Naxos continues to add jewels to their crown with this fine
series of educational recordings. "Opera Explained" delves into
the lives, times and works of great opera composers. This introduction
to Wagner’s early masterpiece is a fine example of just how well an educational
effort can be done.
In just over an hour, we are taken through the life
and works of Richard Wagner, one of music’s great revolutionaries and
one of the most controversial characters ever to pick up a pen. It has
been said that more books have been written on the topic of Wagner that
of any other figure in history save Jesus Christ.
Well paced and written at a level that will entertain
professionals while enlightening novices, this fine script by Thomson
Smillie is brought to life with great panache by David Timson. The thing
that I found most appealing is that before we launched into bleeding
chunks of the Dutchman, we were given a thorough grounding in
Wagner’s compositional style through some very well chosen excerpts
from other works. We also learned a great deal about his politics, ambition
and sexual prowess.
We are given just enough music to whet our appetites,
and I for one will add Naxos’s complete recording of Dutchman
to my collection. Compared to the Classics Explained series,
which deals with symphonic repertoire, the booklet notes are pretty
skimpy. (See my review of the Beethoven sixth from this series for details.)
That is both good and bad. Good, because one would be more inclined
to use the elaborate symphony books as references rather than sit-down
reads, and bad because it would be nice to have such a reference for
the operas. There is a lot to know about Wagner, you know.
The disc however, makes up for any frugality on the
printed page, and one leaves with a better understanding of a very complex
composer and his work. Recommended for opera lovers and newcomers alike,
this is another winning series from what has come to be my very favorite
record label. (Hey, I am a critic; I am allowed to be biased!)
At this rate, I hope that we will soon begin to see
series such as this one devoted to chamber music, the choral literature
and solo instrument repertoire. Since it seems to be Naxos’ mission
to give us an excellent affordable recording of the entirety of Western
Art Music, I don’t see what would stop them. (HINT!)
Buy this disc and the others in the series. You will
be glad you did.