Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Signposts on the steep path of Otello's downfall

Now and forever farewell, blessed memories!
Farewell, sublime enchantments of her thought!
Farewell, shining battalions; farewell, victories,
flying arrows and flying steeds!
Farewell, triumphant and sacred banner,
and reveille ringing shrilly in the morning!
The clamor and song of battle, farewell!
The glory of Otello is here at an end!

Francesco Tamagno (t), Otello; piano. Victor, recorded February 2003 (digital transfer by Tim Ecker) -- for some notes on this recording, see below

by Ken

We've been ruminating about and eavesdropping on Verdi and Boito's Otello and his monstrous fall, and last week I posed the question of how the Moor of Venice sinks from the ecstatic raptures of the Act I Love Duet to the moment in Act III when he browbeats the innocent Desdemona lying in the dust by his hand ("More Vickers -- 'Otello fu,' how he gets from here to there").

I would like to answer that more fully, but for now we're just going to signal a pair of signposts along the way, as the poisons his lieutenant "honest Jago" dumps in his mind take hold, in the form of the lie that Desdemona is having an affair with the Moor's former lieutenant, Cassio. Then next week I hope to flesh these moments out.

Otello: Act II, Otello "Tu, indietro" . . . "Ora e per sempre addio"
OTELLO: You! Stand back! Flee!
You have bound me to the cross! Alas!
More horrible than any horrible injury
is the injury of suspicion!
In the secret hours of her lust
(and they were stolen from me!) was by breast agitated
by no omen? I was bold, happy.
I knew nothing yet; I didn't feel
on the divine body that I adored
and on her lying lips
the burning kisses of Cassio! And now, and now . . .

Now and forever farewell, blessed memories!
Farewell, sublime enchantments of her thought!
Farewell, shining battalions; farewell, victories,
flying arrows and flying steeds!
Farewell, triumphant and sacred banner,
and reveille ringing shrilly in the morning!
The clamor and song of battle, farewell!
The glory of Otello is here at an end!

[from "In the secret hours of her lust"] Enrico Caruso (t), Otello; Victor Orchestra. Victor, recorded in New York City, Dec. 28, 1910

Mario del Monaco (t), Otello; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Georg Solti, cond. Live performance, June 30, 1962

Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, July 30, 1971

Plácido Domingo (t), Otello; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Carlos Kleiber, cond. Live performance, Dec. 7, 1976

Luciano Pavarotti (t), Otello; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded live in concert, April 1991

The great heroic tenor Francesco Tamagno was 36 when he created the role of Otello at La Scala in February 1887, but 52 and semi-retired when he recorded three excerpts, in February 2003: Otello's entrance, "Esultate"; the scene at the end of the opera following his murder of Desdemona, "Niun mi tema"; and the performance we heard above of the Act II outburst "Ora e per sempre addio." At least four takes have been circulated, and they're noticeably different, perhaps nor surprising when we hear his sort of improvisatory, embellished approach -- and all much slower than the composer's metronome marking, which we see above.

But notice that Enrico Caruso too sings "Ora e per sempre addio" a lot more lyrically than the virtual battle cry we're accustomed to. Would they actually have sung it this way (a good deal slower than Verdi's metronome marking, as we see above) in the theater? Who knows?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: More Vickers -- "Otello fu," how he gets from here to there

Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Rome Opera Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1960

by Ken

Leonard Bernstein had such a strong feeling for the scene of the death of Otello as depicted by Arrigo Boito and Giuseppe Verdi that, as I recall the story (maybe somebody can help me out here? I can't remember where I read or heard him tell the story), he named a family dog "Otello Fu" -- and everyone assumed the name was Chinese.

Last week, remembering Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, we heard two performances of the sublime Love Duet that ends Act I of Verdi's Otello, one of his legendary roles. I should perhaps have issued a spoiler alert before noting that by the end of the opera Otello will murder Desdemona.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: More Vickers -- "I am afraid, I am afraid that I will never again be granted this divine moment" (Boito and Verdi's Otello)

A chunk near the end of the Otello Act I duet lip-synched by Jon Vickers (Otello) and Mirella Freni (Desdemona), from the Unitel film, with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, including our excerpt (at 1:21)
[The sky is now quite clear. Some stars are visible and, on the rim of the horizon, the blue reflection of the rising moon.]
OTELLO: Such is my soul's joy that I am afraid,
I am afraid that I will never again be granted
this divine moment
in the unknown future of my destiny.
DESDEMONA: Dispel such anguish.
Our love will not change from year to year.
OTELLO: Upon this prayer,
let the ranks of angels respond: Amen.
DESDEMONA: Amen, let them respond.

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

Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Mirella Freni (s), Desdemona; Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, July 30, 1971

by Ken

We've talked about this before, and for me the giveaway here is Otello's repeated "temo" ("I am afraid"). I suppose someone without his potentially disabling fear might express himself similarly at a moment of such perfect happiness -- and this is surely the greatest love scene, with or without music, ever imagined by the mind of artistic man, only somewhat undercut by our knowledge that by the end of the opera the man will murder the woman.

But again, listen to that repeated "temo," and tell me you're not hearing a man who, at the pinnacle of his success, both career-wise and personal, believes at every moment that in the next moment it could all be taken away from him. If for some reason you really, really hated Otello, and wanted to destroy him, and you knew this about him, this might be the angle you would work.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Jon Vickers in consolatory, even happy mode

"Froh, froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen"

Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
which he set on their courses,
through the splendor of the firmament;
thus, brothers, you should run your race,
like a hero going to conquest.

Jon Vickers, tenor; London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Westminster-MCA-DG, recorded June 1962

Jon Vickers, tenor; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded Oct. 13-15, 1978
-- from the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

by Ken

Last week I put together, from audio clips we'd already heard over the years, a quick tribute to the late Jon Vickers, and still feel guilty about not including at least English texts for the selections, on the shabby ground that digging them out would have involved too much time and effort. (Well, oo-hoo!) Nobody complained, which is even more discouraging. One of these days I will go back and fix that post.

I led that post off with the above excerpt from the epochal finale of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, precisely to hear Vickers in a "froh" frame of musical mind, since his greatest musical assumptions, despite moments of triumph, were on the desolate side. Again, we have two versions, one early-ish, the other much later. I thought you might like to hear the complete performances of the finale from which the excerpts are drawn (which we have in fact heard before, so you'll find them at the end.)


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Jon Vickers (1926-2015)

Jon Vickers and Sena Jurinac as Florestan and Leonore (Covent Garden, 1961)

From the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony:
"Froh, froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen"
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
which he set on their courses,
through the splendor of the firmament;
thus, brothers, you should run your race,
like a hero going to conquest.

Jon Vickers, tenor; London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Westminster-MCA-DG, recorded June 1962

Jon Vickers, tenor; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded Oct. 13-15, 1978

by Ken

Jon Vickers died last week at 88. Over the years at Sunday Classics we've heard a lot of Vickers, for reasons I hope will be obvious from the the handful of selections I've selected for today's "Snapshots" post. I'm thinking we ought to do some sort of proper retrospective of just the stuff we've heard, but meanwhile, I think these snippets will speak for themselves.

[Sorry, no texts this week. I thought I could round them up relatively easy from the original posts, but Yahoo, which used to make it not-too-difficult to find DWT posts, now seems to all but ignore "downwithtyranny" in searches, and I just didn't have the time or will to search out all these posts or redo the texts. I'm not even crazy about the Beethoven Ninth translation fragment I hurriedly popped in above.]

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Lucia's last happy snap

Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti at the Met in 1987
LUCIA: Ah! On the breezes
will come my ardent sighs.
You will hear in the murmuring sea
the echo of my grieving
Thinking that I feed on sighs and grief,
shed a bitter tear then on this ring.
Ah, on this ring then!
Ah, on this ring then!
Ah, on that ring then!

Joan Sutherland (s), Lucia; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tullio Serafin, cond. Live performance, Feb. 26, 1959

by Ken

I know we're making microscopic progress toward our goal, that other Verdian musical dramatization of the aging process (besides Germont's aria "Di Provenza" in La Traviata, by way of the "double aria" format Verdi inherited from the Italian bel cantists. And this week we're slowing down even further.

Last week we heard Lucia di Lammermoor's great Scene 2 double aria as she awaited her secret lover, Edgardo, near the fountain on his family's ruined Scottish estate. I thought this week we would move on, or rather back, to the Scene 1 double aria of Lucia's brother, Lord Enrico Ashton and maybe get as far as the way he treats his sister. But even though we left Lucia singing rapturously of her love for Edgardo, a rare moment of unbridled happiness for her, I don't think we can leave her there. We really need to "see" her meeting with Edgardo. Here are four musical snapshots.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: A fountain, a harp, and a mind in distress

No, this isn't the fountain of "The Siren" referred to in the stage direction, but it's a reasonable guess that the Ravenswood fountain might have been based on the Fontana della Sirena in the Piazza Sannazaro in Naples. Just imagine it on a lonely Scottish estate fallen nearly to ruins, like so --
A park in the ground of the Scottish castle of Ravenswood. We see the fountain called "The Siren." Once it was covered by a beautiful structure decorated with all sorts of Gothic details; now only the ruins of this structure remain. It is nightfall.
[All translations in today's post by William Ashbrook]

RAI Turin Symphony Orchestra, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Broadcast performance, Oct. 10, 1967

RCA Italiana Orchestra, Georges Prêtre, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1965

Orchestra of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Richard Bonynge, cond. Live performance, Nov. 12, 1975

by Ken

Here we hear three takes on a lovely 2½-to-3-minute musical snapshot -- Molinari-Pradelli decisive and sympathetically straightforward; Prêtre similarly decisive but a little more individual in some of his phrasing choices and, surprisingly (at least to me), turning out to time out a little quicker; and Bonynge more romantically discursive.

The music, which is sometimes described as an "interlude" between the scene preceding and the one about to take place, is pretty clearly indicated in the score as an orchestral lead-in to what follows -- though of course it's up to the stage director to decide where exactly to raise the curtain on Scene 2. In the meantime, I'm delaying identifying this piece of musical mood-setting (in the event that you don't know) to give you a chance to just allow it to wash over you and maybe sink in a little, to maybe set a mood. It's clearly the harp that dominates the music, and the fountain that dominates the scene, but I don't think anyone can say how exactly they're expected to relate.

And here I think we can jump ahead just a bit to our next snapshot, to add this vivid response to mention of the aforementioned fountain. In fact, since it's only 11-12 seconds, we're going to hear it three times.
That fountain! Ah! never
do I see it without trembling.

I think we clearly have three interesting, and interestingly, different renderings of this extraordinary moment, but one thing I think we can also say is that, from the purely vocal standpoint, singer B handles it with greater assurance, and singer C handles it with astonishing assurance -- producing a sound of amazing fullness that doesn't strain or curdle at all on the upward leap for the "Ah!" in "Quella fonte! Ah! mai."


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: LIfe among the Druids

The first page of Bellini's Norma autograph score

BELLINI: Norma (1831): Overture

Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala (Milan), Antonino Votto, cond. Live performance, Dec. 7, 1955

Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala (Milan), Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded Nov. 5-12, 1960

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlo Felice Cillario, cond. RCA, recorded September 1972

National Philharmonic Orchestra, James Levine, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded 1979
About the performances: I really admire the weight that Votto brings to the Overture without stretching or padding it, as Serafin and Cillario do with varying degrees of success. If you want just the notes, Levine's your guy.

by Ken

The plan was different. We've been poking around the 19th-century Italian opera format of the aria-and-cabaletta or "double aria" -- a contrasting pair of arias, usually the first slowish and the second fastish, which with an adjustment of circumstances producing the change allows the singer to show off a wide range of vocal and dramatic capabilities.

We started with Verdi struggling with the format in La Traviata, producing pedestrian or worse cabalettas for the tenor and baritone in Act II, Scene 1, but then last week pointed out that to end Act I he had produced for Violetta what is surely the greatest double aria of them all, her "Ah, fors'è lui" and "Sempre libera."


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Look, it's Violetta!

Joan Sutherland as Violetta in Act I of La Traviata

Act I of La Traviata ends with Violetta's great solo scene

[in English] Valerie Masterson (s), Violetta Valéry; John Brecknock (t), Alfredo Germont; English National Opera Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. EMI, recorded Aug.-Oct. 1980

by Ken

Last week I tried to explain that in order to continue with the second example I promised of Verdi depicting a conspicuously aging parent, we really needed to give some attention to the composer's triumphs and tribulations with the "double aria" form carried over from the bel canto period. It's what always used to be known as an "aria and cabaletta" -- the first aria typically situational and often reflecting on that situation; the second aria, in reaction to the first, ususally with some additional circumstances tossed in to alter the situation or the perception of the situation, typically more declarative, often energized for pyrotechnical display.

While Verdi was capable of using the format brilliantly, we have a pile-up of evidence that even as he was making his historicthe "breakthrough" into his middle period with the overlappingly created masterpieces Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata, all three operas contain evidence that cabaletta-for-the-sake-of-cabaletta was something that didn't much stimulate his creative juices. By way of demonstration, last week we took as our musical snapshots the celebrated arias for tenor and baritone with regrettable cabalettas tacked on at the start and finish of Act II, Scene 1 of Traviata, the scene in Violetta's country house (where she and Alfredo have been living idyllically), the cabalettas for Germont fils and père, respectively.

I did point out last week, though, that "if we think of the form as 'double aria' rather than 'aria and cabaletta,' then Violetta's "Ah! fors'è lui" plus "Sempre libera" at the end of Act I of Traviata may be the supreme example of the format." And having dropped that loaded statement in, even though we did listen to this great solo scene, which so starkly rounds out an act that began with perhaps opera's most rousing party scene in February 2011, we can hardly escape "snapshotting" it now.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Verdi at peak power soars and slumps

Thomas Hampson as Germont at Covent Garden, 2009
GERMONT: No, you won't hear reproaches from me;
let's bury the past in forgetfulness.
The love that guided me
can pardon everything.
Come, see your loved ones
in joy with me again;
do not deny this joy
to one who has suffered long.
A father and a sister --
make haste to console them.
No, you won't hear reproaches from me, etc.
ALFREDO: A thousand serpents devour my breast!
GERMONT: Are you listening to me?
GERMONT: A father and a sister --
make haste to console them.
No, you won't hear reproaches from me, etc.
ALFREDO [arising and suddenly finding Flora's letter on the table]: Ah!
She's at the ball!
I must fly to avenge the offense.
[He rushes out.]

Thomas Hampson (b), Giorgio Germont; Rolando Villazon (t), Alfredo Germont; Vienna Philharmonic, Carlo Rizzi, cond. DG, recorded live, August 2005

by Ken

About a month ago I started what was intended to be the first part of a two-part series with a post called "The sound of aging, Verdi-style (1)," in which I suggested that the whole structure of "Di Provenza il mar, il suol," the elder Germont's celebrated aria in La Traviata, is built on fatigue -- or rather this father's struggle to overcome his fatigue in his enormous effort to not only console his boy but to lure him back to the comfort and wholesomeness of his native Provence. My suggestion was that Germont is not only fighting his fatigue but milking it, showing it off to Alfredo as he throws everything he can at the shell-shocked young man.

Our other example of "aging, Verdi-style," tidily enough, will involve a mother's exhaustion, an exhaustion that sounds to me not just physical but spiritual -- as if she's just barely on this side of. I admit that it's a case so extreme, and one that exerts such dreadful force on me, that I'm probably stalling a little. Nevertheless, I really would like to get to it, and regret that before we can get there, we have some gaps to plug, in part because we left a dangling end in our consideration of "Di Provenza": its usually missing cabaletta, which is hardly more welcome when it isn't omitted. And then, once we get into the baritone's cabaletta, how can we not broach the subject of the tenor's, an even feebler piece?

The "aria and cabaletta," which recent usage seems to prefer to call a "double aria," is a carry-over from the bel canto era, when it was common to arrange dramatic situations in which a character might sing an aria typically of moderate pace and temperament followed -- with some tweaking of the circumstances -- by a more excited second aria, or cabaletta, which by happy chance for the performer tends to lend itself to the character of a showpiece.


Monday, May 18, 2015

"Mad Men" Watch: A wistful but fond farewell to all our friends -- and what it was like watching the finale as part of an audience

What's this? Peggy and Stan? This kiss from 2013
wasn't serious, but last night was a different story.

by Ken

Although it was past 12:30 this morning by the time I got home from my real-time big-screen viewing of the Mad Men finale at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, I still did what I suspected I was going to do: watch the whole episode again via DVR. Partly to see the whole episode again, partly to pick up lines I'd missed at the screening, and partly to see how differently the thing played in my living room, as opposed to that theaterful of buoyant Mad Men fans.

The answer to that last question is that it played very differently indeed. There were probably a hundred moments large and small where the audience's involvement changed the way we as a group experienced unfolding events.

Take that wonderful scene when Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), about to begin his new life with his big-time new job and his reunited family, arrives to pick up Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) in her office for their lunch, and are eventually joined by the third member of their party, Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), who professes to be mortally wounded by the news that Peggy can't make lunch but clearly is more concerned but getting to lunch and is only mollified when Pete offers him the tin of cookies baked by Sarah (do I remember who Sarah is? not really), his only remaining farewell swag after he's fobbed the baby cactus off on Peggy on the ground that "I have a five-year-old" -- as one once again does. (Yes!) And Harry, as he leaves Peggy's office, immediately opens the tin to take a cookie. At home this was an amusing moment; at the museum it had gotten a major audience-wide laugh.

Or there was the moment after the McCann-Erickson traffic meeting when our Peggy surprised the heck out of everyone by standing up to that Lorraine bitch (Francesca Ferrara) and demanding to know why the Chevalier account had been taken away from her and Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson), her long-time artist colleague. Stan cringed; the audience cheered. Peggy pursued her case; the bitch Lorraine caved; and the audience went wild! And so it went all through the episode. Can you imagine the way the audience took in the phone call between Stan and Peggy as it took its unexpected turn? I expect I'll be rewatching the episode a number of times in the years to come, and when I do, the experience I expect to recall is the viewing-with-audience.


It doesn't seem likely that we'll stop talking anytime soon about the fraught and enigmatic wind-up David Chase and Co. crafted for The Sopranos. And when Vince Gilligan and his team brought Breaking Bad to a close, there was still so much mess to be brought to a climax and then sorted out that a thrill-a-minute finale was all but mandated.

By those standards I don't think last night's Mad Men finale is going to be remembered as an event for the ages. It's worth remembering that series creator-mastermind Matthew Weiner was at the table for the end of The Sopranos finale, and has certainly had ample opportunity to contemplate that path, and it's not the one he chose.

It's not that Matt doesn't know how to stage a spectacular farewell. Consider the mind-blowing song and dance he conjured to say sayonara to Bert Cooper (and Bobby Morse) in "the first half of Season 7." But the show's grand finale he seems to have chosen instead to take care of business, and I'd be surprised it there are Mad Men fans who are unhappy with the way the show reached its conclusion.

For one thing, having dropped the bombshell of Betty Francis's impending demise in the next-to-last episode, he had no disasters lurking up his creative sleeve. Oh, there was certainly disappointment for Joan in the unwillingness of her splendid swain Richard (Bruce Greenwood) to stand by while she launches her business. Joan may have imagined that she could handle both the relationship and the new business, but I think Richard was being utterly reasonable in insisting that she couldn't, that not only would the business seriously diminish her availability for the new life he was imagining for them, but that at every turn, anytime the business needed her attention, it would take precedence. As Richard knew only too well, how else do you get a new business going?

Besides, did viewers imagine that the writers could create a man we would believe could really be worthy of Joan? I still count her "fate" a solid win, for the wonderful way her new business venture animated her? Especially as a pushback to the appalling treatment she had received at McCann-Erickson, which was not only so personally abusive but such a monstrous waste of her limitless capabilities, which after all even Sterling Cooper had made such modest use of. It's horrible to think of Joan never enjoying the relationship she deserves, but Joan having a shot at achieving personal fulfillment -- that counts for something.

And it counts for something even if she's not going to have Peggy as a partner. Which is probably the right choice for Peggy, who needs to fight her way through to what she can accomplish at McCann-Erickson in order to rise to the heights both Pete and Stan insist on predicting for her -- predictions she herself is scarcely able to hear. But that doesn't stop Joan. As we hear when her new employee answers the phone, Joan even fulfills her perceived need to have two names for her company, to make it sound more solid -- even if both names in Holloway Harris happen to be her own!

There's so much I could talk about, but the best way I can pay tribute to Matthew Weiner's stewardship of this remarkable set of characters he and his team created is by looking a little more at those two great scenes between Peggy and Stan -- first the one in her office which ends so disastrously, and then the one on the phone which ends so well. I thought it was fantastic the way Stan on the phone was able to explain to Peggy be who he wants to be in talking to her in person and how different it is when he then talks to her on the phone, and finds himself talking to the person he'd hoped to be talking to to begin with.

Which sent me, at least, thinking back to all those phone conversations the two of them shared, not just when they were working together but while Peggy had left Sterling Cooper. Aren't these the only times we've seen Peggy truly at ease with herself and with someone she's talking to, relaxed and engaged and funny and silly. Then when Peggy finally recovers from her astonishment over Stan's audacious declaration that he likes her (I imagine that the length of those pauses before each time she said "What?" were the subject of considerable discussion in the editing room), she tells him -- and this too rings totally true for viewers -- that those phone calls were always precious to her because he was always right.

As much as we're accustomed to thinking of phone relationships as limited and in important ways artificial by comparison with real interpersonal contacts, we get to see that for Peggy and Stan the opposite has been true: Their "real" relationship has been in the phone calls. And at that moment during this phone conversation when Stan burst into Peggy's office and did, you know, what he did, and as you can imagine the audience at the museum went into sheer pandemonium, that was also the truth of the moment. I'm sorry you couldn't have been there.

Still, I'm sure that all audience-deprived home viewers got the basic message: that over this past decade Matthew W and his people have given us this wonderful bunch of characters and then treated them with fantastic imagination, yes, but also with scrupulous respect. Thanks, guys.


Amid last night's festivities, MoMI Chief Curator David Schwartz delivered a welcome piece of news: that the amazing Mad Men exhibition the museum put on, which was scheduled to run through June, has by popular demand been extended through Labor Day. I'm grateful for the opportunity for all those additional re-viewings I hope to get in over the summer, because the material is so broad and deep that it really requires a kind of attention that's hard to muster in just a few viewings.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Aren't the jolly boys and girls of "The Gondoliers" really somebodies after all?

"The Piazzetta in Venice, Looking East with the Doge's Palace, the Columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore, the Riva degli Schiavoni and the Bacino di San Marco," oil painting by Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780)

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: The Gondoliers: Act I, Francesco, Good morrow, pretty maids . . . Antonio, For the merriest fellows are we
During the previous chorus, in which the CONTADINE (peasant girls) have been discovered in the Piazzetta in Venice arranging floral bouquets, ANTONIO, FRANCESCO, GIORGIO, and other GONDOLIERS have entered unobserved by the girls -- at first two, then two more, then half a dozen, then the remainder.

FRANCESCO: Good morrow, pretty maids. For whom prepare ye
these floral tributes extraordinary?
FIAMETTA: For Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri,
the pink and flower of all the gondolieri.
GIULIA: They're coming here, as we have heard but lately,
to choose two brides from us who sit sedately.
ANTONIO: Do all you maidens love them?
CONTADINE: Passionately!
ANTONIO: These gondoliers are to be envied greatly.
GIORGIO: But what of us, who one and all adore you?
Have pity on our passion, we implore you!
FIAMETTA: These gentlemen must make their choice before you.
VITTORIA: In the meantime we tacitly ignore you.
GIULIA: When they have chosen two, that leaves you plenty.
Two dozen we, and ye are four and twenty!
FIAMETTA and VITTORIA : Till then, enjoy your dolce far niente!
ANTONIO : With pleasure, nobody contradicente!
Song, Antonio and Contadine
ANTONIO : For the merriest fellows are we, tra la.
CONTADINE: Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la-la-la, tra-la-la-la la.
ANTONIO : That ply on the emerald sea, tra la.
CONTADINE: Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la-la-la, tra-la-la-la la.
ANTONIO : With loving and laughing
and quipping and quaffing,
we're happy as happy can be, tra la.
With loving and laughing
and quipping and quaffing,
we're happy as happy can be, tra la.
ALL: Tra la-la-la-la, etc.
ANTONIO : With sorrow we've nothing to do, tra la.
CONTADINE: Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la-la-la, tra-la-la-la la.
ANTONIO : And care is a thing we pooh-pooh, tra la.
CONTADINE: Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la-la-la, tra-la-la-la la.
ANTONIO : And jealousy yellow,
unfortunate fellow,
we drown in the shimmering blue, tra la.
And jealousy yellow,
unfortunate fellow,
we drown in the shimmering blue, tra la.
ALL: Tra la-la-la-la-la-la-la, etc.

Alexander Young (t), Francesco; Stella Hitchens (s), Fiametta; Helen Watts (c), Giulia; James Milligan (bs-b), Antonio; James Milligan (bs-b), Giorgio; Lavinia Renton (s), Vittoria; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Mar. 11-15, 1957

Dawn Bradshaw (s), Fiametta; Joseph Riordan (t), Francesco; Daphne Gill (ms), Giulia; Michael Wakeham (b), Antonio; George Cook (b), Giorgio; Ceinwen Jones (s), Vittoria; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded September 1960

Enid Walsh (s), Fiametta; Thomas Hancock (t), Francesco; Joyce Wright (ms), Giulia; Geoffrey Sanders (b), Antonio; Radley Flynn (bs), Giorgio; Yvonne Dean (ms), Vittoria; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Promenade Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded Mar. 11, 1950

by Ken

This week's late-scheduled musical snapshot is kind of blurry, I'm afraid, but seems important nevertheless. I expected to be proceeding, finally, with Part 2 of the "Sound of Aging, Verdi-style" miniseries I began a few weeks ago with Giorgio Germont's calculatedly fatigue-ridden appeal to his wayward son Alfredo to abandon wicked Paris and come home to beautiful, sunny, wholesome Provence -- in the form of the celebrated baritone aria "Di Provenza il mar, il suol." But Friday night I attended a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers which went beyond good-or-bad (there were good things and there were bad things) to show me something about the piece I've never heard before, and that's always exciting.