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The University of Hartford

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
You're "Lyric Theatre" Program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of July and August

Sunday July 5: One of the hottest Broadway shows of 1998 was Stephen Flaherty’s Ragtime: The Musical, based on the novel by E.L.Doctorow. With its uniquely American historical theme, Ragtime, is the perfect thing to listen to on the weekend of the Fourth of July. While Flaherty and his librettist Lynn Ahrens were still working on the score a single CD of Songs from Ragtime came out through BMG in 1996. That concept album preceded the actual world premiere of the stage show in Toronto. The complete cast recording came out this year on two BMG Classics CD’s. It sets forth the subsequent Broadway production that took place at the new Ford Center for the Performing Arts. After the opening at the Shubert Theater in Los Angeles John Mauceri, conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, asked Flaherty to compose a symphonic "Ragtime Suite" to be performed by the orchestra at its gala Independence Day Weekend concert. The symphonic suite comes as an additional track on the BMG cast album. You’ll hear it up-front by way of an overture to my radio presentation of the show. David Loud plays solo piano and conducts the theater orchestra, whose concertmaster is violinist Paul Woodiel, graduate of Hartt School and a former classical music announcer here at WWUH. (He used to do "Bach’s Backyard" immediately before my show in the days before "Ambience" programming came along.)

There will be time remaining after the Ragtime presentation to offer you a wonderful audio nugget of musical Americana. Beginning in the 1880’s "the March King" John Philip Sousa wrote more than a dozen operettas for the American lyric stage along the lines of Offenbach or Gilbert and Sullivan. Richard Kapp was asked to dig into the Sousa archives to exhume other Sousa compositions, among them orchestral suites, upon which he could construct a modern American musical. The result was an unsuccessful Broadway show, Teddy and Alice (1986), with a libretto by Hal Hackaday working off of biographical material from the lives of president Theodore Roosevelt and his wife. Concert performances of numbers from Teddy and Alice were more enthusiastically received. (Wouldn’t you know, "Fourth of July" is the title of one of the songs from the musical.) Included on a 1989 ESSAY CD recording of Sousa’s orchestral music are six songs from Teddy and Alice with Richard Kapp conducting the Philharmonia Virtuosi.

Sunday July 12: It’s hard to think of Dmitri Shostakovich is a composer of comic opera or operetta. How could a Russian composer express real, unfettered comic sensibilities in the era of Stalin? It’s well known how Shostakovich incurred the dictator’s wrath over the cynically satirical opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934), and how the communist party music critics blasted it in Pravda. Moskva, Cheremushki (1956) is a product of the immediate post-Stalinist period, when Nikita Krushchev ordered the building of new high rise apartment buildings on the outskirts of Moscow. Today, after decades of neglect these structures are in scandalously decrepit condition, but in the Krushchev era they were much-desired living quarters for the proletariat of the city. Stalin might well have raged at the portrayal of corrupt party officials in the story of the misadventures of workers trying to settle into their new homes in the tower blocks. The libretto is pure soap-opera, and Shostakovich’s score shows the influence of American musical comedy. Chandos, the UK record label, has just released the world premiere recording of Moskva, Cheremushki, the complete operetta with spoken dialog contained on the tracks of two compact discs. Gennady Rozdestvensky conducts a cast of Russian vocal soloists and the Russian State Symphonic Capella. The recording was made in the Netherlands and makes use of the instrumental resources of the Residentie Orchestra of the Hague.

Sunday July 19: In broadcasting musicals as "summer stock" lyric theater programming my policy had long been to limit them to old classic stuff from at least half a century ago like those of Jerome Kern, George Gershwin or Cole Porter. Yet Webber And Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) is now nearly three decades old and has by this time become something of a period piece. The era of the hippies has long gone by, and the Jesus Christ of this piece is really a hippie messiah. Jesus Christ Superstar won international acclaim and made musical history. It was hugely successful as stage show, movie and record album, too. The movie soundtrack was released originally as a double LP in 1973. Andre Previn conducts the assembled musicmakers in the recording: he’s the "classical connection" in the audio production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "rock opera." MCA Records made Jesus Christ Superstar available again on two compact discs.

Sunday July 26: Edward German (born German Edward Jones, 1862, d. 1936) is rightly regarded as the successor to Sir Arthur Sullivan in the field of English operetta. One of German’s most popular works was Merrie England (1902), to a libretto by Basil Hood. This romantic comedy is set in Elizabethan times. Classics for Pleasure has reached into EMI’s archives and drawn forth for reissue on compact disc a 1960 recording of Merrie England with tenor William McAlpine as Sir Walter Raleigh and soprano Monica Sinclair as Good Queen Bess.

Sunday August 2: Before Wagner came along to dominate the scene, there were several composers of stature producing German opera in the mid nineteenth century: Heinrich Marschner and Otto Nicholai, for instance, and Albert Lortzing (1801-51), whose magical Ondine I presented on Sunday, June 8, 1086. Then in January, 1987 I broadcast Lorgzing’s comic masterpiece Der Wildschuetz ("The Poacher," 1848). In his lyric comedy Lortzing looks askance at the cozy , sentimental, complacent approach to life adopted by the German middle classes in the period of political reaction following the Napoleonic wars. Nothing is as it seems in the era of Biedermeyer consciousness, but Lortzing has a way of smiling at it all through the transcendent powers of music. This Sunday, I will again present the same 1982 Deutsche Gramophon recording of Der Wildschuetz you heard eleven years ago. It’s been reissued in CD format through Berlin Classics. Bernhard Klee conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Chorus of Radio Berlin with vocal soloists Peter Schreier, Edith Mathis and Hans Sotin.

Sunday August 9: Zarzuela is the popular musical theater genre of Spain, not unlike our American musical comedy. Whenever I find examples of zarzuela on disc I rush to program them. 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 theaterworks were no longer produced. This particular zarzuela received more than a thousand performances before the Spanish Civil War. It was enormously popular, and no wonder: Torroba’s score for Luisa Fernanda is filled with lovely melodies. William Jarvis of the Jarvis Conservatory in Napa, California translated the libretto of Luisa into English for his staged adaptation of the work. It was recorded live in the performance space at the Old Lisbon Winery in downtown Napa with a cast made up entirely of American singers. Luisa Fernanda was released in 1997 on a single very generously timed compact disc. Excerpts from the vast musical literature of zarzuela will follow.

Sunday August 16: I always include German language operetta in my summertime programming mix. By birth Franz Lehar (1870-1948) was part Austrian German, part Hungarian. He composed many popular operettas to librettos in either language. Das Land des Lachelns ("The Land of Smiles," 1929), from his later period, is a bittersweet musical melodrama with a sad ending. Lehar created the role of Prince Suo-Chong expressly for Richard Tauber, the greatest German lyric tenor of the early twentieth century. The last time I broadcast Das Land des Lachelns was on Sunday, April 26, 1992, when I presented a West German EMI recording featuring one of the big-name German tenors of our time, Siegfried Jerusalem, as Suo-Chong. This time around you’ll hear an American tenor of international reputation, Jerry Hadley, in that role. Telarc released several of Lehar’s later operettas in new English language versions in 1996-7. One of these was "The Land of Smiles," crammed onto one extremely long-playing compact disc. Hadley himself prepared the English adaptation. The operetta in its new form is almost complete musically, though the minor sung part of Chang and the spoken roles of Fu-Li and a Server have been omitted. Most of the dialog between musical numbers has also been cut. Curiously, in Hadley’s translation the hit song, familiar in English as "Yours Is My Heart Alone," starts out as "My heart belongs to you... ." Richard Bonynge conducts the English Chamber Orchestra and London Voices.

The last of the echt German operettas composers was the Austrian Robert Stolz (1880-1975), who lived long enough to record his own works in stereo sound, as well as those of Lehar and his distinguished colleagues: Oskar Strauss, Karl Millocker, Emmerich Kalman. The entire series is available on Eurodisc CD’s: a reappearance of what originally came out on LP’s decades ago. Stolz is famous for his tune "Two Hearts in Three-quarter Time" from the operetta of the same name. In the 1920’s he wrote music for the Berlin cabaret scene. In the 40’s, while in exile in the USA, he lived in Hollywood and wrote music for films. We’ll hear highlights from his operetta Venus in Siede ("Venus in Silk," 1932). The vocal principals on this disc are the same for the entire Eurodisc series: tenors Rudolf Schock and Ferry Gruber, and soprano Margit Schramm. Stolz himself conducts the Berlin Symphony and Gunther Arndt Chorus. Sung in the original German.

Sunday August 23: Although he’s already famous in musical history for composing a little one-act comic intermezzo, La Serva Padrona (1733), Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-36) ought to be better known as one of the first Italian maestros to write full-length opera buffa. Pergolesi practically invented the genre of opera buffa. It came into being in the opera houses of Naples. The libretto of Pergolesi’s Lo Frate ‘nnammorato ("The Brother in Love," 1732) is in Neapolitan dialect. In its time it was a big hit. Even if you understand the dialect, the plot of Lo Frate, with its zany amorous carryings-on, is godawful hard to follow. There are very few recordings indeed of the larger lyric stageworks of Pergolesi. This one was recorded live in performance in Naples in 1969 for Radio Italia, with Carlo Felice Cillario conducting. This is not the ideal recording of the work. Much of the recitative and several arias have been cut from the original score. Nevertheless, the Foyer CD offering of Lo Frate ‘nnammorato will give you listeners a good earful of the suave and tuneful Neapolitan style that Pergolesi perfected.

Sunday, August 30: 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 the Guide from July/August, 1988 to March/April, 1989. So far since the early 1980’s I have broadcast two full cycles of these operas. I began the cycle again this year 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. Ib 1953 Delius’ friend and promoter Sir Thomas Beecham conducted an amateur performance of Irmelin which went 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 on the BBC’s Artium label, first in LP, then in CD upgrade. I aired the LP set on Sunday, August 31, 1986 and the CD reissue Sunday, August 26, 1990. Since no new recording of Irmelin has been made, you’ll hear those same Artium silver discs today.

In this two-month go-round of programming I am indebted once again to the Hartford Public Library for the loan for broadcast of several recordings: Jesus Christ Superstar, Lortzing’s Der Wildschuetz and the opera buffa by Pergolesi. Special thanks goes to HPL’s music librarian Bob Chapman for the arrangement of the loan. Edward German’s Merrie England, Robert Stolz’s Venus in Seide and Delius’ Irmelin come from my own record collection. Everything else heard in the summer lyric theater lineup represents but a tiny sampling of the humungous batch of new acquisitions to our WWUH station library of classical music on disc.

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 1998

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