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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Glanville-Hicks: Sappho

06/30/2013 1:00 pm
06/30/2013 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-90), Australian by birth, lived and wrote music in the U. S. and in Greece, where her spirit was really most at home. Her opera derived from ancient Greek myth, Nausicaa, premiered at the 1961 Athens Festival. The esteemed Greek- American mezzo Teresa Stratas sang the title role. Excerpts from Nausicaa I broadcast on Sunday, May 25, 1986 on CRI LP's and again on Sunday, June, June 23, 1996 in CRI's CD reissue.

Another wacky little opera of hers, The Transposed Heads (1953) went over the air on Sunday, June 20, 2004.

Peggy Glanville-Hicks's largest scale operatic effort was Sappho, commissioned by San Francisco Opera in 1963, but (curiously) turned down for actual staged production. The composer adapted the libretto herself from Lawrence Durrell's Sappho: A Play in Verse (1950).

Almost nothing is known of the life of the sixth century BC poetess from the isle of Lesbos. Renouned she certainly was in her own day; we know her only through fragments of her verse as quoted by other authors. Sappho's wisps of lyricism continue to echo through the halls of Western literature right down to the present. Durrell's play explores the conflict between the inner life of Sappho's poetic imagination and the world of action swirling around her.

The world premiere recording of Glanville-Hicks grand opus was released through the British label Toccata Classics in 2012 on two compact discs. The opera was recorded in the auditorium of the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal. Jennifer Condon conducts the Orquestra Gulbenkian and Coro Gulbenkian, with six vocal soloists. The Sappho recording was loaned for broadcast from the private record collection of Rob Meehan, former classics DJ here at WWUH and a specialist in the alternative musics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.