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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 July and August 2001

Sunday July 1: We begin the summer’s programming with music in honor or the glorious fourth by one of the giants of American music of the twentieth century: Leonard Bernstein’s A White House Cantata (1972-76).  The subtitle “Scenes From 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” refers both to the street address of the presidential mansion and to the fully staged Broadway musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that Bernstein wrote in collaboration with lyricist Alan Jay Lerner.  Like the original Broadway show, the concert version is a generation–by-generation dramatic survey of the occupants of the White House – not just the president, his first lady and their entourage, but the humble black folk who lived there, too, and served the movers and shakers.  A White House Cantata was recorded in Abbey Road Studios in London in 1998 for CD release through Deutsche Grammophon, with a cast of mostly American singers, backed by the chorus of the London Voices and the London Symphony Orchestra, with the American conductor Kent Nagano marshalling them all.
Leonard Bernstein is now numbered among the honored dead of twentieth century American music.  Very much alive and composing in the dawn of the twenty-first century is Paul Dresher (b.1951), whose work has been better known on the west coast heretofore, but who is quickly building an international reputation.  He has composed a trilogy of operas, of which the earliest Slow Fire was heard on this program on Sunday, October 2, 1994 in its entirety.  The composer himself has issued on a single hour-long CD his Songs from the American Trilogy, presenting excerpts from Slow Fire, Power Failure and Pioneer.  The composer leads his own Paul Dresher Ensemble, with local soloists Rinde Eckert, John Duykens and Stephanie Friedman. 

Sunday July 8: Summertime programming calls for lyric theatre works that are lighthearted and diverting, with a certain pastoral element, perhaps – dancing shepherds and shepherdesses in an Arcadian setting, etc.  The eighteenth century French opera-ballets fill the bill quite nicely.  One of the single finest works of this sort is Jean Phillippe Rameu’s Les Fetes D’Hebe (1739), which are actually three loosely connected one-act spectacles of singing and dancing.  The 1997 Erato recording of Les Fetes appears to be the first musically complete one ever.  Rameaus’s colorful scoring employs the French galoubet or soprano whistle in some of the dances, as well as the refined French bagpipe or musette.  William Christie’s period instrument ensemble Les Arts Florissants was in fine form for the Erato tapings at he Salle Wagram in Paris.  Fanfare magazine’s reviewer David Johnson, writing in the Sept/Oct 1998 issue, recommends Christie’s Fetes enthusiastically.  Les Fetes D’Hebe,” he says, “one of Rameau’s most popular operas in his own day and one of the most ignored in our own, proves to be yet another masterpiece by this astonishing, late-blooming genius.”  

Sunday July 15: Every summer I make sure to include examples of American musical comedy in the programming mix.  Sony Classical has re-released many old LP cast albums of musicals that first appeared under the Columbia Broadway Masterworks label.  Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1957) was a very early made-for-television musical that was broadcast live over the CBS-TV network to millions of American home viewers – far, far more than would ever be able to see such a show in a thousand night of theater performances.  The star of the show was Julie Andrews, who had recently conquered New York as Eliza Dolitle in Lerner and Loewe’s smash hit My Fair Lady.
The American theater community mourned the death of dancer/singer/actress Gwen Verdon the beginning of this year.  In 1966 Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields collaborated on the perfect theatrical vehicle for Gwen’s talents: Sweet Charity, the musical based on an Oscar-winning Fellini movie called Nights of Cabiria.  The scene in Sweet Charity is changed from Rome to New York City, and the lead character Gwen Verdon personifies is way more than a clueless Roman streetwalker.  Gwen’s husband Bob Fosse conceived, staged and choreographed the entire premiere Palace Theater production, which ran for a whopping 608 nights.  The Sony CD rerelease has additional tracks documenting opening night at the Palace, plus interviews from the opening night party at the Skylight Roof of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. 

Sunday July 22: America gave the world rock music.  Then various ethnic cultures around the world adapted rock to suit their own artistic purposes.  Jesus Christ Superstar is certainly not the only “rock opera.”  Merlin: The Rock Opera (2000) is the latest in this genre to come along, and while its lyrics are in English language, the entire artistic production is Italian.  Victoria Heward came up with a story out of Arthurian legend for bass guitarist Fabio Zuffanti to musically arrange.  The singers and Zuffanti’s fellow rock instrumentalists are all Italian, too.  Merlin was recorded at Fenixlab Studio in Genoa, Italy.  As you listen to Merlin: The Rock Opera, you might want to try to assess how much of this is really “rock” and how much “opera” in the Italian tradition. 

Sunday July 29: Funny but macabre, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guard 91888) is the only one of their comic operettas to have a tragic twist.  It deals with a young man accused of sorcery and condemned to die tin the Tower of London.  Jack Point the jester relieves much of the gloom with his superb singing about the Merryman and his Maid.  Sir Malcolm Sargeant conducted the Pro Arte Orchestra and Glyndebourne Festival Chorus in a very early stereo recording first issued in the US on Angel LP’s.  Sargeant oversaw a cast of English operatic greats of a half-century ago.  As Jack Point Welsh baritone Geraint Evans was but one of them.  I had re-broadcast the old Angel LP set of Yeoman of the Guard just two years ago, after having initially broadcast the same recording way back in 1983.  Normally I wouldn’t return to that recording again for years – maybe never again, but I discovered that it has been reissued on CD in the EMI Classics line, so I couldn’t resist airing it again this Sunday in upgraded format. 

Sunday August 5: Gioacchino Rossinis’s immortal Il Barbiere di Siviglia is the only opera to have remained constantly in the international standard repertoire since its premiere in 1816.  It is also the most famous example of the buffa style in Italian opera.  Not everybody liked Rossini’s “Barber” in its very first staging.  Some opera partisans favored Giovanni Paisiello’s opera of the same name, which had held the stage since 1792.  Rossini was dismayed by the poor reception his new “Barber” got at the Teatro Argintina in Rome, but with a few quick revisions the opera assumed the form in which we know it today.  With its third performance it took off as a fabulous international success.  The Barber of Seville has been recorded many times.  You’ll hear the London CD “Barber” taped in 1988 at the Theatro Comunale of Bologna, Italy – the same set of silver discs I aired on Sunday, September 19, 1993.  Tenor Leo Nucci stars as Figaro.  Opposite him as Rosina is soprano Cicilia Bartoli, then already well along on her ascent to divadom.  Giuseppe Patane conducts the ensemble.  (He died shortly after making this recording.)  Maestro worked from a new edition of Rossini’s score that restores much of the composer’s original intentions for the music.  But as Patane explains in his notes for the London release, he has retained certain traditional touches as well. 

Sunday August 12: The origins of the Italian opera buffa  can be traced to Naples in the 1730’s, where three young progressive composers, Leonardo Vinci, Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, were creating a new style of Neopolitan comic opera.  Leonardo Leo’s Amor Vuol Sofferenza (“Love Requires Suffering,” 1739) was enormously popular and was revived again and again in the mid eighteenth century.  Furthermore, it served as a model for later Neopolitan opera composers like Paisiello and Cimarosa.  Amor Vuol Sofferenza received its world premiere recording at a live performance given in commemoration of the three-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the composer.  Leo’s Commedia per Musica was produced for the twentieth annual Festival della Valle d’Itria in 1994.  Daniele Moles conducts the Nuova Orchestra Scarlotti di Napoli with a cast of seven singers.  A Nuova Era compact disc release.   

Sunday August 19: May years ago I broadcast the old Angel monaural LP recordings of the operettas Eine Nacht in Venedig (“A Night in Venice,” 1883) and Weiner Blut (1899) of Johann Strauss, Jr., “The Waltz King.”  EMI Classics has now re-issued those two classic recordings back-to-back in its References series in a two-CD package.  Taped in London in 1954, Otto Ackermann conducted The Harmonia Orchestra and Chorus.  The female star in both operettas was soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, singing opposite romantic lead tenor Nicolai Gedda, then at the very beginning of his rise into the operatic firmament.  Keen students of Viennese operetta will note the deletion of much spoken dialog and certain musical numbers in Eine Nacht in Venedig, and how certain other vocal numbers have been re-assigned in Erich Korngold’s revision of Strauss’ original score.  Korngold even inserted material from other Strauss operettas.  Wiener Blut is not an original Strauss operetta at all.  The ailing master gave Adolf Muller permission to adapt some of this famous dance music, including the Wiener Blut waltz, for a stage production.  The music of Wiener Blut the operetta was also considerably edited for recording.  However far the results are from the letter of what Strauss himself wrote the artistic merit of these two recordings is undeniable and they certainly capture the ebullient spirit of nineteenth century Vienna. 

Sunday August 26: Every year on the last Sunday in August I customarily broadcast one the six operas of the “English Debussy,” Frederick Delius (1862-1934), because I believe Delius’ exquisitely impressionistic style of music evokes exactly the right mood for the end of summer.  I’ve broadcast Delius’ last opera Fennimore and Gerda (1919) at least twice before, on Sunday, August 28, 1988 and August 27, 1995.  For the story of Fennimore and Gerda Delius drew upon Danish literature.  He conceived a series of musical pictures to two episodes in the life of writer Niels Lynne as related by the poet/novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen.  Fennimore and Gerda is a tale of unfaithfulness in love and the numbing loss of an artist’s creative powers.  The score is absolutely lovely, as Delius’ music always is, but the staging of the opera is strange, more like a film in its abruptly changing scenes.  Delius fashioned his own German language libretto for the stage premiere.  A young friend of the composer, Philip Heseltine, prepared an English language version – the one EMI recorded in 1975 for world premiere release on LP.  Meredith Davies conducted the Danish Radio Symphony and Chorus with Swedish soprano Elizabeth Soderstrom as Fennimore, supported by a cast of top-flight English singers.
In assembling this summer’s programming I am more beholden than ever to Rob Meehan, former classics deejay here at WWUH and a specialist in alternative music of the past half century.  Rob loaned my for broadcast his copies of Bernstein’s A White House Cantata, and Paul Dresher’s Songs From the American Trilogy.  I also borrowed from him Merlin, the Rock Opera.  From my own collection of opera CD’s I have selected the EMI Classics re-issue of Gilbert And Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guard and Leonardo Leo’s Amor Vuol Sofferenza.  Delius’ Fennimore and Gerda goes out to you via my own tape cassette copy of LP’s that are in the possession of the Allen Memorial Library of the Hartt School here on the campus of the University of Hartford.  THE other featured recordings all come from our station’s ever-growing library of classical music on disc.

 Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2001

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