The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Music critics of The New York Times name their favorite recordings — historical and current — of Richard Wagner to celebrate this year’s bicentennial of the famous opera composer’s birth. What are your favorite Wagner works and recordings?

August 27, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This year is the bicentennial of the birth of composer Richard Wagner.

Just about everything about Richard Wagner (below) is epic and titanic, dramatic and revolutionary.

Little wonder, then, that he is known especially for “The Ring of the Nibelung,” that 16–hour, four-opera mythological cycle that challenges the most resourceful singers, actors, stage directors, orchestras, conductors and opera companies. It took many complications and until the 1960s for conductor Sir Georg Solti to make the first complete recording of “The Ring” for Decca — and it still holds up to the best complete recordings since then.

Richard Wagner

Stop and think and consider this: In the time it usually takes to hear “The Ring” you could listen to all the symphonies and concertos of Beethoven, or all his string quartets and most of his piano trios.

True, some of Wagner’s vocal music is quite stirring and enthralling.

But only some of it — at least to my ears.

I share some of the sentiments of his detractors, who included some pretty good artists and discriminating musicians.

Take the composer Gioachino Rossini, who quipped “Wagner’s music has great moments but dull quarter hours.”

The American writer and humorist Mark Twain observed that “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

The comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen remarked: “Every time I listen Wagner, I get the urge to invade Poland.”

If you like those, here is a link to some more quips about Wagner, including some by French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire and French composer Claude Debussy:

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Richard_Wagner

I am probably a dissenter, but I think Wagner generally wrote better for instruments than he did for the voice. At least I generally find his orchestral music tighter and more enjoyable to listen to.

Indeed, I would like to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra do one of the various versions of “The Ring Without Words,” perhaps the orchestral anthology of highlights from “The Ring” and other operas that famed conductor George Szell (below) arranged and conducted with the Cleveland Orchestra (in a YouTube video at the bottom).

George Szell wide BW

I love the overtures and preludes, and I don’t think they get programmed often enough these days. Same for the charming “Siegfried Idyll.”

I remember an old vinyl LP recording with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. How I loved, and found endlessly thrilling the Overture to “Tannhauser,” the “Prelude and Liebestod” to “Tristan und Isolde,” the Overture to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” preludes from “Lohengrin,” and the magically static and haunting Prelude to “Parsifal.” They are terrific curtain-raisers.

So I was happy to see orchestral recordings by Herbert von Karajan and Otto Klemperer included on the list in The New York Times.

I also love “best moment” anthologies so it is also good to see choices like the new recording by the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann – a great choice since Kaufmann (below) seems a perfect Wagner singer who has a huge but subtle voice, stamina and the handsome good looks for the parts.

Kaufmann Wagner CD

Anyway, here is a link to the Wagner discography in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/23/arts/music/critics-name-their-favorite-wagner-recordings.html?pagewanted=all

What is your favorite Wagner recording? What piece and what performer?

And do you favor his vocal or instrumental music?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Deutsche Grammophon will release the Met’s new and controversial production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle on 8 DVDs plus a 2-DVD collection of highlights and a 1-DVD documentary in mid-September to mark the composer’s bicentennial in 2013.

August 26, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Attention Wagner fans: Get ready for Valhalla in your home!

The Ear has received word that Deutsche Grammophon will release an 8-DVD recording of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle next month. It will include a 1-DVD documentary plus a 2-DVD set of highlights – a very smart marketing move, says The Ear — as well as the complete set of four operas.

Say what you will about the Metropolitan Opera’s latest production of Wagner’s mammoth four-opera “Ring” cycle – that’s the production by Robert Lepage that was featured in the “Met Live in HD” broadcasts  — it generated a great deal of interest and controversy and divided partisans sharply.

And that kind of publicity is priceless.

So the acclaimed and venerable label Decca has announced it will release DVDs of all the operas plus a documentary and a highlights compilation next month – just in time for the Oct. 13 start of the latest season of “The Met Live in HD,” which can be seen at:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

Here is the official press release from Universal and Deutsche Grammophon:

“For Immediate Release

New York, NY — Wagner’s “Ring” presents the ultimate challenge for any opera company, and the New York Metropolitan Opera’s new production of “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” unveiled between 2010 and 2012 and starring some of the greatest Wagnerian singers of today, is among the most ambitious “Ring” stagings ever mounted.

“The Met’s production, directed by legendary theatre visionary Robert Lepage, uses a 90,000 lb. “tectonic” set (below) -– an infinitely mobile, writhing, rotating raft of 24 individually pivoting aluminium planks that came to be nicknamed “The Machine” – in a dazzlingly cinematic staging that harnesses the latest interactive and 3D video technology to realize many previously “unstageable” aspects of Wagner’s epic drama.

“It is at once a state-of-the-art production for the 21st century and a deeply traditional Ring. In Lepage’s words, “it’s the movie that Wagner wanted to make before movies existed.” For the Boston Globe, it’s “a high-tech Ring with a traditional heart”. In the London Telegraph’s view, it’s “a triumph, at once subtle and spectacular, intimate and epic.”

“Already seen by over a million people in the theater and at cinemas around the globe, the Met Ring was filmed live in high-definition and is now being released on both DVD and Blu-ray to launch Deutsche Grammophon’s celebration of the composer’s bicentenary year in 2013.

With Bryn Terfel, widely acknowledged as one of the finest bass-baritones of our age, performing his first complete cycles as the embattled god Wotan and American soprano Deborah Voigt (below) making her role debut as his disobedient warrior-daughter Brünnhilde.

Other international stars include Jonas Kaufmann (below top) and Eva-Maria Westbroek as the incestuous Siegmund and Sieglinde, and last-minute stand-in Jay Hunter Morris (below bottom) – a thrilling new tenor from Paris, Texas – saving the day as the fearless but ill-fated hero Siegfried. The New York Times declared the cast “as strong a lineup of vocal artists for a Wagner opera as I have heard in years.”

Acclaim was equally enthusiastic for the cycle’s two conductors: James Levine, the Met’s longstanding Music Director, who has conducted 21 complete Ring cycles at the Met; and Fabio Luisi (below), the Met’s Italian-born Principal Conductor, who took over conducting the second half of the cycle after illness caused Levine to withdraw.

“Levine drew exciting, wondrously natural playing from the great Met orchestra”, wrote the New York Times, while “Luisi brings out the score’s three-dimensional detail and animal heat,” wrote New York Magazine.

Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met since 2006, says: “Nothing defines an opera house more than its new productions, and there’s no new production that is more significant than a new “Ring” cycle. That is why I invited Robert Lepage, one of theatre’s great visionaries, to create our new cycle.”

Mark Wilkinson, President of Deutsche Grammophon, says: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Met to help take Wagner’s spectacular, breathtaking music, boldly realized here by Robert Lepage, to as wide an audience as possible. Both collectors and newcomers to Wagner’s extraordinary world will find it at once spectacular, visually spell-binding and deeply thought-provoking.”

To complement the complete Ring cycle on both DVD and Blu-ray, Deutsche Grammophon is releasing two related titles: “Twilight of the Gods,” a 2-CD compilation of audio highlights from the Met’s “Ring” – featuring all the major stars of the production and such famous extracts as “The Ride of the Valkyries,” “Wotan’s Farewell,” the “Magic Fire Music,” “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and the concluding “Immolation Scene”; and “Wagner’s Dream,” a frank and revealing documentary about the five-year making of the Met’s new Ring that has already been acclaimed as “simply the best documentary about the Met ever made” (Film Journal), “a must-see for any creative soul” (Cinespect) and “destined to be one of the classic documentaries about opera” (Philadelphia Inquirer).

Here are details:

“Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen”

Das Rheingold · Die Walküre · Siegfried · Götterdämmerung
& Wagner’s Dream  The making of the Ring

Starring in alphabetical order: Patricia Bardon, Stephanie Blythe, Richard Croft, Mojca Erdmann, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jonas Kaufmann, Hans-Peter König, Waltraud Meier, Jay Hunter Morris, Eric Owens, Iain Peterson, Franz-Josef Selig,· Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek plus The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, all under conductors
James Levine and Fabio Luisi and directed by Robert Lepage

8 DVDs 00440 073 4770
5 BD 00440 073 4771

U.S.  Release September 11, 2012

“Twilight of the Gods”

Wagner: Highlights from “Der Ring des Nibelungen”

Stephanie Blythe, Jonas Kaufmann, Jay Hunter Morris, Eric Owens, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek and The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
under James Levine and Fabio Luisi.

2 CD 00289 479 0638

U.S. September 11, 2012

“Wagner’s Dream”

The making of the “Ring”

Documentary

Featuring Robert Lepage, Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Peter Gelb, James Levine, Fabio Luisi and the Metropolitan Opera

Directed by Susan Froemke

DVD 00440 073 4840

U.S.  Release September 12, 2012


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