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The University of Hartford

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of July and August 1999

Sunday July 4: The programming for this Independence Day is absolutely red white and blue! Everybody knows John Philip Sousa’s "El Capitan" march: nothing could be more vibrantly American in spirit. The tunes in that march come from Sousa’s comic operetta El Capitan (1895). Yes, believe it or not, "The March King" composed twelve operettas for the American lyric stage. El Capitan was his most popular and significant work in that vein. Jerrold Fischer and William Martin restored Sousa’s original score for the 1997 Zephyr compact disc recording of El Capitan. It was made at the Kannert Center for the Performing Arts at he University of Illinois/Urbana. Ian Hobson directs the Sinfonia da Camera, with the University of Illinois Chorale and Band, plus vocal soloists.
    Sousa’s operettas may be a little too bright and sap-happy for some jaded twentieth century American listeners, so I’m offering by way of contrast Leonard Bernstein’s dark little opera in seven scenes Trouble in Tahiti (1952), which looks at the breakdown in communication between husband and wife and exposes the general feeling of ennui in suburbia in the immediate post - WW2 years. Trouble in Tahiti was ultimately incorporated into the composer’s 1983 sequel A Quiet Place, which examines the further breakdown of the modern American family. I broadcast the DGG world premiere recording of A Quiet Place on Sunday, September 9, 1990. Bernstein himself conducted the 1973 recording of Trouble in Tahiti. That, too, I broadcast when it came out in CD format through Sony Classical on Sunday, June 28, 1992. Just this year Sony repackaged it for a new "Bernstein Century" series. You’ll hear that reissue today.

Sunday July 11: Bernstein gets us rolling again this Sunday in a three-part presentation of original cast recordings of some classic American musicals; these were originally released on LP’s on the Columbia Broadway Masterworks line. Sony Classical has made them available again to the public in digitally remastered CD format. The reissue of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town (1944) is actually of a 1960 studio recording in which Bernstein himself is conducting and which included four cast members from the 1944 premiere Broadway production. Like his later musical Wonderful Town (1953), heard on this program on Sunday, July 12, 1992, On the Town is Bernstein’s personal tribute to the vibrant life of New York City. The Sony CD reissue is the first complete, full-length recording of On the Town, because it has as additional tracks the overture, recorded in 1958 in studio but never previously released, plus Bernstein’s music for three "Dance Episodes" in the show (rec.’63).
    Then our attention turns to music by another genius of American lyric theater music, George Gershwin, in collaboration with his lyricist brother Ira. Oh, Kay! (1926) is a rollicking "bootlegger opera" absolutely in tune with the Prohibition years. This musical was first recorded in 1955 long after its highly successful Broadway premiere. Columbia’s esteemed producer Goddard Lieberson saw to it that the music of Oh, Kay! was preserved for posterity. The Sony CD reissue has three bonus tracks.
    I played the Gershwin brothers’ Girl Crazy (1930) once before on Sunday, August 15, 1993, when I worked from the recent Elektra/Nonesuch recording which presented an authentic reconstruction of the complete score, as edited by the musical comedy historian Tommy Krasker. There is also a 1951 monaural recording of Girl Crazy which never presumed to be a faithful representation of the show. It was a Goddard Lieberson "studio cast" LP staring Mary Martin. All the hit tunes are there: "Bidin’ My Time," "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm" and "But Not For Me," with one additional track on the Sony CD reincarnation: Mary Martin’s vocal interpretation of "Bidin’ My Time." After the "studio cast" Girl Crazy there may be time for a few more Broadway chestnuts from some of the other Sony historic cast album series.

Sunday July 18: From American musical comedy in its bygone golden age, we move on this Sunday to the musicals of the more recent silver age of senior Broadway composers and lyricists who are still living. Steven Sondheim (b.1930) surely ranks foremost among them. A Little Night Music (1973) is Sondheim’s musical take on a 1955 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night. The hit song "Send in the Clowns" epitomizes the gentle humor and sweet nostalgia of Sondheim’s entire score. After years of absence Goddard Lieberson returned to the recording studio to produce the LP version of A Little Night Music. The Sony CD reissue offers the previously unreleased "Night Waltz II" and a bonus song "The Glamorous Life."
    With Company (1970) Sondheim entered his own personal golden age of creativity. Although the show has no specific plot, it deals with a "swinging single" guy in New York City and his married couple friends. Company has no one hit number, yet every cabaret artist alive has covered its songs. The spontaneity and energy of the original cast album really makes the Company CD reissue worth listening to, especially Dean Jones in the role of the bachelor Robert.

Sunday July 25: Funny but macabre, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guard (1888) is their only operetta to have a tragic twist. It deals with a young man accused of sorcery and condemned to die in the Tower of London. Jack Point the Jester relieves much of the gloom with his superb singing about the Merryman and His Maid. Sir Malcolm Sargeant conducts the Pro Arte Orchestra and Glyndebourne Festival Chorus in a very early stereo recording on Angel LP’s. I last broadcast Yeoman of the Guard long ago on Sunday, July 10, 1983. Sargeant oversaw a cast of English operatic greats in this recording: Welsh baritone Geraint Evans as Jack Point was but one of them.
    Time remains to listen to a brand new world premiere CD recording of Sullivan’s operetta The Rose of Persia (1899), to a libretto by Basil Hood rather than William S. Gilbert. This was Sullivan’s last completed lyric stagework. He was working on another Basil Hood libretto The Emerald Isle when he died, November 21, 1900. BBC Music touts their CD as "extended highlights" of The Rose of Persia, which must mean it’s most of the entire operetta heard in just over a hour’s worth of play. Tom Higgins conducts The Hanover Band and Southwick Voices.

Sunday August 1: My summertime mix of programming always includes something bucolic in nature. Wolfgang Mozart was eleven years old when he wrote a three-act intermezzo Apollo et Hyacinthus (1767), which is arguably his first operatic work, preceding both Bastien und Bastienne (1768) and La Finta Semplice (1769). The text of this little pastoral tragedy is in Latin. The nine numbers of Mozart’s score were broken up for insertion between the five acts of another Latin tragedy staged at the Salzburg Benedictine University. Apollo et Hyacinthus is a remarkably mature composition. Little Mozart’s dramatic conception was sure: all the musical numbers fit together perfectly well in continuous recorded performance. One such was made in 1981 at the Salzburg Mozarteum, produced jointly by Deutsche Gramophon and ORF Radio Austria. Leopold Hager conducts the Mozarteum Orchestra. Three internationally known operatic greats sang in this recording: tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson, and sopranos Arleen Auger and Edith Mathis.

Sunday August 8: In 1990 Elektra/Nonesuch Records issued on two CD’s a pioneering work of American lyric theater from the Jazz Age: George and Ira Gershwin’s Strike Up the Band. No piece of flapper/gangster theatrical fluff this! Strike Up the Band is a satiric comedy, a Yankee version of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta with an antiwar theme. The political criticism contained in the show was way ahead of its time and, unfortunately, went over the heads of its audience. The original 1927 production was a flop, and the 1930 revival succeeded only because the antiwar sentiments were greatly toned down. Two immortal songs came out of Strike Up the Band, the theme and and "The Man I Love." Musical comedy historian Tommy Krasker spent two years of intensive musicological research in reconstructing the 1927 score. There are seven appended tracks of numbers from the 1930 production Krasker considered too good to leave out. One of them is another song that became a popular standard, "I’ve Got a Crush on You." John Mauceri conducts the ensemble.

Sunday August 15: After a 15 year absence I will broadcast Rossini’s L’ Italiana in Algeri (1813). "The Italian Woman in Algiers" is partly a "Turkish" opera highlighting the exotic and barbaric aspects of life among "the Moors," as Europeans used to think of the Islamic peoples of the Near East and North Africa. A beautiful Italian woman is shipwrecked on Algerian shores. She’s drafted into the harem of a Muslim potentate. One of the best recordings ever made of Rossini’s dramma giocoso was the one taped in 1980 at the Teatro Communale of Treviso with Claudio Scimone conducting I Solisti Veneti. Bass Samuel Ramey is heard as Mustafa, the Bey of Algiers, opposite mezzo Marilyn Horne as Isabella, the Italian woman. The other members of the singing cast are top notch too: soprano Kathleen Battle, tenor Ernesto Palacio and baritone Domenico Trimarchi. An Erato release.

Sunday August 22: Every summer I make sure to program at least one Viennese operetta. I’ve broadcast a central classic of the repertoire, Johann Strauss’ Der Zigeunerbaron or "The Gypsy Baron" (1885) three times before. Now comes an older recorded interpretation than all of those preceding. This one came out in 1958 on monaural LP’s here in the US on the Angel label. EMI rereleased it in 1988 on CD. Otto Ackermann conducts the Vienna Philharmonic with a stellar cast. Soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and tenor Nicolai Gedda get top billing.

Sunday August 29: The last Sunday in August I customarily reserve for broadcast of one of the seven operas of Frederick Delius (1862-1934), who has been called "the English Debussy." I program them now because Delius’ exquisite, impressionistic style is so evocative of the lazy, hazy end of summertime. Delius’ second attempt at writing opera The Magic Fountain (1895) never saw the stage in his lifetime. The great English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham befriended Delius and championed his music. Beecham planned to have The Magic Fountain staged in 1953, but its actual premiere came over BBC Radio in 1977 without need of visible staging. How well it fits radio broadcast! Delius so captures the spirit of nature you can see in your mind’s eye the setting: the Everglades in the days of the Spanish conquistadors. In seeking the Fountain of Eternal Youth and Life in South Florida a Spanish nobleman falls in love with a native American princess. He dies for her sake by drinking from the fatal waters. The world premiere recording of Delius’ The Magic Fountain heightens with environmental sound effects the balmy atmosphere the music has already created. Norman Del Mar leads the BBC Concert Orchestra with vocal soloists.

Copyright©WWUH: July/Augustl Program Guide, 1999

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