Friday, April 1, 2011

I think Titta Ruffo will be the first essay for my Verdi Baritones website. It makes sense, after all – I named my blog after him. He was called "Voce del leone" – the voice of the lion! Right now I am reading My Parabola (Ruffo’s autobiography) and an anthology of essays and sources on Ruffo edited by Andrew Farkas. I’m also re-surveying his recordings (using the Preiser transfers) and doing some general brushing up on his contemporaries…getting the vocal context, if you will.

In other news, I hope to attend one of the CSO’s concert performances of Otello this month, conducted by Riccardo Muti. It’s one of my very favorites operas. I am pleased to see that Michael Spyres—who I pronounced as one of those voices comprising “the future” of singing a couple years back (post here)—will be singing the role of Roderigo. A comprimario role to be sure, but it will be nice to hear him in person.

Combining these two thoughts, below is the Caruso/Ruffo recording of Si, pel ciel! – rightly considered by many to be the greatest opera cut ever recorded.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Life has been busy...

But this is started -

Only a frontpage for now. I have been reading a lot of Mary Jane Phillips Matz, lately! And pondering my 15-20 recordings of Rigoletto ad nauseam.

Stracciari really is magnificent.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

More YouTube indulgence - Richard Bonelli

I'm going to write more on here, really. But in the meantime...I can't believe I have never heard of this man...he's unbelievable! I am going to start that website on Verdi baritones sometime this month.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Many blogs have little in the way of content, and instead deteriorate into posts of what essentially constitutes the blogger's favorite YouTube videos.

Oh well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cesare Siepi is dead

When I heard on the radio that Cesare Siepi had died, I thought...wait...he was still alive?

Amusing as that is--to me, anyway--it's not meant to make light of him. In fact, it exposes something quite positive - Siepi was one of the finest bass voices of the recorded era, so fine that I associate him inexorably with that near-superhuman class of voice which essentially ceased to exist after the 1960's. In short, most everyone with a voice of that caliber is long dead!

Consider his Mozart -

Talk about Chiaroscuro! And...his Rodgers and Hammerstein?'s pretty awesome too. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

RIP, signore Siepi.

Friday, June 25, 2010

GOUNOD: Faust - Lyric Opera of Chicago

        I haven’t written here in some time; I graduated last year and subsequently curtailed my writing about music. That is about to change.

I no longer write for any publication, so the tone and nature of my reviews will be different; I will also dedicate posts to my general thoughts and feelings about performers and the music world. But I think these will be positive changes, and will certainly give me more material to work with if I have the self discipline to keep the blog updated.

        To begin, I think it is worth reproducing here a very brief piece I wrote in a hurry for a music critic contest last fall (which I was a finalist for, but did not “win” due to unforeseen circumstances). The piece is very short and does not flow well (due to word count constraints), but I believe it was the best of the bunch. You can view the archive of the contest and the subsequent firestorm here.


        Lyric’s current production of Faust is so excellent that any criticism would be nitpicking. But I must say that the opera’s Romantic sentiments are often ruined by a cynical outlook, particularly in the last act where Marguerite looks like a 19th century crack whore.

        That nit being picked, Piotr Beczala is a delight. His round, silver timbre, unerring legato, and crystalline top notes make for a stunning Faust. His ardent Salute, demeure chaste et pure is unrivalled by any current tenor.

        As a character, René Pape was very fine as Méphistophélès—debonair and oozing gravitas. Unfortunately, while the devil was pleasingly in the details, Le Veau D’or lacked his usual ringing top and caused a slight panic when he got ahead of the orchestra. Vous Qui Faites L’endormie fared better vocally, but misfired on the all-important diabolical laughter.

        As Marguerite, Ana María Martínez sings well and acts even better—particularly in the love duet—but I was left with the impression that the youthful voice of Katherine Lerner as Siébel would have been more appropriate to the Marguerite character. Lucas Meachem made for an impressive Valentin and sang his heart out in Avant de quitter ces lieu, perhaps pushing his voice a bit more than was wise, but certainly to splendid effect.

        The chorus was the best I have ever heard them, precise and powerful. Andrew Davis kept a firm hand over the orchestra and produced all the aching Romantic touches necessary to the opera.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

HANDEL: Messiah - Karl Richter, London Philharmonic

Just came out yesterday. Remember that I always write to/about students.


Album: HANDEL: Messiah

Artist(s): Karl Richter, London Philharmonic Orchestra,
John Alldis Choir, Donald Macintyre, Stuart Burrows, Helen Donath, Anna Reynolds

One of the most honored holiday traditions of Anglo culture is performances of Handel’s Messiah. Most of us have attended at least one in our lives—we even have a biannual performance here at Elmhurst College that is always quite respectably done and is a standing recommendation. Nevertheless, experience strangely reveals that too few actually own a copy of Messiah on disc.

It therefore seems appropriate to highlight recommend this present performance of Karl Richter’s, which stands firmly in the Romantic Messiah tradition preserved through the last century. Unlike most modern recordings, this Messiah utilizes a full orchestra, large chorus, and operatic soloists who do no ornamentation. To the “period performance” type, this doubtless sounds horrific, but the fact of the matter is that this performance is one of recorded music’s best kept secrets, unfairly relegated to obscurity.

Richter’s conducting confirms his status as the then-reigning Bach expert—squarely Germanic, displaying broad, stately tempi and a good sense of baroque rhythm. The opening overture is vested with weight and great seriousness, but doesn’t drag—you may miss the double-dotting often read into the score if that’s what you’re used to, but the more traditional approach succeeds very well on its own terms. In particular the “Pastoral Symphony” is very pretty and lovingly phrased. The sound he draws from the orchestra is bit relaxed and mellow (the strings sound almost lazy in places), but very deep and appropriate to his stately conception.

Richter’s approach is well served by the John Alldis Choir, whose mature sound and admirable precision are on full display throughout. The lengthy melismas of “And He Shall Purify” sound quite comfortable for the ensemble and Richter’s dynamic changes are very well judged. “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” and “Hallelujah” both capture the necessary joy and grandeur of the words. Perhaps the only misfire is “Behold the Lamb God,” where the absence of double dotting inhibits the dramatic punch of the music.

The soloists are all rock solid vocally and are all native English speakers, delivering satisfying renditions of all the works solo “highlights.” Helen Donath and Anna Reynolds both consistently perform capably and musically, Donath notable for her sweet, even timbre. Donald Macintyre’s Wagnerian bass-baritone is sonorous, powerful, and delivers his solo pieces with suitable majesty and control. Most refreshingly, he also sings “But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming,” eschewing the inferior practice of giving this aria to the alto. But the tenor is the real standout here—in Stuart Barrows we have a consummate oratorio tenor, warm and bright, at once both gentlemanly and heroic. His performances of “Comfort Ye” and “Ev’ry Valley” are darn near perfect, elegant and sincere in the recitative, breezy and cheerful in the aria. And he is equally capable in “Thou Shalt Break Them,” correctly conveying the anger of the text with through both color and his explosive high notes.

In all, this performance produces a most singular and valuable quality: a feeling of timelessness, perfectly capturing the eternal nature of both the music and its subject matter. The album is definitely worth owning, and its relative obscurity makes it a fairly cheap proposition (around $8 on Amazon at the time of writing). If you don’t already Messiah, get this one.

Rating: A