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The University of Hartford

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of November and December 2002

Sunday November 4: Deborah (1733) is George Frideric Handel’s first full-scale oratorio in English language. It was the highly successful revival of Ester that triggered the composition of Deborah. Composed in 1718 for private performance, Ester was a much less ambitious choral work. Bernard Gates’ production of Ester showed the English public the potential grandeur of Handel’s oratorio style. Eventually Handel reworked Ester on a larger scale, but from the first he crafted Deborah in his truly grand manner. Deborah has a “military” storyline similar to that of Vivaldi’s oratorio Juditha Trimphans, heard on this program on Sunday, February 13, 1996. In both Deborah and Juditha a heroic Israelite woman assassinates the leader of an invading army. The last time I broadcast Deborah, on Sunday, March 17, 1996, I presented a superb Hyperion CD set with Robert King leading The King’s Consort. The Naxos label has recently come out with a new essay of this neglected oratorio on three CD’s. Joachim Carlos Martini directs the Baroque Orchestra of Frankfort, West Germany, (a period instrument ensemble). In it’s September/October 2002 issue Fanfare magazine has printed not one but two lengthy reviews of the Naxos Deborah, by Brian Robbins and Bernard Jacobson. Both critics give the new Naxos set high marks. They concur that the vocal soloists in the Hyperion Deborah are a tad better, but Martini’s interpretation is a more dramatic one overall.

Sunday November 11: "If I could find the proper libretto, I should produce the biggest of operas in a few weeks. I know exactly what the problem of modern opera is, and I am sure that I could now solve it completely--as far as it is humanly possible." So wrote Paul Hindemith to his publishers in 1923. Three years later, after finally finding a suitable libretto, Hindemith did indeed quickly complete his first major opera. Cardillac premiered in Dresden on November 9, 1926. It's not clear exactly what Hindemith meant by "the problem of modern opera"; Karl Dietrich Gräwe takes it to be "that of making non-tonal music dramatically effective and indeed necessary.” Opinions will differ as to whether the composer in fact solved this problem in his opera, but there can be no doubt that Hindemith addressed this problem head-on, providing music of remarkable ingenuity and appeal. At the time he was working on Cardillac, Hindemith was immersed in his project of chamber concertos, the Kammermusiken, in which he fused modern instruments and idioms to Baroque forms. In a sense, the opera is almost an extension of this series. Hindemith uses only a small orchestra, but chooses his solo instruments with great care, much as Bach does in his passions, and cantatas. Although the opera's violent story line proceeds with messy urgency, the music supporting it is divided into discreet arias, ensembles, and choruses--each with its distinctive motives and rhythmic personality and instrumental coloring. The music is intensely contrapuntal, often based on strict forms like canon, fugue, and passacaglia. In this "fantasy melodrama,” Hindemith confronts in this work a question obviously of great importance to him: Who "owns" a work of art? Is it the creator? The consumer? Society at large? In the libretto by Ferdinand Lion, based on a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann, Cardillac is a goldsmith in 17th century Paris. He is universally revered for his amazing artistry, but there is a problem: People are dying to get hold of his creations--quite literally! Tune in to find out who dunnit, and why. Cardillac last aired on this show on May 11, 1986. Guest host: David Schonfeld.

Sunday November 17: Tobias Picker (b. 1954) is one of the distinguished American contemporary composers who are attempting to fill the void left by the passing of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Picker is a man much in demand these days. Dallas Opera, in conjunction with Opera of Montreal and San Diego Opera commissioned him to write a large-scale lyric tragedy. For inspiration Picker looked to a novel by the 19th century French author Emile Zola. Zola’s Therese Raquin is a grisly tale about a pair of lovers in working-class Paris who murder the woman’s husband and are then consumed by guilt. Gene Scheer prepared the English language libretto Picker’s Therese Raquin (2001). The world premiere recording was made live in performance in the Music Hall a Fair Park in Dallas, Texas for the British Chandos label.

Sunday November 24: November 22 is the feast day of St. Cecilia, the patroness of music. On the Sunday closest to that date I have often programmed one of the odes for St. Cecilia’s day by Henry Purcell. IN the 17th century the English celebrated St. Cecilia’s day with the public performance of a new ode every year. Purcell’s lesser-known contemporaries also composed some splendid works in this vein. We will hear two of them, the ode for the year 1687 by the Italian immigrant composer Giovanni Battista Draghi (1640?-1708) and the one for 1691 by Purcell’s mentor John Blow (1649-1708). The Draghi ode takes exactly the same text by John Dryden that Purcell set in 1692: “From Harmony, from Heavenly Harmony.” Draghi was no slouch when it came to dressing up Dryden’s verse with contrasting voices and varied instrumental colors. John Blow’s “The Glorious Day I some” also stands up very well to comparison with the odes of his prodigy of a pupil. Both odes come to us on a single Hyperion CD, which is volume 31 in “ the English Orpheus” series delving into the treasure trove of obscure music of the English baroque. Peter Holman and Richard Wistreich by turns direct The Parley of Instruments (a “period” ensemble) and The Playford Consort of singers.
You’d be surprised how much the style of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) resembles that of Purcell, minus Purcell’s curiously English chordal dissonances. Purcell provided a lot of incidental music for English spoken-word drama. Charpentier wrote an impressive body of vocal and instrumental numbers for the spectacular 1682 revival of Corneille’s play Andromede (1650). Charpentier’s complete score for Andromede is set forth on a single ASV compact disc in the “Gaudeamus” series. Gary Cooper directs the singers of the New Chamber Opera and the Band of Instruments (also a “period” ensemble).

Sunday December 1: Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the three-week period of joyful preparation for the nativity of the Christian savior. The image of the virginal mother and her holy child figures most importantly in this festive season. The modern American minimalist composer John Adams has written a “Nativity Oratorio” that is strangely traditional in its overall musical approach, hearkening back to the baroque masterpieces of the genre, like Handel’s Messiah.. Adams brought together many sacred texts for this libretto, about a third of which are in Spanish language. It’s appropriate then that this paean to the Virgin Mary is titled El Nino, Spanish for ‘The Child.” One disturbing text Adams has chosen deals with the massacre of the Aztecs by the Spanish conquistadors in 1521, no doubt alluding to the Slaughter of the Innocent by King Herod in his effort to kill the holy child. The “Nativity Oratorio” was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and the Chatelet Theater of Paris. Fanfare magazine (January/February 2002 issue) has printed a pair of glowing reviews by Christopher Abbott and Raymond Tuttle of the Nonesuch world premiere recording of El Nino, in Peter Sellars’ staged production at the Chatelet.

Sunday December 8: The appearance in print of the collected works of Christoph Willibald Gluck in the 1960’s helped stimulate an interest in the operas of the Great Reformer of the opera seria. His first great “reform opera” was Orfeo ed Euridice (1762), which I’ve broadcast at least three times before in recorded interpretations of widely varying degrees of historical authenticity. Leas authentic is the first complete recording of the work in its original 1762 Vienna version, made in 1966, with Vaclav Neumann conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and soprano Grace Bumbry singing the role of Orfeo in place of the historically required male castrato. That was on Sunday, May 12, 1996. Most authentic was the one that went over the air on Sunday, November 21, 1993, with Frieder Bernius conducting the Canadian period instrumental ensemble Tafelmusik and countertenor Michael Chance as Orfeo. Another great countertenor of our time, Rene Jacobs, conducted the Freibury Baroque Orchestra in a historically informed essay of the Vienna version, but with a female singer Bernarda Fink tasking Orfeo’s role. That was broadcast on Sunday, April 28 of this year. Now along comes a musicologically correct recording to rival the Bernius/Tafelmusik interpretation. It was released this year by the budget label Naxos and features the superb playing of the Swedish period instrument group, the Drottningholm Theater Orchestra, with Arnold Ostman directing. Again a woman is cast as Orfeo, but soprano Ann-Christine Biel’s voice is convincing and must surely mimic the powerful heroic sound of the castrati of old. Choral music appropriate to the Advent season will follow.

Sunday December 15: We often say the Christmas holiday season belongs to the children, so with that truism in mind I’m presenting two “children’s operas.” Charles Koechlin’s Le Livre de la jungle (1923-25) is styled a poeme symphonique rather than an opera. Koechlin’s “Jungle Book” comes somewhat to the monumental orchestral song cycles of Mahler, like Kindertotenlieder. Koechlin assembled the vocal and purely orchestral numbers of his symphonic poem from music he had composed as far back as 1899, and he kept adding new music up to the year 1940. It seems Koechlin continued to find inspiration in Rudyard Kipling’s children’s stories over mush of the course of his life. You’ll hear Le Livre de la jungle in the live air tape made by Radio France of the 1998 Opera of Montpelier production. An Actes Sud two CD release.
Paul Hindemith gaveWir Bauen eine Stadt (“We’re building a city,” 1930) the subtitle Ein Spiel fur Kinder, i.e. “a play for children.” A lot of high quality theatrical music for children was circulating in Germany at that time, one excellent example of which is Kurt Weill’s Der Jasager, also first staged in 1930. I broadcast Der Jasager on Sunday, January 30, 2000, since it is very serious in nature, not a lighthearted holiday piece. In our Berlin Classics CD release, originally recorded in Leipzig, East Germany in 1978, Hans Sandig leads the Childrens’ Chorus of Radio Leipzig plus a small instrumental ensemble. Wir bauen eine Stadt lasts only a half hour in performance. The CD is filled out with thirteen of Hindemith’s Kinderlieder performed by the Preschool Chorus of Radio Leipzig, augmented by the Little Radio Children’s Chorus. These two children’s operas had originally been scheduled for this same Sunday in Advent of last year but had been suddenly preempted by the broadcast of a UH Women’s basketball game.

Sunday December 22: Opera programming is once again preempted by a University of Hartford Women’s Basketball game.

Sunday December 29: Johann Strauss Jr.’s immortal Die Fledermaus (1874) is perfect for listening as the old year ends and New Year’s Eve festivities approach. The French play on which the Viennese operetta was based actually takes place on Christmas Eve. Fledermaus has been recorded so many times it is difficult to choose for programming purposes from among the available interpretations on disc. Surely the one that is most truly echt Viennese has got to be the 1971 EMI Electrola recording made in Vienna with Willi Boskovsky at the podium. Boskovsky is a renowned specialist in the music of the Strauss family and in dance music of his native city in general. He leads the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the chorus of the Vienna State Opera. The singing cast includes Central European luminaries of the mid 20th century: Anneliese Rothenberger, Renate Holm, Brigittte Fassbaender, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the Swedish lyric tenor Nicolai Gedda. Then there’s bass Watler Berry, who like Boskovsky is a native of Vienna. Also heard in a comic speaking role as Frosch the jailer is Otto Schenk, popular Austrian comic of that time. I last broadcast the Boskovsky Fledermaus on Sunday, August 28, 1992, using the old Angle LP set I donated to our station’s classics library. EMI reissued is in 1997 on two CD’s
From our stations’ ever growing library of classical music on disc I have selected Handel’s Deborah, Picker’s Therese Raquin, Gluck’s Orfeo, Charpentier’s Andromede and the two children’s operas, for presentation in this two-month period of programming. David Schonfeld, my substitute on Sunday, November 10 came up with a copy of Hindemith’s Cardillac on his own and wrote the notes for that opera. I am doubly in his debt for his cooperation in doing this show, and you will hear his voice again on Sunday’s to come. Die Fledermaus and the odes by Draghi and Blow come from my personal collection.

Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 2002

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