Simon O'Neill

Wagner: Father and Son

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The premise of this debut solo recital by New Zealand heldentenor Simon O'Neill concerns the relationships between fathers (or father figures) and sons in Wagner's operas. In most of these arias and scenes, the character reflects on his father, but in some, like Siegfried's discovery of the sleeping Brunnhilde, his father is probably the last thing on his mind. The album was taken from a series of live performances of a "Wagner Gala" in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2009. Although the first selection, Lohengrin's "In fernem Land," is fine, notable for O'Neill's control and focused, piercing tone, both the tenor and orchestra get better as the program progresses and they relax into letting the music pour out. O'Neill is always immaculately on pitch, and his characterizations are psychologically and musically intelligent, but his voice opens up more and more, so that by the time he gets to the selections from Götterdämmerung, his full stature is clear; he is a major talent, singing with exceptional strength, a noble tone that is solid throughout his range, and the ability to spin out long-breathed, shapely phrases, and at 38 when the recording was made, he was not even at the age when most heldentenors have reached their full potential. O'Neill throws himself into the selections from Parsifal with impetuous abandon, power, and interpretive depth. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, led by Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen, plays with the power and passion of a leading international orchestra, which it has become. They summon the brutal energy to make Siegfried's "Funeral March" truly overwhelming, but they are equally skillful in the refinement and focus of their performance of Siegfried's "Rhine Journey." Even though it is live, the recording has all the hallmarks of an excellent studio recording: clarity, great depth and warmth, and a natural ambience. This album should interest anyone who likes keeping track of vocal stars on the rise.

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