Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Count Almaviva goes a-wooing, then and now

Urged on by Figaro (Ross Benoliel), "Lindoro" (Luigi Boccia as Count Almaviva) identifies himself to Rosina (Stephanie Lauricella), with Enrico Granafei playing the guitar and Jason Tramm conducting, at New Jersey State Opera, June 2012. (For English text, see below.)

by Ken

I'd like to think we established the premise well enough in last week's "snapshots" post, "Rosina I and Rosina II," where we heard aural snapshots of young Rosina first as the spitfire being wooed by the supposed poor student Lindoro in the opera Rossini fashioned from the popular Beaumarchais play The Barber of Seville, and then, a mere three years later, as the desolate, pretty much emotionally abandoned Countess Almaviva in the opera Mozart fashioned from Beaumarchais's equally popular sequel, The Marriage of Figaro.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Rosina I and Rosina II

Victoria de los Angeles as Rosina II at the Met in 1952

Rosina I
I'm docile, I'm respectful;
I'm obedient, gentle, loving;
I let myself be ruled and guided. But --
but if you touch on my weakness,
I shall be a viper, I shall,
and a hundred tricks
I'll play before I'll yield.
And a hundred tricks, etc.
I'm docile, I'm respectful;
I let myself be ruled and guided, etc.

Victoria de los Angeles (s), Rosina; Orchestra of the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Carlo Felice Cillario, cond. Live performance, June 1962

Rosina II
Grant, love, that relief
to my sorrow, to my sighing.
Give me back my treasure,
or at least let me die.
Grant, love, etc.

Victoria de los Angeles (s), Rosina; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Reiner, cond. Live performance, Mar. 1, 1952

by Ken

It's not that we've never done this sort of thing before in Sunday Classics. In fact, I like to think we've taken pretty frequent advantage of the oportunity afforded by this peculiar, er, format, to put together any two (or three or more) damned things we want which can benefit from being heard together. Butting together "the two Rosinas," as we've just done, is an idea so obvious that it doesn't seem to occur to many people that it really doesn't get done that often.

Well, here it is.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fischer-Dieskau and Richter just perform "Schlummert ein" way better than anybody else I've heard

So here's how the cantata begins

BACH: Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug":
i. Aria, "Ich habe genug"

-- from the Bach Cantatas Website

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Manfred Clement, oboe; Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, cond. DG Archiv Produktion, recorded July 1968

Hermann Prey, baritone; Willy Garlach, oboe; Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Kurt Thomas, cond. Eterna-EMI, recorded Dec. 14-19, 1959

Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; Michael Dobson, oboe; Bath Festival Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin, cond. EMI, recorded July 1966

by Ken

So a couple of weeks ago I told the story of how suddenly the audio cassette became a medium for music for me: when I listened to a DG-Archive cassette of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's second (1968) recording of the popular coupling of Bach's two solo-bass cantatas, and we heard all three of his recordings of the great central aria, "Schlummert etin," of Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug." I warned that we might be returning to the scene of the crime, in the form of taking a shot at hearing the margin of superiority of this not-really-wildly-heralded recording in collaboration with the once-admired (but not so much anymore) baroque specialist Karl Richter, over any other I've encountered.

So here we are.

But first, as noted above, I thought we might hear how Cantata No. 82 begins, with the aria "Ich habe genug." (This is not exactly a coincidence. We know the Bach cantatas by the title, usually the first line, of their opening number.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

From the Sunday Classics Technology Dept.: When music can sound like THIS . . .

BACH: Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug":
iii. Aria, "Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen"

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (May 28, 1925–May 18, 2012)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, cond. DG Archiv Produktion, recorded July 1968

by Ken

Awhile ago I shared WNYC's New Tech City's "Bored and Brilliant" project, which was aimed at helping smartphonomaniacs get some control over their habit. Judging from the onsite response the project seems to have stimulated a lot of phone compulsives to (a) recognize their jones and (b) take some steps to overcome it.

One thing I tried to refrain from was getting too judgy, even though I probably am pretty judgmental when it comes to the smartphone compulsion and the related "social media" one. As it happens, perhaps merely by some fluke, I don't seem to have any temptation toward either, and really can't fathom what the attraction is. But I try to be careful about judging others, first under the "There but for the Grace of God" precept, but also in recognition of my own technological compulsions.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Special edition: Getting even more "Carried Away"

COMDEN, GREEN, and BERNSTEIN: On the Town: Act I opening: "I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet"; Introduction; "New York, New York"

John Reardon, Gabey (and First Workman); Cris Alexander, Chip (and Workman); Adolph Green, Ozzie (and Workman); 1960 studio cast recording, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony

Samuel Ramey, Lindsay Benson, and Stewart Collins, Workmen; Thomas Hampson, Gabey; Kurt Ollmann Chip; David Garrison, Ozzie; London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas, cond. DG, recorded in concert at the Barbican Centre (London), June 1992

by Ken

A month or so ago I put together a pair of posts, "New York, New York, it's a heckuva town" and "A cluster of explosive young talents explode in On the Town," inspired by the terrific piece Adam Green wrote for Vanity Fair, "Innocents on Broadway," about the creation of the 1944 Broadway musical On the Town. The show, you'll recall, had book and lyrics by Adam's father, Adolph Green, and his eventual life-long writing partner, Betty Comden, and music by theirt good friend Leonard Bernstein, in collaboration with some other exploding young talents like choreographer Jerome Robbins, who'd had the idea for the ballet he created with Lenny B, Fancy Free, which became the germ for On the Town.

As Adam Green wrote: "On the Town was a landmark, the first show by a bunch of bright upstarts -- Bernstein, Comden and Green, and Jerome Robbins, all still in their 20s -- who would go on, together and apart, to help shape the cultural landscape of the 20th century."

In those posts I turned to the very special 1960 studio recording organzied by Columbia Records' Goddard Lieberson, which was conducted by the composer and featured a number of performers from the original cast, including Comden and Green themselves, re-creating the roles of Claire and Ozzie, which they'd actually written with themselves in mind (but in the end lhad had to auditon for!). Lieberson was a great proponent of "creators' recordings," and was largely responsible for invaluable projoects like Columbia's extensive Stravinsky-conducting-Stravinsky and Copland-conducting-Copland and, yes, Bernstein-conducting-Bernstein, and the 1960 On the Town, whether it was thought of as such or not, certainly qualified.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

How many of the "World's Best Places for 2015" do you plan to hit this year?

Sunday Classics note: This post was prepared for Down With Tyranny, but because of the musical tie-in I thought I would share it here, though I'm not necessarily thrilled with the musical examples. Ezio Pinza and Tancredi Pesaro, both indisputably great basses, get off to a fluttery start in the Vespri siciliani recitative and aria, and in the chunk of the Ping-Pang-Pong trio from Turandot, while I love the RCA recording with Mario Sereni as Ping, I supplemented it at first with the first two CD Turandots I could lay hands on, then dumped one and added two more that I dubbed from LP, and I'm still far from happy -- the truth is that even on records the role of Ping in particular doesn't get sung all that well.

Pretoria Square, Palermo
Recitative, Giovanni da Procida
Palermo! O my country!
Country so regretted!
The exile greets thee after three years of absence!
On thy enchanted shores I had my birth.
I discharge my debt toward thee.
Here is liberty!
Aria, "E toi, Palerme!" ("E tu, Palermo!")
And thou, Palermo, o beauty that's outraged!
Thou, always dear to my enchanted eyes,
ah! raise thy face, bowed under servitude,
and become again the queen of cities!
Everywhere on foreign ground
I went seeking avengers for thee,
but, insensible to thy misery, each said:
"Rise up against your oppressors,
and you will be supported: Rise up!"
And I come -- there I am!
And thou, Palermo, etc.

Samuel Ramey (bs), Giovanni da Procida; Munich Radio Orchestra, Jacques Delacôte, cond. EMI, recorded April 1988

[in Italian, as "O patria! O cara patria" . . . "E tu, Palermo"] Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), Giovanni da Procida; London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, cond. Decca, recorded January 1969

[in Italian, compressed to fit one 78 side] Ezio Pinza (bs), Giovanni da Procida; orchestra, Rosario Bourdon, cond. Victor, recorded Feb., 17, 1927

[in Italian, compressed to fit one 78 side] Tancredi Pasero (bs), Giovanni da Procida; orchestra. Odeon, recorded 1936

by Ken

Okay, it's possible that I was motivated to share this feature from AARP, "World's Best Places for 2015," because two of the designated places have inspired such memorable musical effusions, starting with the one we've just heard, the emotional return of the exiled Sicilian patriot Giovanni da Procida to the Sicillian capital of Palermo, his hometown (No. 6 on the list) at the opening of Act II of Verdi's Les Vêpres siciliennes" (The Sicilian Vespers).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

TV Watch (or Listen): "Cheer up, Hamlet! Chin up, Hamlet! Buck up, you melancholy Dane!" -- welcome to "Slings and Arrows"

Cheer up, Hamlet! Chin up, Hamlet!
Buck up, you melancholy Dane!
So your uncle is a cad who murdered Dad and married Mum;
that's really no excuse to be as glum as you've become.
So, wise up, Hamlet! Rise up, Hamlet!
Perk up and sing a new refrain!
Your incessant monologizing fills the castle with ennui;
your antic disposition is embarrassing to see;
and by the way, ya sulky brat, the answer is: "Ta BE!"
You're driving poor Ophelia insane!
So shut up, you rogue and peasant,
grow up, it's most unpleasant,
cheer up, you melancholy Dane!

by Ken

In the clip, that's Graham Harley as veteran New Burbage Festival trouper Cyril -- seen here, as always, in the company of fellow trouper Frank, played by Michael Polley -- belting out "Cheer up, Hamlet!," the rousing opening theme song seen and heard over the opening credits comfortably nestled after the opening scene of each of the six episodes of Season 1 of Slings and Arrows, the show that for sublime season after season after season (but alas, only those three seasons) between 2003 and 2006 took us behind the scenes of the fictional New Burbage Festival, said to bear a more than passing resemblance to the Stratford (Ontario) Festival.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Classics inquiry: How can Mime solve his problem?

WAGNER: SiegfriedAct I Prelude

Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, May and Oct. 1962

Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded live, June-July 1992

Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Dec. 1968 and Feb. 1969

Sadler's Wells Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, August 1973

by Ken

I would have liked, but couldn't find, a nice image of a darkened theater to accompany these miraculous opening pages of Siegfried, the third installment in Wagner's cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, mostly occupied with music associated with the dwarflike Nibelungs, plunging us into the crisis faced by the Nibelung we will re-meet when the curtain rises, Mime (that's two syllables: MEE-muh), the brother of "the" Nibelung, Alberich, the Nibelung of the title.

This is such amazing,music, starting with that weird trio for two bassoons and bass tuba over hushed timpani, punctuated by those stabbing fluorishes first from the cellos, then from the violas. It's music that's murky, growly, mysterious, music that seems to me to demand a heightening of all the senses -- and above all of the imagination, for both performers and listeners. From the performers' standpoint, this is where your musicianship and musicianly instincts are tested, or rather exploited.

You'd have to be a real dunderhead to miss the potent brew of expectation and dread trembling to life here. As it happens, I heard just such a dunderheaded performance; that's one of two recent encounters that I want to tell you a little about, encounters that landed us here at the start of Siegfried, the third installment in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung.

I don't think any of our conductors here have anything to apologize for. Though I've arranged them in order of increasing range of inquisitiveness, Solti's performance seems to me quite lovely, alert and shiveringly alive. Barenboim, however, hears somewhat darker colors, and a more foreboding tread. Then Karajan really digs in, and finally Goodall takes the most searching view, taking nothing for granted here.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sunday Classics holiday edition: It's "The Nutcracker" -- the whole deal! (One more time!)

With the "Nutcracker Suite" sequence of Disney's Fantasia now unavailable, I thought to kick off we'd just look at this little teaser from Helgi Tómasson's San Francisco Ballet staging.

by Ken

[To repeat, this is a second "encore presentation" of 2011's complete-Nutcracker post (the first since since all the way back in 2012!), which I thought came out pretty darned well. As I wrote in 2012, you probably think it's a huge labor-saver just running a post "rerun," and perhaps I thought so too, but it didn't work out that way.]

The plan is pretty simple. As promised in last night's preview, when we heard two quite differently terrific performances of Tchaikovksy's own Nutcracker Suite, today we're going to hear the complete ballet, and chunks of it -- solely at my discretion -- twice!

Pretty much the last thing I added to what you'll see in the click-through is the plot synopsis (filched from Wikipedia). I went back and forth a lot about this, because I really don't pay much attention to plots, or even programs, when I listen to music written for the dance. I'm not a dance person to begin with, and I guess my listening orientation is to allow the music to plug its own built-in "program" into my imagination. Still, in the end it seemed to me that this curious format (for want of a better word) we've got going here at Sunday Classics is actually an extremely good way to hook up the plot and the music.

I'll have some quick (I hope) notes about the specifics when we get to the click-through, so let me just throw out two points about The Nutcracker:

(1) Tchaikovsky really didn't want to write the damned thing. So no, it was about as far from a "labor of love" as you can get.

(2) It was written to share a double bill with one of the composer's less-performed operas, Yolanta, which is the part of the bill that really interested and moved him. It has, in fact, nothing (that I can see or hear) in common with its birth billmate, and it strikes me as an incredibly difficult piece to really bring to life, but as with many difficult, fragile creations, its specialness holds special rewards. It deals, first, with the desperate desire of a very powerful man -- a king, in fact -- to shield a loved one, in this case his only daughter, from pain, in her case the knowledge that she's blind. But in the larger sense it deals with the futility of trying to protect someone from something it's impossible to "protect" her from, like reality. Someday we should undoubtedly talk about Yolanta. (But it's difficult.)


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sunday Classics holiday edition preview: For the first time since 2012, we bring back the legendary DWT gala "Nutcracker ('The Whole Deal')"

You'd want to think twice before bidding on this record. The ABC Command label tells you it's one of the inferior later pressings; you want an original gold-label issue. (Note: Unfortunately, last year's preview-opening video clip of the Nutcracker Suite segment of Walt Disney's Fantasia has disappeared -- not entirely surprisingly, I guess. To be honest, I don't like it much anyway.)

by Ken

As far back as the mind recalls, Sunday Classics has celebrated the holiday musically at last in part with music from Tchaikovsky's ballets, and last year I went whole hog and offered a complete Nutcracker, basically double-covered throughout, and assembled from, well, a whole bunch of recordings. And as I ventured in 2010's Nutcracker preview, what better way could there be to "warm up" for the main event than with the composer's own Nutcracker Suite, good old Op. 71a? In the click-through we've got two quite splendid, and interestingly different, performances.


TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a:
i. Miniature Overture

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, William Steinberg, cond. Command, recorded c1963

Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit, cond. Decca, recorded c1985

You'll note straightaway in the Miniature Overture that William Steinberg is taking a rather spritelier approach and Charles Dutoit a more buoyant, caressing one. Both the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Montreal Symphony play utterly delectably.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

A cluster of explosive young talents explode in "On the Town"

For the 1960 recording, Betty and Adolph reprised their
1944 roles, anthropologist Claire de Loon and sailor Ozzie

Act I, "Carried Away"

Betty Comden, Claire; Adolph Green, Ozzie; 1960 studio cast recording, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony

by Ken

On a daily basis we're assaulted by so much slop and slime that I worry about insufficient attention being paid when we're given worthwhile stuff. So it has been on my mind to call your attention, as I mentioned last night, to a really outstanding piece in the November issue of Vanity Fair called "Innocents on Broadway," in which Adam Green gives us a richly and beautifully detailed portrait of the early life and early career of his father, the great lyricist (and sometime actor) Adolph Green, which also includes similarly rich portraits of a band of remarkably talented people whose rising careers were intertwined with his -- notably his eventual writing partner of 60 years, Betty Comden; his best friend, Leonard Bernstein; and the amazing actress Judy Holiday.

"This year would have been my father’s 100th birthday," Adam G writes early on,
and it would have made him indecently proud to see it marked by productions of so many of the musicals that he and his partner, Betty Comden, wrote in their 60-year collaboration: a stage adaptation of their 1953 MGM movie, The Band Wagon, as part of the Encores! series at New York’s City Center; a live broadcast on NBC of their 1954 version of Peter Pan; the first Broadway revival of their 1978 screwball operetta, On the Twentieth Century. Most of all, though, he would have been thrilled to see the ebullient revival, also on Broadway, of On the Town, their 1944 musical, about the amorous exploits of three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in the big city, which introduced the phrase “New York, New York, a helluva town” into the American lexicon and announced the arrival of a new generation in the American musical theater.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

"New York, New York, it's a heckuva town"

In June 1992, lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green narrated a famous London concert performance of On the Town at the Barbican Centre with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. (An audio recording made at the same time is still available, but there doesn't seem to be a DVD issue of the concert.) Here Comden and Green introduce the opening number, as our three sailors, let loose for a single day on the city, sing "New York, New York," with Thomas Hampson as Gabey, Kurt Ollman as Chip, and David Garrison as Ozzie.

"On the Town was a landmark, the first show by a bunch of bright upstarts -- [Leonard] Bernstein, [Betty] Comden and [Adolph] Green, and Jerome Robbins, all still in their 20s -- who would go on, together and apart, to help shape the cultural landscape of the 20th century."
-- Adam Green, in "Innocents on Broadway,"
in the November issue of Vanity Fair

by Ken

After a six-year stint at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, he headed out into the world with this inspiring send-off from a teacher who had seen him perform in the class show he had written and directed: "I hope you've got enough talent to make a living at that, because otherwise you're in big trouble."

We have no way of knowing how many people in similar circumstances we never hear more about, either because they just weren't good enough or, more poignantly, because they just never found a way to impress their talents on a big, uncaring world. In this case, though, "he" was Adolph Green, and not only he but a tight circle of his intimates were headed for great things, which came into focus for a number of them when On the Town opened on Broadway on December 28, 1944.

Green's son, Adam, has written a really wonderful piece for Vanity Fair about the history that culminated in that historic night, with both Adolph Green and Betty Comden, who had written the lyrics and who would go on to enjoy a 60-year partnership, in the cast (in roles they had sensibly written for themselves), and with music by Adoph's best friend, Leonard Bernstein. It's such a good story that I want to offer a closer glimpse of it tomorrow, but for tonight I thought we'd hear a musical preview.


including a number of members of the 1944 original cast (among them Betty and Adolph), for a studio recording of On the Town with the composer conducting. I thought we'd hear the opening number from that classic recording.

Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein at the recording session, with producer Goddard Lieberson in the background

BERNSTEIN, COMDEN, and GREEN: On the Town: Introduction (including "New York, New York")

John Reardon, Gabey; Cris Alexander, Chip; Adolph Green, Ozzie; 1960 studio cast recording, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony

TOMORROW: "A cluster of explosive young talents explode in On the Town"