Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: At Castle Adamant, behind enemy lines, the truth is found, the truth is found!

How we got here: Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian make their entry into the grounds of Castle Adamant, from a Savoynet production in Bruxton.

"Darwinian Man, though well-behav'd,
at best is only a monkey shav'd!"

-- Lady Psyche, in Act II of Princess Ida

by Ken

Last week, in "Prince Hilarion's mission of the heart," we left our royal wooing party -- comprising Prince Hilarion and his childhood friends Cyril and Florian -- safely embedded behind enemy walls, in the garden of Castle Adamant, seat of the woman's college founded by Princess Ida, Hilarion's betrothed since she was a 12-month-old and he was twice as old. The princess, alas, has shown herself unwilling to honor her infant betrothal. In fact, in her 21 years she has had quite her fill of men, and has forsworn them; hence the college for women only.

As I noted last week, the common assumption that it's the women being ridiculed in Princess Ida seems to me utterly unsustainable by anyone who has eyes, ears, and a working brain. The lofty goals of Ida and her protégées may be tainted with charming silliness, but at least they have goals that go beyond fighting the next battle. By comparison, the behavior of the men -- whether of the martial or the poetical strain (our dramatis personae includes a quantity of each) -- ranges from preposterous to ludicrous and back.

Two plans are afoot to bring Princess Ida around, and at the moment we've been following the quest of Prince Hilarion to penetrate Castle Adamant and woo his child bride. To that end he, Cyril, and Florian have succeeded in disguising themselves as students of the college, and have even withstood the scrutiny of the princess herself, though in fairness what she has been scrutinizing these ungainly young maidens for isn't male impersonation but the earthly disappointment that is the true mark of an educable young woman.

Last week we heard our young gentleman agreeing with the princess, in a beautiful quartet, that "The world is but a broken toy, its pleasures hollow, false its joy." At this point, a new disaster befalls.
[Exit PRINCESS. The three gentlemen watch her off. LADY PSYCHE enters, and regards them with amazement.]
PRINCE HILARION: I'faith, the plunge is taken, gentlemen!
For, willy-nilly, we are maidens now,
and maids against our will we must remain.
[All laugh heartily.]
LADY PSYCHE [aside]: These ladies are unseemly in their mirth.
[The gentlemen see her, and, in confusion, resume their modest demeanor.]
Here's a catastrophe, Hilarion!
This is my sister! She'll remember me,
Though years have passed since she and I have met!
Then make a virtue of necessity,
and trust our secret to her gentle care.
FLORIAN [to PSYCHE, who has watched CYRIL in amazement]:
Psyche!  Why, don't you know me? Florian!
LADY PSYCHE [amazed]: Why, Florian!
FLORIAN: My sister! [Embraces her.]
LADY PSYCHE: Oh, my dear! What are you doing here -- and who are
PRINCE HILARION: I am that Prince Hilarion to whom
your Princess is betrothed.
I come to claim
her plighted love.
Your brother Florian
and Cyril came to see me safely through.
LADY PSYCHE: The Prince Hilarion? Cyril too? How strange!
My earliest playfellows!
PRINCE HILARION: Why, let me look!
Are you that learned little Psyche who
at school alarmed her mates because she called
a buttercup "ranunculus bulbosus"?
CYRIL: Are you indeed that Lady Psyche, who
at children's parties, drove the conjuror wild,
explaining all his tricks before he did them?
PRINCE HILARION: Are you that learned little Psyche, who
at dinner parties, brought in to dessert,
would tackle visitors with "You don't know
who first determined longitude -- I do --
Hipparchus 'twas — B.C. one sixty-three!"
Are you indeed that small phenomenon?
LADY PSYCHE: That small phenomenon indeed am I!
But gentlemen, 'tis death to enter here:
We have all promised to renounce mankind!
FLORIAN: Renounce mankind!? On what ground do you base
this senseless resolution?
LADY PSYCHE: Senseless?  No.
We are all taught, and, being taught, believe
that Man, sprung from an Ape, is Ape at heart.
CYRIL: That's rather strong.
LADY PSYCHE: The truth is always strong!

John Bernard (Prince Hilarion), Melanie Melcher (Lady Psyche), Bradley Wilson (Florian), Christopher Swanson (Cyril). Newport Classic, recorded live at the 1999 Ohio Light Opera Festival


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Prince Hilarion's mission of the heart

"The world is but a broken toy": Disguised as students of the woman's college established by the Princess Ida, Florian (William Whitefield), Cyril (Patrick Hogan), and Prince Hilarion (Colm Fitzmaurice) meet Ida, Hilarion's betrothed (Kimilee Bryant), in the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players' January 2008 Princess Ida.

by Ken

We've already dealt somewhat with the more martial aspects of Princess Ida, the mortal struggle between Kings Gama and Hildebrand -- the fathers of the bride and groom, respectively -- over the consummation of the union between Princess Ida and Prince Hilarion plighted when she was a 12-month-old and he was twice as old, he's told. The hitch, now that Ida is 21 and Hilarion 22, is that the princess has had quite her fill of men and has sequestered herself in Castle Adamant as the headmistress of a woman's college.

The arrangement ordered by King Hildebrand, you'll recall, is that Gama and Ida's "three hulking brothers" are to be held hostage (an exceedingly kindly and gracious hostagedom, as it turns out) while Hilarion avails himself of one opportunity to persuade his child bride to accept him. Naturally Hilarion chooses to have his childhood friends Cyril and Florian at his side, and one of the keys to the flood of amazing music Sullivan produced, especially in Act II, is this core trio he had at his disposal. As we've often remarked, something about the trio medium set his genius ablaze, and that extends to "expanded" trios -- trio-plus-one quartets (of which we'll hear an instance today) and trio-plus-two quintets (of which we'll hear an instance next week).

In last night's preview we made the acquaintance of the prince himself. Now without further ado, here is Hilarion announcing what we might call --


I should probably say something about the performances, which span three-quarters of the century, dipping back into the acoustical era. You can follow individual performances throughout our excerpts, or listen to the very different treatments accorded individual numbers. There seems to me no question, though, that the strongest "Hilarion and Friends" trio, is that of the 1954 Decca recording -- with a just-right pair of tenors and a fine baritone. The 1965 Decca team (with the same baritone) holds its own, though.

Princess Ida: Act I, Recitative and Trio, "Come, Cyril, Florian" . . . "Expressive glances shall be our lances"
Recitative, Hilarion
Come, Cyril, Florian, our course is plain,
tomorrow morn fair Ida we’ll engage;
but we will use no force her love to gain,
nature has armed us for the war we wage!
Trio, Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian
HILARION: Expressive glances
shall be our lances,
and pops of Sillery
our light artillery.
We’ll storm their bowers
with scented showers
of fairest flowers
that we can buy!
CHORUS: Oh, dainty triolet!
Oh, fragrant violet
Oh, gentle heigho-let
(Or little sigh).
On sweet urbanity,
through mere inanity,
yo touch their vanity
we will rely!
CYRIL: When day is fading,
with serenading
and such frivolity
we’ll prove our quality.
A sweet profusion
of soft allusion
this bold intrusion
shall justify.
CHORUS: Oh, dainty triolet! etc.
FLORIAN: We’ll charm their senses
with verbal fences,
with ballads amatory
and declamatory.
Little heeding
their pretty pleading,
our love exceeding
we’ll justify!
CHORUS: Oh, dainty triolet! etc.

Derek Oldham (t), Prince Hilarion; Leon Darnton (t), Cyril; Sydney Granville (b), Florian; Light Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Harry Norris, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 14, 1924

Derek Oldham (t), Prince Hilarion; Charles Goulding (t), Cyril; George Baker (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 27, 1932 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

Thomas Round (t), Prince Hilarion; Leonard Osborn (t), Cyril; Jeffrey Skitch (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded cOct.-Dec. 1954 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

Phiip Potter (t), Prince Hilarion; David Palmer (t), Cyril; Jeffrey Skitch (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. Decca, recorded May 1965

John Bernard (t), Prince Hilarion; Christopher Swanson (t), Cyril; Bradley Wilson (b), Florian; Ohio Light Opera Chorus and Orchestra, J. Lynn Thompson, cond. Newport Classic, recorded live at the 1999 Ohio Light Opera Festival


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: Could we have a royal operetta without a dreamy prince?

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Princess Ida: Act I, Introduction and Opening Chorus, "Search throughout the panorama for a sign of royal Gama"
Pavilion attached to KING HILDEBRAND's palace. Soldiers and courtiers discovered looking out through opera glasses, telescopes, etc., FLORIAN leading.

CHORUS: Search throughout the panorama
for a sign of royal Gama,
who today should cross the water
with his fascinating daughter --
Ida is her name.
Some misfortune evidently
has detained them -- consequently,
search throughout the panorama
for the daughter of King Gama,
Prince Hilarion's flame! Prince Hilarion's flame!
FLORIAN: Will Prince Hilarion's hopes be sadly blighted?
CHORUS: Who can tell? Who can tell?
FLORIAN: Will Ida break the vows that she has plighted?
CHORUS: Who can tell? Who can tell?
FLORIAN: Will she back out, and say she did not mean them?
CHORUS: Who can tell?
FLORIAN: If so, there'll be the deuce to pay between them!
CHORUS: No, no,
we'll not despair, we'll not despair!
For Ida would not dare
to make a deadly foe
of Hildebrand, and so --
search throughout the panorama
for a sign of royal Gama,
who today should cross the water
with his fascinating daughter --
Ida, Ida is her name.

[Opening Chorus at 3:41] George Baker (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 26 and 28, 1932 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

[Opening Chorus at 4:12] Jeffrey Skitch (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded cOct.-Dec. 1954 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

[Opening Chorus at 4:01] Jeffrey Skitch (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. Decca, recorded May 1965

[Opening Chorus at 3:54] Bradley Wilson (b), Florian; Ohio Light Opera Chorus and Orchestra, J. Lynn Thompson, cond. Newport Classic, recorded live at the 1999 Ohio Light Opera Festival

by Ken

As I mentioned last week, I finally got wise to the existence of the "Gilbert and Sullivan Archive Edition" of the vocal score of Princess Ida (edited by Paul Howarth, first published in 2007, with a somewhat corrected edition published in 2013), and on arrival it has yielded an immediate discovery. You may recall that I had made the momentous decision to downgrade the "stub" of an overture to the opera from "overture" to "prelude." As it happens, I had never seen this piece in score, because the old Chappell edition, which until now was my only Princess Ida score, like the Chappell vocal scores of several other G-snd-S operas, didn't include the overture! These editions seem to have been frozen in time from the moment of original publication, when the publisher apparently hadn't yet received the overtures.

So what do I discover upon opening my new score? Two things:

(1) The orchestral introduction isn't called "Overture," it's called "Introduction"!

(2) The end of the Introduction is marked "attacca," meaning that it's meant to flow directly into the following number, the opera's opening chorus. I had had some reservations about the designation "prelude," since the piece is self-standing, but I harked back to the examples of the Preludes to Verdi's Rigoletto and Traviata. The attacca marking vindicates this, and I would go ahead comfortably calling the piece a "Prelude" if not for the possibility that the score designation "Introduction" actually traces back to Sullivan. So, "Introduction" it is -- and I thought our first order of business now should be to hear the opening of the opera this way. Like we just did above!

Beyond this, I thought that since we slipped into Princess Ida by focusing on the two kings, the fathers of our royal non-couple, this week we might focus on the young bridegrom, the son of King Hildebrand, Prince Hilarion -- and his friends Cyril and Florian (whom we just heard briefly in the vigil for the arrival of King Gama and his daughter).


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Let's meet "a genuine philanthropist" ("All other kinds are sham")

Martyn Green (b); Lehman Engel, cond. Columbia, recorded 1953

John Reed (b); Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. Decca, recorded May 1965

by Ken

Yes, we're still in Gilbert and Sullivan's treasurable if troubled musico-dramatic trove Princess Ida, which we dipped into last week to continue spotlighting the great Gilbert and Sullivan bass, specifically the role Arac, the most talkative of Princess Ida's "three hulking brothers." In a moment I'll share with you the logic whereby we've arrived at this week's ghost post, but first --


Yes, I know we already listened to what we decided we were going to call the Prelude (rather than Overture), including the two stereo versions below conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. This week, however, we're going to add the performance from his 1932 complete recording of Princess Ida, one of the recordings he made in his days as music director of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. If you listen to the three performances in sequence, I think you'll hear why I've presented them here not quite chronologically. (Note that the 1965 version was made as part of Sir Malcolm's guest-conducting of the D'Oyly Carte's stereo Princess Ida. The 1961 EMI version was a stand-alone recording for a Sullivan overtures LP.)

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Princess Ida: Prelude

D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 26, 1932 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. Decca, recorded May 1965

Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded c1961


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Yes, it's more Donald Adams!

Princess Ida's three "hulking brothers" are bested by Prince Hilarion and his friends Cyril and Florian in Act III of the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players' Princess Ida.
Politics we bar,
they are not our bent!
On the whole we are
not intelligent!
-- Ida's brother Arac, in Act I of Princess Ida
by Ken

So far in this series we've heard our Donald as the army-besotted landlord Sergeant Bouncer in Burnand and Sullivan's Cox and Box and as the Usher in Trial by Jury, and most recently as the specter of the late Sir Roderic Murgatroyd in Ruddigore. And I thought we should start by finishing up with Sir Roderic, since we gave rather short shrift to the great scene in which the ancestral Murgatroyds step out of their picture frames in the great hall of the Bad Baronets of Ruddigore to torment the recently entitled Sir Ruthven over his failure to live up to the fabled Witch's Curse -- to "do one crime or more, once every day forever." After all, it was supposed to be our goal in last week's post, "When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls."

So we're going to return to the Picture Galley, then push farther into Ruddigore, and then we're going to hear Donald in another role, one he didn't have occasion to sing often, but sang wonderfully on two recordings of Princess Ida.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls

With update, in which I actually include the texts
and music for the meeting of the two Bad Barts

Carole Round in the 1999 SavoyNet Performing Group Ruddigore
DAME HANNAH [quoting the burning witch]:
"Each lord of Ruddigore,
despite his best endeavour,
shall do one crime, or more,
once every day forever.
This doom he can't defy,
however he may try.
For should he stay
his hand, that day
in torture he shall die!"

[We heard the story in full in this week's preview, "The Witch's Curse."]

Gillian Knight (ms), Dame Hannah; Orchestra or the Royal Opera House, Covent Gardn, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962

Monica Sinclair (c), Dame Hannah; Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 11-14, 1962

Ruddigore, Act I: All the village girls express their horror of SIR DESPARD MURGATROYD, Bad Baronet of Ruddigore. As he approaches them they fly from him, terror-stricken, leaving him alone on the stage.

SIR DESPARD MURGATROYD: Poor children, how they loathe me -- me whose hands are certainly steeped in infamy, but whose heart is as the heart of a little child! But what is a poor baronet to do, when a whole picture gallery of ancestors step down from their frames and threaten him with an excruciating death if he hesitate to commit his daily crime? But ha! ha! I am even with them! [Mysteriously] I get my crime over the first thing in the morning, and then, ha! ha! for the rest of the day I do good -- I do good -- I do good! [Melodramatically] Two days since, I stole a child and built an orphan asylum. Yesterday I robbed a bank and endowed a bishopric. Today I carry off Rose Maybud and atone with a cathedral! This is what it is to be the sport and toy of a Picture Gallery! But I will be bitterly revenged upon them! I will give them all to the Nation, and nobody shall ever look upon their faces again!

by Ken

Before we continue with Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, we're going to observe our frequent custom of starting at the beginning, with the Overture. For our purposes, as I hope you'll hear, it's especially important here. (Note that this is the "later" overture, in which Sullivan had no hand. But something had to be done when for the 1920-21 revival of the show -- after the deaths of both Gilbert and Sullivan -- the tune that had served as the big "developoment" tune of the original Overture, Robin's "When a man has been a wicked baronet" from the Act II finale, was cut. I happen to think that the replacement Overture, generally credited to Geoffrey Toye, a longtime assistant of Sullivan's, is quite dandy.)

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Ruddigore: Overture (1920)

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962

Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Nov. 3, 1960

[Sorry, I was so pressed for time that I completely screwed this up this morning. The texts and the audio files were all ready to go, and I didn't get around to inserting them!]

This is officially, or at least this post began life as, a continuation of last week's idea of a tribute to the great G-and-S bass Donald Adams. Well, things happen. Much of the text was written on paper napkins in the shadow of the Harkness Tower at Yale, with a carillon ringing that included "Send in the clowns." (I was hoping for "Send in the clowns," but that wasn't bad.) We actually will get to Adams. But first . . . .

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: The Witch's Curse

Dame Hannah (Maya Stroshane) tells the impressionable young village bridesmaids the story of the Witch's Curse in Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan's 2010 Ruddigore.

by Ken

We first pondered "The Witch's Curse," though at the time I wasn't able to enable you to hear it, in a June 2007 post called "'Laws? I don't obey no stinkin' laws!' Are Chimpy the Prez and his partner in crime 'Big Dick' Cheney blood brothers of the Bad Baronets of Ruddigore?," in response to a Washington Post report, "'Signing Statements' Study Finds Administration Has Ignored Laws." Right-wing scum pols ignoring the law -- what a surprise! This has a special resonance now when degraded and demented right-wing life forms like Darrell "The Unembarrassable" Issa have made a daily habit of persecuting the Obama administration for sins that were in fact spécialités de maison of the Bush regime, when they went routinely unremarked upon, even defended, by degraded and demented right-wing life forms like Darrell "The Unembarrassable" Issa.

Though I wasn't able to enable you to hear it back in 2007, we did eventually hear one of our versions of Dame Hannah's song in June 2010. We actually have entirely other-than-political reasons -- leftover business from last week, to be exact -- for returning this week to the ghost of Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, the first and baddest of the whole long line of Bad Baronets of Ruddigore. But I think it's never out of place to recall the curse that lay so heavily upon the bad barts, as explained by the doughty Dame Hannah early in Act I of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore.

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse: Act I, Song, Dame Hannah and chorus, "Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, his leisure and his riches"
DAME HANNAH: Sir Rupert Murgatroyd,
his leisure and his riches,
he ruthlessly employed
in persecuting witches.
With fear he'd make them quake—
he'd duck them in his lake—
he'd break their bones
with sticks and stones,
and burn them at the stake!
CHORUS OF BRIDESMAIDS: This sport he much enjoyed,
did Rupert Murgatroyd—
no sense of shame
or pity came
to Rupert Murgatroyd!

DAME HANNAH: Once, on the village green,
a palsied hag he roasted,
and what took place, I ween,
shook his composure boasted.
For as the torture grim
aeized on each withered limb,
the writhing dame
'mid fire and flame
yelled forth this curse on him:
     "Each lord of Ruddigore,
     despite his best endeavour,
     shall do one crime, or more,
     once, every day, forever!
     This doom he can't defy,
     however he may try,
     for should he stay
     his hand, that day
     in torture he shall die!"

The prophecy came true:
each heir who held the title
had, every day, to do
some crime of import vital;
until, with guilt o'erplied,
"I'll sin no more!" he cried,
and on the day
he said that say,
in agony he died!
CHORUS OF BRIDESMAIDS: And thus, with sinning cloyed,
has died each Murgatroyd,
and so shall fall,
both one and all,
each coming Murgatroyd!

Monica Sinclair (c), Dame Hannah; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 11-14, 1962

Gillian Knight (ms), Dame Hannah; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962

Ella Halman (c), Dame Hannah; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Promenade Orchestra, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 21, 1950

Bertha Lewis (c); D'Oyty Carte Opera Chorus, orchestra, Harry Norris (or maybe George Byng?), cond. EMI, recorded June 30, 1924

I don't suppose we can any longer call the more-than-50-year-old EMI and Decca recordings "modern," though they sound better to me than an awful lot of recordings that are unquestionably "modern" chronologically. Stil, we have to distinguish them somehow from the two "historical" recordings I've included. Ella Halman, who recorded most of the G-and-S contralto roles in the late '40s and early '50s, has ardent Savoyard admirers, which has always mystified me. The greatness of Bertha Lewis, however, seems to me to glow through the 1924 acoustical sound.


We'll meet the ghostly Bad Baronets of Ruddigore, including their spokesghost, Sir Roderic Murgatroyd.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Elaine Stritch (1925-2014)

We'll hear Elaine singing "The Ladies Who Lunch" when Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company was new, but I thought it would be nice to hear and see again this September 1998 performance, which we first looked at in December 2010. (It's from the Carnegie Hall cavalcade-of-stars concert My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies.)

by Ken

I know it seems like an odd thing to say, but in remembering Elaine Stritch on DownWithTyranny earlier today (when I promised some musical remembrances in a later post -- this one), I wrote with singular lack of grace:
It was quite a career, Elaine Stritch's. . . . Still, one thing you can say about the career is that, given the epic scale of her abilities, it's a shame more producers, directors, and writers didn't find (well, create) more vehicles that took full advantage of what this "force of nature" could do.
By way of example, though, let's take Company (1970). The creator of the music, Stephen Sondheim (doing both words and music himself for the first time, remember), and the book, George Furth, have made it clear that the role of the super-cynical Joanne was written with Elaine in mind, and she was brilliant, as everyone knows.

STEPHEN SONDHEIM: Company (1970)

"The Little Things You Do Together

"The Ladies Who Lunch"

Elaine Stritch (Joanne) and (in "The Little Things You Do Together") company; Original Broadway Cast recording, Harold Hastings, musical director. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded May 3, 1970

Still, except for the central role of Bobby, around him all the other relationships revolve, Company is a genuine ensemble show, and while Elaine's performance was probably the one most attendees had in their heads as they left the theater, it was hardly a large role.

That said, Joanne was a great role for Elaine, and in the end even the most compelling performer has to work with the material he/she has to work with. Elaine had been at the center of things in 1961 in Sail Away, the last "book" musical for which Noël Coward wrote both music and lyrics. Everyone who saw the show loved her and remembered her performance, but the show itself wasn't exactly memorable. A lot of the score is still worth listening to, though. Here's Elaine as Mimi Paragon, the hard-boiled, divorced cruise hostess.

NOËL COWARD: Sail Away (1961)

As I wrote when we first heard these excerpts in December 2010: Sorry about the LP surface noise [from my very own copy, bought when the thing was released 52-plus years ago -- Ed.] early on in the "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" track. I came close to paying the 99 cents to download this great song, but the noise cleared up, and as I like to say, 99 cents saved here and there adds up to 99 cents saved here and there.]

"Come to Me" (opening number, the Stewards and Mimi)

"You're a Long, Long Way from America" (Act I finale, Mimi and company)

"Why Do the Wrong People Travel (When the Right People Stay Back Home)?"

Elaine Stritch (Mimi Paragon) and company, Original Broadway Cast recording, Peter Matz, arr. and musical director. Capitol-EMI, recorded October 1961


At 8:01 Elaine talks about Sail Away, Noël Coward, and her mother. At 10:27 her attention is turned to Company.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Rataplan!

How many "Rataplan"s can you count in these 33 seconds?

rataplan  n.  A tattoo, as of a drum, the hoofs of a galloping horse, or machine-gun fire. [French, of imitative origin.]
-- The American Heritage Dictionary

by Ken

So this is what I suddenly found going through my head this week. And once it was lodged in there, it was mighty hard to get out. Then it occurred to me that we've never listened to this wonderfully goofy moment from the little one-act farce Cox and Box, with a libretto by F. C. Burnand, here in Sunday Classics. (Regular readers will know that my admiration for Sullivan as musical dramatist in his partnership with W. S. Gilbert is something like reverence. However, Cox and Box is the only music he wrote without Gilbert which I return to with real pleasure.) I figured that while the lights are still on here at Sunday Classics, however dimly, we ought to rectify this omission.

In a moment we'll hear a little more music to place the above in context. Then I thought, since the delicious Bouncer of these excerpts is the beloved (by me, anyway) Donald Adams, we should do some sort of Donald Adams retrospective, but that project quickly got out of hand, so maybe we'll do it some other time. For the record, though, as I recall we've already heard him in his most famous role, the Mikado (and he's still the best I've ever heard, without even a close second), and also as Colonel Calverley in Patience, as Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre in The Sorcerer, and even in a snippet from a role that as far as I know he never sang, the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance. (The Pirate King was another of his most famous roles, and we have heard him in a snippet from that, the incandescent Paradox Trio.)

I love the idea of a Donald Adams retrospective, but for now, in order to make this a proper post, even a proper "ghost" post, after we've dealt with the rataplanning Sergeant Bouncer, we'll hear quite a different "Rataplan."


This is an old Sunday Classics habit, and in this case it's pays quick dividends, as I think you'll hear pretty quickly. You'll also note very different approaches to our material from our first two conductors, our old G-and-S friends Isidore Godfrey and Sir Malcolm Sargent. For the heck of it, I've thrown in the perfectly solid Overture from the generally lackluster later D'Oyly Carte recording of Cox and Box, also of basically the "Savoy edition," which chops the show down to a half-hour -- a loss that's almost pure gain.

Cox and Box: Overture

New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded 1961

Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded 1961

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royston Nash, cond. Decca, recorded February 1978


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: It's a barely fathomable distance dramatically from the end of Act I to the end of Act II of Verdi's "Otello"

Aa Act II ends, Otello (Jon Vickers, right) swears vengeance and Jago (Cornell MacNeil) swears his support (all with subtitles), one of the most thrilling and most appalling moments you'll encounter on a stage -- with James Levine conducting, at the Met in September 1978.

by Ken

We've been dealing with the sisterly or at least cousinly kinship between Verdi's Luisa Miller and Desdemona, and in case it wasn't in obvious in last night's preview, this week we're back to Desdemona.

In the preview we heard the very end of the conclusion of Act II of Verdi's Otello, the moor's oath of vengeance, abetted by his "trusted' Jago, on his "unfaithful" wife -- violent, insanely overflowing with testosterone, but also undeniably thrilling. It's at once one of the most thrilling and most appalling moments you'll encounter on a stage.

Then we heard the next bit of music in the opera, the brief orchestral prelude to Act III, built on an insidious, slithery tune that was first heard Act II, and so we then backed up to listen to the theme to which the diabolical Jago, as part of his plan to use Otello's personal insecurity to destroy him, "warns" him against jealousy.

VERDI: Otello: Act II, Jago, "Temete, signor, la gelosia!" ("Beware, my lord of jealousy")
Beware, my lord, of jealousy!
'Tis a dark hydra, malignant, blind.
It poisons itself with its own venom.
Its breast is rent by a vivid wound.

(1) Leonard Warren, baritone; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, George Szell, cond. Live performance, Nov. 16, 1946
(2) Tito Gobbi, baritone; NHK Symphony Orchestra (Tokyo), Alberto Erede, cond. Telecast performance, recorded Feb. 4, 1959
(3) Sherrill Milnes, baritone; National Philharmonic Orchestra, James Levine, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded August 1978
(4) Leo Nucci, baritone; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded live in concert, April 1991
(5) Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded Aug, Oct., and Nov, 1968

Otello is filled with astonishments (it's practically nothing but astonishments). One real astonishment is how Verdi and librettist Arrigo Boito get us, in the space of an act of maybe 35 minutes, from the Act I curtain to the Act II curtain. I thought this week we might peek into the innards of Act II a little. That's not going to happen, at least not this week, But I think this little riff on jealousy, in which Jago significantly amplifies Otello's jealousy by warning him against jealousy, is a splendid sample of how those ardent Shakespeareans Verdi and Boito used their operatic toolkit to accomplish this astonishment.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: " 'Tis a dark hydra, malignant, blind"

by Ken

We tried something a few weeks back, listening just to a tiny bit of music, which turned out to be the brief orchestral prelude to Act IV of Verdi's Otello, with the (hopefully) suggestive question of what mood or moods it suggested ("How would you describe the atmosphere? Austere? Melancholy? Solitary? Foreboding?").

I have no idea whether that served any purpose, except maybe to me, but is that any reason not to try it again? Tonight we have two brief orchestral excerpts, and we start with a very brief one, which I don't think one has to be a wizard to intuit is the end -- of something. Just in case there's any doubt, three of our performances, being live, come with their own applause. And oh yes, in a moment we're going to hear what it ends.


For my money, while (2) has a wonderfully snarling sense of finality, it's (5) that walks away with this -- and the conductor has a score marking ("pesante") to back up his bold choice.


Okay, there could be, you know, an intermission in between. (Do you think I would try to trick you?)



Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: One's a peasant and one's a governor's wife, but both are adored by the locals

Desdemona receives an outpouring of love from the adoring Cypriots in Act II of Cape Town's 2013 Otello.

by Ken

Last week we listened to the opening scene of Verdi's Luisa Miller, as I tried to make my case about the kinship between Luisa and her Verdian cousin Desdemona in Otello, heroines who (to quote myself yet again) --
who are genuinely and all but universally loved because of their basic uncompromised decency and humanity, living exemplary practitioners of the Golden Rule. Naturally they are crushed -- easy pickings in a world that talks a good game about the Golden Rule but truly doesn't believe in it.

One problem in making the connection is that the music in which the relationship between our heroines and the people who love them so tends to be performed as generic, saccharine mush, and so we're not often prompted to consider the effect it would have on us if Luisa's villagers or Desdemona's adoring Cypriots really meant it. It seems to me pretty clear in the music that they do.


VERDI: Otello: Act II, Chorus of Cypriots, "Dove guardi splendono raggi"
In Act II, JAGO is just introducing the first dose of poison into the mind of OTELLO regarding the (wholly non-existent) relationship between DESDEMONA and CASSIO when DESDEMONA reappears in the garden. She is surrounded by inhabitants of the island -- women, boys, and Cypriot and Albanian sailors -- who offer her flowers and other gifts." We come in near the end of this brief lovefest between the Cypriiots and Cypress's First Lady, with OTELLO and JAGO observing.

CYPRIOTS: Wherever you look rays shine,
hearts are enflamed.
Wherever you pass, descend showers
of flowers -- here among lilies and roses,
like before a chaste altar, fathers,
children, wives come singing.
DESDEMONA [deeply touched, very sweetly]:
The heavens shine, the breeze dances,
flowers perfume the air.
Joy, love, hope
sing in my heart.
OTELLO: That song overcomes me.
If she be false, then heaven mocks itself!
JAGO [to himself]:
Beauty and love united in sweet harmony!
I shall shatter your sweet accord.
CYPRIOTS: Live happily! Live happily!
Here love reigns.
OTELLO: That song overcomes me.
[When the singing ends, DESDEMONA kisses some of the children, and some of the women kiss the hem of her gown. She bestows a purse on the sailors.]

Gwyneth Jones (s), Desdemona; James McCracken (t), Otello; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Jago; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded Aug., Oct., and Nov. 1968

Leonie Rysanek (s), Desdemona; Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Tito Gobbi (b), Jago; Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1960

Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Desdemona; Luciano Pavarotti (t), Otello; Leo Nucci (b), Jago; Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded live in concert, April 1991