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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of November and December 2001

Sunday November 4: The opera broadcast of Sunday April 2, 2001 concluded with a special feature: an exclusive prerecorded interview with tenor David Miller, the star of the Connecticut Opera’s then upcoming production of Gounod’s Faust. After the taping I confessed with a little embarrassment to David that in all my years handling this timeslot I have never aired any recording of that essential work of Gounod, although I have aired some of his other, lesser-known operatic efforts: Mireille on June 14, 1992, and Romeo et Juliette on May 12, 1985. David was in town to sing Romeo in Connecticut Opera’s 1998 production. My taped interview with him and his Juliette, soprano Mary Dunleavy, was the special feature on October 25, 1998. David Miller returns to Hartford for Connecticut Opera’s 60th anniversary 2001-02 season to star in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman, which will play at the Bushnell, April 35-27, 2002. I’m poised to interview him again next spring. From the musty, dusty classical LP’s in our station collection I found a vintage rendition of Faust, recorded in Paris in 1958 in very early stereo sound. The young, up-and-coming, star-quality tenor Nicolai Gedda sang opposite the well-established diva Victoria de los Angeles as Marguerite. Andre Cluytens conducted the Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatre National de l’Opera.

Sunday November 11: Like his older colleague Bedrzich Smetana, Antonin Dvorak composed in the new Czech national musical idiom. Dvorak’s symphonies are universally loved, much played in concert halls and, one might even say, over recorded – especially the "New World" Symphony No. 9. Dvorak’s operas, on the other hand, are rarely performed or recorded outside his native land. Rusalka (1901) is perhaps the best known of the ten he wrote. I broadcast it on June 16, 1996 and I presented The Jacobin (1889) on June 30, 1985. There is a new recording out of Dvorak’s five-act tragic opera Wanda (1881). Although it premiered at the Czech National Theatre in Prague, the subject of Wanda reflects upon Polish, not Czech national history. Dvorak’s music for Wanda possesses the same beautiful melodic lines as his symphonies. A German conductor, Gerd Albrecht has given us what might be the most musically complete recorded version of Wanda. It was made for Orfeo, the record label of Radio Austria, under the auspices of West German Radio. Albrecht leads the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Radio cologne, with a cast of vocal soloists from Germany, Russia, Ukrainia, the Czech Republic and South Africa.

Sunday November 18: George Frideric Handel both began and ended his career as a composer of oratorios with the subject of "The Triumph of Time." Handel’s very last work in that line was in English language and intended for a London audience: The Triumph of Time and Truth (1758). I broadcast a historically informed recording of it issued under the Hyperion label on November 1, 1987. That was my very first broadcast in CD format. The first oratorio Handel ever wrote had an Italian language libretto and was meant for a Roman audience. The pope had banned opera in Rome in 1678, but operatic-style religious pieces could slip by the long continuing prohibition. Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno ("The Triumph of Time and Deceit," 1707) was written to please Handel’s opera-loving patrons, who were Cardinals of the Church. We hear it today in the transcription of Handel’s original manuscript as edited by Italian conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini. He leads the period instrumental forces of Concerto Italiano in the recent recording made for the French label Opus 111.

Sunday November 25: On this Sunday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I pose you the question: if there is such a thing as The Great American Novel, must there not also be a Great American Opera? Like Gershwins Porgy and Bess or Marc Blitzstein’s Regina, one of the candidates for that title is Aaron Copeland’s the Tender Land (1954). However musicologists may argue over what American opera in general should be, Copeland’s one major excursion into the genre has got to be the quintessential "Midwestern" opera – as American as, well, Thanksgiving, but springing specifically from the soil of the plainsland. Copeland wrote tender music indeed to paint the tonal picture of a middle-western farm community in the era of the Great Depression. It’s the same "big sky" music familiar from Appalachian Spring. Following an unenthusiastic reception of its made-for-TV premiere production, The Tender Land has been occasionally revived with success – at Tanglewood, for instance, or the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, or at the Ordway Music Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Virgin Records CD release of the Plymouth Music Series production of the Tender Land went over the air on July 7, 1991. On the Thanksgiving Sunday of 1998 we heard the half-hour long chamber orchestrated cantata version of The Tender Land that Murray Sidlin prepared with the composer’s blessing as a spin-off of the Long Wharf Theater mounting. This Sunday you get to hear again the musically complete and fully orchestrated original version in the recent CD re-release currently available through the Musical Heritage Society. Philip Brunelle directs the ensemble.

Sunday December 2: One of the nicest customs of the holiday season is listening to choral music, especially the sort of composition for choir that makes the grand gesture. I have two such compositions in mind. Luigi Cherubini’s Messe Solennelle No. 2 in d minor is certainly grand in conception. Cherubini was four years younger than Mozart; ten years older than Beethoven and long outlived both. This particular Mass setting was composed in 1811 and revised in 1822. It is as monumental as Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Cherubini’s contemporaries frequently compared it to Beethoven’s well-known work. Cherubini was a very popular composer in his own time, and a hugely prolific one in all musical genres, but his name is scarcely mentioned nowadays. Mozart and Beethoven gave completely overshadowed him. Conductor and musicologist Helmut Rilling has salvaged Messe Solennelle. In 1992he recorded it with the ensemble he founded, the Gachinger Kantorei and Bach-Collegium of Stuttgart, for the Hannssler Classic label.
    Also issued through Hannssler Classic in 1993 in their exclusive series is Rilling’s interpretation of another nineteenth-century choral masterwork, the Mass No. 3 in f minor (1887) of Anton Bruckner, in this instance Rilling leads his Kantorei with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart, with four vocal soloists. Writing of this Hannssler release for Fanfare magazine (May/June 1994 issue) reviewer Henry Fogel says that Rilling’s "flowing, warmly shaped reading is both involving and deeply satisfying, " and pronounces this Hannssler CD "very highly recommended."

Sunday December 9: More choral music of the highest order this Advent Sunday from the pen of Johann Sebastian Bach. The Mass in b minor was never performed in its entirety in Bach’s lifetime. The title we know it by was supplied in the nineteenth century. Bach assembled the various sections of the Mass from things he had previously written for different purposes and audiences over the course of many years. Yet, amazingly, the whole work possesses a unified and organic quality that gives it its monumentality: the final statement of the master at the end of a long career of composing for groups of human voices. Out of so many recordings of the Mass in b minor made over the years, one recent one stands out. It’s a historically informed one that approximates the authentic sounds of voices and instruments of the eighteenth century. Made for the French Harmonia Mundi label in 19998, Phillippe Herreweghe leads the Collegium Vocale of Ghent in Belgium and the period instrumental ensemble La Chappelle Royale. The two-CD package has additional tracks of recorded performances from 1990 of Bach’s familiar Magnificat in D major (another Christmas holiday favorite) and the Lutheran church cantata Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott, BWV80.

Sunday December 16: Today’s programming is preempted for University of Hartford Women’s basketball broadcast.

Sunday December 23: Puccini’s La Boheme (1896) is the obvious choice for a Christmas opera since its action take place at this season. There have been plenty of fine recordings of La Boheme made in the course of the twentieth century. From the tail end of the century comes what you might call the "Bocelli Boheme," recorded in Tel Aviv in 1999 with Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The sonics of the London CD release were specifically engineered to focus upon the voices of the two stars, the enormously popular blind Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli as Rudolfo, opposite soprano Barbara Frittoli as Mimi. Bocelli boosters will love this recording no matter what, but critic Marc Mandel has reservations about it. Oh, Bocelli can indeed sing the role of Rodolfo convincingly, with conviction and meticulously note-for-note, and ms. Frittoli sings Mimi beautifully and convincingly, too. But, writing in the March/April 2001 issues of Fanfare, Mandel opines, "Bocelli’s voice has been pumped up electronically to offset its smallish size…" While I think Bocelli is a fine lyric tenor who can really caress a tune with his rather thin reedy voice – a great voice, maybe, for the pops concert repertoire, he is out of his depth here. Why don’t you check out the "Bocelli Boheme" in broadcast, call me on the air studio line and explain to me how wrongheaded I am about him?

Sunday December 30: Another obvious choice for Christmastime listening is Bach’s Weihnachts Oratorium (1734-5). Since the six cantatas that comprise the "Christmas Oratorio" are appropriate for the entire period of the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas (from Christmas Eve to the Feast of the Epiphany), it’s fitting to schedule it anywhere along the line. There are numerous "Christmas Oratorios" in the discography. Helmut Rilling has recorded it twice for Hannssler Classic. The second interpretation, released in the year 2000 is an especially good one, so says David Denton writing in Fanfare magazine (Jan/Feb 2001). He believes Rilling’s new account combines "the most attractive aspects of period performance with today’s instrumental and vocal attributes…Above all, Rilling points to the grandeur of this great oratorio…" In particular, Denton praises the Gachinger Kantorei, the choral group Rilling founded, for their "exemplary intonation and they sing throughout with flair and fine attention to diction."

Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 2001

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