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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 1999

Sunday March 7: Like Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1689) and John Blow’s Venus and Adonis (1685?), Matthew Locke’s Psyche (1674) is a candidate for the title of First English Opera. Indeed, the term "English Opera" is applied to the title page of the printed score, which is incomplete and not really performable as it stands, but thanks to the intensive musicological research of Philip Pickett, it is possible to reconstruct a performing edition of Psyche with appropriate period instrumentation, augmenting Locke’s sketchy notations with musical numbers by his collaborator in the original stage production, the Italian émigré composer Giovanni Battista Draghi (c1640-1708). Matthew Locke (1621-77), was England’s most important composer for the lyric theater before Purcell. You have already heard another of Locke’s lyric stageworks. That was on Sunday, April 27, 1997, when I broadcast The Masque of Cupid and Death (1651), a collaboration between Locke and Christopher Gibbons (1615-76). Cupid and Death is also sometimes regarded as the earliest English opera. Psyche, however, is an enormous advance over the Locke/Gibbons masque. It was the most splendid piece of singing drama ever seen in England up to that time, and it has received a wonderful world premiere recording by the New London Consort under Philip Pickett’s direction. Musical Heritage Society has made the 1995 British Decca recording of Psyche available here in the US.

Locke’s Psyche has long been overlooked as a gem of baroque lyric theater. Also long neglected are the works of an eighteenth-century French opera composer, Jean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville (1711-72). The 1991 Erato recording of Mondonville’s delightful "pastorale heroique" called Titon et L’Aurore (1753) was originally scheduled to be aired on Sunday, September 27, 1998. The entire broadcast that Sunday was delayed, so I could not air all of the "highlights" from Titon et L’Aurore released on a single CD in Erato’s Musifrance line. The opera has been issued complete on two CD’s as taped by Radio France form a live performance. The "highlights" CD actually presents half of the entire opera, minus most of the recitative but retaining all the best vocal airs and instrumental dances. Marc Minkowski directs les Musiciens du Louvre. This recording, too, is a world premiere on disc.

Sunday March 14: Today this program participates in Marathon 1999, our station’s annual week of intensive on-air fundraising. Over the years of doing my marathon pitch for pledges, I’ve found a less intense approach works best. That is, I won’t harangue you endlessly for money in-between some very brief opera excerpts. I’ll try to keep the pitches short and the music programming lengthy but lightweight. This year I’ll be presenting three complete original cast recordings of famous American musicals. Sony Classical has been reissuing all the old Columbia Masterworks LP recordings of the classic shows in CD format. The oldest of them I’ll be airing will be the 1949 original cast recording of Rogers and Hammerstein’s immortal South Pacific, starring Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza. There are three bonus tracks on the CD: two of which are significant numbers cut from the show in tryouts, one more of Ezio Pinza singing "Bali Ha’i." Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret (1966) revolutionized American popular lyric theater. In the Sony reissue of Cabaret the complete LP is augmented on silver disc by four more songs that were dropped from the show before it reached Broadway. These four tracks were previously available only on a rare collector’s item 2 LP set that was privately circulated before the show actually opened. The third and most recent of the original cast recordings is of the highly successful Meehan/Strouse/Charnin collaboration on Annie (1977). Although it officially opened at the Alvin Theater in NYC, this show was perfected at the Goodspeed Opera House here in Connecticut. I hope that hearing these three classics of American musical comedy will inspire you to contribute your bucks to our marathon 1999 effort. You’ve never failed to help us meet our fundraising goal in times past, so I thank you in advance for you generosity.

Sunday March 21: This Sunday I bring you two quasi-operatic works that are strongly influenced by popular musical styles of the twentieth century. I Was Looking g at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (1997) is the latest thing to spring from the brain of contemporary American composer John Adams. It is a departure from the minimalist style Adams has long cultivated. I hear echoes of Gershwin and Bernstein in this music, and the story of Ceiling/Sky seems to me to be an updated version of Bernstein’s West Side Story for the end of the twentieth century, transferred to a Los Angeles setting. Ceiling/Sky was taped in studios in Helsinki, Finland and New York City for CD release through Nonesuch. The composer conducts the seven vocalists and eight instrumentalists.

Although classically trained, very early on in his career Kurt Weill developed a uniquely sardonic style derived from the pop music of his era. Happy End (1929) followed in the footsteps of the incredibly popular Three Penny Opera. It, too, had lyrics by Bertold Brecht, and Dorothy Lang’s stageplay was very much in the same anti-establishment vein. Happy End, however, was a flop, receiving only seven performances and was never revived in Weill’s or Brecht’s lifetime. It had one semi-hit song, "Surabaya Johnny." The upbeat "Bilbao Song" and "The Song of Mandelay" are also memorable as excerpts. Otherwise, Happy End has remained one of Weill’s most obscure lyric theater works. The show was studio-produced for German Radio of cologne in 1988, from which comes the first complete recording of Weill’s music. Conductor Jan Latham-Konig has restored the finale "Hosiannah Rockefellor" and the unabbreviated versions of all the songs. He leads the Konig Ensemble and Pro Musica Chorus of Cologne, with four vocal soloists who sing all of the fifteen character roles.

Sunday March 28: For Palm Sunday observances I offer up three of the best examples of contemporary Christian liturgical music. The first two are by Poland’s most important twentieth-century composer, Krzysztof Penderecki (b.1933). His Saint Luke Passion (1966) made a lasting impression upon the international classical music scene. Penderecki’s passion setting owes a great deal of its form to the St. Matthew Passion of Bach. One of two tone rows on which the work is based ends with the notes that spell out B-A-C-H in German notation. While it was commissioned by a German cathedral, Penderecki’s Passion was first performed the year of the thousandth anniversary of the introduction of Christianity into Poland. Interpolated into the Latin text of the St. Luke Gospel is Penderecki’s setting of the Stabat Mater, composed four years earlier, plus versed from the Gospel According to St. John and other Roman Catholic texts for Holy Week. The composer had a hand in two different recording of his Passion: the 1966 world premiere recording on Philips LP’s and the 1990 Argo CD release, in which he conducted the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and Cracow Boy’s Choir.

Following the Argo recording of the St.Luke Passion in the 1998 CD recording of the Penderecki Credo. The credo or Nicene Creed is the longest text in the Latin Ordinary of the Mass. Penderecki’s text is unique among Credo settings in that it includes eight interpolations, four of which are proper to Holy Week, plus quotations from German and Polish hymns. Moreover, it may well be the first American premiere of a large work for chorus and orchestra by a major European composer since 1930, when Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Credo was commissioned by the Bachakademie of Stuttgart and the Oregon Bach Festival. It was recorded in Eugene, OR. with Helmut Rilling conducting the festival orchestra and choir. A Hannsler Classics release. Penderecki’s later style, as witnessed in the Credo, is different from that of his much earlier St. Luke Passion. The two compositions should present an interesting contrast in broadcast.

Last in the Palm Sunday lineup is the Vigilia (1971) of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b.1928). This work is influenced by the sound of Eastern Orthodox liturgical music. Specifically, this is an a capella treatment of the All-Night Vigil in memory of St. John the Baptist for mixed choir and soloists. Fanfare reviewer Raymond Tuttle compared the Rautavaara Vigilia favorably to Penderecki’s Easter oratorio Utrenja. Tuttle was assessing the new Ondine CD issue of the Vigilia, as performed by the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir (Fanfare Sept/Oct, ‘98). He loved the basso profundo singing in the "Evening Hymn" section. "They can sing as low as their Russian cousins can," he wrote, and ended his review pronouncing the Ondine CD "quite enthusiastically recommended".

Sunday April 4: My Eastertide offering this year is more in keeping with the celebration of the concurrent Passover holiday. Judas Maccabaeus (1747) is probably George Frideric Handel’s next most famous oratorio after Messiah. Central to the Apocryphal story of the work is the figure of Judah the Maccabee, military hero of the Israelites. Judas Maccabaeus has been recorded several times since the beginning of the high-fidelity LP era. The 1994 Hyperion CD recording of the oratorio was the first one to be played on period instruments. In it Robert King conducted the King"s Consort and the choristers of New College, Oxford. Another "period" interpretation quickly followed this one on Harmonia Mundi CD’s. That was the one in which Nicholas McGegan led the Philharmonia Baroque Ensemble and the chorus of U Cal Berkeley. I broadcast the McGegan recording on Sunday, March 20, 1994. Musical Heritage Society has recently rereleased the Hyperion/King version, which includes all the music from the original 1747 score plus some later additions. Tenor Jamie MacDougal is heard as Judas, with bass Michael George s Simon and countertenor James Bowman as the Priest.

Sunday April 11: Gaetano Donizetti’s Imelda de’ Lambertazzi (1830) came just before Anna Bolena catapulted the composer into international fame. Imelda is probably the least known of all of Donizetti’s sixty five operas today, and that’s hard to understand, because it is replete with gorgeous bel canto melody. The story of Imelda is essentially that of Romeo and Juliet, with two feuding Italian families and a pair of star-crossed lovers. Imelda falls dead after sucking poison out of the wounds her brother Lamberto inflicted upon her own beloved Bonifacio. The world premier recording of Imelda de’ Lambertazzi was made live in performance, as broadcast over Swiss Italian Radio and TV of Lugano in 1989, with Marc Andreae conducting. Soprano Floriana Sovilla is heard as Imelda, and she’s "fabulous," according of Fanfare reviewer Robert Levine (Jan/Feb, ‘90 issue). Levine thinks less well of baritone Andrea Martin as Bonifacio, but gives good marks to all the rest of the singing cast. A Nuova Era release.

Sunday April 18: Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-94) is famous for one brief orchestral work Espana (1883), which remains a staple of the pops concert repertoire. Chabrier was also a considerable composer for the lyric stage, although his career in opera was plagued with bad luck. When he finally succeeded in getting his grand opera Gwendoline (1886) mounted in its first production, the theater went bankrupt and closed down after the fifth performance. Chabrier’s comic masterpiece Le Roi Malgre Lui (1887) went over the air on my show on Sunday, May 18,1997. I even broadcast the one-act torso of Chabrier’s last, uncompleted opera Briseis (1899) on Sunday, November 12, 1995. Now its the turn for the world premiere recording of Gwendoline, released in 1996 by the French label l’empreinte Digitale. For a French opera, the recording was made in a rather improbable location: Bratislava in Slovakia. A French conductor Jean-Paul Penin leads the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Soprano Adriana Kohutkova stars as the beautiful British princess Gwendoline. Chabrier gives her plenty of beautiful melodies to sing, and his orchestrations weave tendrils of sensuous detail around the vocal lines.

Sunday April 25: Giuseppe Verdi’s La Battaglia di Legnano (1849) was first staged in Rome at a time when Italian nationalistic emotions had been aroused to fever pitch. The opening night of "The Battle of Legnano" was hysterically successful in part because of the inclusion of stirring patriotic choruses in the score. After Italy was finally unified in 1861 the opera seemed less uplifting to Italians, as the new national government became bogged down in squabbles, intrigues, incompetence and poor military leadership. That certainly was one reason why it fell so rapidly into obscurity. Like so many of Verdi’s early operas, it was not revived until the second half of the twentieth century. And like so many of those early and obscure works, this one contains much attractive music. On Sunday March 20, 1988 I broadcast an old Everest monaural LP recording of La Battaglia. The recording made in Vienna in 1977 for Philips has it all over the Everest/Cetra discs. Philips reissued it on two CD’s in 1989. Lamberto Gardelli leads the ORF (Austrian Radio) Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with a cast starring Katia Ricciarelli and Jose Carreras.

Thanks again to Rob Meehan and the Hartford Public Library’s music librarian Bob Chapman for the loan of several of the operas heard in this two month period. I also draw from my own collection and the ever expanding collection of opera and lyric theater works on CD in our own WWUH library to round out the presentations for March and April.

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 1999

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