Sunday, March 16, 2014

Verdi's Queen Elisabeth demands justice from King Philip but gets something else

Ferruccio Furlanetto (at the Met last year) as the sleepless King Philip in his study -- with the fateful jewel box
The KING's study in Madrid. The KING, plunged in deep meditation, leaning on a table covered with papers, where candles are near burning out. Day begins to illuminate the colored glass of the windows.

KING PHILIP [as if in a dream]:
She never loved me.
No, that heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

I still see her again, contemplating with a sad look
my white mane the day that she came here from France.
No, she doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

[in Italian, as above] Cesare Siepi (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Live performance, Nov. 11, 1950

[in Italian, as above] Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bs), King Philip II; NHK Symphony Orchestra (Tokyo), Oliviero de Fabritiis, cond. Telecast performance, Sept. 2, 1967

[in French (slightly different text)] Erwin Schrott (bs), King Philip II; Rafat Jezierski, cello; Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana, Riccardo Frizza, cond. Decca, recorded Jan.-Feb. 2008

by Ken

As I noted in last night's preview ("Poor King Philip receives yet another unwelcome early-morning visitor"), we're resuming our journey through the Don Carlos Act IV scene in King Philip's study which began with his pre-dawn monologue ("Verdi's King Philip -- a man in crisis," January 2013) and continued with the crack-of-dawn confrontation between the king and the 90-year-old blind Grand Inquisitor pay a just-at-dawn call on the king ("'The pride of the king withers before the pride of the priest!' (Verdi's King Philip)," March 2013).

Back when we began our journey, I said that sleeplessly half-deranged state in which we found the king, exacerbated by the severe bullying inflicted by the Grand Inquisitor, would lead him to commit a monstrous act. That act is the climax of the slender bit of scene which is our work unit this week.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Preview: Poor King Philip receives yet another unwelcome early-morning visitor

by Ken

I've thought of another loose end I'd really hate not to tie up: our gradual traversal of the great scene in King Philip's study in Act IV (Act III of the four-act version) of Verdi's Don Carlos.

We've already covered the Spanish king's bleak pre-dawn monologue ("Verdi's King Philip -- a man in crisis," January 2013), where he makes clear that he knows his young wife, the French princess Elisabeth, doesn't love him and never loved him, the proceeds to pretend that his only problem is that even royalty doesn't give people to see into human hearts, where only God can see. And then we've seen the 90-year-old blind Grand Inquisitor pay a just-at-dawn call on the king ("'The pride of the king withers before the pride of the priest!' (Verdi's King Philip)," March 2013) to take advantage of his sleep-deprived, half-crazed state of mind to bully him into submission.

Tonight's brief exchange (whose significance to me personally I'll explain tomorrow) comes after the king has received his next early-morning visitor: the queen, demanding justice for the theft of her jewel box.

VERDI: Don Carlos, Act IV (III), Scene 1: Elisabeth, "Ben lo sapete"
ELISABETH: You know it well: Once my hand
was promised to your son.
Now I belong to you, submissive to God,
but I am immaculate as the lily.
And now there is suspicion
of the honor of Elisabeth . . .
there is doubt about me . . .
And the person who commits the outrage is the king.
KING PHILIP: You speak to me too boldly!
You think me weak
and seem to defy me;
weakness in me
can turn to fury.
Tremble then,
for you, for me!

Eleanor Steber (s), Elisabeth; Jerome Hines (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Kurt Adler, cond. Live performance, Mar. 5, 1955

Sena Jurinac (s), Elisabeth; Cesare Siepi (bs), King Philip II; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Silvio Varviso, cond. Live performance, June 15, 1968

Gundula Janowitz (s), Elisabeth; Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), King Philip II; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Horst Stein, cond. Live performance, Oct. 25, 1970


The whole of the brief but crucial Philip-Elisabeth scene.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mahler's "Song of the Earth" in full orchestral dress and chamber-scaled

The inspiration for Das Lied, and the source for the texts, was Hans Bethge's German reworking of a bunch of Chinese poems in Die chinesische Flöte (The Chinese Flute).

by Ken

As I mentioned in last night's preview, I was then about to head out for a chamber-scale performance of Mahler's Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony, the Songs of a Wayfarer, and Das Lied von der Erde. It was actually pretty nice -- at least an experience of the music was had, something that isn't at all guaranteed these days.

The chamber version of Das Lied, first proposed and begun by Arnold Schoenberg, then finally realized in 1983 by Rainer Riehn, has become strangely popular. It's really no more than a stopgap, a way to experience this masterpiece on the cheap, but it does have charms of its own, and when I realized that I actually have six recordings of it, I decided we'd hear one song from each of the dozen soloists involved.

Then I made the large decision to go ahead with the full Das Lied that was promised last month. And we've covered the piece so much that I further decided not to say anything more. Oh, eventually I'll probably throw in some links to earlier posts (you'll find some in the February 2 post noted above). But for now I thought I'd let the songs stand on their own.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Preview: Chamber-scale Mahler

by Ken

I'm just about to leave for a chamber-ensemble concert devoted to, of all composers, Mahler -- comprising, in reduced-orchestra form, the Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony, the Songs of a Wayfarer, and Das Lied von der Erde.

As some of you out there will recall, we still have a "complete" Das Lied under Sunday Classics promise, and I've done a fair amount of performance-sorting and thinking, but I still don't know what I want to say. Maybe nothing more. We'll see.

In the meantime I thought tonight we'd listen to the famous Adagietto, familiar from countless funerals, memorial services, and Luchino Visconti's film of Death in Venice, where you'll recall that Aschenbach was converted from Mann's novelist to a composer.

To the best of my knowledge, I don't own a peformance of the Adagietto in chamber-orchestra form, so we'll just hear it "straight"; it's scored for strings and harp only in any case. I discovered that we've already heard two performances of it, though despite a vague recollection I honestly don't remember the post they're from. I was going to use the Kletzki recording anyway, and I figured why not hear the Levine again? Then I was surprised to see that Wyn Morris's performance is actually shorter than Kletzki's. (I generally associate Morris with gradual-ish tempos in Mahler.) So I thought I'd throw that in.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor:
iv. Adagietto

Philadelphia Orchestra, James Levine, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded Jan. 17-18, 1977

Philharmonia Orchestra, Paul Kletzki, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 27, 1959

Symphonica of London, Wyn Morris, cond. IMP, recorded January 1973

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Today we hear the whole of Beethoven's grand, stirring "Archduke" Trio

The Atos Trio plays the beautiful third-movement Andante cantabile of Beethoven's Archduke Trio in Berlin's Joseph-Joachim-Saal, December 2011.

by Ken

As I mentioned in last night's preview, a piece dear to my heart popped into my head yesterday, and it was extremely welcome, because I think of it as, for want of a better way of putting it, a "good new" piece. I love it end to end, but I especially love that magisterial opening given to the piano. Once upon a time, way back when, I picked up a used copy of the piano part of the complete Beethoven piano trios for $5, and was shocked to discover when I hacked out the opening bars, that hacked-up as my rendering was, it gave me the tingle I'd come to expect, or hope for, when hearing the piece, and maybe then some, because now the sound coming out of the piano was directly connected to my fingers.

Ironically, the recording that gives me perhaps the best version of that frisson is the performance in the EMI Beethoven trio cycle by Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman, and Jacqueline du Pré, which, alas, I have only on open-reel tape. That's the performance I thought I had on CD which turned out to be instead the later Ashkenazy-Perlman-Harrell EMI cycle, from which we heard the opening of the piece last night (along with the celebrated 1941 recording by the "Million Dollar Trio" of Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz, and Emanuel Feuermann).


The nickname, by the way, comes from its dedication to the Austrian Archduke Rudolph, an amateur pianist who actually studied composition with Beethoven. Once I had the idea, my first thought -- thinking of that grand, stirring opening -- was to cluster round its proudly proclaimed key of B-flat major. But as I noted in the preview, I was soon reminded that, while lots of composers used the key of B-flat major, hardly anyone, including Beethoven himself, otherwise used it this way. As I said last night, the closest match in my mind is Brahms's Second Piano Concerto, and I have to think that somewhere in his head while he was composing that gorgeous piece Beethoven's Archduke Trio was playing.

I'm not going to say anything more about the piece or the performances. The piece, I think, is pretty straightforward, its most expansive statements coming in the aforementioned grand opening Allegro moderato and the haunting third-movement Andante cantabile, filled out with a spritely second-movement Scherzo and finale. As usual the performances have been chosen to provide different sorts of contrasts.

BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio in B-flat, Op. 97 (Archduke)

i. Allegro moderato

Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio (Eugene Istomin, piano; Isaac Stern, violin; Leonard Rose, cello). Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded in Winterthur (Switzerland), Oct. 2, 1965)

Peter Frankl, piano; György Pauk, violin; Ralph Kirshbaum, cello. BBC, recorded live in London, Sept. 16, 1989


Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Jascha Heifetz, violin; Emanuel Feuermann, cello. RCA-BMG, recorded in Holllywood, Sept. 12-13, 1941

Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano; Itzhak Perlman, violin; Lynn Harrell, cello. EMI, recorded in New York, c1979

ii. Scherzo: Allegro

Eugene Istomin, piano; Alexander Schneider, violin; Pablo Casals, cello. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded in Perpignan (France), August 1951

Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano; Sándor Végh, violin; Pablo Casals, cello. Philips, recorded live in Bonn, September 1958

iii. Andante cantabile

Suk Trio (Josef Hala, piano; Josef Suk, violin; Josef Chuchro, cello). Supraphon-Denon, recorded in Prague, June 13-16, 1983

Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (Joseph Kalichstein, piano; Jaime Laredo, violin; Sharon Robinson, cello). Arabesque, recorded in Purchase (NY), Jan. 21-23, 1997

iv. Allegro moderato; Presto

Trio di Trieste (Darlo de Rosa, piano; Renato Zanettovich, violin; Libero Lana, cello). DG, recorded in Hanover (Germany), Apr. 24-26, 1960

Guarneri Trio Prague (ivan Klánský, piano; Čeněk Pavllík, violin; Marek Jerie, cello). Praga, recorded in Prague, Sept. 1-4, 1999

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Here's the key -- or is it?

Piano Trio: 
i. Allegro moderato -- opening

Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Jascha Heifetz, violn; Emanuel Feuermann, cello. RCA-BMG, recorded in Holllywood, Sept. 12-13, 1941

Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano; Itzhak Perlman, violin; Lynn Harrell, cello. EMI, recorded in New York, c1979
UPDATE: If you looked at this post before 10pm ET/7pm PT, you saw only the Ashkenazy-Perlman-Harrell clip, and in fact originally the whole first movement. When I went back to edit it to include just the opening, I was disheartened by how namby-pamby the performance is. (I actually thought the EMI CDs contained a different one, and then I figured how far wrong could we go with this one? I learned.) Most of my CD versions are on a hard-to-get-at shelf, so as an add-on I chose a much grander performance that happened also to be more readily at hand.

by Ken

This piece suddenly popped into my head this afternoon, and I couldn't have been happier that it did. So we're going to hear it tomorrow. Meanwhile it set me to thinking about other works in the same key, with the realization (I'm sure not for the first time, but then, who remembers?) that it's hard to find others of the same character.


Friday, February 7, 2014

" 'La Traviata' at the foot of Masada" -- say what?

"La Traviata at the foot of Masada"

VERDI: La Traviata: Prelude and Opening Scene
(through Alfredo and Violetta's Brindisi)

[You can find an Italian-English libretto for La Traviata
at "DM's opera site."]

[in English] Valerie Masterson (s), Violetta Valéry; Della Jones (ms), Flora Bervoix; Denis Dowling (b), Marquis d'Obigny; Geoffrey Pogson (t), Gastone, Viscount of Létorières; John Brecknock (t), Alfredo Germont; John Gibbs (b), Baron Douphol; English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. EMI, recorded Aug.-Oct. 1980

[clip 1: Prelude; clip 2: Opening Scene] Rosanna Carteri (s), Violetta Valéry; Lydia Marimpietri (s), Flora Bervoix; Leonardo Monreale (bs), Marquis d'Obigny; Glauco Scarlini (t), Gastone, Viscount of Létorières; Cesare Valletti (t), Alfredo Germont; Arturo La Porta (b), Baron Douphol; Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded 1956 (mono)

by Ken

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't go just because the idea strikes me as a tiny bit, er, peculiar. It's certainly an amazingly dramatic as well as historic site -- there in the Judean desert, at the foot of the towering plateau of Masada, in range of the Dead Sea.

But "dramatic" in rather particular ways, I would think. I imagine that when the Israeli Opera Festival did Verdi's crypto-Old Testament epic Nabucco, much of which takes place outdoors in the ancient Near East, with scenes of definite blockbuster character, the site may have enhanced the experience. Ditto with Verdi's Egyptian epic, Aida.
The Opera Festival

We witness here the realization of the vision of an international opera festival in one of the most meaningful sites in our history, proving that the State of Israel can become a centre for culture tourism from all over the world. And indeed more than 4,000 tourists will attend these performance of Nabucco in tandem with thousands of Israelis coming to Masada from all corners of the land.

Many partners have joined us in this cultural, historic grandiose cultural celebration including the Tamar Regional Council, The National Parks Authority, The Ministry of Tourism, The Ministry of Culture, The Dead Sea Hotel Association, Discount Bank, IDB who enable thousands of spectators from the periphery attend the performances, The Meitar Family Fund and others. We thank all of them and many others without whom we would not have been able to be here today and enjoy a production that will not be easily forgotten.

I thank you dear guests that you have chosen to enjoy with us Nabucco at the footsteps of Masada. I wish you a unique operatic experience and already am looking forward to seeing you here next year for Aida.

Hanna Munitz
Israeli Opera General Director

But La Traviata?

"La traviata at the foot of Masaada" was the actual legend on the online promotional something-or-other that caught my eye. And what could say "19th-century Parisian demimonde" more surely than the Judean desert, Masada, and the Dead Sea? Not to mention that, while Traviata has party scenes that are crucial to the drama, the heart of the thing is the scenes among the three principals -- Violetta and Alfredo and, later, papa Giorgio Germont.

There are four performances scheduled between June 12 and 17. If you go, let us know how it turned out!

Aida at Masada 2011

YouTube caption: For the second year running Eyal Lavee and his production team at The Design Group in Israel returned to the purpose built site they carved out of the desert last year for the Israeli Opera at the foot of Masada Mountain at the Dead Sea.

This historically significant and exquisitely raw setting saw the staging of Verdi's Aida, conducted by Daniel Oren, a co-production with Les Choragies d'Orange in France for the 2011 Dead Sea & Jerusalem Opera Festival 2011.

The Design Group - encompassing 3 different companies - Stage Design, Irgunit and LEDIM - and embracing multiple technical disciplines, handled all aspects of the technical production and site management. Lavee worked with his core production management team of Elad Mainz and Eviatar Banayan, and up to 150 other crew and technicians at peak times on site.

Once again, The Group's international connections were energised to bring onboard HSL and Britannia Row from the UK to provide lighting and audio equipment respectively. "Last year was a huge success, so it made sense to keep the same teams and collaborate with the best companies in the industry to supply the large quantities of premium kit required. Both HSL and Britannia Row did another fantastic job," says Lavee.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

In our missing "Song of the Earth" song, Mahler's "Lonely One in Autumn" begs for "peace" and "consolation"

Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Israel Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded live, May 18, 20, and 23, 1972

by Ken

In the above audio clip we're near the end of the second song of Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), "Der Einsame im Herbst" ("The Lonely One in Autumn"), where Mahler pulls another of those minor-to-major switcheroos we've talked about. It occurs at 1:25 of our clip. Well, that's the lead-in; the actual moment occurs at about 1:31 -- and it's one of the stupendous moments of this extraordinary song-symphony, the first new project the composer undertook after learning that he was suffering from terminal heart disease.

From the heaven-storming conclusion of the Eighth Symphony to Das Lied represents, one of the most striking sudden changes of course in the work of any creative artist I'm aware of. We actually heard the juxtaposition in the August 2010 post "In the opening vision of Mahler's Song of the Earth: 'Dark is life, is death,'" which focused on the opening tenor song, "The Drinking Song of Earth's Sorrow," but also included the two later tenor songs.

In this week's preview I said we would be filling in the one song we still haven't covered and then hearing the six movements of Das Lied finally put together. For all sorts of reasons we're not going to manage that today. I'm going to content myself with presenting that final missing link, the second song (and the first for the alto or baritone soloist who alternates with the tenor).


Friday, January 31, 2014

Preview: One loose end we CAN tie up -- our missing movements from Mahler's "Song of the Earth"

by Ken

Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) is sort of Mahler's Symphony No. 8½. Even though it's a series of six songs with orchestra, alternating between tenor and alto (or baritone) soloists, he probably would have called is his Ninth Symphony if the already-dying composer hadn't been such a baby about that "Ninth Symphony" business -- their Ninths had been so fateful for Beethoven and Bruckner. Since he had his next symphony mapped out, he thought that by calling that his Ninth, when it was really his Tenth, he would have the jinx beaten. As we know, though, the joke was on him. He did complete the symphony he called his Ninth, but died leaving his Tenth incomplete.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Finally we get to the Final Scene of "Carmen"

Teresa Berganza and Plácido Domingo sing the final scene of Carmen.

by Ken

One loose thread we're going to not so much tie up as pull all the way out before we close up shop here is the Final Scedne of Bizet's Carmen, which we were headed toward ever so gradually in a series of posts that stretched out quite awhile and got us into the scene. But I had it in mind to continue through it, trying to explain, or describe, or just show the point at which the fates of Carmen and Don José intersect so tragically. Well, now that I'm past trying to explain or describe or even just show, I rediscover a large number of audio files I already made of most or all of this scene, clearly intended to be used at some point in some way that I never did figure out. It seems a shame to let them go to waste.

I could have sworn there was one more post, in which I just dumped out the whole scene, and I distinctly remember doing texts for it, but it appears that never got done either. And now I have to re-create the texts for the portions of the scene we didn't cover previously. There are links for all the posts that I can find at the end of this post.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Now we hear Mahler's heartbreaking "Kindertotenlieder"

Baritone Matthias Goerne sings "Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n" ("Now will the sun rise just as brightly"), the opening song of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, with Jonathan Nott conducting the Mahler Youth Orchestra, at a Proms concert in the Royal Albert Hall, Sept. 4, 2009.
Now will the sun rise just as brightly
as if no misfortune had happened in the night.
The misfortune happened to me alone;
the sun shines for everyone.

Your must not hoard the night within,
it must be absorbed into the eternal light.
A little lamp in my shelter has gone out;
hail to the joyful light of the world!
-- translation by Lucy E. Cross

by Ken

Aa promised, after focusing on the last of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), "In diesem Wetter" ("In this weather"), with its final stanza minor-to-major "switcheroo," in Friday night's preview, today we hear the whole of this haunting song cycle.

It's worth recalling that at the time Mahler undertook to set this handful of the poems written on the subject by Friedrich Rückert, his own daughters were still healthy, and Alma Mahler was more than a little upset at this challenge to fate. This was likely not ameliorated as their own tragedies struck. A case could be made that she never forgave him.

In the case of other Mahler songs we've listened as well to the original piano-accompanied settings. We're going to skip that in the case of this cycle we're going to skip that step. It would be especially hard to forego Mahler's orchestral setting, which is notably spare and chamberlike -- the chilly, melancholy opening oboe-and-horn duet sets the tone. There's a normal complement of woodwinds, but of brasses there are only horns, a pair in Nos. 1-4 and four in "In diesem Wetter," and there are only dabs of percussion. The harp is a notable presence.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Approaching Mahler's heartbreaking "Kindertotenlieder"

For the final stanza of "In diesem Wetter," the last of the Kindertotenlieder, Mahler switches from minor to major

Thomas Hampson, baritone; Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded live, October 1988
In this weather, in this storm, in this bluster,
they're resting as if in their mother's house,
not frightened by any storm,
by God's hand protected,
they're resting as if in their mother's house.

by Ken

I'm trying to think -- among the infinity of loose ends and gaps we'll leave when the tent folds up -- which few among them we might still deal with. It seems rather hopeless, but it has occurred to me that for all the Mahler we've listened to (I always want to compile a master list, but it's a big job; would it be of interest to anyone?), we haven't done the song cycle Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children).

However, we have done the final song, "In diesem Wetter" ("In this weather"), in a December 2011 post devoted to "The old minor-to-major switcheroo as practiced by Mahler, Schubert, and Donizetti" (preview and main post), in which we listened to the opening song of Schubert's great song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey), "Gute Nacht" ("Good night"), and Nemorino's haunting aria "Una furtiva lagrima" ("A furtive tear") from Donizetti's Elixir of Love in addition to "In diesem Wetter."