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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of May/June 2005

Sunday July 3: American opera is called for on this Sunday of the Fourth of July holiday weekend. I therefore offer up three lyric theater works by three different American composers. Douglas Moore (1893-1969) built his reputation on his American folk operas like The Ballad of Baby Doe (1956). He wrote the quintessential Yankee opera The Devil and Daniel Webster (1939) after the short story and stage play by Stephen Vincent Benet. Fear of Satan's infernal kingdom underlies this one-act lyric drama. Webster, the rock-hard senator from New Hampshire, must debate a slick Boston lawyer in a hellish trial over the fate of the soul of a Yankee farmer. Way back on Sunday, November 26, 1989, I broadcast an old Desto LP recording of The Devil and Daniel Webster. Lyric Opera of Kansas City revived The Devil and Daniel Webster in 1995. The audio document of that stage production was released through Newport Classics on a single silver disc. Mrs. H. H. A. ("Amy") Beach (1867-1944) earned the unofficial honorary title of "Dean of American Women Composers". She wrote more than three hundred compositions in all genres of art music, but especially piano music, since she was a virtuoso pianist. Mrs. Beach left us only one little opera: Cabildo, composed at the MacDowell Colony for composers in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1932, but first performed in 1945, two months after her death. (Her will left a generous endowment for the Colony.) Cabildo is a chamber opera in one act to a libretto by Amy's friend playwright Nan Bagby Stevens. It deals with the legendary pirate Jean Lafitte, who was imprisoned in New Orleans, the setting of the opera, during the War of 1812. Cabildo got the professional premiere it deserved in the series "Great Performers at Lincoln Center," May 13, 1995. The Delos CD recording features the original cast, conducted by Ransom Wilson. Jerome Moross (1913-83) was best known as a composer of film scores and Broadway musicals, but he also wrote ballet music and concert pieces. His ballet score for Frankie and Johnny (1938) is a uniquely American combination of dance and opera with no spoken dialogue. Moross' music might remind you of jazz composer Duke Ellington in his most classical groove. Keep listening for the third part of my holiday presentation, which includes Moross' Those Everlasting Blues (1932) and Willie the Weeper (1948). Naxos Records released these three lyrico-dramatic works by Moross in its "American Classics" line on a single silver disc. Richard Rosenberg conducts the Hot Springs (Arkansas) Music Festival Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus. Frankie and Johnny received its world premiere recording at this festival.
Sunday July 10: Now for an afternoon of pure popular musical entertainment. The music from countless Walt Disney motion pictures has become imbedded in Twentieth Century American culture. Disney now sets out to conquer Broadway with a musical revue Disney's on the Record (2005), which compresses eight decades of Disney music into a two-act show. That was an incredibly difficult task, given the wealth of material, but it seems David Chase has succeeded in it. He adapted, supervised and arranged all the musical numbers in the show. Thomas Schumacher produced Disney's on the Record, as directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom. The two-CD original cast recording has just been released by Walt Disney Records.
Sunday July 17:
Stephen Sondheim created so many Broadway hits; it's hard to think of any of his shows that were flops. Bounce (2003) is one such. It opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and received so-so reviews there and at its venue of origin, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The show never made it to Broadway. Savants of American musical theater like Frank Rich will tell you Sonheim's music for Bounce is arguably the best he ever wrote. Maybe it was the characters in the show that turned theatergoers off. Bounce has some of the qualities of one of those old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby The Road to… movies. But the two leads, the Mizner brothers, are a couple of shameless hustlers, and their doting mama is not exactly a heartwarming figure either. A radio audience can forget about the flaws in the playbook and concentrate on the scintillating music. The original cast recording of Bounce was released in 2003 through Nonesuch Records. Usually at this point in the summer lineup, I make sure to present a French operetta or opera bouffe. This time around, I'm offering two little comic operas in French language by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959). Martinu lived in Paris for seventeen years. During that period he imbibed deeply of the French national style of Ravel and his colleagues. La Comedie sur le Pont ("The Comedy on the Bridge," 1935) was written on commission from the Czechoslovak state broadcasting company as a radio operao with a Czech libretto. Say Fanfare magazine's critic David Johnson, "It is a splendid work and highly stageworthy despite its origin as an opera for radio…the near legendary Manuel Rosenthal conducts The Comedy on the Bridge with as light a touch as he brings to Offenbach." (Fanfare, July/Aug. 1991 issue). This work is paired with Martinu's Alexandre Bis ("Alexander Twice," 1937), a zany, frivolous Dadaist one-act comic opera, on a single French Harmonica Mundi compact disc in HM's "Le Chant du Monde" line. Both little operas come to us as air tapes of ORTF French National Radio broadcasts of the 1960's, featuring a virtual honor roll of great French singers of the period. In Alexandre Bis Jean Doussard leads the Orchestre Lyrique of ORTF. Sunday July 24: Baby boomer listeners are old enough to remember the opening music to the TV series "Sargent Preston of the Yukon." It was the effervescent overture to Donna Diana (1894) by Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek (1860-1945). On its own the overture to this comic opera was frequently played in pops concerts. The opera itself, although wildly popular in German-speaking places early in the twentieth century, is nowadays virtually unknown. Reznicek wrote several light operas, now all forgotten, but Donna Diana has insured him a niche in music history. The story of the opera has similarities to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Reznicek took it from a short story in Spanish about a beautiful but cold-hearted senorita. The best case for Reznicek's comic masterpiece in a live recording of the stage revival of Donna Diana at the Kiel Opera in 2004. Ulrich Windfuhr conducts the Kiel Opera Chorus and Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Sunday July 31: Gilbert and Sullivan operettas always figure in the summer lyric theater programming mix. The Gondoliers, or The King of Barataria (1889), was the last successful creative collaboration of W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. True, Utopia Limited (1893) and The Grand Duke (1896) followed, but they lacked the old G&S magic and ultimately failed to catch on with the audiences. The Gondoliers, however, has retained its popularity right up to the present day, and has remained in the immortal G&S canon. And no wonder! Sullivan's score is full of suave Italianate melody. Never did he draw so heavily on dance rhythms: the tarantella, the barcarole and the cachucha from Andalusia in Spain. A classic old London recording of The Gondoliers has been reissued through Decca Ltd. in 2003 on two silver discs. Originally recorded in 1961 in early stereo sound, it has the added benefit of all of Gilbert's witty dialogue. It serves to turn the presentation into a complete radioplay with music. I last broadcast the old London LP's on Sunday, July 28, 1985. The cast consists of all the famed Savoyards of half a century ago, all of them members of the historic D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Isadore Godfrey conducts the New Symphony Orchestra of London.
Sunday August 7: Also included every summer in the opera lineup is an opera buffa of Giochino Rossini. I last broadcast Il Signor Bruschino (1813) on Sunday, August 13, 1995. A long one-acter like this falls into the subgenre of farsa giocosa, meaning, I guess that it's all the crazier because the theatrical action is so compressed. Musically it's everything you would expect of the young master from Pesaro. Naxos Records has given us a sparkling new take on "Mister Bruschino." Claudio Desderi conducts the chamber orchestra I Virtuosi Italiani, with eight all-native Italian vocal soloists. Desderi made his debut as a conductor in 1969 directing this very work. Bruschino doesn't last too long in airplay, so we'll have plenty of time to devote to the glories of Neapolitan song. Keep listening for the voices of Benjaminio Gigli, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Schipa and Carlo Bergonzi, as documented in historic recordings derived from my own collection.
Sunday August 14: Like other European countries, Denmark has had a long history of opera, even if Danish operas are not well known in the operatic world at large. The first significant one was F.A.A. Kunzen's Holger Danske (1789). The world premiere Da Capo recording of Holger Danske I broadcast on Sunday, May 4, 1995. Carl Nielsen's Maskarade (1906) is probably the single finest representative opera from Denmark. There is only one commercial recording of it still in print, made in 1977 in the studios of Radio Denmark. The original LP set had been reissued on CD through Unicorn-Kanchana. Maskarade is a romantic comedy inspired by the stagework of the same name by Ludvig Holberg, a sort of Danish Shakespeare of the eighteenth century. Like the play, the opera is set in Copenhagen in the Spring of 1723. To elude their watchful parents, young lovers meet at a masquerade ball. These costume balls, which took place in theaters, were part of an extended period of revelry something like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. What a blessing that the one-and-only recording is a superb one, winning the highest praise from Fanfare magazine's reviewer John Baumann. The last time I broadcast Maskarade, I worked from the Unicorn-Kanchana CD's I borrowed from the Hartford Public Library. This time I'm using the Da Capo re-release on two silver discs that has newly come into our station's huge classical record holdings.
Sunday August 21: I never fail to program a Viennese operetta sometime during the summer months. Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Der Zigeunerbaron ("The Gypsy Baron," 1885) I have presented on four previous occasions over the course of two decades. There are plenty of recordings of this opera around. Most notable among them is Nikolaus Harnoncourt's restored original score of 1885 for Telarc records, which I broadcast on Sunday, August 27, 1997. The traditional score of Zigeunerbaron has numerous changes in libretto and orchestration that the composed never authorized. It's also lacking whole musical numbers that the Austrian state censors cut out for political reasons during World War One. We return this Sunday to the traditional "Gypsy Baron," beautiful as always has been to hear even in its usual truncated form. In July, 2004 it was captured for posterity by Radio France in a concert-style broadcast as part of the Radio France Festival of Montpelier. Armin Jordan conducts the National Orchestra and Chorus of Radio France. Most of the vocal soloists are from Central Europe. They full understand the general traditions of the style of Vienese operetta.
Sunday August 28: I always reserve the last Sunday in August for one of the operas of Frederick Delius (1856-1934), who has been called "the English Debussy." I do so because the music of Delius is so evocative of the lazy, hazy end of summertime. Longtime readers of our Program Guide will remember my four-part series on the seven operas of Delius and the attributes of his style, which appeared in the Guide from July/August 1988 to March/April 1989. Since the early 1980's, I begin a fourth cycle with Delius' first opera Irmelin (1892), his single longest musical composition: a gorgeous fairy tale of an opera with a libretto by the composer himself, based partly on Hans Christian Anderson's version of the medieval romance of the Princess and the Swineherd. Irmelin never saw the stage in Delius' lifetime. A pity, too, since composers Edvard Grieg and Andre Messager praised the music. In 1953 Delius' friend and promoter Sir Thomas Beecham conducted an amateur performance of Irmelin which wen unrecorded. In December, 1984 it was given a concert broadcast performance from the studios of the BBC Third Programme. The tapes of that broadcast were issued under the BBC's Artium label, first on LP, then on CD upgrade. I aired the LP set way back on Sunday, August 26, 1986 and the CD reissue twice thereafter: Sundays, August 25, 1990 and August 30, 1998. Since no new rerecording of Irmelin has been made, you'll hear those same Artium silver discs today. In this two-month period of programming, as usual over so many years, I draw again upon my own remarkable record collection of Rob Meehan, former classics deejay here at WWUH and a specialist in the alternative musics of the the twentieth century. Rob loaned me for broadcast his copy of the Naxos recording of the music of Jerome Moros, and the two little operas of Martinu from Le Chant du Monde. Most of the rest of the programming comes from our station's ever-growing collection of classical music on CD. From my own collection comes Disney's On The Record and Delius' Irmelin.

WWUH: July/August Program Guide 2005 ©

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