and I've probably missed out somebody’s favourite). More recently, Cecilia Bartoli has made the role her own, particularly in an acclaimed recording with Giovanni Antonini and the period-instrument band Orchestra La Scintilla. More to discover If you’ve gobbled up ‘Casta diva’ then other Bellini works will be worth a look, particularly I puritani and I Capuleti e i Montecchi . Other bel canto works that probably influenced Bellini include Spontini ’s La vestale and Donizetti ’s Anna Bolena . The influence of Norma itself stretched far and can be seen in many of Verdi’s operas – difficult to pick just one but you could choose Ernani , Luisa Miller , Stiffelio and the trio of Rigoletto , La traviata and Il trovatore . Even the notoriously picky Wagner was a Norma fan, and that influence can be seen particularly in the early Das Liebesverbot . Into the 20th century ‘Casta diva’ is strikingly quoted in Hans Krása ’s Verlobung im Traum – a superb but sadly overlooked work now available in recording . Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available, and every Friday until Friday 7 October further tickets will be made available through Friday Rush . The production is a co-production with Opéra national de Paris and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and The Tsukanov Family Foundation.



Classical iconoclast

September 16

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels OrchEstral Songs Vol 1  Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the strikingly Staatskappelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht. The Staatskaepple Weimar dates from 1491, one of the oldest ensembles in the world.  Even before the First World War, during which he served on the front line, Braunfels was preparing what is now his best-known work,  the opera Die Vögel , which helped launch Albrecht Dümling's seminally important series on Decca which pioneered the rediscovery of  Entartete Musik, the "degenerate" music the Nazis hated.  Braunfels wasn't persecuted by the regime, even though he was a half Jewish convert. His three sons all served in the German army.   Braunfels's music would have made him an outsider to the Nazis and their taste for unquestioning sentimentality in art.  Die Vögel is based on Aristophanes. Braunfels's treatment of the play highlights its powerful underlying message. The Birds aren't so much passive objects of beauty but the voices of women  protesting against dominant hierarchies. Braunfels continually returned to these basic concepts throughout his career. In Jeanne d'Arc, Szenen aus dem Leben der heiligen Johanna (more here) and Die Verkündigung (more here), Braunfels used medievalism as a disguise for ideas that were dangerous in a totalitarian regime. Braunfels was a resistance fighter no less, using the Gothic to subvert the Nazi preoccupation with glorifying the past.  In Der Traum ein Leben, Braunfels even depicts a talentless fool following a false Fuhrer. The orchestration is lush but highly ironic.  Attempts to rebrand Braunfels as dreamy eyed romantic inflict on him a kind of posthumous castration.   This new recording begins with the Vorspiel and Prolog der Nachtigall Op 30/3 1913)  a coloratura display for soprano and orchestra, a sampler for the full opera  Die Vögel which premiered in 1920.  Exquisitely refined playing from the Staatskappele Weimar, emphasizing the delicacy of the scoring : to remind us that birds are fragile, like the ideas they symbolize in the opera.  Valentina Farcas sings the fiendishly difficult part with assurance, not quite as miraculously as Hellen Kwon did for Lothar Zagrosek in 1997, though more idiomatically than some since. Kwon made the part feel almost supernaturally ethereal, like an elemental force of nature, which, arguably, Michael Vole is what the role is all about.   In Zwei Hölderlin-Gesänge op 27 (1916-18) Michael Volle is a commanding presence, and rightly so, for the poems have a strange unworldly quality "Willkommen dann, o Stille der Schattenwelt!"  the poet wrote, wrote, fixated by death. The second song, Der Tod fürs Vaterland is even more unsettling.  Swirling, almost Wagnerian flourishes in the orchestra lead to stillness, for we are  a battlefield awaiting the Valkyries.  The legend long predated Wagner.  For Hölderlin "Fremdling und brüderlich ists hier unten"  might have meant noble sacrifice, but to Braunfels in the last years of the war, words like "O Vaterland,Und zähle nicht die Toten! Dir ist,Liebes! nicht Einer zu viel gefallen"  would not have felt so grand.  Significantly, Hölderlin came from Württemberg, which supplied Napoleon with thousands of troops, most of whom died in Russia in 1812, a detail not lost on Braunfels who marked on the manuscript that it was written "in the forest camp at Neu-Württemberg  at Christmas 1916". these two songs are neatly complemented by Auf ein Soldatengrab op 26 to a poem by Hermann Hesse, written in 1915 : new poetry, new music and very topical.  "Dich, Nachtigall, verstand ich eine Stunde" sings Klaus Florian Vogt  in Abschied vom Walde op 30/1  which Hoffegut sings in Die Vögel when he leaves the Nightingale in the woods, and rturns home a wiser man.  The lustre of Vogt's singing makes one feel that Hoffegut learned more from the birds of the forest than Siegfried ever could. This selection of orchestral songs had a wonderful unity, underlining the importance of respecting  Braunfels as an intelectual as well as a composer.  They were nicely set into place by Braunfels's Don Juan op 34 (1922-4) variations on the Champagne Aria from Mozart Don Giovanni. Seven variations follow the initial Theme, all of them played briskly, reflecting the humour oif the origiubnal. Leporello is perplexed  and the aria is delightfully funny. But there's a darker side, as Donna Elvira discovers. One day, Don Giovanni will pay for this frivolity.   Thus, beneath the post Jugendstil decorative filigree lurks menace. Variation 4 is serene, but  Variation 5 ( Mässig-bewegter) begins with an ominous boom , as if winds were sweeping upwards, from a tomb. Is the Commendatore emerging ?  The mood in Variation 6 (Andante) is equivocal, the theme emerging on a solo wind instrument, "clouds" of rumbling strings enveloping it.  In the final Variation (Presto) the old devil is back to his tricks, flying fleetingly, the brass blowing raspberries of defiance, though the ending, is, as we know, defeat .  Braunfels is much more than a study in techiques and adaptation. It's a miniature opera, without words.   Congratulations to Oehms Classics for this superlative recording of Braunfels's Orchestral Songs, so good that I've already ordered the next in the series. But the same standards of excellence don't apply  for the programme notes.  What relevance dies Yoko Ono have to do with Braunfels, happily married as he was ? These songs aren't about love.  This is something that Oehms should take more seriously. Good notes are important because they can enhance the listening experience : well informed readers can better appreciate what they're listening to. 

Royal Opera House

September 15

Aiming high: 10 of the most challenging soprano roles

Albina Shagimuratova as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte, The Royal Opera © ROH/Mike Hoban, 2013 Is there any limit to what a great soprano can do? There’s a host of roles that astonish and delight us: true showcases of extraordinary musical and dramatic talent from across the history of opera. We’ve gathered together some of our favourites, starting with… The Queen of the Night – Mozart ’s Die Zauberflöte Mozart wrote the role of the Queen in The Magic Flute for his sister-in-law Josepha Hofer, who was famous for her outstanding vocal technique and high notes. The Queen of the Night’s two dramatic arias are accordingly packed with fiendish coloratura, taking the soprano voice to amazing heights, particularly in the Act II aria ‘Die Hölle Rache’. Elena – Rossini ’s La donna del lago Elena is one of several roles that Rossini wrote for his first wife Isabella Colbran. Colbran had an exceptionally wide vocal range and the writing for Elena spans the gamut. The opera culminates in one of Rossini’s greatest showpieces for the female voice: Elena’s virtuoso Act II aria ‘Tanti affetti’. Norma – Bellini ’s Norma Norma requires immense stamina, vocal agility and (particularly for the aria ‘Casta diva’) lyricism and beauty of tone. But the challenges don’t stop there: the singer also has to convey the varied and intense emotions of a heroine torn between religious devotion and jealousy, romantic passion and maternal love. Lucia – Donizetti ’s Lucia di Lammermoor Lucia is another role that makes huge demands on a soprano’s stamina: she has to retain enough energy through the demands of Acts I and II in order to carry off Act III’s famous mad scene – a breathtaking display containing a stratospheric virtuoso cadenza accompanied by glass harmonica . Abigaille – Verdi ’s Nabucco Abigaille is a notoriously difficult part: it calls for a singer with a powerful, very agile voice who can move from the bottom to the very top of her range at great speed. Even the most lyrical of Abigaille’s arias, ‘Anch’io dischiuso un giorno’, includes a thrilling two-octave leap. Brünnhilde – Wagner ’s Der Ring des Nibelungen Brünnhilde is often seen as a dramatic soprano’s ultimate challenge. She must sound equally comfortable in the high notes of her opening war cry in Die Walküre and in the low-lying passages that punctuate Götterdämmerung . She must be heroic and tender, vengeful and noble. And above all, she must have the stamina to sing in three operas, each more than five hours long! Olympia – Offenbach ’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann Olympia the doll is only on stage for about half an hour, and for much of that time simply says ‘oui’. But her one aria ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’ is a virtuoso tour de force, each verse adorned with ever more elaborate coloratura. The part also calls for comic acting: Olympia’s mechanics periodically run down and stop her mid-flow. Elektra – Richard Strauss ’s Elektra At 90 minutes, Elektra is relatively short role – but it’s fiercely difficult. The singer has to project over a vast, intricately-scored orchestra and sing some of the most dramatic, declamatory music ever written for soprano, while also conveying lyrical tenderness in her reunion scene with Orest. She also needs to retain enough physical energy for the dance which brings the opera to its devastating close. Turandot – Puccini ’s Turandot Like Elektra, Turandot requires a powerful high voice and a singer able to execute very declamatory vocal writing with ease. The role also poses dramatic challenges: how can a soprano make this murderous princess sympathetic enough to convince us she deserves a happy ending? Lulu – Berg’s Lulu This near-impossible part requires a singer with a three-octave range who can shift from intense lyricism to flamboyant high coloratura to speech – sometimes within the space of one aria. The character is also dramatically deeply enigmatic, and is onstage for every scene of this four-hour opera. Ariel – Adès ’s The Tempest Possibly the highest role ever written for soprano, Adès’s ‘airy spirit’ enters The Tempest singing 17 full-voiced Es two and a bit octaves above middle C – and continues in a similar range for most of the opera. The high notes aren’t limited to coloratura either: many of them are in slow and sustained passages, which is fiendishly challenging. Which fiendishly difficult roles would you include? Let us know in the comments below. Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available . Les Contes d’Hoffmann runs 7 November–3 December 2016. Tickets are still available . Turandot runs 5–16 July 2017. Tickets go on General Sale on 28 March 2017.

Richard Wagner
(1813 – 1883)

Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 - 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or "music dramas", as they were later called). Wagner's compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs: musical themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements. Unlike most other opera composers, Wagner wrote both the music and libretto for every one of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works such as The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser which were in the romantic traditions of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner transformed operatic thought through his concept of the "total work of art". This would achieve the synthesis of all the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, and was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised this concept most fully in the first half of the monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. His Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music. He had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which contained many novel design features. It was here that the Ring and Parsifal received their premieres and where his most important stage works continue to be performed today in an annual festival run by his descendants.



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