Thursday, May 9, 2019

Schubert's "Die Krähe": A pretty little song overlaid with creepiness or a creepy little song overlaid with prettiness?


"A crow has flown back and forth over my head"









José van Dam, bass-baritone; Dalton Baldwin, piano. Forlane, recorded in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon (France), January 1990

Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone; Imogen Cooper, piano. Philips, recorded in Salzburg, November 1994

Olaf Bär, baritone; Geoffrey Parsons, piano. EMI, recorded in London, December 1988

by Ken

I haven't been writing much lately -- well, at all, at least not that I've actually posted. (I don't expect the reasons are of any importance to anyone but me.) One day this week "Die Krähe" ("The Crow"), no. 15 of the 24 songs of Schubert's Winterreise (Winter Journey), the all but unique song cycle (the only close kin I'm aware of is Schubert's own Die schöne Müllerin, also set to poems by Wilhelm Müller) popped into my head and wouldn't go away. You know how that goes, right? Sometimes you can trace by which the thing lodged in your brain, but sometimes you can't, and I still can't figure how "Die Krähe" took possession of me. More worryingly, I'm not sure what to make of it -- I can't help feeling there's nothing good about it.

I started gathering recordings, in particular by singers I respect who've made multiple recordings of Winterreise. Some of you may have seen this compendium taking shape, since for technical reasons the pile proved easier to keep track of and spot-check in posted form. One thing I discovered quickly is how surprisingly different performances of the song are. "Surprisingly" different because, suggestive as the song is, it's such an unassuming one that I don't think the considerable differences in tone and emphasis (what does this whole overflight-by-crow business mean to the singer-narrator, let alone to us?) necessarily register. If you want a real jolt, listen in succession to the 1954 and 1961 Hotter recordings.

The 1962 Fischer-Dieskau and 1961 Prey take pride of place here, likely because the former's 1962 Winterreise and the latter's 1961 one were my first recordings of the cycle. (And I still enjoy the latter a lot. The Fischer-Dieskau Winterreise I really like, from which we've heard excerpts, is the 1971 DG one with Gerald Moore.) The singleton performances up top, by the way, are simply by performers whose Winterreise recordings I really enjoy.

I should probably want to talk about this a little. Who knows? Maybe I will. One thought for now, though: If "creepy" in the post title doesn't sound quite right, how about "spooky"? "Morbid"? "Foreboding"? For that matter, "pretty" isn't quite what I mean, I don't think. But isn't there something decidedly and weirdly, um, charming about a song whose subject matter is so weird?


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Klaus Billing, piano. Broadcast performance, Berlin, Jan. 19, 1948 (mono)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, piano. EMI, recorded in Berlin, Jan. 13-14, 1955 (mono)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, piano. EMI, recorded 1962

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Jörg Demus, piano. DG, recorded 1966

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, piano. DG, recorded in Berlin, August 1971

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Alfred Brendel, piano. Philips, recorded in Berlin, July 1985
[This by no means exhausts even Fischer-Dieskau's commercial Winterreise recordings. When, with great difficulty, I rolled aside an audio cart that blocks the relevant section of my LP shelves, I found a 1979-ish DG one with Daniel Barenboim which I'd forgotten about, and even after the Brendel version there's a 1990 Sony one (audio and video) with Murray Perahia.]


Hermann Prey, baritone; Karl Engel, piano. EMI, recorded in Berlin, October 1961

Hermann Prey, baritone; Irwin Gage, piano. Italian Swiss Radio performance, Locarno, Oct. 2, 1978

Hermann Prey, baritone; Philippe Bianconi, piano. Denon, recorded in Hamburg, Apr. 3-6, 1984


Hans Hotter, bass-baritone; Michael Raucheisen, piano. DG, recorded in Berlin, November 1942 (mono)

Hans Hotter, bass-baritone; Hans Schörter, piano. Live performance from Frankfurt, Mar. 27, 1947 (mono)

Hans Hotter, bass-baritone; Gerald Moore, piano. EMI, recorded in London, May 24-29, 1954 (mono)

Hans Hotter, bass-baritone; Erik Werba, piano. DG, recorded in Vienna, Dec. 15-18, 1961
[There's also an April 1969 live performance from Tokyo with pianist Hans Dokoupil, recorded and released by Japanese Columbia, which I've been curious about since I first learned it exists but have never been able to lay hands on.]


Jon Vickers, tenor; Geoffrey Parsons, piano. EMI, recorded in Paris, July 9-13, 1983

Jon Vickers, tenor; Peter Schaaf, piano. VAI, live performance in Canada, Oct. 2, 1983
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Sunday, February 10, 2019

What's the big deal with the Kreutzer Sonata?


Zino Francescatti and Robert Casadesus play the first movement of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, of which our immediate concern is the brief but incredibly potent introduction:


Zino Francescatti, violin; Robert Casadesus, piano. American Columbia, recorded in New York City, Dec. 28, 1949

Zino Francescatti, violin; Robert Casadesus, piano. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded in Paris, May 13, 1958

by Ken

The video clip featuring the well-established duo of violinist Zino Francescatti and pianist Robert Casadesus (1899-1972), which seems to postdate both their commercial recordings of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, as sampled above, offers us the whole first movement, even though our immediate concern is going to be the minute-and-a-half-or-so Adagio sostenuto introduction, again as referenced above. As a matter of fact, the EMI Casadesus DVD from which the clip is presumably derived included not just the whole of the sonata but also Beethoven's Op. 96, his next and last violin sonata. However, it's useful for us to hear the whole of the Kreutzer's first movement because, as you may recall from last week's post ("Q: What connection is there between these beautiful works by Beethoven and Janáček that have 'Kreutzer Sonata' in their names?") our point of departure is an interesting chamber concert I attended recently at which these two works made up the program.

The program, titled "Liebestod," was the third of five programs in the third season of PhiloSonia, a season dubbed "Literati," which "explores works inspired by literature and poetry." No, there was no Liebestod, just the two, er, "Kreutzer"-themed works:
Leo Tolstoy’s haunting short story “The Keutzer Sonata” places Beethoven’s celebrated work at the center of a scandalous love affair with a tragic ending. PhiloSonia’s third installment pairs the sonata which served as Tolstoy’s inspiration with Janáček’s musical retelling of the work.
The program began with Janáček's First String Quartet (After L. N. Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata), in which PhiloSonia's enterprising young founder, Stanichka Dimitrova, played second violin, then after intermission stepped out front to play the Kreutzer Sonata itself. As I noted last week, the two works really aren't directly connected: The Beethoven sonata indeed plays an important role in the Tolstoy novella (which seems to me a better description than "short story," though both labels are used), but the Janáček quartet refers only to the Tolstoy story.

Yet somehow the works are connected, and beyond the pleasure of hearing the two works, hearing them paired got a person to thinking. And reading -- I'd never read the Tolstoy, and this seemed the time.


IT'S ALWAYS FUN TO RETURN TO THE KREUTZER SONATA

And you know, we could listen to it in one fell swoop.

BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 9 in A, Op. 47 (Kreutzer)
i. Adagio sostenuto -- Presto
ii. Andante con variazioni (at 10:53)
ii. Presto (at 24:34)

Fritz Kreisler, violin; Franz Rupp, piano. EMI, recorded 1936

TO BE CONTINUED
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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Q: What connection is there between these beautiful works by Beethoven and Janáček that have "Kreutzer Sonata" in their names?

However limited the connection, it's more than
either work has with anybody named Kreutzer



Leoš Janáček's First String Quartet ("After L. N. Tolstoy's 'The Kreutzer Sonata'") gets a no-nonsense performance by the Kubín Quartet (Luděk Cap and Jan Niederle, violins; Pavel Vítek, viola; Jiří Hanousek, cello) at a concert in Ostrava (Czech Republic), Jan. 28, 2013.
i. Adagio -- Con moto -- Vivo [at 0:10]; ii. Con moto -- Energico e appassionato -- Tempo I [at 4:00]; iii. Con moto -- Vivace -- Andante -- Tempo I [at 7:56]; iv. Con moto -- Tempo II -- Adagio -- Maestoso (Tempo I) -- più mosso, feroce [at 11:32]

by Ken

If we take the post-title question ("What connection do these beautiful works by Beethoven and Janáček with 'Kreutzer Sonata' in their names have?") to mean "What direct connection?," and if we specify apart from (1) having 'Kreutzer Sonata' in their names and (2) being both very beautiful, then the answer is: well, no connection, really.


WE'LL GET TO THE BEETHOVEN WORK THAT HAS
"KREUTZER SONATA" IN ITS NAME, BUT FIRST --


A handful of notes:

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The troubles of Fricka and Wotan, part 3: Golden apples or no, these gods sure have grown older (preliminary version)


Christa Ludwig as Fricka and James Morris as
Wotan in Das Rheingold, at the Met in 1994

Remember these bits, which we heard back in the first installment of our expanded listen to mezzo Yvonne Minton?
FRICKA: (1) Dearest sister, sweetest delight,
are you restored to me?
(2) See how our pure one stands humiliated and ashamed:
her anguished look mutely pleads for release.
Wicked man, to ask this of a loved one!
-- from Scene 4 (the final scene) of Das Rheingold


Yvonne Minton (ms), Fricka; Staatskapelle Dresden, Marek Janowski, cond. Eurodisc-BMG, recorded Dec. 8-11, 1980


Irene Dalis (ms), Fricka; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. Live performance, Dec. 16, 1961


Mignon Dunn (ms), Fricka; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Sixten Ehrling, cond. Live performance, Feb. 15, 1975


Christa Ludwig (ms), Fricka; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine, cond. DG, recorded Apr.-May 1988
[To clarify: While we later heard singers besides Ms. Minton sing these bits (in longer clips), this is our first hearing of Dalis, Dunn, and Ludwig in this music.]

by Ken

O course by the end of Das Rheingold Wotan, at the cost of forking over both the Tarnhelm and the Ring, has earned back his sister-in-law, Freia, from the custody of the Giants Fasolt and Fafner, which presumably means that the gods will once again have free access to the golden apples, the golden apples that grow in Freia's garden, which have heretofore kept them perpetually young. And so, once again, they should in theory no longer be aging.

Except that, with the passage of time and the accumulation of life experience, they clearly do age in at least some ways.

Now hear this:
FRICKA [pausing with dignity before WOTAN]:
Here in the mountains where you hide
to escape your wife's view,
here in solitude I seek you out,
that you may promise me help.
WOTAN: What troubles Fricka,
let her announce freely.
FRICKA: I have learned of Hunding's distress;
he called on me for vengeance:
the guardian of wedlock heard him,
promised severely to punish the deed
of the shameless impious pair
who so boldly wronged the husband.
-- Fricka's next appearance, in Act II of Die Walküre

Yvonne Minton (ms), Fricka; Theo Adam (bs-b), Wotan; Staatskapelle Dresden, Marek Janowski, cond. Eurodisc-BMG, recorded Aug. 22-29, 1981

Irene Dalis (ms), Fricka; Otto Edelmann (bs-b), Wotan; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. Live performance, Dec. 23, 1961

Mignon Dunn (ms), Fricka; Donald McIntyre (bs-b), Wotan; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Sixten Ehrling, cond. Live performance, Mar. 1, 1975

Christa Ludwig (ms), Fricka; James Morris (bs-b), Wotan; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine, cond. DG, recorded April 1987

Wow, that is one giant leap, for mankind and womankind and every other kind of kind. Though our second Rheingold bit above isn't quite the last thing we hear from Fricka in Das Rheingold, it's close. And the Walküre bit is definitely the first thing we hear from her following the long gap between the operas. In a bit we're going to be more precise about the contexts of all of our bits, which means going back over a stretch of interchange we already heard last week, this time breaking it down a bit, as we ponder the obvious question --


HOW THE HECK DID WE (AND OF COURSE
THEY) GET FROM POINT A TO POINT B?


Most of this is ready to go (at least I think it's most of it; these things rarely work out so easily, though), but for now I have to ask you to check back.
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Monday, January 14, 2019

The troubles of Fricka and Wotan, part 2: He's always out making a big deal -- big deal!



from Scene 2 of Das Rheingold
FRICKA: A splendid dwelling, beautifully appointed,
might tempt you to tarry here and rest.
But you in building an abode
thought only of defenses and battlements.

Yvonne Minton (ms), Fricka; Staatskapelle Dresden, Marek Janowski, cond. Eurodisc-BMG, recorded Dec. 8-11, 1980

Mignon Dunn (ms), Fricka; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Sixten Ehrling, cond. Live performance, Feb. 15, 1975

from Scene 4 of Das Rheingold
WOTAN [turning solemnly to FRICKA]:
Follow me, wife:
in Valhalla dwell with me.

Friedrich Schorr (b), Wotan; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Leo Blech, cond. EMI, recorded June 17, 1927

Ferdinand Frantz (bs-b), Wotan; Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Rudolf Moralt, cond. Broadcast performance, 1948

by Ken

In the "The troubles of Fricka and Wotan, part 1: A tease for this week's post, spotlighting those troubles" (a follow-up to last week's "Yes, we're going to do a bit more Rheingold business, but first we have to solve a Mystery Baritone conundrum"), we heard a bunch of performances of the above snatches from the second and fourth of the four scenes of Das Rheingold, the first two installments in what I think of as a triptych of "Scenes from a Marriage" embedded in Wagner's Ring cycle: the Fricka-Wotan confrontations that reach their blow-out climax in Act II of Die Walküre.

I really tried to present both Fricka and Wotan at their human best, even if, in one of the two cases, that "best" exists mostly in the character's own head. As I mentioned in the "tease," I also tried hard to keep those moments just that, moments, but I promised that we would hear fuller, more contextual versions, and we will. First, however --

SHOULDN'T WE BACKTRACK TO ESTABLISH MORE
CLEARLY HOW WE GOT TO THIS POINT IN SCENE 2?


Sunday, January 13, 2019

The troubles of Fricka and Wotan, part 1: A tease for this week's post, spotlighting those troubles



from Scene 2 of Das Rheingold:
FRICKA: A splendid dwelling, beautifully appointed,
might tempt you to tarry here and rest.
But you in building an abode
thought only of defenses and battlements.

Yvonne Minton (ms), Fricka; Staatskapelle Dresden, Marek Janowski, cond. Eurodisc-BMG, recorded Dec. 8-11, 1980

Irene Dalis (ms), Fricka; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. Live performance, Dec. 16, 1961

Mignon Dunn (ms), Fricka; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Sixten Ehrling, cond. Live performance, Feb. 15, 1975

Regina Resnik (ms), Fricka; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe, cond. Live performance, July 26, 1961

from Scene 4 of Das Rheingold
WOTAN [turning solemnly to FRICKA]:
Follow me, wife:
in Valhalla dwell with me.

Friedrich Schorr (b), Wotan; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Leo Blech, cond. EMI, recorded June 17, 1927

Rudolf Bockelmann (bs-b), Wotan; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Franz Alfred Schmidt, cond. Telefunken, recorded Feb. 10, 1933

Ferdinand Frantz (bs-b), Wotan; Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Rudolf Moralt, cond. Broadcast performance, 1948

George London (bs-b), Wotan; Vienna Philharmonic, George Solti, cond. Decca, recorded September 1958

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Wotan; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded December 1967

by Ken

Really, I had enough audio files ready, and a sketchy but sufficiently conscious sense of where they were going to lead us, that I should have been able to put up at least some sort of tease for this week's post bright and early this morning. And yet I didn't. Instead I blew off my schedule for the day and instead spent it playing and weighing, making still more clips and contemplating different paths through them. For once I've kind of had fun doing it. That counts for something.

Even now I can't say for sure where exactly we're going to wind up, not to mention exactly how we're going to get there. Even once I decided on something like the above array of musical excerpts, they've undergone considerable mutation, mostly (perhaps not surprisingly) in the direction of expansion. But in the end I fought the temptation to let the basic clips grow. Though we'll hear longer versions of them, for now I want to limit them to just interestingly diverse iterations of these two very small but very powerful moments.

I'm pretty sure there's going to be a significant-size "main" post yet to come this week, and possibly in more than one installment. For now, however, I'm going with this. Enjoy these morsels.
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Monday, January 7, 2019

Yes, we're going to do a bit more Rheingold business, but first we have to solve a Mystery Baritone conundrum

Our watchword for the day: Remember the Crams!

Showbiz greats Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker catch their breath during the recording of the cast album of the Styne-Comden-Green musical Do Re Mi -- on Jan. 8, 1961, say my sources, though it's often listed as "1960." (The show opened on Dec. 26, 1960.) Of course, what I'm calling "my sources" is actually the first Web page I found which gave an actual date, so who knows? I just now found a site that says: "First LP release: December 30, 1960." Hmm, that'd make for mighty tight scheduling if the recording didn't happen till Jan. 8.)

From the OBC recording session we're going to have a special little "Sunday Classics Do Re Mi suite," whose connection to our subject will, I hope, be clear. The suite will include this song that we heard Sunday:

STYNE-COMDEN-GREEN: Do Re Mi: "Take a job" (The Crams)

Nancy Walker and Phil Silvers (Kay and Hubie Cram), vocals; OBC recording, Lehman Engel, cond. RCA, recorded Jan. 8, 1961

by Ken

As noted in the post title, in this, the "actual" post for this week, we are going to transact a bit more Das Rheingold business, continuing from Sunday's "tease" post, but maybe not so much as I was thinking when I posted that tease.

I might say that thanks to the stratagem of the tease post, and to your kind indulgence, once I had the tease posted I was able to salvage one out of the two movies I had tickets for today in the Museum of the Moving Image's current "Curators' Choice 2018" series, and better still, it was a humdinger: Paul Dano's first film as director, Wildlife, adapted from the Richard Ford novel by him and his partner, Zoe Kazan, who were both on hand for a post-screening discussion along with two actors from the terrific cast.

As I mentioned we're going to hear a little "suite" of Do Re Mi excerpts, which I think is relevant to our area of food-service inquiry. In addition, though, while I was at my clip-making, I did a couple of additional Do Re Mi numbers, written for a legit baritone. One of these numbers is quite famous; Wikipedia lists 23 performers who have also recorded it.

Act I, "I know about love" (John Henry Wheeler)

Act II, "Make someone happy" (John Henry Wheeler)

Mystery baritone (John Henry Wheeler), vocals; OBC recording, Lehman Engel, cond. RCA, recorded Jan. 8, 1961


SO WHO IS OUR HAPPY-MAKING MYSTERY BARITONE?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A tease for this week's actual post, in which we hear more from Yvonne Minton (plus maybe, uh, some other stuff)

Yvonne Minton as the Rheingold Fricka in a production by . . . no, no, I can't try to pretend that this is one of those don't-mean-no-goddamn-thing modern-style misstagings. Actually, I did find a shot of YM as the Walküre Fricka -- a kind of funny-looking one, at that -- but I thought I'd best save that for the "real" post. No apologies for depicting her as the title character of Der Rosenkavalier, though -- as we heard in last week's post spotlighting "Four variously special singers," she was a radiant Octavian.

Now, speaking of the two Frickas --

"It's very difficult to do very much with Rheingold. One just looks dignified, and you just really do what the text dictates because [Fricka] never has more than two lines at a time. There are one or two really beautiful phrases, but they are very short."
-- Yvonne Minton, in a 1981 interview with Bruce Duffie, asked how
different the roles of Fricka in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre are

And I'd guess these are among those "really beautiful phrases" --
Dearest sister, sweetest delight,
are you restored to me?

See how our pure one stands humiliated and ashamed:
her anguished look mutely pleads for release.
Wicked man, to ask this of a loved one!

Yvonne Minton (ms), Fricka; Staatskapelle Dresden, Marek Janowski, cond. Eurodisc-BMG, recorded Dec. 8-11, 1980

by Ken

Yes, I know, you don't want to hear this week's litany of woes -- you know, all the difficulties and obstructions and whatnot. I think I know how a post of some sort will come together, and the two Frickas will be at the heart of it. So enjoy this hint, and this other maybe-sort-of-hint.

JULE STYNE with BETTY COMDEN and ADOLPH GREEN:
Do Re Mi: "Take a job"



Nancy Walker (Kay) and Phil Silvers (Hubie), vocals; Original Broadway Cast recording, Lehman Engel, cond. RCA, recorded 1961


NOT SERIOUS ENOUGH FOR YOU? OKIE-DOKE --

Sunday, December 30, 2018

These four variously special singers -- Margaret Price (s), Yvonne Minton (ms), Alexander Young (t), and Justino Díaz (bs-b) -- share a particular connection

MONDAY EVENING UPDATE: The post still needs some filling in and filling out, even now that all the texts and our always-intended Yvonne Minton Wagner excerpt are in place. However, as noted below there's still a bunch of other stuff of Minton's we should really hear, now while we're listening -- and so too, at least to some extent, with the others. It has occurred to me, I'm afraid to say, that we may be facing an overtime situation, by which I have in mind, over the next few days, going into one or more overflow, or "bonus," posts. Uh-oh! -- Ken


The young Margaret Price amd Yvonne Minton

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Act I, Duet, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, "Ah guarda, sorella"
[A garden by the seashore. FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA are both gazing at miniatures hanging round their necks.]

FIORDILIGI: Ah tell me, sister,
If one could ever find
A nobler face,
A sweeter mouth.
DORABELLA: Just look,
See what fire
Is in his eye,
If flames and darts
Do not seem to flash forth!
FIORDILIGI: This is the face
Of a soldier and a lover.
DORABELLA: This is a face
both charming and alarming.
FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA: How happy I am!
If ever my heart
changes its affection,
may love make me
live in pain.

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; Yvonne Minton (ms), Dorabella; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan.-Feb. 1971

by Ken

No, we're not finished with Salome. I've just gotten sidetracked. Hey, as occasional visitors know, it happens. (Frequent visitors know that it happens, um, frequently.) What caused it this time was an unscheduled encounter with a composer who shares with Richard Strauss a particular gift of imagination: the ability to conjure a startling range of musics, which really is what our Salome explorations have been about. I've usually thought of it, especially in an operatic composer, as a remarkable range of empathy -- the ability to imagine all his characters from the inside. But what good is identifying with those characters if you don't have the ability to create them in arrestingly individual musical ways?

We're not going to get to our mystery composer this week, because I thought we needed to fix in our heads the musical identities of the singers who were featured in this unexpected encounter: the SATB quartet (as noted in the post title) of soprano Margaret Price, mezzo Yvonne Minton, tenor Alexander Young, and bass-baritone Justino Díaz. So that's really all we're going to do this week, hear some vocal samples. And I thought we'd do it in voice-range order, high to low. In fact, we've already heard today from our "S" and "A," both of whom, in further fact, have made frequent Sunday Classics appearances.


MARGARET PRICE, soprano
(1941-2011),
born in Blackwood,
Monmouthshire, South Wales


Boy, have we heard a lot of Dame Margaret! The retrospective series that followed her passing in 2011 extended to at least a ninth part, with at least one more promised therein, to be devoted to Price as song-singer; neither my memory nor the archives provide conclusive evidence as to whether this ever happened. (If it did, I can't trace it.)

It's hard not to keep returning to her Fiordiligi in Otto Klemperer's 1971 recording of Così fan tutte, and I haven't tried very hard to resist. It was that recoding that made her an international sensation, and it's this earlier part of the Welsh soprano's career that's going to matter most for our present purposes. Not the very earliest part, which stretches back to 1962, when she made her operatic debut with Welsh National Opera as Cherubino in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. The following year, at the ripe old age of 23, she made an unscheduled debut at Covent Garden, as a late replacement for Teresa Berganza, whom she was understudying. Then-Covent Garden music director Georg Solti apparently didn't want her in the company, saying she "lacks charm," and she was specifically contracted only for understudying.

Price continued to work on the voice, and kept at it after the period we're looking at. Evidence of her versatility is in a Mozart-aria LP she recorded, I believe after the Così with Klemperer, where she sings all three principal female roles from The Marriage of Figaro. Taking the arias in dramatic order, we start in Act II with her first operatic role, Cherubino (a notably earnest, un-cutesy one), and proceed through her eventual role, the Countess, in Act III to Susanna in Act IV.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Salome the opera has a built-in perv-o-meter for Salome the character -- his name is Herod


Cheryl Barker as Salome and John Pickering
as Herod in Opera Australia's new Salome
HEROD: Salome, come, drink wine with me!
An exquisite wine! Caesar himself sent it to me.
Moisten your red lips with it; then I will empty the cup.

Jon Vickers (t), Herod; Orchestre National de France, Rudolf Kempe, cond. Live performance from the Orange Festival, July 14, 1974

Karl Liebl (t), Herod; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Mar. 13, 1965

Kenneth Riegel (t), Herod; Hamburg State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded live, Nov. 4, 1970

Ramón Vinay (t), Herod; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond. Live performance, Jan. 8, 1955

Gerhard Stolze (t), Herod; Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded October 1961

Set Svanholm (t), Herod; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Reiner, cond. Live performance, Jan. 19, 1952

by Ken

With last week's posts ("Strauss's operatic beginnings: We don't need an excuse to listen to Till Eulenspiegel -- but the Symphonia domestica, maybe so?" and "The start of something: Here's the promised follow-up to the post spotlighting Till Eulenspiegel and the Symphonia domestica -- focusing now on the already-heard openings of six Strauss operas") stretching on and on in both time and blogspace, we have not much of a post this week, though it involved a heap of audio editing, which is at least better than having to think.


OUR QUESTION: HOW DOES HEROD GET FROM THE
CLIP ABOVE TO THE ONE WE'RE GOING TO HEAR?


Thursday, December 20, 2018

The start of something: Here's the promised follow-up to the post spotlighting Till Eulenspiegel and the Symphonia domestica -- focusing now on the already-heard openings of six Strauss operas

Sure, literally speaking Guntram (with, we might note, a libretto by the composer, Wagner-style, something Strauss would attempt again only once more, still perhaps problematically but, I think, a lot more successfully, with the sort-of-autobiographical Intermezzo) was the start of something, but could anyone have guessed "of what"? (We can also note at the very top that Strauss's first opera was "Dedicated to my dear parents.")

by Ken

To recap, our subject is still Salome, Richard Strauss's third opera, focusing here on the powerful anecdotal evidence from these snatches of the operas that preceded and followed Salome of the startling transformation that took place, all at once, in Strauss's ability to make the operatic medium work for him. In the main portion of this week's post, "Strauss's operatic beginnings: We don't need an excuse to listen to Till Eulenspiegel -- but the Symphonia domestica, maybe so?" we heard these same operatic clips, in this same order, with no identification of either the operas or the performers. In this concluding portion of the post we have all those identifications available, as well as English texts for most of the sung portions of these excerpts.

As I'm sure you guessed, Operas X and Y were Strauss's pre-Salome operatic endeavors, the turgid late Romantic stinker Guntram (first performed in 1894) and its "satirical" successor, Feuersnot (first performed in 1901). Perhaps surprisingly, given how adept Strauss would become at devising operatic openings that plunge us directly into the action, he began his operatic career with a full-fledged overture. Oy, is it full-fledged; it just fledges on and on -- and on. (Note that it's not entirely free-standing, as we might expect an "overture" to be in one frequently proposed distinction between an "overture" and a "prelude," which not only tends to be shorter but normally flows directly into the opening scene. The Guntram whatever-you-want-to-call-it flows directly into the equally nondescript music of the opening scene.

[AFTERTHOUGHT: I have to say that rather unexpectedly the Guntram Overture has started to grow on me -- hey, this is not some no-talented musical hack we're dealing with. But it still seems to meander hopelessly, stretching this thin material many long, long minutes beyond the breaking point. -- Ken]

[X] R. STRAUSS: Guntram, Op. 25: Overture


BBC Symphony Orchestra, John Pritchard, cond. Gala, broadcast performance, 1981

Hungarian State Orchestra, Eve Queler, cond. CBS-Hungaroton, recorded 1984


MOVING ON TO "OPERA Y": FEUERSNOT

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Strauss's operatic beginnings: We don't need an excuse to listen to Till Eulenspiegel -- but the Symphonia domestica, maybe so?

MONDAY NIGHT UPDATE: I think we've finally gotten this post to where it wanted to go. Thanks for your patience. [OK, maybe not "finally" -- ]
TUESDAY-THURSDAY UPDATES: I've added another performance of Till Eulenspiegel, fiddled a fair amount with the opera clips (and added English texts), and as explained below finally spun off the section of fully identified Strauss-opera audio clips into a separate follow-up post. -- Ken


In Munich's Herkulessaal, Lorin Maazel leads the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in a beautifully relaxed performance of Till Eulenspiegel.

by Ken

In listening to and thinking about Richard Strauss's Salome, as we've been doing for a number of weeks ("Some out-of-this-world sounds from a singer who proves mistress of a surprising role" [11/18], "After all, the Page in Salome does warn that horrible things are going to happen" [11/25], and "Word is that "Today we are not shocked by Salome." Really?" [12/2]), it's hard not to be aware that when the first performance of the composer's unmistakable breakthrough opera took place, on December 9, 1905, he was already 41½. With regard to Salome's "breakthrough" standing, as Wikipedia notes, "Within two years, it had been given in 50 other opera houses."

It's not that Strauss was a "late starter." After all, by the time of Salome, his Op. 54, he was already world-famous, as the composer of a stream of music that quickly joined and remains firmly ensconced in the standard repertory -- the likes of Aus Italien (From Italy, Op. 16, 1886), Don Juan (Op. 20, 1888), Macbeth (Op. 23, 1886-88), Death and Transfiguration (Op. 24, 1889), Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28, 1894-95), Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra, Op. 30), Don Quixote (Op. 35, 1896-97), Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life, Op. 40, 1898), and the Symphonia domestica (Op. 53, 1902-03). There were also assortments of chamber music and solo-piano works, concertos for piano (the Burleske, 1886), violin (Op. 8, 1881-82), and horn (Op. 11, 1882-83; there would be another horn concerto, but not till 1942) -- and, oh yes, nearly 150 songs.


AND THERE'D BEEN TWO OPERAS BEFORE SALOME
(AND WE'RE GOING TO HEAR SNATCHES OF BOTH!)