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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 2002

Sunday July 7: This first Sunday of July falls so far from the Fourth of July holiday that I don't feel obligated to broadcast something specifically American in nature, although what I have to offer has a certain special American connection and is sure to delight in any case. Last year Newport Classic released the first complete CD recording of Gilbert and Sullivan's Utopia Limited (1983). I say complete, meaning not just all the music but the entire spoken dialog, as well. With an unfamiliar G&S operetta like this one you really need to hear the dialog to understand what's going on. The only other recording of Utopia Limited was a truly fine one from the early stereo LP era, with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company performing, but it had none of the dialog I broadcast on those old London ffrr vinyl discs long ago on Sunday, July 26, 1987. The new Newport Classic recording was made with an American company, Ohio Light Opera. Writing in Fanfare magazine (July/August, 2001), reviewer James Camner attests, "The whole cast of Newport's Utopia Limited is outstanding, their English diction so crisp and clean that it is hardly necessary to consult the libretto…Heartfelt thanks must go out from all Savoyards to the Ohio Light Opera, their director, John Stuart, and to the recording producer, John Ostendorf - the sound, booklet, libretto and notes are top notch." I always include Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in my summer season programming mix. You'll hear more G&S later this month, and plenty more delightful and easy-to-take and comic opera as the summer progresses.

Sunday July 14: As I say every week in the intro to this show, my concept of lyric theater embraces at its lunatic fringe the category of "experimental works of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries." Carla Bley's Escalator Over the Hill falls into that category. Carla Bley is a well-known jazz composer with many recordings to her name on the independent Watt Records label. Paul Haynes provided lyrics for an experiment that was dubbed a "chronotransduction." Escalator Over the Hill is in the "fusion music" style of the 1970's; a musical middle ground where cool jazz and avante garde classical music meet rock. The experiment came together in a series of four recording sessions between 1968 and 1971. This is purely a studio performance. Escalator has never been staged, although it could be. The effort would involve phantasmagoric video effects similar to the Beatle's cartoon film Yellow Submarine. Escalator Over the Hill has no plot. You could say it's a day-in-the-life scenario. On that day the most bizarre things can happen! The idea lends itself perfectly to radio. At one point the characters actually listen to a radio. Featured vocal soloists include Sheila Jordan, who is well established in the jazz world, and (believe it or now!) rock star Linda Ronstadt. Escalator was the only "artistic" thing she had done before Pirates of Penzance. Carla Bley leads the Jazz Composers' Orchestra. She plays keyboards and supplies additional vocals. Jack Bruce of Cream, one of the leading psychedelic bands of the period, plays electric bass and sings along. John Mclaughlin of Mahavishnu Orchestra fame plays lead guitar. Gatto Barbieri adds his tenor sax to the ensemble. (He's noteworthy from the soundtrack to Last Tango in Paris.) And one of the biggest names in modern jazz, Don Cherry, contributes the sound of his trumpet. Watt Records has re-released Escalator Over the Hill in CD format. I last broadcast it, complete with its concluding twenty-odd minutes of meditational electronic drone, on Sunday, July 21, 1991.

Sunday July 21: Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), you may remember, wrote the original Barber of Seville opera in 1782. It was world famous and fabulously popular for decades until Rossini's new version came along in 1816. I broadcast what must still be the only musically complete commercially available recording of Paisiello's Barber (Frequenz label) in the summer of 1994. Paisiello and his rival Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801) were the two greatest composers of Neapolitan opera buffa of the 18th century. Popular, too, in its day, but long forgotten is Paisiello's Socrate Immaginario, "The Man Who Imagined He Was Socrates," which was first staged in Naples in 1775. The story of the old, fuddy-duddy philosopher found its way onto the German operatic stage in 1721. I aired the first musically complete recording of Telemenn's Der Geduldige Sokrates ("Patient Socrates") in June of 1993. The Italian record label Bongiovanni has captured Socrate Immaginario live in performance at the Teatro Chiabrera of Savona in 1998. The conductor Giovanni Di Stefano edited Paisiello's autograph score for this revival production.

Sunday July 28: I promised you more Gilbert and Sullivan, and you get it again this Sunday, with Gilbert's complete dialog to boot! Patience (1881) is a musical satire on the Victorian aesthetic movement of artists and writers who included Oscar Wilde. Every generation has its share of artsy poseurs. Twenty-first century audiences ought to be able to see modern counterparts to the two pretentious poets Reginald Bunthorne and Archibald Grosnevor. Patience comes to you in the CD reissue of a classic recording made in 1961 with the world renowned D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. As you might know, professional performers of the G&S canon are often called Savoyards, after the Savoy Theater in London, Richard D'Oyly Cart's opera house, where so many of those immortal British operettas were first performed. Patience was the first of them that was produced from its premiere in the company's new home. Patience is a personal favorite of mine that I've presented three times before over two decades, the last time being on Sunday, August 1, 1993. I'll be spinning the same two London compact discs. Isadore Godfrey conducts the D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus and the New Symphony Orchestra of London.

Sunday August 4: This Sunday and the one to follow will feature EMI Classics CD reissues of long-out-of -print historic monaural recordings of Viennese operettas. You will hear the voices of singing stars of half a century ago, notably Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda then at the very beginning of his long and distinguished career. He and the rest of the stellar cast producer Walter Legge assembled were led by the Romanian born conductor Otto Ackermann, who had been musical director of the Vienna Volksoper. Ackermann was thoroughly versed in the style of the Viennese masters Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-99) and Franz Lehar (1870-1948). Ackermann presided over the Philharmonia Orchestra, which Legge had founded precisely for recording purposes. The recording sessions for Lehar's Die Lustige Witwe ("The Merry Widow," 1905) and Das Land des Lachelns ("The Land of Smiles," 1929) took place in Kingsway Hall, London, in April of 1953. Gedda sang the lead male roles of Camille de Rosillon and Prince Sou Chong opposite the scintillating German soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf (who became Legge's wife) as Hanna Glawari and Lisa, the romantic interest in the tow operettas. The Kingsway taping sessions resulted in the first appearance of these works on long-playing high fidelity vinyl discs. Legge countenanced extensive cuts in Lehar's scores and permitted many key transpositions to accommodate certain voices. He also chose to omit all but a few snatches of the spoken dialog that goes along with each of these operettas - just enough to tell the story for those who knew German and to provide appropriate atmosphere for those who didn't. The Merry Widow is the ebullient product of Lehar's early years. Ackermann's handling of the music is brimming with joie de vivre. The Land of Smiles is the bittersweet fruit of Lehar's later period and it has a sad ending.

Sunday August 11: Everything I wrote about the historic recordings aired last Sunday applies to this Sunday's broadcast of Johann Strauss, Jr.'s, Der Zigeunerbaron ("The Gypsy Baron," 1885). The Kingsway Hall tapings for this operetta took place in May 1954. During these same recording sessions the singing cast and the Philharmonia Orchestra tackled two other Strauss masterpieces: Die Fledermaus and Eine Nacht in Venedig. As before, Otto Ackermann was on the podium. Elizabeth Schwarzkopf portrayed the beautiful Gypsy girl Saffi. Nicolai Gedda was cast as Sandor Barinkay, the exiled Hungarian nobleman who comes home to claim his ancestral castle and its buried treasure. It is he who is hailed as "The Gypsy Baron."

Sunday August 18: The very first opera I ever broadcast on WWUH was Ralph Vaughn-William's 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 Raimond Herinex in the title role, and Meredith Davies conducting the New Philharmonia. When that recording, taped in EMI's Abbey Road Studios in 1974, was reissued on CD I took the opportunity to present it yet again on August 6, 2000. Why program Sir John in Love once more after only two years? Well, a new recording of this, Vaughn William's best known lyric stage work (if any of his operas can be said to be well known at all!), came out on the Chandos label in 2001. Taped in Jubilee Hall in Newcastle in the North of England, the Chandos interpretation features baritone Donald Maxwell as Sir John, with Richard Hickox directing the Northern Sinfonia. Comparing it with the old EMI recording for Fanfare magazine (Nov/Dec, 2001), James Miller says, "Fortunately, the new Chandos is every bit as good and perhaps just a shade more 'theatrical'…" Miller has given me the best reason not to wait to put the Chandos Sir John in Love over the air. The composer prepared his own libretto directly from Shakespeare's comedy about the illicit loves of the fat old knight Sir John Falstaff. Vaughn Williams's score is replete with English folk melodies, one of which is the familiar "Greensleeves" tune.

Sunday August 25: For nearly two decades of summer seasons I have reserved the last Sunday of August for broadcast of one of the seven operas of Frederick Delius (1862-1934). I always program one of them at this juncture because I think the music of Delius is so beautifully evocative o the lazy, hazy end of summertime. Delius' operas and his other large-scale orchestral/choral compositions deserve to e better known. The Delius discography has increased over the past couple of decades. New recordings of his operas have been made and old ones have reappeared on silver disc. The greatest of Delius' operas is surely his fifth one, A Village Romeo and Juliet (1907). The definitive interpretation of this work has finally been reissued: it's Sir Thomas Beecham's 1948 monaural long out of print but once again available through EMI in its Classics/Beecham Edition series. Beecham was a personal friend of the composer. He championed Delius' music to the end of his life, and saw to it that Delius' operatic masterpiece was both performed on stage and recorded for posterity. No one understood the nuances of the Delian style better than Beecham. The sound of the old 78-rpm discs is remarkably good: state-of-the-art high fidelity, in point of fact, enhanced by latter-day digital audio reprocessing. You heard the Beecham Village Romeo and Juliet last on Sunday, August 29, 1993. He leads his own Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus.
The recordings presented in this two-month cycle of programming are evenly divided between my own personal collection of opera CD's and a big batch of new acquisitions to our station's ever growing library of classical music on silver disc. From my collection I have selected the two Gilbert and Sullivan operettas plus Escalator Over the Hill and the Beecham Village Romeo and Juliet.

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2002

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