New Releases for the New Year

Jonas Kaufmann The Verdi Album

This strange new world of 2014 has already produced several new vocal albums by some of the opera world’s biggest fish. So if you’re still in search of worthy purchases for that cash you got from returning unwanted Christmas presents, here are two options to consider and one to ridicule:

Jonas Kaufmann: The Verdi Album

With the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth in 2013, artists and record labels have been producing Verdi compilation albums in copious numbers. Luckily for opera lovers, tenor Jonas Kaufmann jumped right on that Verdi-producing wagon, and has released his stellar Verdi Album. Kaufmann performs perennial favorites like “La donna è mobile” and “Celeste Aida,” as well as tackling some of the more difficult repertoire, including two selections from Otello. Kaufmann’s rich voice and thoughtful delivery make his Verdi Album a must-listen for the anniversary year.

Bryn Terfel: Homeward Bound

The insert for Bryn Terfel’s latest release Homeward Bound depicts the bass-baritone performing such everyday activities as standing stoically on the edges of large rocks as the sun sets behind him and sitting casually in front a large lake with the pristine image of the sky mirrored in its surface. This and other ridiculously cheesy absurdities characterize the release.  Supported by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Terfel gives several much-loved American classics, such as “Home on the Range” and “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” the “grand opera treatment,” with some rather unfortunate results. The insert also includes some of the most nauseatingly sweet liner notes I’ve ever read, matched only in sappiness by the arrangements of the songs themselves. You can check it out for yourself in the video here:

Renee Fleming: Guilty Pleasures

I was bit apprehensive when popping Guilty Pleasures, Renee Fleming’s newest vocal release, into the CD player for the first time. To me, the words “guilty pleasure” imply something truly terrible, on the scale of a Taylor Swift cover or Bryn Terfel singing “What a Wonderful World.” Fortunately, Renee Fleming has a completely different understanding of the phrase. Her new album is a collection of arias and art songs accompanied by orchestra, most of which are unlikely to be heard on the opera stage or concert hall. Included are a number of pieces from the underrepresented operatic works of the Czech composers Dvorak and Smetana, as well as the delightfully watery aria from Tchaikovsky’s lost opera Undina. In fact, the only true guilty pleasure of the album is the “Flower Duet” from Lakmé, which Fleming sings with her longtime colleague and friend Susan Graham. If you’d like some insights about the album from Renee Fleming herself, check out this video:

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