Sunday, November 7: World War One officially ended on November
11, 1918. That date, traditionally known in Europe as the Feast
of St. Martin, became our present-day Veterans' Day holiday in the
United States, with that in mind, I present this Sunday the absolutely
perfect opera for the upcoming occasion: Nancy Van de Vate's All
Quiet on the Western Front (1999), based on perhaps the greatest
war novel of all time, Erich Maria Remarque's, In Western Nichts
Neues, "All Quiet on the Western Front," (1929). The novel has been
made into a movie at least three times since it appeared in print,
but this is the first time it has ever been cast in operatic form.
Nancy Van de Vate (b.1930) took ten years to complete this opera,
her fourth such work. It was recorded in Vienna in 2001-02 for Vienna
Modern Masters, for release on two CD's. Toshiuki Shimada conducts
the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, with eight vocal soloists.
Sung in German. Bob Walsh will be your host this Sunday.
Sunday, November 14: All the Italian opera serie of George
Frideric Handel have now been committed to silver disc in recent,
historically informed interpretations. Can the same also now be
said of the tragedies lyriques of Jean Baptiste Lully? We must now
be close to covering the entire Lully canon. The brand new world
premiere Ambrasie/Pera de Lausanne recording of Lully's Roland (1685)
has got to fill one important gap. Lully was at the height of his
powers when he penned Roland. In fact he was nearing the end of
his career as a composer. He was to die prematurely in only two
years' time. Roland has found exactly the right interpreter in conductor
Christophe Russet. He's one of the brightest lights among the young,
up-and-coming generation of baroque period-instrument specialists.
Russet leads the ensemble he founded in 1991 Les Talents Lyriques.
On Sunday, October 20, 2002 I presented the first-ever commercial
recording of one long-neglected Lullian lyric tragedy: Persee (1682),
which Russet recorded with Les Talents Lyriques for the Naďve label.
Russet's take on Roland reflects the same high standard of inspired
baroque musicality witnessed in Persee.
Sunday, November 21: Peter Grimes (1945) was Benjamin Britten's
first full-length opera. It remains perhaps the single, absolutely
quintessential English opera. It boosted English national opera
in general into a new prominence on the international operatic scene.
Its story arises out of the environs of Britten's boyhood. The setting
is a fishing village on the Eastern coast of England, in the region
known as East Anglia. The plot exposes all the nasty little secrets
and hypocrisies of the townsfolk. Central to the story is the figure
of Grimes himself: a wretchedly poor, sadistic, self-torturing soul.
Peter Grimes is a societal tragedy played out against the background
of the stormy weather that blows ashore from the North Sea. In 1958
the composer himself conducted a recording studio production of
Peter Grimes with his lover tenor Peter Pears starring as the psychotic
fisherman, augmented by the chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera
House, Covent Garden. I have broadcast that classic London ffrr
recording twice before, in LP format on Sunday, March 2, 1986 and
again in CD release on Sunday, March 10, 1996. Is Britten's own
interpretation the last word on his masterpiece? That formidable
interpreter of English music Sir Colin Davis has taken on the challenge.
He leads the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Tenor Glenn Winslade
in Grimes, with soprano Janice Watson as Ellen Orford the village
schoolteacher, who also sympathizes with the fisherman's plight.
Recorded in London at the Barbican in January of 2004, the orchestra's
own record label LSO Live wasted no time in getting Peter Grimes
out to the public on two CD's.
Sunday, November 28: My lyric theater offering for this
Sunday of the Thanksgiving holiday springs directly from the literary
culture of New England, the region that gave the nation its own
specifically American Feast-day. Scott Everly's three-act opera
The House of the Seven Gables (2000) is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's
great American novel, first [published in 1850. Everly wrote his
own libretto, after having reread the novel closely, and the story
of his opera follows the original book closely as well. IN 1992
Everly received a National Endowment for the Arts Grant to compose
this work, which was intended to receive its premiere production
by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater. As part of his personal
preparation for composing he spent six weeks in Salem, Massachusetts.
He was permitted to sleep overnight in one of the bedrooms of the
creaky, spooky seventeenth century wooden structure. The house itself
is practically a character in both novel and opera. Albany Records
released The House of Seven Gables on two CD's in 2001.
Sunday, December 5: Although it was composed by an American,
Samuel Barber's Vanessa (1958) is a tale of thwarted love among
the well to do of a Northern European country. Vanessa is a wintertime
story, set in snowy weather a century ago, when ice-skating often
served as a vehicle for courtship. A New Year's Eve party figures
importantly in the third act. The lonely ending of this story should
remind us that the winter holiday season may be a happy time for
some folks, but others feel more isolated and unloved than ever.
Ibsen or Chekhov could easily have written a similar tragedy involving
unwanted pregnancy and suicide, but is was Gian Carlo Menotti, and
opera composer in his own right, who wrote the libretto. Samuel
Barber (1910-81) was, more specifically, a gay American composer,
and Gian Carlo was in truth his longtime companion. The characters
Menotti dreamed up for Vanessa are pretty nasty and unlikable. Why
then was Barber inspired to write such wonderful melodic music for
them? One way of explaining the incongruity is to think of this
opera as "high camp." At least that's how Fanfare magazine's reviewer
Walter Simmons thought of Vanessa when he praised the CD reissue
of the RCA Victor recording, made in early stereo sound only a month
after the opera's stage premiere at the Met (Fanfare, Jan/Feb '91).
The Met's vocal luminaries of the 'fifties took the principal roles:
soprano Eleanor Steber as Vanessa, "a lady of great beauty," tenor
Nicolai Gedda as the suitor Anatol and Regina Resnick as Erika,
Vanessa's niece. Dmitri Mitropoulos conducted the Metropolitan Opera
Orchestra and Chorus. The CD reissue I intended to broadcast on
Sunday, December 14, 1997 was suddenly preempted, but you veteran
listeners might remember hearing the original RCA LP release on
Sunday, December 18, 1984. Walter Simmons reiterated his praise
of the RCA Vanessa, especially noting how Steber was so perfect
in the title role, in the pages of the Sept/Oct 2004 Fanfare. This
time he was reviewing a new rival Vanessa recording put out this
year by Naxos in its "American Opera Classics" series. American
conductor Gil Rose leads the National Symphony Orchestra of the
Ukraine and the "Dumka" Ukrainian National Capella. The vocal soloists
are all Americans, too, and according to Simmons all top-notch people.
They sing beautifully and convincingly, and the orchestra plays
beautifully, too, conforming to a remarkably high international
standard of excellence. Simmons gives the Naxos Vanessa a very high
Sunday, December 12: This Sunday yet another lyric theater
work based on a famous novel, this time Victor Hugo's The Hunchback
of Notre Dame (1891). Philip Feeney (b.1954) wrote incidental music
for a ballet adaptation of the story, as commissioned by the Northern
Ballet Theater of Manchester, England. Feeney specializes in ballet
scores. He has written the music for Northern Ballet's productions
of Cinderella and Dracula. The concept of these productions goes
way beyond dancing; they are dramatic storytelling stage works that
emphasize the music, both orchestral and vocal. Feeney's complete
score for Hunchback had to be edited down some for release through
Black Box records in 1998 on a single generously timed CD. John
Pryce-Jones leads the Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra, with singers
from Opera North, featuring soprano Miranda Bevin in solo capacity.
Following this enchanting piece, which might also remind you a little
of another Christmas holiday ballet mainstay, The Nutcracker Suite,
will be plenty of vocal music of the season.
Sunday, December 19: Longtime listeners to this program
will remember the name Rutland Boughton (1878-1960) in connection
with his Celtic opera The Immortal Hour (1923). I have broadcast
it three times over the past couple of decades. Hyperion, the same
British label that gave us the world premiere recording of The Immortal
Hour, also has delivered to the public the first-ever issue on CD
of Boughton's Christmas opera Bethlehem (1915). Boughton set to
music the verse of the fourteenth century Coventry Nativity Play
in a simple but eloquent style suitable for amateur performance.
At appropriate moments between the narrative portions for solo singers
he inserts some absolutely lovely arrangements of traditional English
carols. The tunes Boughton himself composed sound like real English
folk songs, so much so that his famous colleague Ralph Vaughn Williams
was convinced Boughton had been collecting authentic folk melodies
from among the rural folk of Gloucestershire. Vaughn Williams must
have attended a performance of Bethlehem. Community productions
of it were mounted all over the British Isles. In time, both Bethlehem
and The Immortal Hour, despite their enormous popularity, faded
into oblivion. Alan G. Melville, who conducted The Immortal Hour
for Hyperion, gave Bethlehem the same sensitive interpretive treatment.
He directed two thoroughly professorial ensembles, the Holst Singers
and City of London Sinfonia. A few vocal passages and a dance sequence
has to be cut to fit Bethlehem onto one eighty-minute Hyperion CD.
Much seasonal music will follow.
Sunday, December 26: One very good way to survey the music
of J.S. Bach for orchestra and voices is to listen to the Weihnachtsoratorium,
the "Christmas Oratorio," BWV 248 (1734). The Oratorio is a pasticcio
in eighteenth century Italian parlance, i.e. a composite work patched
together from other pieces of music. Bach culled through various
cantatas, sacred and secular, that he had previously written to
complete what is essentially a six-part cantata cycle for six of
the important feast days of the twelve traditional days of the Christmas
season in the ecclesiastical calendar. So, this cantata cycle constitutes
a "Best of Bach" compilation. There are many fine recordings of
the Christmas Oratorio, several of which I have presented over the
past couple of decades. Our WWUH classics library has recently acquired
the new Channel Classics release of the Weihnachtsoratorium, on
two silver discs, with Jos van Veldhoven conducting the singers
and players of the Netherlands Bach Society. This is a thoroughly
historically informed recorded interpretation, which Fanfare magazine's
Brian Robins has rated very highly (Fanfare, Jan/Feb 2004).
A big thank you to my colleague Bob Walsh for substituting
for me on Sunday, November 7th. The recording he will be presenting
of Nancy Van de Vate's All Quiet on the Western Front comes on loan
for broadcast from the collection of Rob Meehan, former classical
announcer and specialist in the alternative music of the 20th and
21st centuries. Rob also loaned his recording of Scott Everly's
The House of Seven Gables, Philip Feeney's The Hunchback of Notre
Dame and Rutland Boughton's Bethlehem. All the other recordings
are to be found in our station's ever-growing library of classical
music on disc. Thursday Evening Classics Composer Capsules continued
firmly established himself alongside Bartók and Dohnányi as a powerful
force in Hungary's developing musical culture. Kodály produced a
steady stream of music (his most famous works being the opera Háry
János and the orchestral suite from that opera) and important educational
works (which have collectively become known to music educators as
the Kodály method). In the years after the Second World War he was
honored by countless academic, musical, and political organizations
around the globe; in 1961 he served as president of the International
Folk Music Council, and, in 1964, as honorary president of the International
Society of Music Educators.
WWUH: November/December Program Guide 2004 ©