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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" Program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of July & August 2008
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SUNDAY JULY 6th Our summertime schedule of programming starts off appropriately enough for the weekend of the Fourth of July holiday, with American vocal music. Ned Rorem (b. 1923) is America's greatest living composer of the art song. (He's written nine operas, hundreds of individual songs, choral works, symphonies, etc.)  In 1998, for a public celebration of his seventy-fifth birthday, he came out with an entire song cycle in three long parts, Evidence Of Things Not Seen. This work was sponsored by the New York Festival of Song in tandem with Library of Congress. For his eightieth birthday, Evidence Of Things Not Seen was again performed as part of the Roremania festival held in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute of Music. The composer was in attendance to hear the thirty-six songs interpreted by pianist Mikael Eliason with four young vocal soloists. In 2006 this same group of performers recorded Rorem's masterwork in Field Concert Hall at the Curtis Institute. Albany records issued the song cycle onto compact discs the following year. Evidence Of Things Not Seen takes its title from a verse in St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews. Rorem has set to music the poetry of many of his favorite writers: W. H. Auden, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Paul Goodman, and Walt Whitman, to name but a few.
Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Euridice (2006) is more than a song cycle in two acts. It is a lyric theater-work that is acted out and danced. In Gordon's take on the ancient Greek myth Orpheus is more like a Pied Piper. The sound of his clarinet charms all creatures. His beloved Euridice succumbs to a viral infection not unlike AIDS. Gordon wrote his own libretto. He collaborated with choreographer Doug Varone, who directed the stage performance and brought in his dance troupe. Orpheus and Euridice premiered at the Lincoln Center in its "New Visions" series. Soprano Elizabeth Futral portrays Euridice. Todd Palmer plays clarinet but it is Ricky Ian Gordon himself who appears on stage as Orpheus in a miming role. The only other instrumentalist is Melvin Chen on piano.

SUNDAY JULY 13th We continue to focus on contemporary American song this Sunday. My concept of lyric theater is broad enough to take in the genre of cabaret. I have come across two recordings of live cabaret performances that beg for airplay. Each of them features the voice of an extraordinary American chanteuse.  Mary Jo Mundy's Halfway to Heaven documents her live shows at the Gardenia supper club in West Hollywood, California on July 28 and 30, 2005. The Gardenia is the preeminent cabaret venue in the Los Angeles area. It is also the oldest one, having been in continuous operation for fully a quarter of a century. Mary Jo hosts the open mic nights there. Halfway to Heaven is a concept show, revolving around the singer's emotional struggles as she physically transforms herself into a much lighter person through gastric bypass surgery. (She used to weigh in excess of 300 pounds!) Mary Jo includes in her repertoire songs by local and not so well-known songwriters: Ken Hirsh, Ray Jessel, Shelly Markham, Kirby Tepper, and Shelly Goldstein. Ms. Mundy's voice will convince you in every one of these ballads and satires. She understands how to interpret lyrics with the subtlest of vocal inflections. Moreover, she's got superb diction, so you'll understand exactly what she's singing about.
Andrea Marcovicci is actually a singing actress. Her previous acting career was in daytime TV. Hailed as "The Queen of Cabaret," she has created more than twenty-five nightclub acts, sold-out Carnegie Hall, Town Hall NYC, and appeared at the White House. Mary Jo Mundy told me she remembers her performing at the Gardenia too. Ms. Marcovicci received the Mabel Mercer Award for Cabaret at Lincoln Center. In November, 2007 she was at Wesleyan University's Greene Street Art Center in Middletown. In her latest show I'll Be Seeing You... Love Songs of WWII, she takes the audience on a journey back to that crucial time. She interprets many familiar standards of the 1940s. In 2004 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day, the show was performed in Normandy and for veterans throughout the United States.

SUNDAY JULY 20th  Every summer I try to include in the programming mix something pastoral in nature. Over the decades several recordings have been made of Handel's delightful masque Acis and Galathea (1718), which like Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (1689) is often considered to be the first true opera in English-language. Handel's original Cannons scoring for Acis and Galathea called for pairs of violins, cellos, and oboes or recorders with harpsichord. (No parts for violas or bass violas.) The five singers sing in solo capacity as characters in the mythic story, but they also join voices to form the chorus. Such were the musical resources available to the composer for performance on the country estate of his patron the Duke of Chandos. This intimate, small-scale version of the work was the one released in 1988 by Newport Classics on two compact discs. Johannes Somary conducts the tiny period instrument Amor Artis Orchestra. I last broadcast this particular CD set on Sunday, June 4, 1995.

SUNDAY JULY 27th The time has come round in the summertime scheme of presentations to give you a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. This time it's an unfamiliar one, from the end of their illustrious collaboration, Utopia, Limited (1893). In 2001 Newport Classics released its first complete CD recording, complete meaning not just all the music but the entire spoken dialogue as well. In an obscure G&S work like this one you really need to hear the dialogue 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 original D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. It had none of the dialogue. I broadcast those old London ffrr vinyl discs long ago on Sunday, July 26, 1987. The Newport classic recording presented 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 Jon Stuart, and to the recording producer John Ostendorf- the sound, booklet, libretto and notes are top-notch." The Newport Classics Utopia was last broadcast on Sunday, July 7, 2002.

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SUNDAY AUGUST 3rd Zarzuela is the popular music theater genre of Spain, not unlike our American musical comedy. Amadeo Vives (1871 -- 1932) was one of the most prolific of all zaruela composers. Dona Francisquita (1923) is considered his masterpiece. It was also enormously popular. In the years immediately following its premiere in Madrid it was performed at least five-thousand times throughout the Spanish-speaking world. So many of the treasures of the zaruela remained unknown in North America until the release of two musically complete recordings of Dona Francisquita, one for the Audivis Valois label, another for Sony Classical, both coming out in 1994. The Sony Classical recording benefits by the incomparable voice of superstar Mexican tenor Placido Domingo. All the musical numbers are contained on Sony's two CDs, but next to none of the spoken dialogue. This is the second time I have broadcast Vives' full-length, three act comic opera, what the Spaniards call genero grande. I last aired the Sony Classical discs on Sunday, July 21, 1996.
Luisa Fernanda (1932) by Federico Moreno-Torroba (1891 - 1982) comes at the end of the zarzuela tradition. After Franco took power in Spain these lyric theater works were no longer produced. This particular work received more than a thousand performances before the Spanish Civil War. Torroba's score is filled with lovely melodies and stirring dances. William Jarvis of the Jarvis Conservatory in Napa California rendered the libretto of Luisa into English for his staged adaptation. It was recorded live in 1997 in the performance space at the Old Lisbon Winery in downtown Napa, with a cast made up entirely of American singers. They sing in the original Spanish, but a bit of the spoken dialogue is heard in Jarvis' translation. The musically complete Luisa Fernanda in three acts is accommodated on one very generously timed compact disc. It was last broadcast on Sunday, August 9, 1998.

SUNDAY AUGUST 10th At this juncture the summertime listening lineup requires something comic and Italian. The Rossini that I love best is the young prodigy Rossini of the five one act opere buffe. If Mozart had lived into the nineteenth century, I figure he might well have composed such comedic gems as these. In 2005 Brilliant Classics came out with all of them in an eight-CD boxed set. They were recorded between 1988 - 92 with Marcello Viotti conducting. So far I have presented four of the five: L'Occasione Fa Il Ladro (1812) and La Scala di Seta (1812) on an August Sunday in 2006, and last year in August, La Cambiale di Matrimonio (1810) and L'Inganno Felice (1812). The one remaining is slightly longer in airplay than the others and takes up two of the eight discs. I have broadcast Il Signior Brushchino (1813) twice before over a quarter of a century of summers. Most recently it was a Naxos CD recording with Claudio Desderi directing I Virtuosi Italiani (Sunday, August 7, 2005). "Mister Bruschino" falls into the subgenre of farsa grocosa, meaning I guess it's crazier than the typical Italian buffa lyric comedy. Marcello Viotti worked with two chamber orchestras. In recording Il Signor Bruschino it was I Filarmonici di Torino. Keep listening to the voices of Beniamino Gigli, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Schipa, and Carlo Bergonzi, as documented in historic recordings.

SUNDAY AUGUST 17th Friedrich von Flotow's Martha (1847) was at one time one of the most popular operas in the international repertoire. It's a delightful, tuneful work from start to finish: even people who know nothing about Opera recognize the familiar melodies of "Ach, so fromm.." and "Letzte Rose," even better known in its Irish incarnation as "The Last Rose of Summer." Over a quarter century of Opera broadcasting, believe it or not, I have never presented Martha before! I find it hard to believe there are so few recordings of it. There was one made in 1944 during the hellish days of the Third Reich in Nazi Berlin. It preserves a wonderful performance, but its monaural sonics are horrible by today's standards. The best one that has remained available over the years is the 1977 Eurodisc recording. The original boxed set of three stereo LPs was reissued on two Eurodisc CDs in 1989, then reissued a second time through BMG/RCA Classics. Heinz Wallberg conducts the Munich Radio Orchestra and Chorus of Bavarian Radio, in a broadcast performance, also captured on airtape, from the studios of Radio Bavaria, Munich.

SUNDAY AUGUST 24th Like "The Land of Smiles" (1929), Franz Lehar's operetta Schön Ist Die Welt ("The World Is Beautiful," 1930) was written for the voice of Austrian superstar tenor Richard Tauber. Lehar salvaged music from an earlier production Endlich Allein (1914) for "The World Is Beautiful." In updating this new stage work he required a particularly "modern" sound effect: the simulated radio broadcast of a news report that figure is crucially in the operettas plot. A ringing telephone and telephone conversations were interpolated into the spoken dialogue. There is preserved a 1942 radio airtape of Schön Ist Die Welt, recorded complete with dialogue, with Lehar himself conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. After both Tauber and Lehar died in 1948, it was tenor Rudolf Schock who carried on the singing traditions of the Viennese operetta. Schock took the leading romantic male role in a March, 1954 broadcast of Schön Ist Die Welt over Bavarian Radio, Munich. Werner Schmidt-Boelke directed Munich Radio Orchestra and Chorus. The monaural air tape was digitally upgraded for CD release through the Walhall Eternity Classic series in 2006

SUNDAY AUGUST 31st This will be the seventh time over nearly three decades of opera broadcasting when I will again be presenting the best-known opera of Frederick Delius (1862 -- 1934) the one that is regarded as his masterpiece A Village Romeo and Juliet (1907). Every year on the last Sunday of August I feature one of Delius' six operas, because I believe his impressionistic musical style so beautifully evokes the lazy, hazy end of summertime. Most recently, on Sunday, August 27, 2006 it was the 1989 Decca recording on two CDs, which is actually the soundtrack to the Petr Weikl film version of the Opera, starring the photogenic baritone Thomas Hampson as the Dark Fiddler. Sir Charles Mackerras directed the Orchestra of ORF Austrian Radio. This Sunday for the fourth time I return to the 1973 EMI recording, with Meredith Davies leading the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and John Alldis Choir. First I worked from the two old Angell/EMI LPs, the original stateside release. Then I presented the better quality vinyl reissue through EMI in its HMV Greensleeve line. The reason for broadcasting A Village Romeo and Juliet so soon again is that I have recently acquired the CD transfer of this wonderful recording that came out in 2002 through EMI Classics. What makes the CD reissue a real collector's item is Eric Fenby's twenty-seven minute "Illustrated Talk" about the Delian style, with musical quotations from the great EMI recording of Delius' music. As a young man Eric Fenby (1906 - 97) was Delius' amanuensis in the final stage of the composer's career, when he was suffering from syphilitic paralysis. Fenby's published memoir Delius As I Knew Him was the basis for Ken Russell's 1962 film Song of Summer, made for BBC Television. Actor Max Adrian portrayed Delius. You'll get to hear the "Illustrated Talk," plus a recording of another Delius masterpiece for orchestra, chorus, and baritone soloist, Sea Drift (1904).

  The majority of recordings featured over these two months of summer programming are drawn from my personal collection. From our station's record library I have selected Flotow's Martha, Rossini's Il Signor Bruschino and Mareno-Torroba's Luisa Fernanda. The two song cycles, Rorem's Evidence of Things Not Seen and Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Euridice, come on loan from the collection of Rob Meehan. Thanks go to him, as always since he has loaned me so many fine recordings of contemporary lyric theater music over the years. Thanks as well to Vickie Hadge of Virtually Done by Vickie for the preparation of these programming notes for publication.

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