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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of March and April 1998

Sunday March 1: Thomas Arne's Artaxerxes (1762) was the British answer to Italian opera seria. Arne himself translated Metastasio's Italian language libretto for Artaserse into English verse. Several continental European composers had already set it to music. Thomas Augustine Arne (1710-78) was England's most important native-born composer of the mid-eighteenth century. At times his English opera echoes the established baroque style of Handel; at other moments it sounds more like the new progressive or galant style of Gluck. But it is tuneful throughout, and its eminent singability kept it constantly in circulation in English theaters well into the nineteenth century. In 1791, while he was sojourning in England, Haydn took in a performance of it and was reportedly amazed at he high quality of Arne's music. The entire autograph score of Artaxerxes was destroyed by a fire at Covent Garden in 1801. Fortunately, the musical numbers of the score including the overture had already been published. All that was lacking for a twentieth century revival were the secco recitatives and a final chorus. British musicologist Peter Holman reconstructed the recitatives and adapted a splendid Handelian style chorus from Arne's incidental music to Comus (1738) to conclude the work. Artaxerxes was recorded in studio for release in 1996 through Hyperion Records as Vol.33 in their series 'The English Orpheus." Roy Goodman conducts The Parley of Instruments period instrumental ensemble with an all-English cast of vocal soloists.

Sunday March 8: This show may be preempted by broadcast of a University of Hartford women's basketball game. If it isn't, I will be presenting Mozart's Don Giovanni (1787) in a thoroughly "period" interpretation: a 1988 EMI release with Roger Norrington conducting the London Classical Players and the Schutz Choir of London. EMI's three CD package is cleverly designed to give you both the Vienna and Prague versions of the opera as you choose to program the tracks. It was only a year or so ago I last gave you Don Giovanni. The Telarc CD recording you heard on Sunday, January 19, 1997 was similarly tracked. I chose to program the premiere Prague version then, and I do so now, but there ought to be time

remaining after the presentation proper to air those additional Vienna version tracks. Fanfare reviewer James Cammer says the Norrington interpretation "ranks with the best recordings of the opera," and baritone Andreas Schmidt's vocal portrayal of the title role makes for "One of the best Don's on record."

Sunday March 15: Franz Schmidt (1874-1939), a composer both Austrian and Hungarian in origin, is probably best know to posterity through his oratorio Das Buch mit sieben siegein ("The Book with Seven Seals," 1937). It has been recorded for Orfeo, the record label of Radio Austria. I aired the Orfeo CD's on Sunday, April 1, 1990. Schmidt also wrote two operas, the first of them Notre Dame (1904) received its world premiere recording in studio for the West German label Capriccio in 1988. This is styled a "Romantic Opera," based on Victor Hugo's famous Romantic novel 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame." In Franz Schmidt's operatic adaptation the Hunchback isn't the central character. Rather, it's the love interest in the story, the gypsy girl Esmeralda. She is soprano Gwenneth Jones. Christof Perick conducts the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin.

This is the one Sunday in the yearly cycle of lyric theater programming when I go on mike to urge you listeners to demonstrate your support of this show with your dollars as part the week-long fundraising effort on WWUH known, as Marathon. Remember, this show carries forward an unbroken tradition on WWUH that began in 1970 with the Sunday opera broadcasts of Joseph S. Terzo. Through the years you listeners have never failed to help us meet our fundraising goal, so I thank you in advance for you generosity.

Sunday March 22: With this Sunday's broadcast I believe I have now finally completed my long, long ongoing cycle of presentations of all the early and obscure operas of Giuseppe Verdi through Luisa Miller (1849). Stiffeilo actually premiered the year after Luisa, but no assessment of those early operas would be truly complete without it. In its first incarnation this opera did not do well ensemble. because of its poor libretto. The librettist Piave reworked it and Verdi supplied some new music for the score for a revival planned for the opening of the new opera house at Rimini in 1857. Verdi personally oversaw the entire production of the work that was renamed Aroldo. There was a lot of hoopla over the premiere of Aroldo, but it, too, was ultimately no more successful than Stiffeilo. After a century of neglect Aroldo was resuscitated for broadcast in Italy in 1951 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Verdi's death. Thereafter it was performed in many places, but its world premiere recording had to wait until 1979, when it was taped in a live concert production at Carnegie Hall. In it Eve Queler directed the Opera Orchestra of New York. The esteemed diva soprano Montserrat Caballe sang in this recording, as well as the star-quality tenor Juan Pons. You'll hear Aroldo on a CBS Masterworks CD reissue.

Sunday March 29: Most of Jules Massenet's operas are not well known today. Some years ago I made a special effort to broadcast as many of them as I could find on disc. Some of them are quite obscure. Somewhat better known is Werther (1892), which I last broadcast on Christmas Day, 1988. No opera is more unabashedly Romantic than this one, based as it is on a extremely popular novel by the Shakespeare of Germany, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832). There were several operatic treatments of Goethe's book, but none so successful as Massenet's in capturing the haunting sadness of the original. The story is at heart autobiographical, although Goethe himself did not commit suicide for love like his character the young poet Werther. The opera begins and ends with a Christmas carol sung by children. Its most poignant scenes are set on Christmas Eve. The Angel LP recording I aired a decade ago featured the renowned Spanish soprano Victoria de Los Angles portraying the poet's beloved Charlotte, with Swedish tenor Nicolal Gedda in the title role. The 1995 Opera de Lyon production of Werther was taped for release on CD last year by Erato Records. This time around an American tenor, Jerry Hadley, is heard as Werther opposite Anne Sofia Von Otter as Charlotte. Kent Nagano conducts the

Sunday April 5: Estonian composer Arvo Part's Passio Dornini Nostri Secundum Joannem (1982) is perhaps the single most intensely spiritual, mystical work of its kind that I have ever broadcast during Holy Week. Its effect upon listeners has been called well night indescribable. In reviewing the ECM recording of the St. John Passion Fanfare magazine's Paul Rapoport strains to find appropriate phrases... "crying without tears" ...or "the fire beyond the language of the living" (T.S. Eliot).. "what Wilfrid Mellers calls ‘the eternal silence at the heart of sound'... Anyone prepared to undergo seventy-one minutes of religious experience via what is almost an incantation of John 18 and most of 19 - colored by a sensibility decidedly medieval and spirituality decidedly Eastern - will understand a lot about this Passion. Do not expect Bach..." The scoring for Part's Passion is decidedly minimalist: the four voices of the Hilliard Ensemble, The Western Wind Chamber Choir, bass Michael George as Jesus and tenor John Potter as Pilate, with the accompaniment at certain junctures of organ, violin, oboe, cello and bassoon. Paul Hillier conducts. Sung in Latin.

The second part of our Palm Sunday program is given over to a devotional work of contrasting character: John Stainer's The Crucifixion (1887). It's not easy to describe this piece, either. Does it display true pathos in an accessible vocal style or is it simply dated Victorian bathos? Even critics in Stainer's day described The Crucifixion as crude and sentimental, yet it has secured for itself a permanent niche in the English choral repertoire. John Stainer (1840-1901) was the quintessential church musician. He crafted his oratorio especially for good amateur singers who would make up a well-trained parish church choir. More than a century after its premiere at St. Marylebone Parish Church, London, it is still performed there on Good Friday. Some great professional singers took part in a 1997 recording of The Crucifixion made at All Saints Church, Tooting, in the metro London area. Tenor Martyn Hill and bass Michael George are joined by the BBC Singers and Leith Hill Festival Singers, Brian Kay conducting. A Chandos release.

Sunday April 12: Like our Palm Sunday presentation, Easter Sunday programming is in two parts. From the late Romantic period in French music comes a mini-oratorio by a theater music composer of the era, Alfred Bruneau (1857-1934), whose name was associated with that of the novelist Emile Zola. Zola supplied the libretto for Lazare (1902), which was never performed in Bruneau's lifetime. Lazare puts a special naturalistic and Zolaesque spin on the New Testament story of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead: the dead man asks to be restored to the blissful oblivion of "the big sleep," and Jesus complies. Lazare remained unplayed until April 15, 1957 when it was resurrected for broadcast over the French National Network in a concert marking the centenary of Bruneau's birth. That concert was rebroadcast twice in its original monaural sound taping in 1984 and was subsequently set forth on one mono CD by Bourg Records.

I did not specifically feature Edward Elgar's The Light of Life (1896) when I last broadcast it several years back as additional Eastertide programming. This work is the immediate predecessor of the more famous Dream of Gerontius. The music clearly looks forward to Gerontius and Elgar's two big New Testament oratorios, The Apostles and The Kingdom (All of them have been featured on this program). The Light of Life (or Lux Christi, as Elgar preferred to call it) recounts in music the story of Jesus' restoration of the blind man's sight, as taken from the Gospel According to St. John. In our 1981 EMI recording Sir Charles Groves leads the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, with vocal soloists Margaret Marshall, Helen Watts, Robin Leggate and John Shirley-Quirk.

Sunday April 19: "When that April with his showers sweet/The drought of March hath pierced to the root." So begins the Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer's famous Canterbury Tales. George Dyson (1883-1964) set the entire Prologue to music in 1931 as a kind of secular oratorio he called The Canterbury Pilgrims. Dyson's music is very much in the line of Elgar, only perhaps even more vigorous and coloristic. Martin Anderson, in writing about the world premiere Chandos recording of the complete work says it's like "The Dream of Gerontius without the mysticism" (Fanfare, Sept/Oct'97 issue). Anderson praises conductor Richard Hickox's equally vigorous interpretation of this near-legendary favorite of English Choral societies. Dyson's oratorio fell out of favor by mid-century. For fully three decades it was totally forgotten, perhaps because the optimistic mood of the piece seemed so out-of-whack with the times. In the 1996 studio recording Hickox directs the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Piggy backed on the Chandos CD issue of The Canterbury Pilgrims is another Dyson work that practically serves as a prologue to the oratorio: a fifteen-minute choral ode to the city of London, In Honour of the City (1928), which is a setting of the Scots poet William Dunbar's poem of praise. The old Scots dialect of Dunbar's verse is close to Chaucer's Middle English. As you might expect, Dyson's music employs the Westminster chimes as a kind of leitmotif.

Sunday April 26: The operas of Josef Haydn are among his least appreciated masterpieces. Between 1766 and 1783 Haydn wrote a series of Italian operas for the private theater of his fabulously wealthy patron Prince Eszterhazy. Haydn's last opera L' Anima del Filosofo (1791) was intended for production at the new King's Theater in London, but the show was canceled due to "opera politics." Haydn didn't leave off work on his score, which was nearly finished, until he knew for sure the opera would never be performed. What has come down to us in L' Anima del Filosofo is very engaging musically but has a few perplexing gaps, especially near the end, which break the dramatic continuity of the work. Looking at only this one score, one might conclude that Haydn simply could not write opera properly. On this account all his other operas have been unfairly dismissed. The last audition of L’ Anima del Filosofo on this program was December 13, 1987, when I worked from LP's issued in 1950 by the Haydn Society of Boston. The Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon prepared the original score for recording by the Vienna State Opera. Now you get to hear a more authentic "period instrument" treatment of this opus, which is actually Haydn's essay upon the already well-worked operatic subject of Orpheus and Euridice. It was recorded in Frankfort, Germany in 1990. Michael Schneider leads the La Stagione chamber orchestra and the Netherlands Chamber Choir. A Deutsche Harmonia Mundi CD release.

Our station's collection of classical music CD's keeps on growing. The latest acquisitions in the field of opera include Massenet's Werther. Also new to our collection are Arvo Part's Passion According to St. John, Stainer's The Crucifixion and Dyson's The Canterbuy Pilgrims. As soon as they arrive I try to fit the newcomers into the next two-month cycle opera programming. During this cycle I also draw from my own collection and the excellent collection of opera on CD at the Hartford Public Library, for which I thank Bob Chapman, music librarian at the HPL.

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 1998

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