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

Sunday July 2: Nothing could be more American in spirit than the music of George Gershwin. I’ve broadcast a classic 1951 recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess 91935) at least twice before (Sunday May 29, 1994 and September 6, 1998). That old Columbia Odyssey LP set showcases the voices of several members of the cast of the stage premiere. Connecticut Opera mounted a splendid production of Porgy and Bess in April of 1998. My broadcast of Sunday, April 19, 1998 featured a prerecorded interview with David Lee Miller, the Sportin’ Life of that production. Gershwin’s composition is so structurally sound that is inevitably lent it to various innovative treatments. Who could possibly improve on Gershwin’s score? Or make it work in the context of a different style? Jazz composer Duke Ellington and arranger Russ Garcia took on the challenge in 1956 in a studio-recorded jazz version for Bethlehem Records. The cast and orchestral personnel were impressive: Russ Garcia conducting the Bethlehem Orchestra, Ellington leading his own famous jazz orchestra, the Australian jazz orchestra, and Pat Moran Quartet and the Stan Levey Group. Mel Torme sang the role of Porgy opposite Frances Faye as Bess. This was the second complete recording of the Gershwin score and the first to substitute jazz performers for opera singers. Ellington and Garcia added spoken-word narration between musical numbers. Al "Jazzbo" Collins is the narrator. The monaural sound of the 1956 tapings was digitally enhanced for a 1999 CD reissue through Bethlehem Archives.

Sunday July 9: The story of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is truly tragic, but as a great American opera it’s perfect for programming in connection with Fourth of July celebrations. I prefer to program upbeat, comic lyric theater works in the summer months. After the downer of Porgy and Bess we need a real send up of a comic opera. What better than Offenbach’s Orphee aux Enfers ("Orpheus in the Underworld," 1859)? The last time I broadcast this zany musical satire on the classical myth of Orpheus and Euridice was way back on Sunday, July 8, 1984. The recording I drew upon then was what would be considered by twenty-first century standards an ancient mono LP recording from 1948 (?) with Rene Liebowitz conducting. Offenbach created two distinctly different versions of "Orpheus in the Underworld" the version of the premiere 1958 production, which was purely comic, and the version of the 1974 revival, which was reworked into a fantasy opera. The 1997 production by the French National Opera of Lyon adheres to the original version, with certain concessions made to some of the truly wonderful music Offenbach wrote for the revival – music that could not easily be deleted without disappointing the public. Marc Minkowski directs the musical resources. This is an EMI Classics CD release.

Sunday July 16: This Sunday we remain firmly in the comic vein with back-to-back presentations of two comic intermezzi of the early eighteenth century: works that were highly popular in their time and were the immediate predecessors of Pergolesi’s classic and enormously successful La Serva Padrona (1728) by Johan Adolf Hasse. La Contadina enjoyed a total of thirty-eight productions in major European opera houses from the date of its premiere until 1769. It was surely a "hit’ of its era. Hasse’s music is the very soul of the melodious Neapolitan style-the native style of Pergolesi. The Ensemble Arcadia recorded La Contadina in the studios of Swiss Radio Zurich in 18998. The overture to an opera seria of Hasse’s is added to the two-scene intermezzo, and a concerto by Michele Mascittti (1664-1760) has been tacked on as an instrumental postlude. This is a French Harmonia Mundi release on single silver disc.
    Other German composers tried their hand at the Neapolitan-style intermezzi. George Philipp Telemann’s Pimpinoni (1725) has a libretto half in Italian, half in German. The story of Pimpinone pokes fun at the wealthy burgers of Hamburg, the city for which Telemann provided so much music for so many decades. Pimpinone came out on LP in 1975 thru Telefunken in its Das Alte Werk line, and Teldec has re-released it on two CD’s in 1996. Hans Ludwig Hirsch directs the period instrument ensemble Florilegium Musicum that includes personnel from the pioneering "period" orchestral group, the Collegium Musicum. Between the three scenes of Telemann’s intermezzo the Florilegium Musicum plays three instrumental interludes i.e. Concertos by Italian composers Carlo Tessarini, Tomase Albinoni and Antonio Vivaldi.

Sunday July 23: Only in the past decade or two have all of Rossini’s operas finally appeared on disc in definitive recordings. The two-act farce L’Equivoco Stravagante (1811) is Rossini’s second opera, and surely the least known of all the works in his operatic canon. The premiere performance of this work in Bologna was a fiasco. The city fathers suppressed the opera because of its objectionable libretto. Among the intricacies of the plot, the love of the heroine convinces his rival that the girt is in reality a eunuch in drag. The music of L’Equivoco Stravagante is Rossini at his lighthearted buffa best – bubbling with lovely melody and beautifully orchestrated. Radio Italia of Naples taped L’Equivoco in 1974. In the line up of singers are internationally acclaimed stars Sesto Bruscantini and Rolando Panerai. Released on two CD’s by Bongiovanni Records of Bologna.

Sunday July 30: I’m always sorting about for examples of Spanish-language lyric theater music to include in my summer programming mix. What I’m most keen on presenting at least once in a summer are specimens of zarzuela, the popular musical comedy genre of Spain. This season I’ve opted for something quite unique: a tango opera of Argentina’s master of the tango style, Astor Piazzola (1921-92). Piazzola’s Maria de Buenos Aires (1960?) is a downright tragedy. It is his only lyric stage work and his longest single composition. In the form of a cabaret entertainment or radio play, it sets forth the urban legend of Maria, a victimized working class girl who descends into prostitution and the lowlife nightmare world of her native city. Piazzola’s haunting tango melodies capture the agony and ecstasy of Maria’s existence. Maria de Buenos Aires was successfully staged in Italy in 1997; that production formed the basis of its recording for Dynamic Records. Vittorio Antonellini directs I Solisti Aquilani. Nestor Garay, a native of Argentina, is the narrator of Maria’s story. An Italian singer Marina Gentile is Maria herself. The nine-member instrumental ensemble gravitates around the sound of the bandoneon, a large accordion of German origin. Piazzola was a virtuoso bandoneon player. His instrument is used in Argentina as the traditional accompaniment to tango dancing.

Sunday August 6: The very first opera I ever broadcast on WWUH was Ralph Vaughn-Williams’ Sir John in Love (1946). That was on Sunday August 8, 1982. I broadcast it again on Sunday, August 23, 1987, using the same Angel LP recording with baritone Raymond Herincx in the title role. The cast listing in that recording, taped in EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in 1974, reads like a veritable who’s who of eminent English opera singers of the period. Meredith Davies conducted the New Philharmonic Orchestra and John Alldis Choir. Sir John in Love is VW’s best-known lyric stage work. (If any of his operas can be said to be well known at all!) The composer prepared the libretto himself directly from Shakespeare’s comedy about the illicit loves of the fat old knight Sir John Falstaff. VW’s score is sprinkled with English folk melodies including the world famous "Greensleeves" tune. You’ll hear Sir John in Love once again this Sunday as EMI has re-released it on two CD’s in its EMI Classics/British Composers series.

Sunday August 13: The traditions of Viennese operetta begin with Franz von Suppe (1819-95). He wrote thirty one operettas and much other music besides, but today he is known only for two pops concert chestnuts, the "Light cavalry" overture and the "Poet and the Peasant" overture. Without doubt the single best one of his operettas – the one that most closely approaches the genius of Johann Strauss the Younger – is Bocaccio (1313-75) was an Italian poet and writer of romances that greatly influenced Geoffrey Chaucer. Von Suppe’s operetta is a medieval costume piece with plenty of romantic carryings on. Bocaccio was recorded in Munich in 1974 for Emi Electrola of Germany. Vienna’s own Willi Boskovsky leads the chorus of the Bavarian State Opera and the Bavarian Symphony Orchestra. Baritone Hermann Prey is heard in the title role. This recording has reappeared in CD format in the EMI Classics line.

Sunday August 20: Johann Strauss Jr. wrote two world-renowned operettas, Die Fledermaus (1874) and The Gypsy Baron (1885). All told he wrote seventeen operettas. Of those only one other is at all memorable or of any great interest for revival in the twentieth century. Strangely, Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883) premiered in Berlin, rather than Strauss’ native Vienna, and was not immediately well received. The story of "A Night in Venice" deals with the masquerade and romantic intrigues that take place during the city’s traditional carnival. I last broadcast "Eine Nacht in Venedig" on Sunday, August 17, 1986. At that time I was working from the station’s old Angel monaural LP set with Otto Ackermann conducting and vocal principals soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and tenor Nicolai Gedda. Gedda is heard again in the same role as Enrico in a 1967 stereo recording made in Munich in cooperation with Radio Bavaria for EMI Electrola of Germany. Gedda sings opposite Rita Streich as Annina. Franz Allers conducts the Graunke Symphony Orchestra and the Chorus of Bavarian Radio. EMI has reissued Eine Nacht in Venedig on two CD’s in its Classics series.

Sunday August 27: It’s been fully seven years since I last broadcast Frederick Delius’ operatic masterpiece A Village Romeo and Juliet (1907). I have long devoted the last Sunday of August to recordings of one of the six operas of this composer who has sometimes been called "the English Debussy." English by birth, German by ancestry and musically trained in Germany, Fritz Theodore "Fredrick" Delius (1862-1934) is actually the one and only German composer to write in the musical style of impressionism. The music of Delius so exquisitely evokes the lazy, hazy, golden days at the end of summer. The libretto of A Village Romeo and Juliet was originally in German and the opera premiered at Berlin. Delius took the story for it from the nineteenth century Swiss German writer Gottfried Keller. The title refers very loosely to the tale to the two young star-crossed lovers of Shakespeare. I have aired this work four times before in my six-year long cycles of Delius operas. There are several recorded interpretations now available on disc. Back when I first aired it (that was in August of ’84) the only one was the EMI recording with Meredith Davies leading the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and John Alldis Choir. I presented it on domestic Angel LP’s in "84; then on Sunday, August 27, 1989 I aired the HMV Greensleeves vinyl reissue of the same recording. Since then I’ve broadcast two other different recordings in CD format. We return this Sunday to the Greensleeves LP’s. The Meredith Davies version is sung in English translation – the language in which the opera has become generally known to the world.
    Most of the recordings programmed for summertime listening came form my own collection: Telemann’s Pimpinone, Piazzola’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Vaughn-Williams’ Sir John in Love, von Suppe’s Bocaccio, Eine Nacht in Venedig by Johann Strauss and Delius A Village Romeo and Juliet. Two recordings are new additions to our station’s ever-growing library of classical music on disc: the Ellington/Gershwin Porgy and Bess and Hasse’s La Contadina. Two more come on special loan from the extensive collection of operas on CD in the Hartford Public Library. Those two are Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld and the opera buffa by Rossini. Thanks to Bob Chapman, HPL"s music librarian (and former professional opera singer) for the arrangement of the loan.

Copyright©WWUH: July/Augustl Program Guide, 2000

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