Reviews of Wagner - Father and Son:



May 2010

WAGNER Father and Son – Scenes and Arias


It’s surprising that the idea for this disc hasn’t been tried before: Wagner tenor arias sung by fathers and their sons – Lohengrin and Parsifal, Siegmund and Siegfried. Everything has been carefully produced, with the featured artist supported by two international stars imported to sing only a few phrases each. Under a splendid young conductor, a technically expert orchestra is responsive to the music’s dramatic content, and tonally sumptuous.


This would all be for naught if Simon O’Neill’s voice weren’t worth getting excited about, but it most definitely is. Now in his late thirties, the New Zealander has obviously been highly disciplined in building his voice. He’s entering his prime with an instrument that sounds utterly solid (no strain and no wobble anywhere in this demanding programme), which is enhanced here by an obvious passion for Wagner. O’Neill’s highly personal, if somewhat effusive, note in the booklet mentions five distinguished musicians who have helped prepare him in Wagner repertoire. The hard work has paid off in the conviction and confidence displayed on this disc.


Is O’Neill a true Heldentenor? It depends on whose idea of a Heldentenor we’re talking about. It’s interesting how perceptions of this Fach have developed. Wagner tenors a century ago meant the rounded, velvety, heady sounds of Paul Franz or Jacques Urlus. A few decades later came Lauritz Melchior, with his astonishing baritonal lower register rising to a ringing top. Too often, however, we forget that there were also Max Lorenz and Set Svanholm, who sang their Wagner with slenderer, ‘pure tenor’ instruments whose brightness could carry over big orchestras. Later came the bronze-toned Jon Vickers, with that uniquely massive middle register of his. We then had René Kollo and Siegfried Jerusalem, who returned to the Lorenz/Svanholm mould.


Nowdays, the baritonal based Heldentenor seems exceptionally rare (America’s Cifton Forbis, a celebrated Tristan internationally, comes to mind). The brighter, slimmer tenor sound is more commonly encountered, O’Neill being a typical example. When he begins this recital with Lohengrin, the sound strikes the ear as clean, easy, yet not especially beautiful, but perhaps that’s a matter of being so startled by the extreme clarity of the tenor’s textual projection that the timbre itself becomes almost secondary. Beauty does eventually make itself felt, especially as Parsifal and the older Siegfried. In the latter’s narration, O’Neill also proves himself an appealing, admirably vigorous story-teller.


O’Neill’s greatest asset in this programme is perhaps his ability to sustain vitality of utterance while maintaining a calm, unfettered flow of tone. This he shows as Lohengrin (even if the cumulative impact doesn’t yet equal the floated sweetness and mesmerizing nobility of Jonas Kaufmann’s recent version), but more memorably in the Parsifal excerpts. Returning to the Kollo/Jerusalem comparison: like those two, O’Neill is capable of genuine subtlety, but his basic sound appeals more than Kollo’s did and, unlike Jerusalem, he can pour it on at climaxes with no loss of tonal colour. Listen to this Siegmund’s cries of ‘Wälse!’ – a sound to give one real hope for the healthy future of Wagner singing.


Much I admire the New Zealand Symphony under Pietari Inkinen’s baton, did we need another recording of Götterdämmerung’s Rhine Journey and Funeral March? With renowned interpreters of Brünnhilde and Wotan already on hand, it would have been preferable to include the Walküre ‘Todesverkündigung’ scene or the Siegfried/Wanderer dialogue.


Fine engineering, texts and translation, plus a terrific programme note from the invaluable Mike Ashman. EMI should now record O’Neill in Tchaikovsky, Strauss or Janácek – there’s a great deal beyond Wagner that would be just right for this voice.

Roger Pines




METRO, London, UK, 20 May 2010

Heroic tenor Simon O’Neill has all the answers.

Warwick Thompson


Wonderful Wagnerian: New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill delivers an impressive performance.


In our opera round-up it was impossible not to sing the praises of New Zealand tenor Simon O'Neill, who's made a wondeful recording of Wagner's Father And Son - Scenes And Arias. There are a handful of questions which perennially puzzle thinkers, such as: what is the meaning of life? How can we achieve happiness? And will we ever see a truly great Wagnerian Heldentenor in our lifetime?  But here’s an extraordinary thing. It turns out the answer to all three is the same. It’s Wagner: Father And Son – Scenes And Arias (EMI), a disc from New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill. Within only a few bars, O’Neill announces himself as a Wagnerian of the first order: his voice has a powerful and even baritonal range, a shining top register and heaps and heaps of power. And then, within a few more, you feel as if he’s helping you to rip the veil from the mysteries of the universe. Joy, pain, love and – yes – blissful happiness are all here in their inextricably intertwined form. One particularly pleasing quality of O’Neill’s performance is its Italianate lyricism, the way he makes Wagner’s phrases flow with a bel canto ease. Perhaps we have Tony Pappano, head of the Royal Opera, to thank for that, for it was at Covent Garden that O’Neill made a splash as Siegmund in the Ring Cycle a few years ago. Pappano was keen to help his singers develop the more lyrical aspects of the Wagner roles, and the result in O’Neill’s case is a gorgeous warmth and delicacy to his sound. His account of Winterstürme is one of the sweetest on disc. But when he needs to pack a Teutonic punch, the gloves come off. He holds the anguished cry of ‘Wälse, Wälse’ with its fortissimo top G for what seems like an eternity and the effect is electrifying. Pietari Inkinen conducts the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with great focus and there’s excellent support from Sir John Tomlinson as Hagen in selections from Götterdämmerung too. So it’s yah-boo-sucks to the philosophers – all the universal questions have now been answered.





Music OPERA CHOICE, June 2010

Impressive Wagner

Michael Scott Rohan applauds Simon O’Neill’s aria disc


If the New Zealand-born and American-trained tenor Simon O’Neill hasn’t enjoyed the hype of some younger tenors, his career is all the more impressive, leading roles ranging from Wexford to the Met, Salzburg and the Proms, in Fidelio under Barenboim. At Covent Garden, since debuting in The Bartered Bride, he’s sung Lohengrin and Siegmund - roles featured here alongside ‘father and son’ Parsifal and Siegfried.


He has also ‘covered’ Siegmund for Placido Domingo (featured in a 2004 BBC documentary), and the comparison is by no means one-sided. His tone is more clean-cut, less rich and honeyed, silver to Domingo’s gold: his delivery is less passionate and charismatic, but still thrilling, and not without real character and verbal sensitivity. It helps that his German diction is far better, although as Lohengrin particularly he sounds overly careful, emphasizing consonants and voice-focusing pauses at the expense of the flowing line. He is much more fluent and involving as the Volsungs, although wisely he confines himself to Siegfried’s less stratospheric excursions.


He is lavishly supported here by his homeland orchestra under Pietari Inkinen, with a chorus and stellar soloists (Susan Bullock in rather mixed voice). Altogether, this recording, in good sound, is more than promising. I look forward to his forthcoming live recording of Otello delivered under the leadership of Sir Colin Davis.

PERFORMANCE           ★★★★★

RECORDING                 ★★★★★





Opera's marathon man; CLASSICAL

Mail on Sunday (London, England), April 18, 2010

David Mellor


At the risk of sounding like an old golf-club bore for whom everything was better decades ago, it is sadly true that Wagner singing isn't what it was. Especially with heldentenors tackling Siegfried, The Ring's ill-fated hero: they have to sing tirelessly hour upon hour through Siegfried and Gotterdammerung on successive nights. That's the vocal equivalent of running a couple of world-class marathons within a day of each other.

The Ring requires a different kind of voice and stamina to that required for tackling romantic stuff like Puccini, so most tenors who can make a living elsewhere won't take on Siegfried.


However, because Nature abhors a vacuum, someone has to do it. So, in recent times, a group of singers have made a living out of Siegfried, despite responding to Wagner's remorseless demands with little more than pitched yelling. But now, just as Siegfried himself emerged from a distant forest to save the world, so, from New Zealand, comes Simon O'Neill to bring back some much needed musicality to the role.


O'Neill, now nearing 40, has trained hard for his chance to be the Wagner tenor of choice for the world's great opera houses. He has an innate understanding of the words, and he sings with an accuracy and assured intonation not encountered since the retirement of the aptly named Siegfried Jerusalem.

O'Neill's voice might not be as beautiful as some great predecessors, but he is surely the saviour who will make it a pleasure to go to a live Ring again, despite the inanities of whichever glinty-eyed director has been chosen to distort the composer's intentions.


If you want to worship at this shrine, there are 80 minutes of generally joyous music-making on O'Neill's debut Wagner CD, Wagner: Father And Son (EMI,. [pounds sterling]12.99 inc p&p) ****, on which only the conducting of Pietari Inkinen is a bit tepid. O'Neill otherwise receives stalwart support from our own Susan Bullock and Sir John Tomlinson, and the excellent, full-toned New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.


My only criticism would be O'Neill employing the time-honoured but, to me, bad habit of spitting out some final consonants in the beautiful In Fernem Land from Lohengrin. Here O'Neill does not match Jess Thomas's ease of vocal production or beauty of tone, which can be heard in Rudolf Kempe's great recording of the complete Lohengrin, just re-released.


But then Jess Thomas was no Siegfried, despite being given the chance by Herbert von Karajan, whereas Simon O'Neill surely is. And he shows his mettle in two subtly delivered passages, full of understanding, from Siegfried, and then really comes into his own in Siegfried's final scene from Gotterdammerung, before Tomlinson's black-toned Hagen strikes him down.


O'Neill's CD also offers some of Siegmund from Walkure and a sizeable chunk of Parsifal. Riches indeed.

WAGNER SAVIOUR: New Zealand's Simon O'Neill




Das Opernglas May 2010


"  -  Simon O'Neill - one should note this name. Although the 1971 New Zealand-born has not as yet made many appearances in this country, aside from a once cheered Berliner Waldbühne concert of Walküre, Akt I under Daniel Barenboim, his biography, however, already includes Siegmund at the Royal Opera House and in the Metropolitan Opera. He will assume this role in Barenboim's Ring in Milan and Berlin, also Parsifal in Barcelona and Vienna, Cavaradossi in Berlin and Hamburg, and worldwide some further outstanding roles, including Siegfried. On his website is also listed the start of rehearsals for the new Bayreuth Lohengrin (Cover for Jonas Kaufmann?) as well as Parsifal in the regular Festival cast (entry without year date). One listens ever more intently to his Debut CD released through EMI, which contains a dramaturgically coherent programme of fathers and sons, that is to say Siegmund and Siegfried as well as Parsifal and Lohengrin.


Indeed Simon O'Neill does not disappoint. He effortlessly overwhelms each number, radiant top notes and a solid middle register display his enormous possibilities as a singer. Additionally one hears that he endeavours to achieve accurate articulation, which mostly does not appear to be learned by heart, but rather more "knowing" the content of the pieces. Despite these many attributes and remarkable vocal reserves, O'Neill's tenor sounds to me too sterile, too concerned with perfection and control. He forms the characters considered and skillfully, but he does not embody them in equal measure. Despite these objections this CD is more than the usual test of talent. Not to be underestimated is the contribution of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, which under the direction of Pietari Inkinen plays an amazing Wagner and, despite some playing technique limitations, captivates the listener especially with the bravura pieces from Götterdämmerung as well as an exciting Brünnhilden-Erweckung (Siegfried)."


Simon O’Neill – diesen Namen wird man sich merken müssen. Zwar ist der 1971 in Neuseeland geborene Wagnertenor hierzulande noch nicht so sehr in Erscheinung getreten, von einem umjubelten Berliner Waldbühnenkonzert unter Daniel Barenboim einmal abgesehen (1. Akt) »Walküre«. Seine Vita beinhaltet aber bereits den Siegmund am Royal Opera House und in der Metropolitan Opera. Diese Rolle wird er auch in Barenboims »Ring« in Mailand und Berlin übernehmen, außerdem Parsifal in Barcelona und Wien, Cavaradossi in Berlin und Hamburg und weltweit etliche weitere herausragende Partien, einschließlich des Siegfrieds. Auf seiner Homepage ist zudem der Probenbeginn des neuen Bayreuther »Lohengrin« eingetragen (Cover für Jonas Kaufmann?) sowie »Parsifal« als reguläre Festspielbesetzung (Angabe ohne Jahreszahl).  
Umso gespannter lauscht man seiner bei EMI erschienenen Debüt-CD. Mühelos bewältigt er jede Nummer, strahlende Spitzentöne und eine solide Mittellage kennzeichnen seine enormen sängerischen Möglichkeiten. Er gestaltet die Charaktere überlegt und gekonnt, aber er verkörpert sie nicht im gleichen Maße. 


Markus Wilks (Bremen), Das Opernglas (May 2010, s.89)




July 02, 2010

By George Loomis

Scenes and arias from Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung

and Parsifal.

Simon O’Neill (Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegfried, Siegmund), Susan Bullock (Sieglinde, Kundry), John Tomlinson (Hagen), Thomas Grace (Gunther), NBR New Zealand Opera Chapman Tripp Chorus, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra / Pietari Inkinen.
EMI Classics 4 57817 2


The title Father and Son might suggest that this is a duet disc, but in fact father-son duets are nowhere present in these or any other Wagner operas. Rather, the arresting premise brings together fathers and sons who inhabit different operas: Parsifal and Lohengrin, Siegmund and Siegfried.

The fast-rising heldentenor Simon O’Neill has chosen a generous portion of music and sings it splendidly as he keeps the focus squarely on the four personages, notwithstanding his able guest performers. After ‘Winterstürme’ Susan Bullock is denied ‘Du bist der Lenz’; instead the music skips to a rousing ‘Siegmund heiss ich’. And in the eponymous Siegfried’s extended monologue before the final duet, the music breaks off just before the E minor-C major chord progression that signals Brünnhilde’s awakening – the moment people in the theater wait hours for.

No matter. It’s good to have the spotlight trained on other music for a change, especially when the singing is as clarion-voiced and insightful as O’Neill’s. Vocal strength in a Wagner tenor often seems to be prized above tonal beauty, so it is always a pleasure to hear Wagner sung with the vocal clarity and ring we expect from tenors in Italian opera. O’Neill’s voice is exceptionally bright and focused – here and there one wishes he might darken it a bit. But the singing is highly consistent and energized by dramatic involvement and excellent diction.

The Siegfried monologue shows the hero in an unusually sympathetic light – he learns the meaning of fear only when gazing on a woman – and O’Neill’s alert delivery conveys Siegfried’s alarm, agitation, vulnerability and, ultimately, re-found confidence. It fascinatingly pairs with the Götterdämmerung Act 3 narration, in which Siegfried recounts the same scene, and particularly so in his dying moments, when we hear the awakening chords we were deprived of earlier and the hero tenderly hails Brünnhilde in his final breath, all sung with genuine eloquence by O’Neill. The juxtaposition allows one to view Siegfried from a new perspective and, with the help of absorbing performances of the ‘Rhine Journey’ and the ‘Funeral Music’ from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Pietari Inkinen, a reasonably full one; yet we never hear a note from Brünnhilde.

The selections are presented in chronological order of composition, so that son Lohengrin and father Parsifal are separated by the Ring excerpts, which is fine, since only a few words from Lohengrin – decisively delivered by O’Neill – link the two operas. When it finally comes, O’Neill’s vivid, intensely felt ‘Amfortas! Die Wunde!’ proves well worth the wait. The excellent recorded sound is favorable both to voice and orchestra.



From Times Online


May 1, 2010

Simon O’Neill: Father and Son




Bleeding chunks of Wagner can make for awkward home listening. But clever programming and the ringing heldentenor of O’Neill make this opera recital less bloody than some. Gotterdämmerung receives the fullest treatment, following Siegfried from Rhine journey to death. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra beaver away persuasively, while O’Neill wrestles with father figures and magic swords in a voice powerful and noble. There’s some sunburn in the tone up on high, but no one’s perfect.





Heldentenor Simon O'Neill at the 2009 Proms. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou


The New Zealander Simon O'Neill (b 1971) is fast winning international recognition as a leading heldentenor, that rare breed of powerful, heroic tenor voice needed for German romantic opera, especially Richard Wagner. Here O'Neill builds on the familiar theme of father and son to present chunks from The Ring (he is particularly thrilling as Siegmund in Die Walküre), Parsifal and Lohengrin. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra gives a stirring account of Siegfried's Rhine journey and, as a bonus, two top British Wagnerians, Susan Bullock (as Sieglinde and Kundry) and John Tomlinson (as Gunther), contribute. This is an exciting calling card from a singer with every chance of a big Wagnerian future.




MusicWeb International

June 2010

Jim Pritchard


I have been fortunate during the longevity of my interest in Wagner performances to have heard most of the heroic tenors of recent generations live. These include the famous names of recent decades such as Jess Thomas, Spas Wenkoff, James King, Jon Vickers, René Kollo, Siegfried Jerusalem and singers of the present, such as, Peter Seiffert, Johan Bohta, Christian Franz and Ben Heppner. To make this list manageable I have had to edit out many other significant names, whilst peerless for me above all these distinguished names was Alberto Remedios, the British tenor, who showed you could sing a breadth of Wagner ‘leading man’ roles effortlessly, yet with vocal heft and Italianate lyricism. I stress the point that I have experienced these voices live – the best way to do it – as recordings - as we know - can cover up a multitude of vocal sins. Too many ‘best’ lists depend on hearing voices of the ‘golden age’ distilled by the recording process, ancient or modern.

What if anything has this to do with Simon O’Neill’s intriguing new CD? When I read that there is a currently a dearth of Wagner heldentenors it is mainly because there is a lack of truly great Wagner coaches and conductors willing to spend time nurturing new talent. Also there is the problem that if managements know a tenor can get through Siegfried that becomes all they are asked for. The young New Zealander, Simon O’Neill, is a great hope for the future; he already sings Lohengrin, Siegmund and Parsifal to much acclaim in international opera houses and is beginning to add some of the weightier Wagner repertoire soon such as Walther and, presumably, Siegfried.

In the CD booklet Simon O’Neill credits his teacher, Sir Donald McIntyre and his ‘Wagnerian team’ Lionel Friend, Anthony Negus and David Syrus for his ‘vocal development’ and ‘guidance through these roles’. These collaborators have extensive knowledge of Wagner performance and preparation and are a ‘coaching team’ to be treasured. Indeed I would have been happier had either Friend or Negus conducted the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra rather than their young Finnish music director, Pietari Inkinen. While the playing of the New Zealanders is subtle and refined throughout, the quality of the accompaniment varied depending, I guess, on how exposed Maestro Inkinen has been to these works. The recording naturally will never allow Simon O’Neill’s vocal artistry to be swamped but, his Lohengrin remained rather earthbound when it should be seeking Monsalvat and although the final moments of Die Walküre were suitably incandescent, sadly Siegfried’s Rhine Journey seemed to be taking place on a mill pond rather than on the torrents of one of the world’s longest rivers.

Luxury casting gives us all-too-brief moments from John Tomlinson’s baleful Hagen and Susan Bullock sounding more at ease as Kundry than Sieglinde. This recording was made in concert and this may have had some effect on Simon O’Neill’s interpretations. Lohengrin’s ‘In fernem Land’, for instance, is perhaps a touch too darkly baritonal and, as hinted at above, too little is made of the sublime ‘von Himmel eine Taube’ moment, when his Lohengrin recently at Covent Garden had more radiance and the much brighter, steelier, sound that he employs here mainly for Siegfried. It might equally be a matter of this extremely talented tenor settling on his truer voice.

To a crowded catalogue of Wagner excerpts comes this important testament to the continuing development of this important new artist and something that will be interesting to come back to in future years when it becomes clearer how far Simon O’Neill’s star will rise. The concept of Wagner’s fathers and sons leads to the bloodiest of ‘bleeding chunks’ but seldom does the listener’s attention flag. O’Neill’s singing has radiance, drama and vigorous intensity. His impeccable diction is joined with an ability to overcome confidently all the vocal challenges from singing with softer tones for Siegfried’s ‘Selige Öde’ and his death to full-blooming top notes such as Siegmund’s ‘Wälse! Wälse!’ He sings securely, easily and lyrically in the upper register which makes all the Siegfried highlights possibly the best moments on this CD.

Jim Pritchard




Neue CDs | 12.04.2010 15:30 Uhr

Wagner: Father and Son

Richard Wagner: Father and Son - Szenen und Arien
Simon O'Neill, Susan Bullock, Thomas Grace, John Tomlinson
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Leitung: Pietari Inkinen

Vorgestellt von Sabine Lange


Sie haben Seltenheitswert - die wirklich glanzvollen, strahlenden Wagnerhelden-Tenöre. Die Partien des Lohengrin, Siegmund, Siegfried, Parsifal, Stolzing sind mörderisch in ihren Anforderungen - sie nicht nur zu bewältigen, sondern auch eindrucksvoll zu gestalten, gelingt nur einer Handvoll von Tenören pro Generation. Jetzt scheint ein neuer im Kommen zu sein: der Neuseeländer Simon O'Neill. Gerade hat er sein erstes Wagneralbum veröffentlicht: "Father and Son - Szenen und Arien".

Domingo ist begeistert

Die kraftstrotzenden Wälserufe des Siegmund in Wagners Walküre sind legendär - wie der knapp 40-jährige O'Neill sie singt, das kann das Herz eines Wagnerianers zum Schmelzen bringen. "Mein Lieblingstrack auf diesem neuen Album ist 'Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater' aus der Walküre - das ist unglaubliche Musik mit diesen berühmten Wälserufen, die man über das riesengroße Orchester hinweg singt", so O'Neill. "Den Siegmund werde ich in den nächsten Jahren an bedeutenden Häusern singen: an der MET, in London, in Mailand und in Berlin - und vielleicht kann ich es ja dann auch mal in Neuseeland tun."

Ob Siegmund oder Parsifal - der Tenor O'Neill hat das Zeug, Wagnerliebhaber zu begeistern. Er kann sich mühelos und strahlend über das Orchester hinwegsetzen, seine Stimme hat nicht nur Volumen, sondern auch Wärme und Farbenreichtum - was O'Neills Vorbild Placido Domingo zu schätzen weiß, der als Opernintendant immer auf der Suche nach neuen Talenten ist: "Die Stimme hat die Kraft für diese Heldenpartien, aber sie hat auch die Leichtigkeit und die Helligkeit, einen schönen Rodolfo oder Alfredo zu singen. O'Neill ist einfach mit einer wunderbaren Stimme gesegnet, auch mit einer guten Phrasierungskunst. Was ich für ihn tun kann, das werde ich tun - sei es an meinen Opernhäusern in Washington und Los Angeles oder sei es durch meine Empfehlung an andere Orte."

Ein blonder Charismatiker

O'Neill wird bereits an den bedeutenden Opernhäusern der Welt als kommender Star gehandelt. Er ist zweifellos ein blonder Charismatiker, allerdings liegen ihm nicht alle Wagner-Partien. Der Lohengrin führt ihn - jedenfalls auf diesem neuen Album - noch an seine Grenzen. Da klingt die Stimme eng und angestrengt. Und das Bemühen um die korrekte deutsche Aussprache hindert den freien Ausdruck.

Auf seiner Homepage vermerkt O'Neill, dass er im Sommer bei den Bayreuther Festspielen sei - Jonas Kaufmann debütiert dort in der neuen Lohengrin-Inszenierung von Hans Neuenfels. Sollte Kaufmann erkranken, könnte es wohl schneller als erwartet das Bayreuth-Debüt des Neuseeländers O'Neill bedeuten.






Simon O’Neill: Wagner Scenes and Arias

By Andrew Clark

Published: April 17 2010 01:09

Simon O’Neill
Wagner Scenes and Arias
EMI

O’Neill, the new heldentenor on the block, has sung pleasingly every time I’ve heard him – the latest being when he took over the title role of “Otello” at short notice in concert performances with Colin Davis and the LSO.

Here, with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, he tackles Lohengrin’s “In fernem Land” and the gentler scenes from “Parsifal” and “The Ring” (no “Forging Song”). The voice is well captured: it may not be big but he uses it with precision and taste. The words come across clearly. What’s lacking is a sense of tension, freedom, abandon.




Simon O'Neill, Father and Son (EMI)
Rating: ****
Verdict: "New Zealand Heldentenor evokes the spirit of Bayreuth on home turf."


Simon O'Neill has found a neat concept for his new EMI album, Father and Son, focusing on the music of Lohengrin, son of Parzival, Siegfried, son of Siegmund and, finally, Parsifal, whose very lack of a father is a key element in his character.  So it's all in the family, then, reminding me that Wagner's sprawling oeuvre could be seen as the missing link between Ancient Greek drama and the small-screen sagas of Dallas and Dynasty in the 1980s.


O'Neill is in splendid form, a true Wagnerian heldentenor, heroic in tone and stamina. The first offering, In Fernem Land, is a thrilling taste of what is in store and O'Neill's voice positively glistens with the youth and vigour that these great roles need.


At the other end of the album, two extracts from Parsifal remind one of O'Neill's transcendent appearance in the title role of the opera in Wellington four years ago. Amfortas! Die Wunde! has the tenor drawing on a seemingly inexhaustible range of emotions as his character turns from the seductive ploys of Kundry.


It is here too that the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Pietari Inkinen is at its most splendid, from heady rushes of Wagnerian splendour to moments in which the orchestral texture is shot through with all manner of telling solos. English soprano Susan Bullock makes the most of two brief lines as the temptress Kundry, as does Sir John Tomlinson in his earlier turn as the power-hungry Hagen.


However fine the performances may be - and O'Neill is quite something, despite losing the occasional note in moments of extreme passion - the cutting and slicing of Wagner's scores leaves a lot to be desired. The brutal chopping up of Act One of Die Walkure is the most disruptive, especially when we are dashed from vernal enchantment in B flat major to macho sword antics in B minor.


This will be a popular disc and deservedly so - O'Neill has charisma and the NZSO's orchestral items are spectacular. One misfact annoys. This album is not the result of three concerts held in the Michael Fowler Centre last August as the booklet states but, as various photographs suggest, the product of recording sessions in the same venue.

William Dart




Simon O'Neill-Father and Son: Wagner Scenes and Arias

Extracts from Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung and Parsifal,

With Susan Bullock (soprano), Thomas Grace (baritone), John Tomlinson (bass).

New Zealand Opera Chapman Tripp Chorus, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra,

c. Pietari Inkinen. EMI 5099945781759 (one CD)


When the New-Zealander Simon O'Neill stepped in as a last-minute replacement Otello with the London Symphony Orchestra last autumn, Michael Kennedy noted in these pages the 'beauty of his phrasing and the lyric introspection' that distinguished a performance 'marked by intelligent artistry'. A favourite of such esteemed Wagnerians as Daniel Barenboim, he already has a string of Lohengrins and Siegmunds behind him, and this new recital provides brief highlights of those roles, along with a foretaste of his Parsifal and Siegfried, soon to be tackled in the theatre.


While he's clearly classifiable as a Heldentenor, the main impression is again of an unforced, finely focused voice, with the type of well-schooled technical assurance and grace that's rare in this repertory. His singing is highly musical and beautifully phrased throughout, with the occasional judicious hint of portamento. Such virtues are not to be underestimated, but on the evidence of this disc O'Neill does not as yet have an instinctive feel for all the dramatic requirements of the Fach, and he fails to relax fully into the German language. This is less a problem in the ardent 'In fernem Land' that opens the recital, phrased smoothly and crowned by ringing top notes, and his delivery appropriate for the pure fool in the Parsifal extracts. He can only partly be blamed for what's lacking dramatically in the Ring extracts, some of which are far too short to constitute scenes or arias. In the diced-up snippets from Walkiire Act 1, for example, there's little chance of gathering dramatic momentum. O'Neill's elegant line in 'Winterstiirme' is undermined by little sense of growing rapture, then, before we jump straight into a heroically sung but dramatically underwhelming 'Siegmund heiss ich'.


Perhaps of greater interest is his Siegfried, which is thankfully served up in longer scenes. Whether O'Neill will manage such lyrical ease for' Selige öde auf wonniger Höh!' at the end of a long evening singing in the theatre remains to be seen, but the extract builds up tantalizingly to the moment of Brünnhilde's waking, only to jump disconcertingly into the 'Rhine Journey'. Then follows Siegfried's narration from Götterdämmerung Act 3, running through to his death and Funeral March. O'Neill negotiates these passages with ease, but could get a few tips in word-pointing from John Tomlinson, who contributes a peerlessly nasty Hagen-although let's hope he and Susan Bullock weren't shipped to the other side of the world just for these brief contributions. She provides a squally couple of lines as Sieglinde but is much better as Kundry (even though the Act 2 scene-starting at Parsifal's 'Amfortas! Die Wunde! stops before her 'Grausamer!'


Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra provide perfectly adequate support, but surely, in a showcase for O'Neill, unexceptional accounts of orchestral extracts should have given way to fuller scenes featuring the tenor. Nevertheless, while this disc might represent bleeding chunk programming at its most insensitive, make no mistake: it is an important, highly impressive recital from an artist to watch. HUGO SHIRLEY, Opera UK, June 2010


 

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