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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of May and June 2000

Sunday May 7: To American ears the name in German is quite a mouthful: Die Entfuhring aus dem Serail. It means "The Abduction from the Seraglio" in English, and it stands alongside Mozart’s "The Magic Flute" as one of the two greatest examples of singspiel. I last broadcast this Mozart masterwork on Sony CD’s on Sunday, October 4, 1992, with Bruno Weil leading the Vienna Symphony and featuring the voice of soprano Cheryl Studer. Many recordings have been made of "The Abduction" over the years, but only very recently has it been interpreted on disc as lighthearted comic work in the style of the popular eighteenth century German theatrical genre, not as a ponderous grand opera, in the way that is has usually been treated in the twentieth century. Christopher Hogwood’s 1990 interpretation for L’Oiseau Lyre is historically informed in every aspect. Beyond that, it is completely musically pleasing and artistically convincing. Writing in the March/April ’92 issue of Fanfare magazine, reviewer James Camner says flatly "It is by far the vest performance on records."

Sunday May 14: Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (1776-1822) is known to the musical public today as the writer who inspired Tchaikovsky’s ballet "Nutcracker" and provided the storyline for Jacques Offenbach’s opera "Tales of Hoffmann." E.T.A. Hoffmann was a man of many parts: author, jurist, music critic, cartoonist and (believe it or not!) composer of at least ten operas that were pioneering works of German Lyric theater paralleling those of Carl Maria von Weber. In his heroic three-actor Aurora (1812) Hoffmann catapulted the genre of singspiel, as epitomized in Mozart’s "The Magic Flute," into a new, higher dimension of truly grand opera. Aurora was recorded in 1990 in Banberg, Germany with the musical resources of the Youth Orchestra of Bamberg and the Bamberg Oratorio choir, directed by Hermann Dechant. The vocal soloists were drawn from master classes at the High Schools for Music in Wurzburg, Munich and Vienna.

Sunday May 21: At the very least, the 1991 Fonicetra Italia release of Rossini’s Adelaide di Borgogna 91817) fills a gap in the catalog of current CD recordings of the master’s 39 operas. Italia’s Adelaide is not the first on disc: a concert performance of this obscure work in the Rossini canon was taped in 1978 for LP release on a small private label. Critics have long dismissed Adelaide as a tiresome medieval melodrama. But it has plenty of passages of stunningly impressive belcanto pyrotechnics, and is quite similar in its overall dramatic effect to the much better known Tancredi (1813). Music critic and Rossini fanatic David Johnson praises the Italia Adelaide for both splendid performance and excellent sound (Fanfare, Jan/Feb ’94). He raves about the singing of soprano Mariella Devia in the title role. He says she meets the qualifications of a prima donna assoluta. Rossini scholar and conductor Alberto Zedda prepared the score for a 1984 staging of Adelaide at the tenth annual Festival della Valle d’Itria.

Sunday May 28: Programming for the Sunday that in modern America opens the summer season – the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend – looks forward to the actual beginning of summer at the solstice. Michael Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage (1955) is a modern reinterpretation of the ancient pagan solstice myth about the union of opposites. As with all his other dramatic works Tippett wrote his own libretto for his midsummer opera. General acceptance of such a strange dream-like work as viable lyric theater (and a masterpiece at that!) was a long time coming, but that time has surely arrived. In terms of archetypes and the psychology of dreams, this has got to be the most Jungian of all operas! The Midsummer Marriage was recorded in 1970 with Sir Collin Davis conducting the Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. That recording has lately been in circulation as a two CD Lyrita set. This Sunday Larry Bilansky will be doing the audio presentation in my absence.

Sunday June 4: As the Nazi era dawned in Germany Paul Hindemith began writing his tenth opera Mathis der Maler. The story of the opera concerns the sixteenth century German painter Mathias Gruenewald (aka Mathis Gothart or Nidhart) and his conflict with both church and state in the turbulent period of the reformation. Because the story touched upon issues of artistic freedom of expression, Hitler himself forbade performance of this opera. Hindemith had to go outside the Reich, to Zurich, Switzerland in order to get Mathis staged, and the world premiere production has to be put off until 1938. The world premiere recording of Mathis came along many years later, in1977. EMI made it in co production with Radio Bavaria. Rafael Kubelik conducted the Bavarian Radio chorus and symphony orchestra, with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau taking the title role. Although the EMI Mathis has been reissued in CD upgrade, you’ll hear it as it was originally issued here in the US, on three Angel LP’s.

Sunday June 11: On Sunday, November 22, 1998 I presented a Nuova Era recording of Vincenzo Bellini’s very first opera Adelson e Salvini (1825). This Sunday you get to hear Bellini’s second opera Bianca e Fernando (1826) in its world premiere recording for the same Italian label. Both recordings were made at the Teatro Bellini in the Sicilian city of Catania, which is Bellini’s birthplace. Nuova Era taped Biance e Fernando in the course of the 1991 Bellini Festival there. Andrea Licata conducts the chorus and orchestra of the Teatro Bellini. This melodrama in two acts is not great Bellini, but is certainly a very good work by a young composer whose star was on the rise. Writing for Fanfare magazine (Nov/Dec ’93 issue) reviewer James H. North maintains "Licata and his forces make a real case for Biance, playing and singing with real commitment…"

Sunday June 18: Today’s programming introduces you to two of the strangest female characters in all of opera. Myrtocle is the name of a beautiful blind woman who is the anti-heroine of Eugen D’Albert’s long one act opera Die Toten Augen ("The Dead Eyes" 1916). Although Jesus Christ miraculously restores her sight on Palm Sunday, Myrtocle blinds herself again, preferring to live in her own dark world of illusions. The sensual richness of D’Albert’s score for Die Toten Augen may remind you of Richard Strauss’ Salome. D’Albert enjoyed only one other major operatic success with Tiefland ("The Lowlands," 1903), extensive highlights of which were heard on Sunday, September 3, 1995 on a single Berlin Classics CD. Now cpo Records has released Die Toten Augen as a two-CD set. Ralf Wiekert conducts the Dresden Philharmonic and Philharmonic Chorus, with soprano Dagmar Schellenberger as Myrtocle.
    Hervor is the name of a young Scandinavian maiden who passes as a male warrior in Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Trifling (1898), a romantic opera in two acts based on the old Norse Heryarar Saga. The magic all-vanquishing sword Tirfing can only be passed on from father to son, but Hervor, after fighting with her father’s ghost, takes possession of the legendary weapon. Hervor is so successful in her masquerade you could almost describe her as a female-to-male transsexual, a Brandon Tena of barbarian Europe. So convincing is she in her new identity as the Viking Hervardur that he/she wins the love of the Norse princess Gullvag. Hervardur/Hervor reveals the truth to Gullvag. The world premiere recording of extensive excerpts from Tirfing came out on a single hour-long compact disc from Sterling Records of Sweden. Tirfing was taped in 1999 in the Stockholm Concert Hall in an unstaged concert version. Leif Segarstam conducts the Royal Opera Orchestra of Stockholm.

Sunday June 25: Dalibor (1868 by Bedrich Smetana is rather like Beethoven’s Fidelio put into a Czech context. Dalibor is a fifteenth-century Bohemian nobleman who has been unjustly imprisoned. In an effort to free him, Dalibor’s sister Milada disguises herself as a boy in order to gain entrance to the jail. In Fidelio the prisoner’s liberation is heralded by a trumpet call. In Dalibor it is tipped off by Dalibor’s playing on a fiddle. Unlike Fidelio, however, Smetana’s opera comes to a tragic end. Dalibor comes to us on two Praga CD’s, the 1994 reissue of a 1977 air tape or the opera heard over Czech Radio of Prague. Jaroslav Kromhole conducts the Prague Radio Symphony Chorus and Orchestra.
   It’s been ages since I’ve obtained anything on loan for broadcast from the Allen Memorial Library of the Hartt School. The LP copy of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler comes out of the Allen Library’s stacks. Thanks to head librarian Linda Blottner for the permission to borrow from their extensive collection of classical LP’s and CD’s. The Hartt School, by the way, is one of the constituent fine arts colleges of the University or Hartford. The Hartford Public Library also has a huge collection of classical music on disc. From the HPL’s holding I have borrowed E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Aurora, Rossini’s Adelaide di Borgogna, Bellini’s Bianca e Fernando and Smetana’s Dalibor. Thanks to the HPL’s music librarian Bob Chapma for the arrangement of the special loan. One private collector contributed something to this two-month spate of programming: Rob Meehan, former classics deejay her at WWUH and a specialist in twentieth century alternative music. Rob has kindly loaned me his copy of Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage. Mozart’s "Abduction" comes out or my own collection. The operas by D’Albert and Stenhammar are new acquisitions to out station’s ever-growing library of classical music recordings. Thanks again to Larry Bilansky, my fellow WWUH staff member, for freeing me to ride the entire Connecticut Bicycle Coalition’s Hartford Parks Tour on Sunday, May 28. I will be taping news feature material in the course of the tour that will go into the new public affairs program I am producing, "Your Radio Slipstream," which is a half-hour long show devoted entirely to contemporary bike culture, bicycle history and velosport. Even when I’m not doing radio I’ll be doing radio!

Copyright©WWUH: May/June Program Guide, 2000

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