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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 2010

Sunday JANUARY 3RD: Handel, Messiah. Since this, the first Sunday of the New Year, falls within the traditional twelve day Christmas season which ends with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th, now is a perfectly good time to give you that perennial holiday favorite, Handel Messiah. Because Handel kept reworking the music of Messiah after its triumphal 1742 premier in Dublin all the way through the end of his life, there is no one definitive score for the oratorio. The case can be made that the so-called Foundling Hospital version of 1754 is Handel's finished creation. That version I presented last year on Sunday, January 4th, it may “period” eighteenth century style recorded interpretation with Christopher Hogwood directing the Academy of Ancient Music (Decca/L’Oiseau Lyre, 1980). Another great British conductor of our time Sir Colin Davis has prepared his own edition of the score. For the live-in-performance recording made at the London Symphony Orchestra’s home venue, the Barbican, the orchestra forces were scaled back somewhat and backed by harpsichord continuo, as in baroque practice. The LSO is joined by the Tenebrae Choir and three of the finest British vocal soloists around today: soprano Susan Gritton, tenor Mark Padmore, and bass Alastair Miles, joined by the estimable Italian alto Sara Mingardo. A 2009 release through the orchestra's own LSO Live label on two silver discs.

Sunday, JANUARY 10TH: Shostakovich, The Nose and Prokofiev, incidental music for Eugene Onegin. Anybody who thinks that Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75) is a deadly serious composer should listen to this opera he wrote in his youth. The Nose (1930) is based on a famous story by one of Russia's greatest writers of the nineteenth century, Nicolai Gogol. Gogol’s tale deals with a military officer whose nose is mysteriously lopped off while shaving. In preparing his own libretto Shostakovich had the help of one of the most daring wags in the USSR. Yevgeny Zamyatin was eventually expelled from the Soviet Writers Union and was forced to leave the country. The approved Soviet music critics disliked The Nose, but Shostakovich was vindicated within a year of his death, when The Nose was revived in Moscow in 1974. The audience cheered at the end of every one of the six revival performances. Melodiya, the Soviet state record label, produced the world premiere recording of this comic masterpiece. Columbia Masterworks picked it up in the US. That recording I broadcast on LPs on Sunday, December 15, 1985. A new recording of The Nose has been made in the concert hall of the Mariinsky Theatre (formerly Kirov) in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), the city where Gogol’s story takes place. Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, with eight vocal principals and many additional vocal soloists. Released on two CDs in 2009 under the Mariinsky label.
Now for some wonderful theater music that went unperformed because the Soviet regime censors forbade the sound of church bells. Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953) wrote a quantity of incidental music for Soviet-era theatrical productions. The Stalinist regime planned celebrations across the USSR in 1937 upon the centenary of the death of another much esteemed Russian writer, Alexander Pushkin. Even though Tchaikovsky had already written a perfectly good operatic version of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, Stalin called for a new dramaturgical rendition of the poem. Prokofiev procured a dozen lengthy numbers for the production, employing orchestra, chorus, vocal soloists, and two speaking voices in melodrama type passages with orchestral backing. As a special audio effect, church bells would chime for Tatiana's entry into St. Petersburg. You get to hear all the numbers written for Eugene Onegin, from a 2009 Capriccio CD set of Prokofiev’s incidental music for Eugene Onegin, Hamlet, and Boris Godanov. The studio recording was made in Berlin with Michail Jurowsky conducting a symphony orchestra and chorus of RIAS radio Berlin.

Sunday, JANUARY 17TH: Hagen, Shining Brow. An opera about an architect?! What a boring subject! Well, think again when you listen to Daron Hagen’s Shining Brow (1993) about the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the house he built for himself in the side of a hill in Spring Green Wisconsin in 1911. He named the residence Taliesin, after the ancient Welsh bard, which translates into English as "Shining Brow." Hagen (b. 1961) is a disciple of Leonard Bernstein and developed for himself and eclectic musical style similar to his mentor, especially the later Bernstein style of A Quiet Place. Shining Brow tells the story of Wright’s shameless affair with the wife of one of his architectural clients. Taliesin burned down in August, 1914. The household chef murdered three people in the house, hatcheting to death Wright’s mistress Mamah and her two children. We get what might well be the definitive recording of Shining Brow from the Naxos label in its "American Opera Classics” line. Baritone Robert Orth carries off a thoroughly convincing portrait of the headstrong architect. Naxos has preserved a live performance that took place in Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo in 2006.

Sunday, JANUARY 24TH: Preempted by broadcast of a University of Hartford women's basketball game.

Sunday, january 31st: Glass/Cohen, Book of Longing and Glass/Moran, The Juniper Tree. This Sunday's programming constitutes a Philip Glass mini-festival. Philip Glass (b. 1937) has turned out over the long haul of his career to have been a prolific composer in so many aspects of lyric theater. Over the long haul of my own alternative career as an Opera deejay, I have broadcast as much of Glass’ recorded vocal music as I have come across, beginning way back on Sunday, January 12, 1986 with his Opera Satyagraha (1980). Most recently you heard yet another of his political-type operatic works, Waiting for the Barbarians (1991), which went over the air on Sunday, November 16, 2008. Glass collaborated with Canadian poet Leonard Cohen in a song cycle Book of Longing, which premiered in Toronto at the Luminato Festival in June, 2007. The poet himself delivers the spoken word text, joined by solo singing voices (soprano, mezzo, tenor, and bass baritone), plus a chamber ensemble. The composer plays keyboard. The live performance of Book of Longing was issued in 2009 through Glass’ own record label Orange Mountain Music on a single silver disc.
Our second Glass feature of the afternoon was also release through Orange Mountain on one CD. The Juniper Tree (1985) is a musical collaboration with fellow composer Robert Moran. Arthur Yorinks provided them with a libretto for a two act opera, based on a fairy tale by the Brother’s Grimm. The Juniper Tree was captured live in its world premiere performance in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the American Repertory Theater, who commissioned the work. Richard Pittman directs the Juniper Tree Opera Orchestra, with chorus and eight singing actors

Sunday, FEBRUARY 7TH: Davis, Amistad. No doubt you've already seen the movie. Now get an ear full of Amistad the opera, which are presented in recognition of February as Black History Month. Stephen E. Ritter, reviewer for Fanfare magazine, that Bible of classical record criticism, tells us "Anthony Davis is perhaps most widely known, aside from his work as an innovative jazz composer and performer, as the author of a X (1986), one of five operas he has composed to date… Amistad is actually from 1997, jointly commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the American Music Theater of Philadelphia. Here, now 12 years later, we have the first recorded issue…” (Fanfare, July/August, 2009.) I broadcast the Gramavision CD release of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X on Sunday, February 14, 1993. Dennis Russell Davies conducts the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra and Chorus, with vocal soloists, for the New World Records world premiere recording of Amistad. Mr. Ritter writes further, "New World has done an excellent job with the production, with sterling sound and fine performance by all concerned."

Sunday, FEBRUARY 14TH: Giodano, Fedora and Mascagni, L’Amico Fritz. This will be a verismo Sunday. That is, I’ll be presenting back-to-back two significant late nineteenth century Italian operas by composers other than Puccini. Both recordings of these works are classic ones on stereo LPs starring legendary singers from half a century ago. Both of them I have broadcast before. I last aired Umberto Giordano’s Fedora (1898) on Sunday, June 4, 1989. Nowadays we wouldn't think of Fedora as a realistic story in music. Who would uncritically believe that a woman could fall in love with her husband's murder? Princess Fedora Romanizov does just that and in so doing touches off a tragedy of political intrigue among the other wealthy Russian emigrés in Paris. Decca/London recorded Fedora in 1969 was soprano Magda Olivero in the title rôle, tenor Mario Del Monaco and baritone Tito Gobbi. The large cast of supportive singers includes a soprano who would go on to become very famous indeed: Kiri Te Kanawa. Lamberto Gardelli leads the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
None of the fourteen operas of Pietro Mascagni wrote later in life ever achieved the international fame of his first one, Cavalleria Rusticana (1890). Mascagni’s next effort shortly after the premiere of Cavalleria was in a lighter, comic vein. L’Amico Fritz (1891) is a work of pristine freshness and melodic charm. The story takes place in Alsace and concerns a wealthy young bachelor who has sworn never to marry. Through the machinations of a local rabbi, who acts as a matchmaker, Fritz falls in love with the daughter of one of his own servants and wines of asking her for her hand in matrimony. L’Amico Fritz was very well received in Rome and quickly went onto successful productions in London, Vienna, and elsewhere, but today it is little known outside of Italy. The superstar tenor Luciano Pavarotti is heard in the title role, opposite soprano Marella Freni as the shy and ingenuous serving girl Suzel. (Pavarotti and Freni come from the same town in Italy: Modena.) Gianandrea Gavazzeni conducts the chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Sunday, FEBRUARY 21sT: Preempted by broadcast of a University of Hartford women's basketball game.

Sunday, FEBRUARY 28TH: Haydyn, Il Ritorno di Tobia. This is the second Sunday in Lent, the penitential season in the traditional Christian calendar leading up to Easter. In old Catholic Europe at the opera houses closed down for the duration and sacred oratorio took opera's place. Over this five week period I will be presenting mostly choral music, i.e. religious, liturgical, or somehow spiritual compositions reflecting upon some aspect of Christian teaching. Everybody knows the two choral masterpieces of Joseph Haydn’s old age: The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801). There is, however, a third great religious oratorio Haydn wrote earlier in his career while he was still in the service of his superrich patron the Hungarian Prince Eszterhazy. Il Ritorno di Tobia (1775/1784) was calculated to appeal to a Viennese audience. The story, derived from the Old Testament Apocrypha, was popular in Vienna at the time. Furthermore, the Viennese wanted to hear and oratorio in Italian, the language of opera, rather than in their native German tongue. Il Ritorno di Tobia was recorded in coproduction with the Deutschland Radio in 2006 in the broadcast auditorium of Radio Cologne. Andreas Spering directs the period instrument players of the Capella Augustina and the choral forces of the VocalEnsemble Köln.

Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 2010

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