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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of Sept / Oct 2006

  For this Sunday of the Labor Day weekend I offer you a "one hundred percent American Opera on a homespun subject," as one music critic characterized it. Douglas Moore's Carry Nation (1966) was commissioned by the University of Kansas for its centennial celebration. Received enthusiastically at is premiere in Lawrence, Kansas, it went on to its first professional production by the San Francisco Spring Opera, then the New York City Opera, in 1968. Mezzo soprano Beverly Wolff created the title role, and sang it for its world premiere recording for Desto Records. She portrays the famous teetotaller whose little hatchet smashed many a bottle of demon rum. Cary lived for several years in Kansas with her second husband, Dr. David Nation. As her anti-liquor crusade expanded, she traveled far and wide. Eventually crowds gathered to ridicule her, her husband divorced her, and she came to a pathetic end. Douglas Moore's opera is a character study in fanaticism. I last broadcast the three LP Desto set on Sunday, March 4, 1984. You hear those same vinyl discs again today. Samual Krachmalnick conducts the cast, chorus, and orchestra of New York City Opera.

  In the long history of the genre known as opera all manner of ethnic variants have developed. Opera was first and foremost an Italian art form. Then came French opera, German opera, etc. Today you get to hear Chinese opera, not to be confused with the traditional entertainment known as "Peking Opera," or politically correct Maoist pageants. Jason Kao Hwang's The Floating Box: A Story in Chinatown (2001) shows us the struggles of an immigrant Chinese family in New York City. Jason Kao Hwang (b. 1957) is a second generation Chinese American who does not speak his parents' native tongue. To prepare for writing The Floating Box he collected many hours of recorded interviews with Chinese immigrants speaking of their experiences. Hwang's score calls for a hybrid chamber ensemble of ethnic Chinese instruments, some of the usual Western orchestral instruments, plus vibraphone and accordion. Catherine Filloux's libretto is in both Chinese and English. The Floating Box premiered at the Asia Society in New York City. The Asia Society and the Museum of Chinese in the Americas jointly commissioned Hwang to compose the work. New World Records released its world premiere recording in 2005.

  The Devil's Wall (1882) is Bedrich Smetana's eighth and last opera. Amazingly, he had been stone deaf for years before he wrote it. He had already brought forth two operas also without every being able to hear a note of them. The story of this opera he took from Bohemian legend: how the Devil tried to stop the founding of a monastery in the Bohemian forest by damming up the headwaters of the river Moldau. The devil Rarach is an opera buffa villain and romance is tangled in the plot. Smetana's score for The Devil's Wall is suffused with that same wonderful, melodious, pictorial quality to be found in his famous orchestral tone poem MaVlast. Way back on Sunday, July 15, 1984 I aired the three LP set that Supraphon, the old Soviet-era Czechoslovak national record label, issued in 1962 in early stereo sound, with Zdenek Chalabala conducting the Prague National Theatre Chorus and Orchestra. I broadcast it a second time on Sunday, September 11, 1994. You get to hear that classic recording a third time today.

  Manfred Trojahn's Enrico (1991) is styled a "dramatic comedy in nine scenes." The composer (b. 1949) says he crafted his music along the lines of the eighteenth century Italian opera buffa. But the play upon which the opera is based, Enrico IV (1921) by Luigi Pirandello, is no light hearted romp. This so-called comedy is about madcap appearances that never quite succeed in concealing a truly insane and ugly reality. Besides which, the storyline includes a shocking murder committed onstage. Trojahn's Enrico was commissioned by the Bavarian State Opera of Munich and was first produced for the Schwetzingen Festival. It was first performed at the festival's Rococco Theater, where it was recorded live by South German Radio of Stuttgart. Dennis Russell Davies conducts a chamber ensemble drawn from the musicians of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. A 1993 cpo release on two silver discs.

  At various points in the course of his brief artistic career, Franz Schubert attempted to make a name for himself as an opera composer. Besides the well known incidental music for the play Rosamunde (1823), Schubert composed at least nine complete operas, three more in substantial fragments, and three more in rough sketch. Some of them actually were performed, but none with much success. The grandest of all his theatrical projects was Fierrabras (1823), a German language heroic-romantic opera modeled after those by Weber. The libretto reworks a chivalrous tale from the time of the emperor Charlemange and the noble knight Roland. Schubert's music for Fierrabras comes directly out of the song cycle Die Schoene Muellerin and the "Unfinished Symphony." He finished the score for imminent production at the Imperial Austrian National Theater. Due to opera politics the production was scuttled. Schubert never received payment from the theater for his efforts. The opera had to wait until 1897, the centenary year of Schubert's birth, for its staged premiere. In more modern times Fierrabras has been excerpted in recording, broadcast on radio, and since 1980 has been revived occasionally in theatrical performance. It got the definitive production it so richly deserved in 1988 in Schubert's hometown. Deutsche Gramaphon taped a live performance of Fierrabras at Theater an der Wien, with Claudio Abbado conducting. Listen again today for the same two-CD DGG recording I first broadcast on Sunday, March 29, 1994.

  This will be the fourth time I will be presenting the original "Barber of Seville," that is the one by Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), which was first staged in 1782. Although it ought to be judged by separate eighteenth-century theatrical standard, it is impossible not to compare Paisiello's "Barber" with the world famous "Barber" Rossini wrote in 1816. Composed more than a generation later, Rossini's masterpiece makes Paisiello's work sound rather bland and lacking in passion, but you must remember it was conceived in terms of the smaller scale, less complex, less demanding musical requirements of opera buffa before Mozart transformed the genre. The score of Paisiello's Ll Barbiere di Siviglia was recorded essentially complete for the first time live-in-performance at the eighth annual Festival of Valle d'Itria in Italy in 1982, that being the two hundredth anniversary production of this the greatest of Paisiello's eighty-plus operatic compositions. Paisiello was truly the master of the classic Italian opera buffa style. The 1985 Frequenz CD release of the bicentennial "Barber" features the voices of soprano Lella Cuberli as Rosina and tenor Alessandro Corbelli as Figaro. Conductor Bruno Campanella made a few little cuts in the secco recitatives. He made a few more changes in the instrumental parts in order to eliminate certain nineteenth-century clichés that had corrupted Paisiello's orchestral writing. Last broadcast Sunday, August 14, 1994.

  The Fairy Queen (1692) was quite the grandest lyric theater entertainment London had ever seen. It would be stretching the definition, however, to call it an opera. England's greatest composer of the time, Henry Purcell, and her greatest actor, Thomas Betterton, collaborated in a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Purcell set none of the famous play to music. The operatic portions of this hybrid theater piece were inserted scenes and ballet numbers only very remotely related to the dramatic action. With this spectacular semi-opera Purcell reached the pinnacle of his short career. London's musical public hailed him as Orpheus Brittanicus. The surviving music that Purcell composed for the even bigger and better 1693 staging of The Fairy Queen was recorded complete for the first time for Archiv, the historical division of Deutsche Gramophon, with John Eliot Gardiner leading the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Chorus. Those Archiv CD's I presented on Sunday, December 4, 1988. There's a more recent and thoroughly delightful interpretation of Purcell's semi-opera available through EMI Classics, with Roger Norrington directing the London Classical Players and Schuetz Choir of London. Among the vocal soloists Norrington worked with was the very recently deceased soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. When this recording was released in 1994, EMI credited her as the yet-to-be-married Lorraine Hunt.

  Handel's Rinaldo (1711) has turned out over the years to be the one opera buffa of his that I have broadcast the most, and the one Italian baroque opera to which I have given the most frequent airplay in general. That's because Rinaldo has been frequently recorded over the past three decades or so. This Sunday will be my fourth presentation. The first was on Sunday, December 7, 1986, when I worked from a 1977 recording, made for the French Harmonia Mundi label and featuring the period instrument ensemble La Grand Ecurie, conducted by Jean Claude Malgoire. Then on Sunday April 17th came an Italian Nuova Era recording, made in Venice's historic Teatro Le Fenice in 1989 and starring American mezzo diva Marilyn Horne in the title rôle. Most lately, on Sunday, October 5, 2003, I broadcast Rene Jacob's interpretation on three new French Hamonia Mundi silver discs. Jacobs led the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Now our station has acquired a Naxos three CD set, recorded in Toronto, Canada in 2004. Kevin Mallon directs the singers and period instrument players of Toronto's Opera in Concert and the Aradia Ensemble. Rinaldo's enormous success at its premiere in London in 1711 depended, in large part, upon spectacular stage effects, which you can't see, of course, in radio broadcast. The Naxos recording partly makes up for this with special sound effects not heard on any of the other three previous ones I've aired.

  I have previously broadcast all of Benjamin Britten's operas, with only one exception-one of his modestly proportioned chamber operas The Little Sweep (1949). For a second time I present The Turn of the Screw (1954), last broadcast on Sunday, February 14, 1999. Britten's eighth opera is an adaptation of a novel by Henry James. Britten expressed with enormous musical subtlety the moral struggle with sexual taboos in James' book, which is a species of ghost story and psychological thriller-hence the Halloween connection and my rationale for rebroadcasting the opera now. The 1954 mono recording of The Turn of the Screw with Britten conducting resurfaced as a London CD reissue in 1990. It reappeared yet again in a 2004 British Decca Multi-CD package along with all of Decca/London's classic recordings of the Britten operas. The composer directs the English Opera Group Orchestra and six vocal soloists. Britten created several operatic rôles for his lover tenor Peter Pears. One of these was Captain Vere in Billy Budd (1951). In The Turn of the Screw we hear Pears as one of the two ghosts, the seductive one called Quint. Again and again over the years I thank record collector Rob Meehan for loaning to me so many things you've heard on this program. I thank him yet again this time around for the loan of his recordings of Hwang's The Floating Box and Trojahn's Enrico, the Norrington Fairy Queen, and Benjamin Britten's ghost opera. Schubert's Fierrabaras and the Paisiello "Barber" come out of my own collective of opera on CD. Everything else featured in this two-month cycle of programming can be found in our station library's holdings of classical music on silver disc.

WWUH Program Guide 2006 ©

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