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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 2001

Sunday May 6: At various points in the course of his brief artistic career Franz Schubert attempted to make a name for himself s an opera composer.  Besides the well-known incidental music for Rosamunde (1822), Schubert composed at least nine complete operas, three more in substantial fragments, and three more in rough sketch.  Fierrabras (1823) was the largest and most ambitious of his operatic projects.  I aired the 1988 Deutsche Gramophon recording of Fierrabras on Sunday, March 29, 1992, and the almost equally grand Alfonso und Estrella (1821) in its Berlin Classics release on Sunday, May 11, 1997.   Neither of these saw the stage in Schubert’s lifetime, but a shorter work Die Zwillingsbruder (1820) was performed with moderate success.  You heard Die Zwillingsbruder and an even shorter comic piece Der Vierjahrige Posten  (1815) on Bongiovanni CD’s on Sunday, May 9, 1999.  The sprightly overture to Rosamunde actually comes from Schubert’s Singspiel of 18220, Die Zauberharfe or “The Magic Harp.”  It ran for seven nights to mixed reviews and was never revived in the composer’s lifetime.  Only when you hear the overture in its proper context, can you understand how the melodic themes it introduces relate to the rest of the music Schubert wrote.  Some of the score consists of big choral numbers, and there are several long passages of  “melodrama, “ i.e., spoken word dialog over a beautiful orchestrated musical soundscape.  The complete music for Die Zauberharfe was presented at the 1983 music festival of the Teatre Comunale of Bologna.  Bongiovanni picked up the live recording of “The Magic Harp” for issue in a two-CD package. 

Sunday May 13: Franz Schubert’s music is so full of the feeling of springtime and flowers.  Who could forget the perfect pairing of Schubert’s folk like melodies with the simple verse of Wilhelm Muller in such gems of song as Trockne Blumen (“Withered Flowers”) or Des Mullers Blumen (“The Millers Flower”) from the immortal song cycle Die Schone Mullerin (1823)?  Our station has recently acquired a new Naxos CD that presents the complete song cycle as volume five in the label’s planned complete recording of all of Schubert’s songs: the Deutsche Schubert – Lied Edition.  Ulrich Eisenlohr accompanies tenor Christian Elsner at the piano.
Schubert wrote at least seven hundred lieder in his brief lifetime.  Although Robert Stolz (1880-1975) is known to the world as a composer of Viennese operettas, he also wrote something more than thousand lieder.  His one and only song cycle is the Blumenlieder of 1928: settings of twenty poems describing various flowers for soprano voice and piano.  Gunter Loose revised the texts he wrote for the Zwanzig Blumenlieder for the new edition of the music in 1972.  That’s the version of “Flower Songs” we hear today in a year 2000 CD recording made by Dabringhaus and Grimm.  Brigitte Lindner is the soprano, with Ansi Verwey at the piano. 

Sunday May 20: Everyone at one time or another has heard the Peer Gynt suites for orchestra by Edvard Grieg.  His complete incidental music for Hendrik Ibsen’s play, as composed for the original stage production of 1876, comprises all that music plus many other numbers for solo singers, chorus and orchestral accompaniment for spoken word dialog in the Norwegian language.  Add to this certain dances scored for the Norwegian folk fiddle and you have a work of quasi-operatic proportions.  The first truly complete recording of the Peer Gynt music came out on two Deutsche Gramophon CD’s in 1987.  Estonian born conductor Neeme Jarvi conducts the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra of Sweden.  The score holds some surprises for the listener, among them a chorus of trolls in “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”  Griegs’ incidental music for Gjornsen’s play Sigurd Jorselfar (“Sigurd the Crusader”) is also quite extensive and as beautiful as what he wrote tow years later for Ibsen.  Sigurd Jorselfar comes on additional tracks that fill out the same DGG release of the complete Peer Gynt music.  You hear it all again the Sunday as you heard previously on Sunday, May 7, 1998. 

Sunday May 24: Over the years I’ve broadcast the operas of Philip Glass.  Now you get to hear his super-colossal Symphony No.5, Requiem, Bardo, Nirmanakaya commissioned by the Salzburg Festival in celebration of the millennium year.  This is a work of vast Mahlerian proportions: five vocal soloists, the Morgan State University Choir, the Hungarian Radio Children’s Choir and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, with Dennis Russell Davies conducting.  As in Beethoven’s “Choral Symphony,” Philip Glass in this symphonic work is reaching out to embrace the whole world.  IN collaboration with the Reverend James Parks Morton of the interfaith Center of New York and Professor Kusumita P. Pedersen of St. Francis College, Glass compiled and edited religious texts from many faiths and languages and synthesized a history of the world as we know it.  All those texts have been translated into an English language libretto.  In my absence Larry Bilanski will be presenting the two CD Nonesuch release. 

Sunday June 3: The Breton folk of Northwestern France still speak a Celtic language similar to that of the ancient Britons across the channel.  These folk were the people of Arthurian legend who fled from Southern England in the face of the Saxon invasions.  There is a legend about a Celtic Atlantis: the mystical isle of Ys, said to lie off the coast of Brittany.  If Celtic mysticism turns you on, you’ll be entranced by Eduard Lalo’s opera Le Roi D’Ys (1888).  Lalo’s simple and direct musical language avoids any trace of Wagnerian grand eloquence in telling a tale of love, jealousy and war.  Radio France taped Le Roi D’Ys in studio exactly a century after its stage premiere for CD release by Erato Records in their Musifrance line.  Armin Jordan directs the cast of singers and the Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus of Radio France.   

Sunday June 10: the magpie is a European bird resembling a crow that has a chattering, screeching call and a strange habit of flying off with small shiny objects.  “The Thieving Magpie” was the title given to a French melodrama about a humble servant girl who was sentenced to death for a theft she did not commit.  The mischievous birdie screeches out the girl’s name in accusation.  In the end it’s revealed that the magpie was the actual culprit.  “The Thieving Magpie” or the “Servant-Girl of Plaiseau” was enormously popular in Napoleonic times.  In short order the French play was adapted for the Italian operatic stage.  The greatest opera composer of the age, Gioacchimo Rossini put it to music as La Gazza Ladra (1817).  Rossini’s opera version included the obligatory happy ending, and put some comic elements into the story, so the Italians classified it as an “opera semiseria.” An all-star cast of vocal principals performed La Gazza Ladra during the 1989 Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro (the composer’s hometown) at the Teatro Rossini.  Vinetta the serving girl is Katia Ricciarelli, Samuel Ramey is featured in the “basso boffo” role of the mayor of Palaiseau.  The Prague Philharmonic Choir also sang in the festival performances.  Gianluigi Gelmetti conducts the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Turin.  The live recording is available on three CD’s from Sony Classical. 

Sunday June 17: Igor Stravinsky wrote only one full-scale opera, The Rake’s Progress 91951).  This is in fact his longest single composition in his best neoclassical style, with many elements harkening back to the original “classical” period in Western music.  The eighteenth century was a great period for satire in the arts.  Stravinsky took his inspiration for the opera from a series of paintings A Rake’s Progress (1732-33) by England’s master of political satire William Hogarth.  Stravinsky studied the operas of Mozart intensively to prepare himself for the task at hand.  His opera presents with biting sardonic wit the story of a rich young wastrel who makes his pact with the devil.  England’s best poet of the mid twentieth century, W.H. Auden and Auden’s lover Chester Kallman provided Stravinsky with a first rate libretto.  Today  we return to the Columbia LP set first broadcast on June 18, 1989.  Stravinsky directs the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Sadlers Wells Opera Chorus, with tenor Alexander young starring as Tom Rakewell.

 Sunday June 24: Alzira (1845) is probably the least known of all of Giuseppe Verdi’s early and obscure operas.  In his years as a galley slave of the Italian opera houses, Verdi was forced to crank out opera after opera according to a dramaturgical formula, of which Alzira is a particularly trite example.  The plot, as always with Verdi, involves an impossible love triangle: a woman must submit to the will of a man she does not love in  order to save the life of the man she does.  Verdi’s frequent collaborator Salvatore Cammarano came up with an Italian language libretto based on a drama by the eighteenth century radical French writer Voltaire.  Cammarano ignored the critique of Christian morality in Voltaire’s play, but retained the exotic locale: Peru in the time of the Conquistadors.  In radio broadcast you can forget about the inadequacies of plot and staging and concentrate instead on the sheer beauty of the music itself.  And this opera is as musically satisfying as anything else Verdi wrote in that period.  The 1983 Orfeo recording of Alzira shows off the voices of some truly  great singers: soprano Ileana Cotrubas in the title role, with tenor Francisco Araiza and baritone Renato Bruson.  Lamberto Bardelli conducts the Chorus and Radio Bavaria and the Orchestra of Munich Radio.
In this two-month cycle of programming I drew upon two recordings from my personal collection of opera on disc: Schubert’s die Zauberharfe and the complete incidental music for Peer Gynt.  The Nonesuch recording of Philip Glass’ Symphony No.5 was kindly loaned for broadcast from the personal collection of Rob Meehan, former Classics DJ here at WWUH and a specialist in “alternative” classical music of the twentieth century.  All the other featured recordings are taken from our stations ever-growing library of classical CD’s.

 Copyright©WWUH: May/June Program Guide, 2001

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