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Sunday, Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric theatre" Program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of May/June 2008
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Sunday, May 4th: Long, long ago, even before I started broadcasting opera on WWUH, I heard the orchestral suite from Howard Hanson's only opera Merry Mount (1934) on Robert J. Lertsema's morning classical music program on NPR.  I was captivated by the music and wanted to hear the whole opera, but no recording of it existed back then. Decades passed, and now at long last Naxos has issued Merry Mount complete for its world premiere on disc. Hanson's Mary Mount was a very big deal indeed for American opera when it was mounted at the Met. Too bad it had no staying power on the stage. If performed at all, it has been as an enormous unstaged cantata, which evokes a historical pageant in the ear. that's the way Naxos picked it up as recorded in studio before an audience. Merry Mount is a dramatization of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story about the religious fanaticism of the founding fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. the action takes place on May Day 1625, when the Puritan Oligarchy try to shut down a traditional English maypole dance. Hawthorne's tale exposes the sexual hypocrisy of the Puritan elders. Gerard Schwarz led the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorus augmented by the voices of the Northwest Boy choir and Seattle Girls' Chorus. the concert performance took place in Seattle in 1996, but Naxos didn't issue it until 2007. Writing for Fanfare Magazine (Nov./Dec. '07) reviewer Walter Simmons gives the entire ensemble and solo singers an enthusiastic thumbs up. I dedicate today's broadcast to the memory of the late Reverend Jerry Falwell.

Sunday, May 11th: Last year the entire operatic world mourned the death of superstar Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. He lives on in his recorded corpus. He was one of the most recorded voices in history. "Nessun dorma…," from Puccini's Turandot (1924) was one of his signature tunes, and Prince Calaf was a role he made his own. So here's the immortal voice of Pavarotti as Calaf captured at the height of his powers in 1972. Decca taped Turandot with Zubin Mehta conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, John Alidis Choir, and Wandsworth Boy's Choir. the beautiful but coldhearted Princess Turandot is none other than Joan Sutherland. Yet another diva of that period, Monserrat Cabelle is heard as Liu. Decca has reissued four great audio testaments to Pavarotti's artistry in a nine CD package; Puccini's La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, and Turandot. In times to come I'll schedule the other three operas in this set for broadcast. Pavarotti's voice did indeed conquer the world. We should all cry out "Vincero!" in recognition of an artist's life well lived.

Sunday, May 18th:  Gioacchio Rossini could write opera buffa better than any other Italian composer of his day, but he really made his mark as a writer of musical melodramas. Almost all of them fell out of the operatic repertoire, to be revived only in the mid-twentieth century. La Donna del Lago (1819) is probably the most melodic of them all. this opera comes at the dawn of the bel canto period. the action is set in the Scottish Highlands, the story taken from a poem by Sir Walter Scott. Interest in Scottish lore was running high then all across Europe. "the Lady of the Lake," offers hospitality to King James the Fifth, of Scotland, who is traveling the Highlands in disguise. Although her father is leader of a clan of rebellious Highlanders, the king intervenes on her behalf. the rebels are pardoned and Ellen, "the Lady of the Lake" is free to marry her true love. La Donna del Lago was given at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, the composer's hometown in Italy, in 1983. the production made use of the new critical edition of Rossini's score. therefore the opera sounds pretty much the way it was intended to be sung in the early nineteenth century. Soprano Katia Ricciardelli is Ellen, or Elena, "the Lady." Douglas of Angus, her father, is baritone Samuel Ramey and Lucia Valentini-Terrani sings in the breeches role of Malcolm, Ellen's true love. the world premiere recording of La Donna del Lago came out in 1984 on three CBS Masterworks digital LPs. I last broadcast these same discs on Sunday,, September 15, 1985.

Sunday, May 25th: Twice before on the Sunday, of the Memorial Day weekends of 1988 and '90 I broadcast Benjamin Britten's much admired War Requiem (1961). the war Britten was commemorating was the First World War and its Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. the war requiem concept in general certainly applies to our Memorial Day solemnities, dating from the time immediately after our Civil War. there was a similar monumental British war requiem before Britten's that was popular for a while but has long been forgotten: John Fould's A World Requiem (1918-20). By today's standards John Herbert Foulds (1880-1939) might be considered a New Age kind of guy. An ardent peacenik, he was attracted to European theosophy and Hindu mysticism. Starting out as a cellist in the Halle Orchestra, he composed mostly in the vein of British light music. In terms of style Fould's was a late romantic modernist who'd dabbled in quarter tones. A World Requiem is his magnum opus, on the scale of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder or Mahler's "Symphony of A thousand."
Twelve hundred performers were gathered in the Albert Hall, London on Armistice Night, 1923, for a concert to benefit a veterans organization, the British Legion. the hall was filled to capacity. the Prince of Wales was in attendance. George Bernard Shaw and other notables lavished praise on what was often referred to as Foulds' "Cenotaph Requiem." BBC broadcast excerpts from it in 1926, then it disappeared until Armistice Night, 2007, when thanks again to BBC it was preformed in its entirety before an audience in live broadcast at the Royal Albert Hall and given its world premiere recording for the British label Chandos. the assemblage of singers and players is most impressive: the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, Philharmonia Chorus, Crouch and Festival chorus, and the Trinity Boys' Choir, with four vocal soloists. Leon Botstein directed them all. It was released on two Chandos CDs earlier this year. I hope Foulds' all-embracing musical conception will inspire you to make my broadcast part of your own special "Festival of Remembrance", as the British termed it, for all those of whatever nation who have fallen in battle.

Sunday, June 1st: Is George Frederick Handel's Semele, (1744) a "secular oratorio," or is it really an opera disguise? Handel gave up writing Italian opera serie for the London stage in 1741. In preserving his Italianate style in Semele, Handel created what is arguably the greatest English opera of all time. Its hit song, "Where'er you walk," has been a singer's vehicle for generations, but the complete work has been rarely performed or recorded. that's difficult to understand, because the splendid choral numbers certainly recommend it to be taken up by oratorio socialites. Perhaps it was the story, derived from the Latin poet Ovid's Metamorphoses, which seemed rather silly. the Restoration dramatist William Congreve gave a comic treatment to the love triangle between the mortal maiden Semele, the goddess Juno, and her divine philandering husband Jupiter. Handel wrought wonders in bringing Congreve's text to life. For what must have been its third commercial recording in the twentieth century, baroque specialist John Eliot Gardiner put in a fine, historically informed interpretation of Handel's score, with only a couple of cuts. Gardiner directs his own period instrument ensemble, the English Baroque soloists, and Monteverdi Choir. Semele is soprano Norma Burrowes. Juno is mezzo Della Jones, with tenor Anthony Ralfe-Johnson as Jupiter. the 1981 studio taping found its way into two Erato compact discs in 1993.

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Sunday, June 8th: Here's another gem of a bel canto opera that takes a story from a novel by Sir Walter Scott. Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) comes along in the golden age of the bel canto style in the history of Italian opera. Today, however, you'll hear this famous work in its French language version, which was first performed in 1839 in Paris at the theatre de le Renaissance. Donizetti reworked the music considerably with a French audience in mind. Our Virgin Classics recording of Lucie de Lammermoor will consequently sound both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, regardless of the language in which it is sung. the 1839 Lucie was recorded complete, drawing upon the new Ricordi critical edition of the score. Virgin Classics released it on to compact discs in 2002 following its stage revival by Opera of Lyon. Evelino Pido conducts the Lyon orchestra and chorus. Soprano Natalie Dessay is heard in the title role.

Sunday, June 15th: After having presented over the course of many years the orchestral song cycles of Gustav Mahler (Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Leidereines Fahrenden Gesellen, Das Lied von der Erde), plus his reworking of Weber's comic opera Die Drei Pintos,I turned to those Mahler symphonies that had extensive vocal writing: the third (1896/1901) and the Eighth (1910). these are his "operatic" symphonies, the most important such works of his generation. As a conductor, Mahler achieved fame primarily an opera, both at Vienna's Imperial Opera and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. I broadcast Zubin Mehta's take on the Mahler third almost exactly two years ago. He led the Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera, joined by alto Marjana Lipovsek. Her voice was augmented by combined adult and children's choruses from Vienna. (Recorded live in performance, Vienna, 2004.) Today you'll hear Bernard Haitink's essay of the third. this time our mezzo is Michelle DeYoung, backed by the women of the Chicago Chorus and Chicago Children's Chorus. this, too, is a live-in-performance recording made in Chicago in October, 2006. Haitink is well regarded as one of the preeminent interpreters of this music in our area. the Chicago Symphony released Mahler's third under its own CSO Resound label on two compact discs.

Sunday, June 22nd: The last time I broadcast Sergei Rachmaninoff's "the Miserly Knight" (1904) was in the very early days of lyric theater programming in June of 1984. the three operas of the Russian composer/piano virtuoso are infrequently recorded. that's why I was so pleased to run across the 2004 Chandos release on a single silver disc, recorded in studio production in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with Valeri Polyansky conducting the Russian State Symphony Orchestra. the Baron, who is the miser, is bass Mikhail Guztov. the story of "the Miserly Knight" is derived from one of the four "Little Tragedies" of the nineteenth century Russian writer Alexander Pushkin. the sin of greed is the focus of one particular tale.
Time remains this afternoon to listen to an oratorio by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu (1890 - 1959). this is a secular oratorio, to be exact, dating from 1955 and taking its text from one of the single oldest writings in Occidental civilization, the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh from circa 2700 B.C., as inscribed on stone tablets. Martinu made use of first an English, then a Czech translation of the original Akkadian narrative. It tells of the king Gilgamesh and his heroic exploits. His constant companion in these adventures is a wild man named Enkidu. the story centers upon the hero's rejection of a love goddess Ishtar and the revenge she takes upon him and his friend. And all Slavic recording of the work was made in the Slovakian capital Bratislava. Zdenek Kosler conducted the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir with six solo singers and a spoken word narrator. Naxos picked this up for release on a single CD in 2002.

Sunday, June 29th: You would think the French Revolution would be much sought after as a subject for opera. Occasionally some aspect of it has been treated operatically, viz. Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites or Corigliano's Ghost of Versailles, but not as a broad historical panorama. To the rescue comes a rock musician, Roger Waters, one of the founders of the famous band Pink Floyd. In Ca Ira (1998) or "there is Hope" he supplies the right dramatic perspective and at the same time strikes a simple, popular, ear-pleasing chord. Waters began working on the opera in 1989, at the time of the celebrations in Paris of the Bicentennial of the French Revolution. In 1997 he wrote his own English translation of a French language libretto provided to him by the late songwriter Etienne Roda-Gil. Film score composer Rick Wentworth lent Waters some help with the orchestral and choral writing. Wentworth conducted the orchestra for the Sony classical studio recording of Ca Ira. Also taking part were the London Voices, Italian Conti Children's Choir, and the London Oratory Choir. Welsh Baritone Bryn Terfel takes on three singing roles: the Ringmaster of the circus of history that the audience would witness on stage, the figure known as the troublemaker, and the ill-fated King Louis Capet of France.
Over the past year or two so many new opera CDs have been processed in out station's classical music record library that I scarcely needed to look elsewhere for anything to fill out this two-month period programming. I did draw upon only one recording in my own collection: the Erato release of Handel's Semele. My old pal and fellow record collector Rob Meehan  contributed two items: Martinu's Epic of Gilgamesh from Naxos and Roger Waters' Ca Ira from Sony Classical. thanks once again as always to Rob for that he has graciously allowed me to borrow from him for broadcast.

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