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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of January and February 2009

Sunday January 4th: Looking back upon a quarter century and more of Opera presentations, I note with surprise that for many years I have neglected to broadcast a recording of Handel's Messiah in my own extensive CD collection of his oratorios, one which is my personal favorite. I made a New Year's resolution to present it as soon as possible. Since this Sunday falls within the traditional twelve day Christmas season, which ends with the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, now is the appropriate moment to make good on my resolution. I have featured Messiah twice before at Christmastime. On Christmas Sunday, 1994 I aired the 1742 Dublin version of Messiah, performed the way it sounded when it was first successfully tried out in public, as essayed by the Scholars' of Baroque Ensemble for Naxos Records. Handel kept reworking the score of Messiah from the time of its subsequent official premiere in London the following year. There is no one definitive Messiah score, but the best one might be assembled from manuscript material preserved at an 18th century charitable institution, the then-called Foundling Hospital, an orphanage, still in existence today as the Coram Foundation. This score has Handel's fullest orchestration of the work. Out of so many fine historically informed recorded versions of Messiah, the very first period instrument recording released through Decca L'Oiseau Lyre in 1980, remains the finest. It recreates the benefit performance, given under the composer's supervision, in the chapel of the Foundling Hospital in 1754. Christopher Hogwood directs the Academy of Ancient Music and Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Messiah was originally intended for performance during Holy Week. Speaking of revisions of this oratorio, on Easter Sunday, 1991 I presented the Erato recording of Mozart's 1789 classical style revision of Messiah in German language, with Michel Corboz conducting.

SUNDay January 11th:   Comedy and tragedy are conjoined in today's perusal of Swedish lyric theater music. First, tragedy from contemporary Swedish composer Daniel Börtz (b. 1943). He's had a long-standing interest in ancient Greek tragedy. With the famous filmmaker Ingmar Bergman he created the Opera Backanterna ("The Bacchae," 1989), based on Euripides' play. Then he tackled Aeschylus' trilogy The Orestera in an oratorio Hans Namn Var Orestes ("His Name Was Orestes," 2001-02). The Swedish language texts are much reduced versions of the three original plays for a composition in two long parts. Börtz's oratorio merits serious comparison with Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex. Like Stravinsky's work it has a narrator, and the chorus plays an integral role in the action. Alan Gilbert conducts the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Eric Ericson Chamber Choir. Released through the Swedish BIS label in 2007.
Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942) wrote five Wagnerian-style music dramas over a 30 year period, 1897 – 1927. One of them, his Viking opera Arnljot (1910) I have aired in extensive recorded excerpts (Sunday, February 20, 2000)  Domedags profeterna ("The Doomsday Prophets," 1919) is a lyric comedy along the lines of Wagner's Die Meistersinger. Two intellectual big shots at the University of Uppsala are convinced that, according to their calculations, the world will end on Ascension Day, 1647. Fear of Doomsday coming doesn't stop the students from drinking and courting the girlies. Underclassmen were subjected to cruel hazing rituals at Uppsala. Even way back then the University prohibited such practices, but young nobleman flouted the rules and oppressed their classmates of lowly birth. Queen Kristina of Sweden shows up in Uppsala on doomsday to set everything right. When "The Doomsday Prophets" was recorded from broadcast over Swedish Radio in 1984, Ulf Soderblom led the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and a singing cast of fourteen. The opera's three acts have been cut to generous excerpts so as to be accommodated onto a single Sterling compact disc.

SUNDay january 18TH:  Alexander Borodin's Prince Igor (1887) is a strange composite. Borodin left his one and only opera incomplete at the time of his death. Off and on since 1869 he had been working on it in little swatches. He had accumulated a mass of confused sketches which fellow composers Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov built upon. When the opera was staged for the first time in 1890 Glazunov contributed a rousing overture based on some of Borodin's tunes. Rimsky-Korsakov put the scenes in a dramatically coherent order, provided a fourth act from the sketches, and brilliantly orchestrated it all. Although later hands, like that of Russian musicologists Pavel Lamm, have tinkered with Borodin's sketches to further extend the performing score, the uncut Glazunov/Rimsky-Korsakov version of the opera continued to be performed at Moscow's famed Bolshoi Theatre. A classic recording of it was made there in 1969 with Mark Ermler conducting. The original Melody tapes were digitally remastered for a BMG Classics reissue in 1996. This will be the fourth time I've presented Prince Igor on the air over the span of three decades. There's the old Opera of Sophia LP recording with Emil Tchakarov in charge that I aired twice: once on Sunday, October 14, 1984 using the old vinyl discs and again in Sony's CD upgrade on Sunday, September 30, 1990. Then came Mark Ermler's interpretation with the Bolshoi (Sunday, September 28, 1997). You get to hear that BMGthree CD set again today. Prince Igor is a colorful pageant depicting a chapter in the history of medieval Russia, the most memorable part of which is the familiar Palovtsian dance sequence in act two.

Sunday january 25th: The first great composer of operas, Claudio Monteverdi (1587 - 1643) was also a master of the madrigal. Monteverdi continued to cultivate the stile antico, the old style of polyphonic part music. The longest and most magnificent madrigal he ever wrote has got to be Lamento d'Arianna (1608), which was actually stage as an opera and was enormously popular throughout Italy. The operatic score for "Ariadne's Lament" has disappeared, but Monteverdi back-composed it in the antique style, then recomposed it yet again for publication in 1623 in a solo version closer to operatic form. Lamento d'Arianna was taken up into Monteverdi's sixth printed collection of madrigals, his glorious farewell to the outmoded choral genre. The ensemble Delitiae Musicae has recorded the entire 1617 book VI plus the "Lament" in its 1623 version, plus twelve miscellaneous madrigals published between 1593 and 1634. Marco Longhini directs the seven singers and nine instrumentalists, who play harpsichord, organ, theorbo, viols, and baroque violins. Naxos Records issued Madrigals Book 6 in 2007 on two CDs.

Sunday February 1st: Long time listeners to this program should not confuse today's offering Stimmung (1968) by Karlheinz Shockhausen (1928 - 2007) with Stimmen (1973), a song cycle by Hans Werner Henze, broadcast on Sunday, September 17, 1995. Stockhausen's Stimmung ranks with Terry Riley's In C as one of the landmark works of 1960s avant-garde classical music. Stockhausen was living in California in those days and swam in the same experimental stream as Riley, Lamont Young, Steve Reich, Luciano Berio, and Pauline Oliveros. The German word Stimmung mean something like "tuning, voicing, vocalizing" in English. Around a deep fundamental bass tone Stockhausen intertwined a series of vocal variations employing the overtone series, leaving ample opportunity for wordless extemporization. To execute this six singers sit on cushions on the floor facing each other in a circle. Eventually they insert words or snatches of poetry into the group vocalization. One of those words is Licht or "light" in German: a significant word in that later in his career Stockhausen would compose a septology of operas for each of the seven days of the week, all of them titled…aus Licht. Over the years I have broadcast as many of the "... from Light" operas as appeared on disk. Stimmung was composed expressly for the Collegium Vocale of Colongne who performed it several hundred times and recorded it twice, always using the same version of the work. Then came the British Singcircle version in the 1970s, which has evolved into the "Copenhagen Version." Paul Hillier and his sextet Theatre of Voices recorded this latest version, one that the composer sanctioned before his death. A 2007 Harmonia Mundi release on a single CD.
There's time remaining to listen to a recital of songs from the late Romantic Viennese School. Franz Schreker (1878 - 1934) is better known for his operas, but he wrote a total of 49 lieder, of which 33 were published during his lifetime. Most of these songs were the inspirations of his youth, written just before or just after the dawn of the twentieth century. The six Mutterlieder ("Songs of A Mother," 1897) are reminiscent of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. Schreker actually set one of the same poems that Mahler used in his own Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Thirty of Schreker's songs, including some never hitherto published or previously recorded, were pulled together for release in 2008 on one Bridge CD. Two singers trade off in our radio recital: mezzo Hermine Haselbock and baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, accompanied at the piano by Russell Ryan.

Sunday February 8th: Based on his much praised recording of Le Nozze di Figaro (1786), which I broadcast on Sunday, October 10, 2004 I have high expectations for René Jacobs' new interpretation of Mozart's Don Giovanni (1787- 88). Just as he restored "The Marriage of Figaro" to its authentic eighteenth century glory, Jacobs gives us a new recreation of Don Giovanni that is thoroughly in keeping with the operatic subgenre of drama giocoso, equally combining comic and serious elements. In his proper eighteenth century perspective, the Don is a foolish, dissolute young nobleman, not all that far removed from Cherubino, rather than the more mature, tragic and Faustian character envisioned by E.T.A. Hoffmann in the nineteenth century. The demonized Don of the Romantic era has held the stage right up to modern times. Jacobs leads the period instrument Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and Radio Berlin Chamber Choir. His Don is a young Norwegian baritone Johannes Weisser (b. 1980). The Jacobs' Don Giovanni was released in 2007 in a three CD Harmonia Mundi set. Jacobs has opted for the later Vienna version of the opera, as opposed to the premiere staging in Prague. The Prague variants of the score come in a four track appendix on the third silver disc. Recent Mozart scholarship has shown that the triumphal sextet in D major that concluded the Prague version was almost certainly employed in the Vienna performances.


Sunday February 15th: PREEMPTED

SUNDAY February 22ND: I began this two-month cycle of programming with Handel's best known oratorio and conclude it this Sunday with a work of his that's completely unknown to the listening public: an Italian language serenata Parnasso in Festa (1734). This isn't exactly an oratorio. It received a lavish staging, and Handel revived it over the years in staged productions. It's in the same mode as the Vivaldi's La Senna Festeggiante (1724), which I broadcast in two recorded interpretations (Sunday, May 4, 2003 and October 24, 2004). Vivaldi and Handel were both commissioned to compose something festive in celebration of a royal marriage. In Handel's case it was the nuptial festivities in London for Princess Anne of Hannover and Prince William of Orange. The text of Parnosso in Festa gave Handel ample opportunity to do some wonderful storytelling. The parallel is drawn between the wedding of the royal couple and that of the mythological characters Peleus and Thetis. The mythic inhabitants of Mount Parnassus rejoice, especially the Muses Clio, Calliope, and Euterpe. The gods Apollo and Mars weigh in and bestow their blessings. Even the great musician Orpheus is on hand. He gets to tell the sad tale of his love for Euridice. Parnasso in Festa was recorded last year for the UK label Hyperion and released on two silver discs. Matthew Halls directs the period instrument players of the King's Consort and Choir of the King's Consort, with seven vocal soloists.

In preparing midwinter programming I drew upon two recordings in my own collection: the "Foundling Hospital" version of Messiah and Bordodin's Prince Igor. All the other featured recordings come out of our stations ever expanding library of classical music on disk. Thanks to Vickie Hadge of Virtually Done by Vickie for her assistance in the preparation of these notes for publication.

Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 2009

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