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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 2009

Sunday JULY 5th: Every Summer I program lyric theater music that’s lightweight and easy-to-take with plenty of comedy or pastoral elements -- music that I think will complement your vacation-time frame of mind. I begin the season, however, with a heavyweight work that attempts to speak for the conscience of the American people on the Sunday closest to our giant American holiday, the Fourth of July. Leonard Bernstein's Mass (1971) was written for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Mass is actually a wide-ranging polyglot theater-piece of singers, players, and dancers. Bernstein wanted it to reflect the crisis of faith underlying the ennui of twentieth century American life. Bernstein himself and Stephen Schwarz supplied provocative secular texts which were juxtaposed with the Latin words of the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass. When I first aired Mass on Sunday, July 1, 1990 it was with the composer conducting the whole aural extravaganza in the "cast recording" for CBS Masterworks. Then in February, 2005 came the German interpretation for the Harmonia Mundi label, with the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin and the Berlin Radio Chorus under the baton of Kent Nagano, with American tenor Jerry Hadley as the Celebrant. An Austrian production of Mass was mounted in 2006 and released this year through the UK label Chandos on two CDs. It was coproduced by ORF Austrian Radio, not in Vienna as you might expect, but in the lower Austrian provincial town of St. Polton. Kristjan Järvi leads the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Lower Austria and the Absolute Ensemble, the Company of Music (Street Chorus), the Boys’ Choir of Tölz Cathedral, and the Chorus Sine Nomine. The American baritone Randall Scarlotta is the Celebrant.
We note the passing of another great American composer, Lucas Foss (b. 1922) on February first of this year. The Prairie (1944) puts Foss on the map in America's classical music scene and launched an artistic career that spanned the entire second half of the twentieth century. Yet this cantata to a poem of Carl Sandburg never became as popular as Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring (1944), which is surprising since Foss and Copland were writing in a very similar musical style. The legendary American choral conductor Robert Shaw premiered The Prairie at New York City's Town Hall. Andrew Clark conducted the Providence Singers (of Providence, Rhode Island) and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project when The Prairie was recorded at Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts in 2007. BMOP/sound released it on a single CD the following year.

Sunday, July 12th: Our focus this Sunday remains on American music, especially the music of the American lyric stage. While he may not have yet attained the iconographic status of George M. Cohan, Harry Connick, Jr. is certainly one of the most versatile young talents on Broadway today. He starred as Sid in the 2006 Broadway revival of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ The Pajama Game. The charismatic Harry found his perfect mate in the Babe portrayed by Kelli O'Hara. The Roundabout Theatre Company's production was the first in thirty years for this classic American musical comedy. As captured in its "New Broadway Cast Recording" for Sony's Columbia division, it may well be the definitive audio interpretation of the score. Harry always had his mind on composing for Broadway. He wrote, arranged, and orchestrated everything for his own musical Thou Shalt Not (2001). Kelli O'Hara interprets songs from Harry's musical on the second of the two CDs in the Columbia package. Listen thereafter for songs from The Great American Songbook collection as sung by the esteemed African-American mezzo Marilyn Horne. The title track for that 1986 London CD is Stephen Foster's chestnut "Beautiful Dreamer." Carl Davis leads the English Chamber Orchestra in modern arrangements of all the musical material.

Sunday, July 19TH: Jacques Offenbach’s The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein touched off a craze for operetta all over the Western world.Offenbach wrote it to coincide with the splendid Paris Exhibition of 1867. The cream of Europe's aristocracy and intelligentsia turned up at Offenbach's own Varrétés theater to see the most chic musical entertainment in town. LaGrande Duchesse de Gerolstein was revived again and again. Today it's Die Fledermaus that gets all the glory. That classic of Viennese operetta, however, is derived from a French play by Meilhac and Halery, the team who wrote the book for all of Offenbach's best operettas. Regina Crespin sings in the title rôle on this 1977 Columbia Masterworks LP release. Mady Mesplé is the peasant girl Wanda. Michel Plasson conducts the chorus and orchestra du Capitole de Toulouse. I last broadcast these same vinyl stereo discs long ago on Sunday, July 14, 1985.

Sunday, July 26TH: Mozart began writing opera at the tender age of twelve. Ascanio in Alba (1771) was one of a string of lyric stageworks to come from the child prodigy. This one is actually a serenata, ie. a lightweight entertainment with a simplified storyline, employing singing, dancing, and pageantry. Leopold Mozart took his son to Milan precisely to show off the boy's ability to write for the stage. Young Wolfgang was commissioned to produce a festive mini-opera to be performed as part of the lavish celebrations of a state wedding. Even before the famous La Scala opera house had been built, Milan was already one of the leading cities for opera in all of Europe. The main feature of the festivities was supposed to be an Italian opera seria composed by Johann Adolf Hasse. Ruggiero  turned out to be the last opera he would ever write. Audiences quickly forgot Hasse's work, but they loved the serenata, which was held over for several additional performances. Its story was taken from classical myth and deals with pastoral love. As drama its static, yet the music is full of the charm and grace that Mozart is renowned for. It's just the right thing to listen to on a lovely summer's day. We listen again this Sunday to the Naxos two CD release I aired on Sunday, May 10, 1998. English countertenor Michael Chance is heard as Ascanio in a recording made at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1990. Jacques Gombert conducts the Concerto Armonico of Budapest. (There's also an old set of RCA Victrola LPs of Ascanio I broadcast way back in the summer of 1985.)

Sunday, August 2ND: I always program something from the Gilbert and Sullivan cannon in Midsummer. It seems over all these years I have never featured the most famous G & S operetta of them all, The Mikado (1885). The classic 1973 Decca/London recording of this warhorse of the repertoire gives us the original D’Oyly Carte Opera Company stamp of Savoyard authenticity in every detail. That's because it was made under the direction of Dame Bridget D’Oyly Carte, the impressario’s granddaughter. Royston Nash directs the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Following The Mikado, listen for digitally upgraded CD recordings of English popular music from the first half of the twentieth century.

Sunday, August 9TH: Giovanni Paisiello (1740 -- 1816), wrote the original "Barber of Seville" opera in 1782. It was world-famous and enormously popular for decades until Rossini's new version came along in 1816. I have broadcast what must still be the only musically complete commercially available recording of Paisiello’s "Barber" on the Italian Frequenz label. Paisiello and his rival Dominico Cimarosa (1749 -- 1801) were the two leading composers of Neapolitan-style opera buffa of the eighteenth century. Popular, too, in its day, but long forgotten is Paisiello’s Socrate Immaginario, "The Man Who Thought 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 Telemann’s Der Geduldige Sokrates in June of 1991. The Italian record label Bongiovanni has captured Socrate Immaginario live in performance at the Teatro Chiabrera of Savonna in 1998. The conductor Giovanni Di Stefano edited Paisiello’s autograph score for the revival production. I last broadcast the two Bongiovanni silver discs on Sunday, July 21, 2002.

Sunday, August 16TH: "The Waltz King" Johann Strauss, Jr. is known worldwide as the composer of two enormous operetta hits, Die Fledermaus and "The Gypsy Baron." Strauss wrote a total of sixteen operettas in the course of his long career. Many of them were successes as well. Fürstin Ninetta ("Princess Ninetta,” 1893) opened at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna and ran for 76 performances, was well received by the public and critics alike, then went on to theaters throughout the Austrian empire, but after 1905 it disappeared entirely from the stage. The setting is Naples with its volcano Vesuvius smoking in the background. Crazy marriage complications and fears of highway robbery come along with cross-dressing in the libretto Hugo Wittman and Julius Bauer presented to Strauss. "The Waltz King" worked his usual magic on this absurd concoction of amorous intrigues among the well-to-do of Austria and Russia. His score contains the famous “Pizzicato Polka.” “Princess Ninetta” was revived in Stockholm in 2007. The live recording of the operetta was released this year on two CDs through Naxos Records. A female Hungarian conductor, Valeria Csonyi, directs the Swedish singers and players. The Naxos recording lacks spoken dialog, something Strauss himself thought was unnecessary.

Sunday, August 23RD: It’s difficult to translate the title of Franz Lehar’s operetta Die Blaue Mazur (1920) into English. "The Blue Mazurka” is a literal way to render it, but "The Last Dance" might be closer to its true sense. Usually in Viennese operetta the story ends in the third act with a marriage. Lehar’s librettists Stein and Jenbach departed from tradition by introducing into the finale of the first act a wedding ceremony from which the female love interest flees. The mazurka is a Polish dance and although the libretto of "The Blue Mazurka” is in German and the setting is Vienna, the male lead is a Polish nobleman who gets to sing in the first act finale in his native language. In 2007 this musically lovely work was recorded in a concert hall in Frankfurt am Oder along the East German frontier with Poland. Frank Beerman conducted the Brandenburg State Orchestra and the Chamber Choir of the Frankfurt Singakedemie, with five vocal principals. The German label cpo released Die Blaue Mazur in 2008 on two compact discs.

Sunday, August 30th: Every year at this time I make sure to broadcast one of the seven operas of Frederick Delius (1867 -- 1934) partly because I think the music of this "The English Debussy" so beautifully evokes the mood of the lazy, hazy end of summertime. Since I began lyric theatre broadcasting back in the summer of 1982 I have gone through several complete cycles of the Delius operas. This summer we come back to Koanga (1904), in which Delius fashioned a Creole tragedy for the lyric stage based upon American writer George Cable’s book The Grandissime. Delius introduced the element of conflict between Christianity and the Voodoo religion into the libretto he himself prepared. He spent a crucial period in his artistic development in the American Southland. Delius’ father had commissioned him to run a small citrus plantation in Florida. Between managing the orange groves and studying music, Delius fell in love with the wild Everglades scenery. He was fascinated by the hymn singing of the local black folk. Koanga premiered in Germany with its libretto translated into German by Delius’ wife Jelka. The English-language libretto was never entirely satisfactory to begin with, and the opera has suffered for it. Koanga, for all its lush, humid atmospheric beauty, was quickly forgotten. The Washington Opera Society revived it in 1970 with a revised and improved libretto. Two of the principals in the staged revival sang for the world premiere recording released through EMI in 1974. Baritone Eugene Holmes held forth in the title role as Koanga, the African prince and voodoo priest. Soprano Claudia Lindsey took the role of the mulatto slave woman Palmyra. Basso Raimund Herinx was Don Jose Martinez the plantation owner. Sir Charles Groves conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and John Alldis Choir. In EMI's vaults there exists another previously unreleased live recording of Koanga made at the Camden Festival in England in 1972. Again Groves leads the London Symphony. This is in fact the earlier of the two potential world premiere recordings. Sonically, it is slightly inferior in quality with its occasional audience noise when compared to the EMI studio tapings. It has, however, the excitement and immediacy of live performance in its favor. An Italian record label, Intaglio, got access to the Camden Festival tapes and reissued Koanga in 1993 onto CDs.

The BMOP/sound recording of Lucas Foss’ The Prairie you heard at the start of this two-month round of programming came out of the private collection of Rob Meehan, former classics DJ here at WWUH. He's a specialist in the "alternative musics" of modern times. Over the years and again and again Rob has loaned me his recordings for broadcast on my show, so again I must thank him in print.  Out of my own collection of opera on silver disc came Mozart's Ascanio in Alba, Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, Paisiello’s Socrate Immaginario and Delius’ Koanga. All the other featured recordings are derived from our station’s ever-growing library of classical music on disc. Thanks also to Vickie Hadge of Virtually Done by Vickie for the preparation of these progra0.mming notes for publication.

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2009

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