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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 1999

Sunday November 7: Sven-David Sandstrom (b.1942) has the reputation of an artistic rebel in his native Sweden. He surprised his musical contemporaries yet again by composing a religious work for five vocal soloists, choir, organ and orchestra that is on the same monumental scale as Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis or the mass settings of Bruckner. Born into a strict non-conformist Protestant family, it was particularly shocking that Sandstrom was drawn to the Catholic liturgy in creating The High Mass. Sandstrom’s mass was commissioned by the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and was recorded live in performance in 1994 at the Berwald Hall in Stockholm with Leif Segerstam leading the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Radio Choir. A two-CD Caprice Records release.

Sunday November 14: Gretry’s delightful comedy-ballet Zemire et Azor (1771) is actually a reworking of the old tale of Beauty and the Beast in an exotic Persian setting. You could never call Andre E.M. Gretry (1714-1813) a first-rate "learned" composer, but his vocal melodies and delicate dance orchestrations charmed the French public time and again. Zemire et Azor was a huge success when it was staged at Fontainbleau Palace for the royal court of Louis XV. This work was an international triumph for Gretry; it was acclaimed in London in 1776 and reached New York City in 1787. Gretry was a Belgian by birth. It’s fitting that the definitive recording of Zemire et Azor should have been made in Brussels at the studios of Belgian Radio and TV (1974). Soprano Mady Mesple, a specialist in French lyric comedy roles, is heard as "the Beauty" Zemire. I last broadcast the EMI CD’s of Zemire et Azor on Sunday, August 20, 1990. This Sunday Mike Marti substitutes for me in the repeat presentation.

Sunday November 21: The Three pathbreaking "reform operas" of Christopf Willibald Gluck are Orfeo ed Eudicice (1762), Alceste (1767) and Paride ed Elena (1770). Orfeo and Paride have been heard on this program in times past. Alceste is better known in its 1776 reworking for the Parisian stage. The French language Alceste is practically a different composition unto itself. The original 1767 Italian language or Viennese version of Alceste has appeared for the first time on disc this year through Naxos. The opera receives a thoroughly historically-informed recorded treatment from Sweden’s Drottningholm Theater Orchestra, who perform on instruments of the period. Arnold Ostman supervised the orchestra, the Drottningholm Theater Chorus and the nine vocal soloists.

Sunday November 28: For this Sunday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend I have three radio offerings, one each with a reference to food or drink and one reflecting upon the concept of the American harvest home. Thinking first of food and the seasonal feast, I came up with Belshazzar’s Feast. (1931), which was Sir William Walton’s first choral work. Sir Malcolm Sargeant presided at the premiere of this half-hour long mini-oratorio. Some years ago I aired Sargeant’s 1958 EMI mono recording of Belshazzar’s Feast as filler programming. Now I officially feature the one the BBC taped at Gloucester Cathedral in England in 1998. Andrew Davis conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Leed’s Festival Chorus. A BBC Magazine release on compact disc.
    When I thought about drink I remembered Henry Mollicone’s one-act opera The Face on the Barroom Floor (1978). The face in question was that of a pretty young woman painted on the floorboards of the old Teller House Bar, located next to the nineteenth-century Opera House in Central City, Colorado. The opera recounts a tale of passion set in the days of the "Golden West" in which two men fight over a much-desired bargirl. Central City Opera recorded The Face in 1980 for CRI (Composer’s Recordings, Inc.).
    When people think of American music they are really thinking of the musical style of Aaron Copland. Copland’s one and only opera The Tender Land takes place on a farm somewhere in the middle west at harvest time. I broadcast the complete and fully orchestrated opera on Sunday, July 7, 1991 in its world premiere Virgin Classics release, as performed by the Plymouth Music Series of St. Paul, Minnesota. Conductor Murray Sidlin made a half-hour cantata out of the most affecting scenes of The Tender Land in a chamber orchestra adaptation, sanctioned by the composer. The Suite from The Tender Land was played publicly for the first time at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado in 1996, but Sidlin’s chamber version of the entire opera premiered here in Connecticut at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven in 1997. You’ll hear Sidlin himself conducting the Third Angle New Music Ensemble in "The Suite" as recorded for Koch International Classics.

Sunday December 5: The third time around is the lucky time, they say. I scheduled Handel’s Italian opera Poro, Re dell’Indie (1731) twice before, first on Sunday, December 6, 1998 and again on Sunday, May 2, 1999, but due to extenuating circumstances on both occasions the broadcast didn’t come off as planned. I’m trying again this Sunday to air that same 1994 recording of Poro on the French label Opus III. It’s taken decades, but only now in the 1990’s have all of Handel’s operas finally been recorded. Poro was actually one of the first to be committed to disc by the German label Eterna in the 1950’s. That old set of LP’s has been out of print for so long we might as well regard Opus III as the world premiere release. Ralph Lucano, the reviewer for Fanfare magazine, gave Opus III a thumbs-up notice in the May/June 1995 issue. Mezzo Gloria Banditelli takes the title role as Poros, king of one part of India, whose lands were conquered by Alexander the Great. It was a role originally created for the superstar Italian castrato Senesino. The libretto for Poro was set by at least eighty eighteenth century composers. One of them was Johann Adolf Hasse, who called his opera Cleofide instead, after Poros’ wife. (Hasse’s Cleofide was among the first CD recordings I ever broadcast on this show back in September of 1989.) Handel tweaked Metastasio’s word book quite a bit to suit his own purposes. His opera was a big success at London’s Haymarket Theater, but the day of Italian "opera seria" in England were coming to an end and soon Handel would give up the genre altogether in favor of English language oratorio. In our Opus III recording Favio Biondi leads the period instrument ensemble Europa Galante.

Sunday December 12: Until this Sunday I have avoided over eighteen years of opera programming one of the obvious choices for Christmastime listening: Gian Carlo Menoitti’s beloved one-act opera Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951), for which Menotti wrote both book and music. Menotti also wrote the jacket notes for the 1952 world premiere recording of the work for RCA Victor. He explains that where he grew up in Italy there is no Santa Claus, but there is an old Italian tradition about children receiving gifts from the Three Kings. That tradition was the starting point for Amahl, which Menotti wrote on commission from NBC as a children’s opera for television. Our station’s classical record library has two LP copies of Amahl, the 1952 monaural recording in RCA Victrola reissue, and the RCA stereo recording taped in December, 1963 when NBC again televised the opera with a new cast. In my absence Rick LaBrie will be presenting the stereo recording this Sunday.
    Since Amahl is such a short work, Rick has programmed an additional piece of musical Americanna - something that never became a Christmas repertory standard like Menotti’s opera - The Nativity According to Saint Luke (1961) by Randall Thompson. Like Amahl, Thompson’s musical drama is Italianate in inspiration. Thompson envisioned it as the musical equivalent of a magnificent Italian baroque nativity scene. As fine a composition as it is, Thompson’s Nativity was too "churchly" for operagoers and the musically progressive churchgoers of the 1960’s thought of it as overly traditional and would not help to popularize it. In radio broadcast, however, it is perfectly satisfactory. The Nativity was recorded in 1993 at the First Presbyterian Church in Warren, Ohio with the artistic resources of the Cleveland Sinfonia Sacra and the Motet Choir of First Presbyterian. A Koch International Classics release. There will be plenty of time left over after The Nativity for Rick to present some seasonally appropriate modern American choral works.

Sunday December 19: This Sunday’s opera is preempted for presentation of University of Hartford Women’s basketball.

Sunday December 26: The last lyric theater show of the century is given over to radio nostalgia. Operetta can be very nostalgic. Opening it up is an hour-long 1943 BBC Radio presentation of Richard Tauber’s Old Chelsea. Tauber was arguably the greatest lyric tenor of the first half of the twentieth century, reviled only by the Irishman John McCormick. Operetta was Tauber’s forte. One of the greatest of the Viennese opera composers Franz Lehar, wrote a series of wonderful roles for him especially Prince Suo-Chong in "The Land of Smiles." Tauber made one song from this operetta, "Yours is My Heart Alone" an international hit. Tauber eventually took to composing in Lehar’s style. His superstar reputation, you would think, would have guaranteed repertory status for his English language operetta, but such was not the case. Old Chelsea, despite a melodious score and Tauber’s splendid singing in the role of the English composer/philosopher Jacob Bray, has lain dormant for fully five decades, until Bel Age transferred the old BBC air masters to compact disc format in 1994. The sound quality of the remastering is enhanced practically to the level of mono hi-fidelity. There’s more of Tauber’s voice in radio broadcast on the Bel Age Silver disc. You’ll aslo hear other famous crowdpleasing singing voices of our passing century in upgraded digital CD sound: Gracie Fields, Bing Crosby, Feodor Chaliapin, Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevalier, et at.
    The compact disc of Tauber’s Old Chelsea resides in my personal collection of opera CD’s, and many of the other radio nostalgia recordings are my own. The Koch/Schwann CD of Copland’s Suite from The Tender Land is mine, too. The rest of the recordings heard in this two-month period of programming come from our station’s ever growing library of classical music on disc with the sole exception of Handel’s Poro, which is taken from the collection of the Allen Memorial Library of the Hartt School, one of the fine arts colleges that are part of the University of Hartford.

Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 1999

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