WAGNER: Music from Rienzi, Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger, Tristan und Isolde, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung and Parsifal; Schmerzen, Träume.
Lauritz Melchior, tenor; Orchestras conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, Edwin McArthur and Eugene Ormandy
PREISER 89242 (2 disks) TT: 75:04 & 77:57
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Arias and scenes from Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung and Parsifal
Simon O'Neill, tenor; Susan Bullock, soprano; Thomas Grace, bass-baritone; Sir John Tomlinson, bass-baritone; NBR New Zealand Opera Chorus; New Zealand Symphony Orch/Pietari Inkiner, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 57817 TT: 79:42
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Arias from Orpheus und Euyridike, Fidelio, Macbeth, Don Carlos, Carmen, Tristan und Isolde, Götterdämmerung, Parsifal, and Boris Godunov; Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder
Martha Mödl, soprano; Orchestras conducted by Hans Löwein, Joseph Keilberth, Artur Rother, Hans Knappertsbusch and Wilhelm Schüchter
PREISER 93460 (2 disks) TT: 78:23 & 78:22
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RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: What it is, in the still of night. Forgive me! Remember not the downcast days. It was not the wind, blowing from the heights. The lark's song rings more clearly. On Georgia's hills. To the realm of rose and wine. Zuleika's Song. Captivated by the rose, the nightingale. The line of flying clouds grows thin. The Nymph. Dream on a Summer's Night. TCHAIKOVSKY: Say, when under shady boughs. So soon forgotten. Reckless nights. Why? K. R. Lullaby. Was I not a blade of grass in the field? Amidst gloomy days. Amidst the day. DVORÁK: Songs My Mother Taught Me. STRAUSS: Cäcilie, Op. 27 No. 2
Anna Netrebko, soprano; Daniel Barenboim, piano
DGG 477 8867 TT: 68:56
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JESSYE NORMAN: "Roots: My Life, My Song"
Jessye Norman, soprano
SONY CLASSICAL 64263 (2 disks) TT: 49:48 & 48:32
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It was in the early '30s that EMI attempted to record a complete Ring with the remarkable Wagner singers of the era, but logistics and politics made it impossible to complete the project as originally planned. They did record Act I of Walküre in 1935 with Melchior, Lotte Lehmann, Emanuel List and the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Bruno Walter, the definitive recording of this music that deserves an honored spot in any opera collection. The Danish tenor Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) was a meticulous musician and had a unique voice. He was the leading heldentenor for more than three decades, appearing in all leading opera houses. He sang 519 performances at the Met between 1926 and 1950, and later appeared in five MGM films and many television programs. Preiser's welcome new set contains two well-filled disks of Melchior's Wagnerian roles recorded during his early career, 1939-1942, including a previously unreleased 9-minute scene from Lohengrin with Astrid Varnay and Herbert Jansen. I won't say this was his "prime" period—that was his entire career. There is at least one live Met performance of Walküre available if you look hard enough, with a dream cast: Melchior, Helen Traubel as Brünnhilde, Astrid Varnay as Sieglinde, Friedrich Schorr as Wotan, Alexander Kipnis as Hunding, and Kirsten Thorborg as Fricka, with Erich Leinsdorf conducting. Sound is superb mono, and this is an example of the finest Wagnerian singing you'll ever hear—very much worth searching for.

Young New Zealand tenor Simon O'Neill (b. 1971) has a budding career as a heldentenor. He began singing Wagner in 2001, won the United Kingdom Wagner Society Competititon, and was a "grand finalist" in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions Competition. He has already recorded Mozart with Riccardo Mutti, and also can be heard in Telarc's recording of Chausson's Le Roi Arthus. His publicity states he is a "principal artist" with the Met, the Royal Opera House, and the Salzburg Festival, a bit of an overstatement (at the Met he sang a lesser role in Idomeneo, and was understudy for Domingo for Walküre). There is much that is admirable about O'Neill's new recording. His voice is steady and assured, but lacks body and has a nasal quality that distracts. There surely is potential here and let us hope that O'Neill will continue to develop—true heldentenors are few and far between. This is a well-filled CD but the Rhine Journey and Funeral March are purely orchestral—why not more singing by O'Neill? Sandra Bullock appears briefly as Sieglinde towards the end of Act I of Walküre. Her wobbly contribution is not an asset; she is a bit better in her two lines as Kundry. You can watch O'Neill during recording sessions on You Tube.

German soprano Martha Mödl (1912-2001) didn't start studying music until she was 28, and initially sang mezzo roles with great success. She attracted the attention of Wieland Wagner and became a favorite at Bayreuth in leading roles, also appearing at the Met and other opera centers of the world. She was a favorite of leading conductors including Karajan, Knappertsbusch, Furtwängler and Krauss, and there are a number of complete opera recordings conducted by them. She also was selected by Stravinsky for a live performance of Oedipus Rex in 1951, which was recorded. Later in her life she returned to mezzo roles and continued to perform in character parts including the Countess in The Queen of Spades which she performed in Mannheim at the age of 87 (!). Mödl's artistry is displayed on Preiser's new set, with the Italian and French roles sung in German. The second CD is devoted to excerpts from Tristan recorded for Telefunken in the early '50's, with Wolfgang Windgassen as Tristan. Excellent transfers. This is an important issue.

Anna Netrebko's Salzburg Festival concert in August 2009 has been issued on a deluxe edition CD, a program of music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, with encores by Dvorák and Strauss. Daniel Barenboim is accompanist. It's a delight throughout with the Russian soprano in home territory and many moments of exquisite beauty. Barenboim's accompaniments could not be bettered. If you enjoy this, you must investigate Netrebko's stunning album of Russian songs and arias cushioned in rich orchestral settings provided by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev (REVIEW).

Admirers of Jessye Norman will wish to investigate her latest recording, a twin-CD set called Roots: My Life, My Song. It contains "some of the music that comprises my personal universe and allows my fellow musicians and me to explore, to expand our own musical language and to pay homage to the icons who created the music that we celebrate and love." After an African Drum Invocation the program contains: His Eye Is On the Sparrow, I Want Two Wings, Lord, I Couldn't hear Nobody Pray, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, Heaven, Somewhere, My Baby Just Cards for Me, Stormy Weather, Mack the Knife, Another Man Done Gone, Pretty Horses, God's Gonna Cut You Down, Les Chemins De L'Amour, J'Ai Deux Amours, April in Paris, Habanera, Take the "A" Train, Blue Monk, Solitude, It Don't Mean a Thing, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, and When the Saints Go Marching In. It is fascinating to hear Norman, so known for her Mahler, letting her hair down. This was recorded live on unspecified dates in Munich and Berlin with a small ensemble: Mark Markham (piano), Ira Coleman (double bass), Steve Johns (drums), Mike Lovatt (trumpet), and Martin Williams (saxophone, clarinet). Excellent sound, and the two CDs sell for the price of one.

R.E.B. (July 2010)