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The University of Hartford

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of January and February 2000

Sunday January 2: Preempted for University of Hartford Women’s basketball game broadcast.

Sunday January 9: Programming for the beginning of the new year, the new century and the new millennium picks up with what has been preempted on Sunday, December 19 of last year: Der Stein der Weisen ("The Philosopher’s Stone," 1790). Four years ago American musicologist David Buch came upon a complete copy of the long-lost score of a remarkable German-language fairytale opera. The headings to the musical numbers, in collaboration with four other Viennese musicians. The composite work was a huge success in its premiere staging, as produced by Emmanuel Schickaneder, who was one of the five who had a hand in its composition. All the others involved in turn had a hand in Schickaneder’s subsequent production, which was Mozart’s immortal "Magic Flute." Buch has pointed out the numerous parallels between Der Stein der Weisen and Die Zauberflote. As a result of his collaborative effort in Der Stein Mozart learned exactly what he needed to write into his own singspiel masterpiece. The world premiere recording of Der Stein der Weisen came out last year through Telarc, with Martin Pearlman directing the Boston Baroque, America’s oldest period-instrument orchestra. The radio station promo copy of Der Stein comes with a third bonus disc in the jewel box. On that CD is Pearlman’s half-hour long informative talk about the music to this enchanting prototype of "The Magic Flute." You’ll hear Pearlman’s remarks following broadcast of the opera itself.

Sunday January 16: Again the opera is preempted for University of Hartford Women’s basketball game broadcast.

Sunday January 23: After reading Cuthbert Girdlestone’s definitive biography of Rameau, I became convinced that he is one of the underrated geniuses of baroque music, one who should rightly be ranked alongside Bach and Handel. Jean Phillippe Rameau (1683-1764) was the greatest composer of French opera in an era when French music was quintessentially French. Rameau’s operas are the culmination of a century of development of the operatic model established by Lully. I’ve broadcast many recent and historically-informed interpretations on disc of Rameau’s lyric stageworks. One of the least known but most beautiful of them is Nais (1749), commissioned to celebrate the peace treaty concluding the War of the Austrian Succession. The orchestral music of the prologue to this work is a particularly powerful stroke of dramatic genius. The choruses, sung dialog, vocal airs and instrumental dances are excellent throughout , even though the story of the opera concerning the sea god Neptune’s infatuation with the water nymph Neis, is pretty slight. Nais was revived on stage for the 1980 English Bach Festival. Nicholas McGregan conducts the English Bach Festival Singers and Baroque Orchestra. The Erato Records release of Nais was last presented on this program in LP format back on Sunday, December 8, 1991. This Sunday you hear Nais again in CD upgrade.

Sunday January 30: Within the 210 minute confines of this timeslot I’m planning to fit four (count ‘em!) little operas with a certain German connection. Three of them sprang from the brain of that renegade German lyric theater composer Kurt Weill (1900-50). Der Kuhhandel or "Shady Dealing" is the German language reconstruction of a theater work that premiered in London in 1935 in English language under the title "A Kingdom for a Cow," a musical parable about the evils of the international arms trade. Revisions to the score of the German-language version remained incomplete at the time of Weill’s death. In 1990, almost sixty years after Weill had broken off work on the piece, the first performance of Der Kuhhandel was given in concert form at Dusseldorf as part of the North-Rhine Westphalian Weill festival. Cappriccio Records made the world premiere recording of excerpts from Der Kuhhandel with the Dusseldorf cast, in co-production with West German Radio of Cologne. Jan Latham-Koenig conducts the Cologne Radio Orchestra and Chorus.
    Not long before he fled his homeland to escape the Nazi takeover, Weill and his longtime collaborator librettist Bertolt Brecht concocted a little opera for school age children to perform. The politically progressive school music movement was big in Germany in the pre-Hitler period. Der Jasager ("The Yes-Sayer")was scheduled to premiere at the Berlin New Music Festival of 1930 but was canceled at the last moment due to concerns about its provocative political content. Within the next couple of years it saw more than two hundred productions in schools all over Germany and Austria. Weill counted it among his finest creations, although the Nazis reviled it as "degenerate art." Weill ended up in New York City, where he set to work writing a series of small-scale American operas, of which Down in the Valley (1945) was the most popular and successful. Intended at first solely for radio performance, it became an American school opera in short order. It premiered at Indiana University, Bloomington, and was eventually broadcast by NBC from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and went on to productions at many colleges. Student workshops and amateur groups alike took it up with great enthusiasm. In Down in the Valley Weill had crafted a ballad opera with the familiar Appalachian folk tune "Down in the valley, valley so low..." as its opening an closing chorus. The story of love gone murderously wrong at the village hoe-down was also familiar to American audiences. Capriccio Records issued Der Jasager and Down in the Valley together on a single silver disc. In both operas Willi Gundlach leads the orchestra of Campus Cantat, the annual music festival at the University of Dortmund, Germany, with participating student singers and players from Fredonia and the University of Buffalo in the US. Gundlach also directs his own group, the Chamber Choir of the University of Dortmund.
    Last in the lineup is a chamber opera by Ernst Krenek (1900-91) called in German Vertrauenssache or "What Price Confidence" (1945), for four singers and piano. Krenek himself came up with the story for this half-hour long lyric comedy, which resembles nothing so much as Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. A CPO compact disc release.

Sunday February 6: English composer Peter Maxwell Davies’ (b.1934) has declared The Doctor of Myddfai (1996) will probably be the last opera we will ever have from him. It was written to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Welsh National Opera. Davies’ librettist David Pountney has taken up the old Welsh legend of the miracle-working country doctor and set it in a futuristic context. Collins Classics has given us the world premiere live recording of Davies’ science fiction opera, as broadcast over BBC Radio Three. The BBC tapings were done at the Welch National Opera’s home in Cardiff, Wales. Richard Armstrong conducts the ensemble.

Sunday February 13: Everything you’ll hear on this Sunday’s show falls into the category of "modern experimental" or "avant garde" lyric theater. Some folks would contend these musical works are not really theater at all. Decide for yourself by auditioning for starters Robert Ashley’s Your Money, My Life, Goodbye (1998). Although commissioned by Radio Bavaria, the singers and electronic orchestra are all-American, and the Lovely Music recording was made in New York City. Ashley himself lends his voice to the ensemble. Robert Ashley (b.1934) has masterminded a string of electronic, multimedia vocal-ensemble pieces for stage, with application to radio and TV. I have featured several of them before. The last time I did was the broadcast on Sunday, February 22. 1998 of Atalanta (Acts of God). Following Your Money, My Life, Goodbye comes another Lovely Music recording of one of Ashley’s earliest efforts Private Parts (1977), and thereafter Key (1967-70), and "invisible theater" piece by experimental vocalist Meredith Monk. This, too, is heard in its 1995 Lovely Music CD release.

Sunday February 20: There’s a Scandinavian angle linking the two operas you’ll hear today. The first has music by a Flemish composer, Daniel Sternefeld (1905-86), but its libretto is based on "The Story of A Mother" by the famous Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. Mater Dolorosa (1935) presents the tale of a woman who tries to win back from Death her little invalid son. Sternefeld ended his artistic career as director of the Belgian Radio Symphony of Brussels. In our brand new Marco Polo CD release of Mater Dolorosa Grant Llewellyn directs the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra and Flemish Radio Choir, with six vocal soloists.
    Arnlyot (1910) by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942) is widely regarded as the preeminent Swedish national opera. This is an ideological drama-in-music whose story is set in eleventh-century Sweden and involves an armed struggle between heathen and Christian noblemen. Peterson-Berger’s music for Arnlyot employs Wagnerian-style leitmotivs and it is quite grand in Wagner’s manner, but is lacks that ponderous Germanic tone. Many passages are colorfully impressionistic, reminding one of the style of Delius, especially when the music depicts nature in setting its scene in the Scandinavian landscape. Arnlyot has never appeared in complete form on commercial recordings, but extensive excerpts from all three acts of the operatic saga were taped at the Stocklhom Korserthus in 1973, with Okko Kamu conducting the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. EMI originally issued the excerpts LP, which has been specially transferred to CD for today’s broadcast.

Sunday February 27: Now back-to-back come two tangentially related requiems, one German, one American. Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem (1868) is one of the most famous, most well-beloved choral works in the repertoire. The text of consolatory verse, which Brahms himself assembled form various Biblical passages, has been translated into English before, but with some difficulty. The new English adaptation of "A German Requiem," made by the well known American choral director Robert Shaw, is only an approximate rendering of the German original. Shaw used as his model the traditional King James’ version of the Bible. He died suddenly in January 1999, less than three weeks before he was scheduled to perform and record "A German Requiem" in his own translated version with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Utah Symphony. Shaw’s longtime friend and musical collaborator Craig Jessop was given the opportunity to conduct in Shaw’s stead for the brand new Telarc recording of the Brahms requiem. It was made in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. The recording of "A German Requiem" I last broadcast, on Sunday October 20, 1991, was made here in Hartford with Fritz Mahler conducting the Hartford Symphony.
    The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is again heard in James DeMars’ An American Requiem (1993), which intersperses the ancient Latin liturgical text of the Roman Catholic mass with modern English language poetry selected or written by Michael F. Sorda. An American Requiem was recorded live in concert in 1995 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. The composer himself conducted the choir and four vocal soloists, one of whom is the renowned bass-baritone Simon Estes. A Bonniville Worldwide Entertainment CD release.
    The two requiem’s are recent additions to WWUH’s ever-growing library of classical music on disc. Also drawn from the station’s record library are the Lovely Music discs of Robert Ashley’s music, Krenek’s Vertrauenssache and Sternefeld’s Mater Dolorosa. All the other featured material in this two-month period of programming is derived from my own record collection, with the exception of the three little operas by Kurt Weill and Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Doctor of Myddfai. Those recordings come on loan from the collection of Rob Meehan, a former classical music programmer at WWUH who is a specialist in twentieth-century alternative music.

Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 2000

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