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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" Program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of November / December 2007
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SUNDAY NOVEMBER 4TH: Halloween is merely the night before "All Hallows" or All Saints' Day in the traditional Roman Catholic calendar, followed by All Souls' Day, also known in Catholic Latin America as "The Day of the Dead." A Requiem mass is called for to honor the dead. I have come up with a Requiem composition that combines traditional and non-traditional elements. I remember the name Karl Jenkins in connection with the British jazz rock ensemble Soft Machine. He wrote a lot of beautiful material for one of the bands last recordings Softs (1976). Karl Jenkins went on to perform as a progressive jazz keyboardist at Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival in our country. As the years passed in his own country and wrote award-winning advertising music, then in time music for the Royal Ballet and London Symphony Orchestra and most famously for the international musicmaking project he created called Adiemus. The queen made him a knight in the Order of the British Empire. In 2001 he was the subject of a BBC TV documentary. Jenkins' Requiem is set to his own text in Latin, English, and Japanese. For its 2005 world premiere recording for EMI, Jenkins himself conducted the orchestral and choral forces. Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel is one of the vocal soloists. Keep listening for In These Stones (2004), to a Welsh/English text featuring Terfel's voice. It was commissioned for the opening of the new home of the Welsh National Opera. In pre-Christian Europe there is the mythological figure of Charon the boatman, who ferries the souls of the dead across the river Styx to their eternal destination. Imagine if you can that sombre personage, along with the figure of the Grim Reaper, transformed into puppets who sing. There is a tradition of puppet opera going at least as far back as the eighteenth century. Haydn provided music for his patron Prince Eszterhazy's marionette theater. On Easter Sunday, April 20, 2003 I interviewed, live in our WWUH air studio, puppetmaster Ken Berman of the University of Connecticut/Storrs puppetry program about his puppet opera The Painted Rose. Soprano Teresa Dmovski of UConn's opera department sang two excerpts from the score. She was the voice of the Rose in the then upcoming production. Two years previous to The Painted Rose, a puppet opera Euridice y los titreres de Caronte ("Euridice and Charon's Puppets"), was staged in Barcelona, Spain: Joan Albert Amargos wrote the music to a libretto by Toni Rumbau which gives us a modern take on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Euridice. That story certainly involves the transition from life to death. The Armargos/Rumbau Euridice was recorded in festival performance for Spanish Harmonia Mundi. It came out on a single HM silver disc in 2003.

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 11TH: Who would now believe that at the premiere of Puccini's immortal Madama Butterfly (1904) the audience at La Scala jeered and heckled Rosina Storchio, the very first Cho-Cho-San! A hostile clique in the opera house seems to have made the opening night such a terrible failure. Every performance Storchio sang thereafter brought onlookers to tears and ended with hysterical applause. Many great sopranos have made Butterfly their own special role. We're fortunate to have so many Butterflys preserved for posterity and recordings. I have chosen the first of two recordings, the well-remembered Italian soprano Renata Scotto made for EMI/Angel. My predecessor in this timeslot, Joseph S. Terso, recommended this one to me highly, in part I'm sure because it's musically complete. It was also the first complete recording of any opera that British conductor Sir John Barbirolli ever made. Barbirolli presided in the tapings of Puccini's masterpiece in Rome in 1966. He led the chorus and orchestra of the Romen Opera House. Besides Scotto, the cast includes tenor Carlo Bergonzi as Pinkerton and baritone Rolando Panerei as Sharpless. Fanfare magazine's James Camner recently reviewed EMI's CD reissue of the Scotto/Barbirolli Madama Butterfly. He concurs with Joe Terzo that it is perhaps the single finest interpretation on disc. You hear it today in its original stateside release on three Angel LPs. It was last broadcast on Sunday, October 7, 1984. Bob Walsh substitutes for me in this afternoon's presentation.

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 18TH: Camille Saint Saens' Samson et Dalila is the French opera par excellence, yet (incredibly!) it premiered at Weimar in the heart of Germany in 1877 in German language and did not reach Paris until thirteen years later. Samson et Dalila is the classic French opera because Saint Saens was very much a classicist. Although living in the thick of the Romantic era, he never liked its overblown emotionalism. He insisted upon form and balance in artistic matters. No operatic score could be better crafted. The music has stood the test of time. Samson et Dalila has been performed at least a thousand times at the Paris Opera. You'll hear again this Sunday what is likewise a classic stereo recording of the work, taped in 1962 for EMI. Georges Pretre leads the Orchestra of the national Opera Theatre of France. Tenor John Vickers is the Hebrew strongman, opposite mezzo Rita Gorr as the Canaanite seductress. Samson et Dalila last went out over the airwaves on three Angel LPs on Sunday, October 10, 1993. I draw upon the same old vinyl discs today.

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 25TH: On Sunday, November 9, 2003 my substitute David Schonfeld presented the world premiere CD release of Paul Hindemith's last opera Die Harmonie der Welt (1957). David worked from his own copy of the Wergo three disc set. Now that our station has acquired that same recording, I am eager to present it again myself. The opera was recorded complete for the first time in Berlin in 2000. Merek Janowski directed the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the studio undertakings. The subject of the opera is Germany's illustrious seventeenth century intellectual Johannes Kepler, who must face the threat of war in general narrowmindedness in his pursuit of a true understanding of "The Music of the Spheres." With him medieval astrology transits into what we today understand as the modern science of astronomy. In the lengthy program note that David Schonfeld wrote for this publication four years ago he explained why we ought to revere Hindemith's effort in writing his twentieth century meisterwerk. Hindemith wrote most of Die Harmonie der Welt right here in Connecticut while living in exile in the United States during World War Two.

SUNDAY DECEMBER 2ND: Reberto Devereaux (1837) was the fifty-seventh of Gaetano Donizetti's seventy operatic compositions: a remarkable output that was halted only by his tragic incapacitation due to paralysis and mental collapse at 50 years of age. Donizetti regarded Reberto Devereaux as a jinxed stage work. It had a brilliant premiere, to be sure, but thereafter the fortunes of this bel canto jewel were decidedly mixed. Before the end of the nineteenth century it had passed out of the repertoire, returning from limbo in 1964 with a stunning staged revival in the composer's hometown Bergamo. The late great soprano Beverly Sills was much attracted to the queenly leading roles Donizetti created. She recorded all three of them in the 1960s stereo sound, including Anna Bolena (1830) and Maria Stuarda (1835), the 1969 Westminster recording of Roberto Devereaux being its world premiere on LP. Fanfare magazine's Joel Kasov writes that she acted these roles with audible conviction. She was then at the height of her powers. "Vocally she is in excellent shape," remarks Kasov, "the soft singing often touching, dazzling us with the ease with which she undertakes the most complicated decorations." (Fanfare, March/April, 2001) Sills reveals to us the true glory of the bel canto singing style. Many composers of the period, Verdi among them, were drawn to the story of the Earl of Essex's courtship of the aged monarch Elizabeth, his subsequent revolt, and execution for treason. Sir Charles Mackerras conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Ambrosian Opera Chorus. Kasov was reviewing the Deutsche Gramophon CD reissues of Sills portraying the Donizetti queens. You hear again today the original Westminster LPs as last broadcast on Sunday, January 22, 1989.

SUNDAY DECEMBER 9TH: If there is such a thing as the "The Great American Novel," could there also be a "Great American Opera"? One possible candidate for that honor is Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (1937). Another one is Samuel Barber's Vanessa (1957, rev. 1964). Over a quarter century of lyric theater broadcasting I have presented recordings of Vanessa four times before. The audience cheered for this opera on its opening night at the Met. Then the music critics hailed it as the finest operatic work any American had written to date. It even won a Pulitzer Prize. But it never entered the international repertoire. To this day, Vanessa has been only occasionally revived on our stage, yet it has been recorded several times over the decades. I maintain that the best recorded interpretation is still the old RCA Victor world premiere on disc starring the Met's own soprano Eleanor Steber, for whom Burber created the title role. American soprano Christine Brewer is heard as Vanessa in a 2004 Chandos recording made in the UK in concert performance. Leonard Slatkin conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra and chorus of BBC singers. I always program Vanessa in December because the opera's story takes place in a Northern European locale in early winter, with scenes at Christmas and New Year's and an ice skating sequence. There's time remaining for you to give the operatic work of a contemporary American composer and audition. My broadcast of this one-act piece commemorates another composer, John Lennon of Beatles' fame, who was murdered by a loony fan on December 8, 1980 in New York City near the scene set in Michael Torke's Strawberry Fields (1999). In Central Park there is a circular mosaic monument, "Imagine", dedicated to Lennon's memory. Torke has imagined an aged opera fan, a lady of quality, sitting beside Lennon's monument, imagining that she is at the opera. Various passersby try to talk her in or out of her delusion. While the lady knows who Verdi is, she knows nothing of John Lennon. Michael Torke (b. 1962) lives and composes in New York City. In 1998 he was appointed Associate Composer of the Scottish National Orchestra. In Strawberry Fields, David Allan Miller conducts the Albany Pro Musica Instrumentalists and nine singers. Torke's chamber opera was released on a single compact disc through his own Ecstatic Records label.

SUNDAY DECEMBER 16TH: Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel (1893) is the obvious choice for the programming of some sort of children's opera at Christmastide. Engelbert Humperdinck (1854 - 1921) is known to the world at large through this one work. Nothing else he wrote matched it in international theatrical success. He composed six full-length operas in the course of his career. On Sunday, December 21, 1986 I broadcasted his other children's opera Koenigskinder ("The King's Children," 1910). When he first conceived it in 1890, Hänsel und Gretel was intended to be preformed by children as a small-scale play with music for home entertainment. The concept of the opera grew over time to such a stature that only adult professionals could handle the difficulties of the singing parts. I last broadcast Hänsel und Gretel on Sunday, December 21, 1997, making use of a 1974 Angel/EMI LP recording with Andre Cluytens conducting the Vienna Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Today listen for a 1990 Angel/EMI CD release with Jeffrey Tate leading the Symphony Orchestra of Bavarian Radio. It was airtaped in Munich in 1989. Musical Heritage Society picked it up for US distribution in 1997. Our Hansel is diva Anne-Sophie von Otter. Gretel is equally illustrious soprano Barbara Bonney. They are joined by the boy trebles of the Tolzer Knabenchor as the gingerbread children. There's time remaining to listen to a Christmas cantata that is an enduring favorite in German speaking countries but has never gotten the international exposure it deserves. Josef Rheinberger (1839 - 1901) is the single composer of wide reputation to come from the tiny alpine principality of Liechtenstein. EMI Electrola and Angel Records originally released Rheinberger's Der Stern von Bethlehem (1892) in 1968. This recording, too, was made in Munich. The German Carus label reissued it in 1988 in CD format. Two famous German singers took part in the tapings: soprano Rita Streich and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Robert Heger directed the Graunke Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Radio Bavaria.

SUNDAY DECEMBER 23RD: All over the country, and indeed all over the world, during this season of rejoicing Handel's immortal Messiah (1742) will be performed by musical groups large and small, professional or amateur, and radio stations around the globe will be broadcasting it. I have broadcast my share of Messiahs at both Christmas and Eastertide, since the oratorio fits in so well with either of these Christian holidays. Handel's first draft score of Messiah as it was first heard in Dublin was recorded by the Scholars Baroque Ensemble in 1992 for Naxos records. That version went over the air on Christmas Sunday, 1994. Handel tinkered with the score for several years, coming out with various revisions or upgradings of it. The so-called "Foundling Hospital" version of 1751 is my personal favorite, especially in the filling out of the instrumentation. This is his final, definitive reworking. The latest Messiah on CD to come into my hands is a 2006 Naxos offering. Edward Higginbottom conducts the top-notch period instrument orchestra, the Academy of Ancient Music and his own Choir of New College, Oxford. Boy trebles drawn from the choir take the soprano solo numbers as would have mostly been the case in performances in the chapel of the orphanage, which was what London's eighteenth-century Foundling Hospital actually was. Keep in mind, however, that all of Handel's oratorios were created for secular, auditorium type venues.

SUNDAY DECEMBER 30TH: Composer Paul Hindemith had to flee Germany in 1938 because the National Socialist cultural authorities considered his work to be Entartete Musik or "Degenerate Music." Also banned by the Nazis as degenerate was one of the operettas of the Hungarian composer Emerich Kalman (1882 - 1953). Die Herzogin von Chicago ("The Duchess of Chicago", 1928) was one of Kalman's best crafted and most tuneful creations. Kalman spiced up his score with numbers for an American-style dance band. This element, exotic to the ears of Central Europeans, was what the Aryan racists must have objected to, since the sound of the Jazz Era out was ultimately derived from the musicmaking of the American negroes. The Nazis could not stop this operetta from becoming an international hit. It certainly makes for good listening entertainment to welcome in the New Year. The 1999 Decca recording of Die Herzogin von Chicago was released in the series of "Entartete Music: Music Suppressed by the Third Reich." Richard Bonynge conducts the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Radio Berlin. The recording included complete spoken-word dialogue in both German and American English. As the year draws to a close, I remember with gratitude those who have helped me to put together this program over the past six bimonthly submissions to the WWUH Program Guide. Year after year Rob Meehan has consistently been of assistance in supplying me with the recordings for broadcast. Decades ago Rob was a classics deejay here at our station. Through me he continues to contribute to the work of this station by loaning me for broadcast recordings from his extensive collection of "alternative" classical music of modern times. This time around he loaned me the new Chandos recording of Barber's Vanessa. From my own collection come Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel and Kalman's Die Herzogin von Chicago. Everything else featured during this two month period of programming is derived from our station's ever-growing library of classical music on disc. Thanks also to my radio colleague Bob Walsh, who again and again over the past few years has kindly agreed to substitute for me, even on rather short notice


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