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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 2004

Sunday May 2: This Sunday I resume my monthly presentations of recordings of the plays of William Shakespeare. The history play Richard the Second (1597?) is Shakespeare’s first great tragedy of human character. King Richard is characterized as a poet, and his beautiful language betrays the fatal flaw of weakness that caused him to be deposed. Richard Pasco is King Richard in this volume of the complete recorded plays of Shakespeare on stereo LP: a project of Argo Records. This particular three LP set, issued in 1972, has long been out of print. George Rylands directs the audio production of Richard II complete and uncut in the text of the New Shakespeare edited by John Dover Wilson. This will be the third time I have aired this Argo set.

Sunday May 9: The ancient Greek myth about Helen of Sparta, daughter of Zeus king of the gods by a mortal queen named Leda, has inspired operas going way back in the history of the art form. Gluck’s Paride ed Helena (1770) immediately springs to mind, as does Offenbach’s spoof on the myth La Belle Helene (1927). The modern Greek composer Thanos Mikroutsikos (b. 1947) has tried his hand at the story of Helen. He takes up the story where Richard Strauss and his librettist Hugo Von Hofmannsthal left off in Die Aegyptische Helena (1927). In The Return of Helen (1993) Mikroutsikos looks at Helen from three different levels in six operatic scenes. She first appears onstage as a worried demigoddess who submits to psychoanalysis and comes out of the experience accepting herself as a mortal woman. The 1999 revival production of The Return of Helen was recorded for EMI. Alexandros Myrat conducts the Chorus of Greek Radio Television and the Camerata Orchestra of the Friends of Music, with nine vocal soloists. Sung in modern Greek.

Sunday May 16: I am enormously pleased to be able to present another Vivaldi opera, as I had done recently on Leap Year Sunday 2004. Once again, I have found an excellent recorded performance in the historically informed style of baroque opera, complete with a “period instrument” orchestra. Vivaldis’ L’Olimpiade (1734) was the first of his 38-plus operas to be revived onstage in the twentieth century (in 1939, in Siena, Italy, as directed by Alberto Casella, to drastic revisions of Vivaldi’s score by Virgilio Amoratari). The plot of L’Olimpiade is enormously confusing. You can blame that on the leading “progressive” opera librettist of the age, Pietro Metastasio. Suffice it to say it revolves around the ancient Greek Olympic Games with lots of amorous intrigue going on off the athletic field. L’Olimpiade was taped live in performance for the Italian label Nuova Era. Rene Clemencic directs his won Clemencic Consort of Instrumentalists and the Ensemble Vocal La Cappella, with seven vocal soloists. The one drawback to this 1991 recording is that Clemencic seems to have made some drastic cuts in the number of arias. This opera is actually longer by fully one quarter or even a third. A 2003 recording of L’Olimpiade for the French label Opus 111 has three CD’s and forty-one more minutes of play.

Sunday May 23: Don Carlos is Giuseppe Verdi’s answer to the music dramas of Richard Wagner. As Verdi originally wrote it in 1867, it was planned as the grandest of French grand operas, surpassing the works of Spontini and Meyerbeer in that line: five full acts, plus ballet music. Verdi was forced to scale it down for subsequent performances outside Paris. The Four-act “Modena” or Italian language version of 1886 has a discography going well back into the LP era. The story of the opera is taken from the German poet Friedrich Schiller’s drama of political intrigue and national aspiration. Don Carlos has been the vehicle for many operatic stars. In the old EMI recording Carlo Maris Giulina lead a stellar cast in a production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London. Tenor Placido Domingo took the title role, with the reigning diva of the day, soprano Monserrat Caballe as Elizabeth of Valois. The Royal Swedish Opera House in Stockholm mounted a production in its 1999-2000 season. Their “Modena” version was augmented by some components of the 1867 original Paris score. Alberto Hold-Garrido conducts the soloists, chorus and orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera. A Naxos release on three CD’s. Bob Walsh substitutes for me this Sunday.

Sunday May 30: “On February 27, 1982, the curtain came down for the last time on a performance by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, the original producers of Gilbert & Sullivan operas. After 107 years, the London-based company closed, but not before the works of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan had captured the hearts of generations of Savoyards the world over.” So says the liner notes for this week’s primary work,
This week Larry Bilansky sits in for Keith. Without intending to upstage Keith’s tradition of presenting a G&S opera on the fourth Sunday in July, Larry will present a rather unique interpretation of G&S’s HMS Pinafore as recorded in July 1994 by the Gilbert & Sullivan Yiddish Light Opera Company of Long Island. Also on the program will be other selections from the Yiddish stage.

Sunday June 6: The kinky and the satirical meet in this Sunday’s double-bill programming of contemporary opera. First comes Jumelles (“The Twins,” 1990), dealing with the extraordinarily intertwined lives of the identical twin sisters Jane and Jessica, who are absolutely inseparable from each other. They have withdrawn altogether from the normal society around them and will not even speak to anyone, only to themselves in private. Yet they are very musically talented and strive to create a showbiz career for themselves. They consult a psychologist about their pathological attachment to each other. The story of the opera is derived from a book The Silent Twins by Marjorie Wallace. Michel Rostain fashioned a libretto out of it for James Giroudon and Pierre Alain Jaffrennou to set to music. Jumelles is a chamber-opera scale work scored for two chanteuses, a comedian, saxophone and an elaborate percussion kit functioning something like a chamber orchestra. “The Twins” premiered in Lyon, France at the “Theater of the Renaissance.” A Forlane Records release on a single CD.
My next offering is actually and oratorio operatically dramatized for television. Gerald Barry’s The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit (1993) is a send-up of Handel’s last oratorio from 1775, The Triumph of Time and Truth. Barry’s folly was broadcast in the UK in 1995 as a Poolbeg Production for Channel 4 Television. The kink in this lyric theater work I guess is the employment of a pair of countertenors in the allegorical roles of Pleasure and Truth. (Beauty is a tenor role!) Indeed, the singing cast is all male, and backed by thirteen players of The Composers’ Ensemble. Looking at the photo of a scene from the Channel 4 TV production on the back of the single Largo CD jewel box, we see a baroque gentleman wearing a peruke so long it reaches to his ankles. I’d say this telecast must have been a pretty wild thing to watch! In all probability its like would never be seen on an American TV channel. Again, this Sunday Bob Walsh substitutes for me.

Sunday June 13: The Shakespeare series continues this month with his tragedy Anthony and Cleopatra (1606), which is the sequel to Julius Caesar 91599). The verse of the later play shows us The Bard’s style in its most advanced form. The verse is at times very free in Anthony and Cleopatra and it’s clear that many of the lines aren’t strictly in the customary iambic pentameter. The Shakespeare Recording Society set forth their own series of all the Bard’s plays under the Caedmon label in the early 1960’s. Argo Records came out with a rival series not long thereafter. The Caedmon recorded production of Anthony and Cleopatra, directed by Howard Sackler, moves right along, as they say and quickly captivates the listener. Spellbinding, too, are the voices of Anthony Quale as Marc Anthony and Pamela Brown as Queen Cleopatra.

Sunday June 20: Things exotic from far away lands. The mythic and the bizarre. These are the artistic components of the two operas to be heard this Sunday. Swedish opera in general has never received much international attention, although it has its glories and I have broadcast many fine examples of Swedish lyric theater over the years. But what could be more remote than a Swedish opera form a Swedish coastal enclave in Finland? A group of arts and civic associations in Turku, Finland commissioned Finnish composer Mikko Heinio (b.1947) to write an opera in celebration of the 700th anniversary of the founding of Turku Cathedral Chief among these sponsoring organizations was The Foundation for Swedish Culture in Finland. The Knight and the Dragon (2000) was first performed as a colorful medieval costume pageant inside the cathedral. A week thereafter is was recorded in Turku concert Hall for release on a single compact disc through the Swedish label BIS. Ulf Soderbolm conducts the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and Turku Opera Chorus. The story of the opera is a variant of the medieval legend about Saint George and the Dragon, applied to this specific Baltic region.
This will not be the first time I have broadcast one of the short lyric stage works of the Australian-born composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-90). Twice before I’ve presented her operatic treatment of ancient Greek myth Nausicaa (1961). Nausicaa gave us the tonal tang of the ancient Greek modes and the melodic flavor of the Near East. In The Transposed Heads (1954) Peggy Glanville-Hicks offers her take on an ancient Hindu legend out of the Bhagavad-Gita scriptures, for which she wrote a score redolent of Indian classical and folk music. She came across a story by Thomas Mann that told of the love of a woman, ritual decapitation, the intervention of the goddess Kali and the advice of a Hindu holy man. The Transposed Heads was recorded in the presence of the composer in 1984 in the studios of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Perth. David Measham conducts the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Festival Chorus. Bob Walsh will be your substitute audio host.

Sunday June 27: Except in France, which had its won insular style of baroque opera, Italian opera predominated everywhere else in Europe in the eighteenth century. Well, almost everywhere else. To be sure, Italian opera was very popular in Northern Germany, but in the free city of Hamburg in particular German language opera began to develop. Hamburg was a major international seaport. The burgers there were cosmopolitan and culturally progressive. The opera house built in 1678 at the Goose-Market mounted productions of operas in the burgers’ native tongue composed by Reinhard Keiser (1674-1739), one of the most influential names in North German music before Telemann and J.S. Bach rose to fame. Keiser gave Handel his start in opera. Handel shamelessly stole long passages from Keiser’s works in writing his own Agrippina (1709). Under his contract with the Leipzig city fathers Bach was forbidden to compose operas. Yet the German language arias and recitatives in his church cantatas and Passions are all in an operatic style derived from Keiser. The most noteworthy of all of Keiser’s 80-odd operas is undoubtedly Croesus (1710). Keiser himself seems to have regarded it as his “meisterwerk.” He carefully revised its score in 1730, adding a splendid new Italian-type sinfonia as an overture. The improved 1730 version of Croesus was recorded for the Italian label Nuova Era live in performance in 1990 at the staged revival at the Theatre du Champs Elysees in Paris. Rene Clemencic directs the Baroque Orchestra of the Clemencic Consort.
My colleague Larry Bilansky has kindly agreed to fill in for me on Memorial Day weekend and wrote his own entry for that Sunday. My other radio colleague Bob Walsh is a very different fellow. He will be presenting three Sunday’s worth of programming during this two-month period as outlined in these notes. He willingly takes on whatever I set up for him. To Bob be all honor and glory! As always, I must thank Rob Meehan, former Classics announcer at WWUH and specialist in the alternative music of the 20th and 21st centuries, for the loan from his private collection of so many recordings for broadcast: Mikvoutsikos’ The Return of Helen, Jumelles, The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, The Knight and the Dragon and The Transposed Heads. I contributed Vivaldi’s L’Olimpiade and Keiser’s Croesus from my own CD collection plus the LP sets of the two Shakespeare plays. Only Verdi’s Don Carlos comes out of our stations’ ever-growing library of classical music on silver disc.

Copyright©WWUH: May/June Program Guide, 2004

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