Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Who is the author of Hoffmann's misfortunes?

Her mother's portrait sings to her --
Erin Wall as Antonia, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2011
VOICE OF ANTONIA'S MOTHER: Antonia!
ANTONIA: Heavens!
MIRACLE: Listen!
VOICE: Antonia!
MIRACLE: Listen!
ANTONIA: God! My mother! My mother!
VOICE: Dear child, whom I am calling
as in olden times,
it's your mother, it's she;
hear her voice!
Dear child, whom I am calling, etc.

Felicity Palmer (ms), Voice of Antonia's Mother; Jessye Norman (s), Antonia; Samuel Ramey (bs), Miracle; Staatskapelle Dresden, Jeffrey Tate, cond. Philips, recorded 1987-89

Christa Ludwig (ms), Voice of Antonia's Mother; Edita Gruberová (s), Antonia; James Morris (bs-b), Miracle; Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. DG, recorded c1986

Patricia Kern (ms), Voice of Antonia's Mother; Beverly Sills (s), Antonia; Norman Treigle (bs), Miracle; London Symphony Orchestra,Julius Rudel, cond. ABC-EMI, recorded July-Aug. 1972

by Ken

As I indicated in last night's preview, here we are for one more week with Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann.

I'm going to try to keep my prattling to a minimum. I just felt we needed a better focus on the unfortunate life situation poor Hoffmann has situated himself in. At one point he asks the students whether they would like to know who is "the author of my misfortunes," presumably having in mind Councillor Lindorf, whom he casts as the bass-baritone "villain" in his three tales -- and who is in fact busily engaged in sabotaging Hoffmann's current grand passion, for the great actress La Stella. But by the end of the opera, I think we have a better idea -- apparently better than Hoffmann himself has -- who the author of most of his misfortunes is.


AN EVIL GENIUS AT WORK

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: Our Frantz knows it's all a matter of technique


"It's technique" -- tenor Kerry Jennings as Frantz

by Ken

This was looking like the week for our curtain-lowering Bruckner Ninth, but I've made an executive decision that we can't leave Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann the way we did. So in preparation for tomorrow's farewell to Hoffmann, I thought tonight we'd enoy a tasty morsel from the Antonia act (which we're resolutely calling Act III, the last of the three "mad loves" promised to recount in the Prologue.

As regular readers know, some of my most loved operatic activity takes place with or even among the minor characters, and there aren't many Iove more than the servant in the Crespel household, whom we almost met last week, when we picked up at the point where Hoffmann had just been admitted into the house by the servant Frantz, in direct contradiction of the specific instructions of the departing Crespel not let let anyone in while he's out.

Frantz, alas, is pretty deaf, though one gets the feeling that he perhaps doesn't listen all that attentively. In any case, the master-servant exchange left Crespel in a rage and Frantz in a snit over the constant abuse he takes from his master. Now, left alone, he licks his wounds.

We hear first the celebrated comic actor Bourvil, who sings the "comic" tenor roles in the 1948 Opéra-Comique recording; then the cherished Swiss character tenor Hugues Cuénod; and finally the veteran French character tenor Michel Sénéchal (whom we've heard in a variety of musical settings, including Mahler!).

OFFENBACH: The Tales of Hoffmann: Act III, Song, Frantz, "Jour et nuit je me mets en quatre" ("Day and night I wear myself out")
FRANTZ: Day and night I wear myself out;
at the least sign I shut up.
It's just as if I was singing.
But no, if I was singing,
he'd have to moderate his contempt.
I sing alone sometimes
but singing isn't easy.
Tra la la la la la la la la la la la,
it's not the voice, however,
tra la la la la la la la la la la la,
that I'm lacking, I think.
La la la la la la la la la la la --
[His voice cracks.
No, it's technique, no, it's technique, etc.
Tra la la, etc.

Heavens. one can't be good at everything;
I sing pitifully.
But I dance agreeably;
I say so without false praise.
Gosh, dance is my strong point,
and dancing isn't easy.
Tra la la la la la la la la la la la,
With women my shapely legs,
tra la la la la la la la la la la la,
aren't what let me down.
La la la la la la la la la la la --
[He makes a false step and falls.
No, it's technique, no, it's technique, etc.
Tra la la, etc.

Bourvil (t), Frantz; Orchestra of the Opéra-Comique, André Cluytens, cond. EMI, recorded 1948

Hugues Cuénod (t), Frantz; Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Richard Bonynge, cond. Decca, recorded 1971

Michel Sénéchal (t), Franz; Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. DG, recorded c1986


IN THIS WEEK'S GHOST OF SUNDAY CLASSICS POST --

We finish up with Tales of Hoffmann.

THE TALES OF HOFFMANN POSTS

"The poet Hoffmann and the legend of Kleinzach" (Sept. 14)
Preview, "The name of the first was Olympia" (Sept. 19)
"Hoffmann just can't get over is 'three mistresses'" (Sept. 21)
Preview, "Our Frantz knows it's all a matter of technique" (Sept. 27)
"Who is the author of Hoffmann's misfortunes?" (Sept. 28)
#

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Hoffmann just can't get over his "three mistresses"

"It's a song of love that soars aloft sadlly or madly": Nazhmiddin Mavlyanov (Hoffmann) and Hibla Gerzmava (Antonia) at Moscow's Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theater

by Ken

In preparation for our quick survey of the poet Hoffmann's account of his three "mad loves," as set out last week, in last night's preview we made the acquaintance of the first of them, Olympia-- the "artist," according to Hoffmann's reckoning. (We'll come back to this in a moment.) As I noted last night, making Olympia's acquaintance is more than Hoffmann did before he fell soul-convulsingly in love with her. (It doesn't help that the poor fellow is literally looking at her through the equivalent of rose-colored glasses, sold to him by one of Olympia's creators, the eccentric inventor Coppélius.) Of course this is only the teeniest exaggeration of the way many of us so frequently fall just as consumingly in love as our poor hero has.

As noted, we're going to sample some of the astonishing music by which Offenbach captured the states of need and urgency and bliss that afflict Hoffmann in all three of his mad stories. First, though, let's meet another, very different object of the poet's passion: Antonia, one of the theatrical literature's great creations.

(Note that we're going to hear a sprinkling of German-language performances today. As with Gounod's Faust, the German-sourced Tales of Hoffmann -- the fantastic fables of E.T.A. Hoffmann, the source of the opera's tales, are standbys for German readers -- was taken up by German audiences if anything faster and more avidly than by French ones.)

OFFENBACH, The Tales of Hoffmann, Act III, Orchestral introduction and Romance, Antonia, "Elle a fui, la tourterelle" ("She has flown, the turtledove")
Munich. The home of Crespel. A bizarrely furnished room. At right a clavichord. Violins suspended from the wall. At left a window. At the back two doors, one the door to Antonia's room; in front, at left, a window casement that leads to a balcony, which is closed by a curtain. Between the two doors at the rear a large portrait of a woman hanging on the wall. The sun is setting. ANTONIA is seated at the harpsichord.

Romance, Antonia
She has flown, the turtledove!
Ah, a memory too sweet!
An image to cruel!
Alas, at my knees
I hear him, I see him!
Alas, at my knees
I hear him, I see him!
[She walks to the front of the stage.]
She has flown, the turtledove,
she has flown far from you;
but she is always faithful
and she keeps her faith!
My dearly loved, my voice calls to you!
All my heart is yours!
All my heart is yours!
She has flown, the turtledove,
she has flown, she has flown far from you!
[She approaches the harpsichord again and continues, standing, leafing through the music.]
Ah, dear flower that has just bloomed,
in pity answer me!
You that know if he still loves me,
if he keeps faith with me!
My dearly beloved, my voice implores you,
ah, let your heart come to me,
let your heart come to me!
She has flown, the turtledove,
she has flow, she has flown far from you.
[She lets herself fall on the couch in front of the harpsichord.]

[in German] Julia Varady (s), Antonia; Munich Radio Orchestra, Heinz Wallberg, cond. EMI, recorded 1979

Rosalind Plowright (s), Antonia; Symphony Orchestra of the Opéra National du Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Brussels), Sylvain Cambreling, cond. EMI, recorded June-July 1988

Victoria de los Angeles (s), Antonia; Paris Conservatory Orchestra, André Cluytens, cond. EMI, recorded 1964

Beverly Sills (s), Antonia; London Symphony Orchestra, Julius Rudel, cond. ABC-EMI, recorded July-Aug. 1972


HOFFMANN'S "THREE MISTRESSES"
THE TALES OF HOFFMANN POSTS

"The poet Hoffmann and the legend of Kleinzach" (Sept. 14)
Preview, "The name of the first was Olympia" (Sept. 19)
"Hoffmann just can't get over is 'three mistresses'" (Sept. 21)
Preview, "Our Frantz knows it's all a matter of technique" (Sept. 27)
"Who is the author of Hoffmann's misfortunes?" (Sept. 28)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics Preview: "The name of the first was Olympia"


Party chez Monsieur Spalanzani! A real doll is Olympia, the first of Hoffmann's "mad loves" (Matthew Polenzani and Anna Christy at Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2011).

by Ken

We heard the ineffable line "The name of the first was Olympia" last week -- five times over, actually -- as the poet Hoffmann prepares to give his crowd of adoring students in Luther's tavern his account of the first of his promised three "mad loves." Now we hear it again, in three languages, showing how hard it is to make the line work quite as poetically in any language but French, where "Olympia," being accented -- like most all French words -- on the final syllable, can stand at the top of the line's upward rise.

We're also hearing the line with a bit more in context this week, including the hauntingly resonant chorus of the students, which we can now hear is the tune that echoes after Hoffmann's ethereal announcement of the name "Olympia," and also including the Entr'acte that follows immediately -- or rather two of them. Cambreling and Beecham use a quiet mediation on the haunting "Écoutons! Il est doux de boire" theme, while Wallberg uses the more traditional first statement of the grand minuet that will be heard later as entrance music for the guests at Monsieur Spalanzani's grande soirée.


STUDENTS: Let's listen! It's pleasant to drink
during the telling of a mad story . . .
STUDENTS and NICKLAUSSE: . . . watching the bright cloud
that a pipe throws into the air!
HOFFMANN [sitting on the corner of a table]: I'll begin.
NICKLAUSSE: Silence!
STUDENTS: Silence!
COUNCILOR LINDORF [aside]:
In an hour, I hope, they'll be dead drunk.
HOFFMANN: The name of the first was Olympia.
[The curtain falls while HOFFMANN speaks to all the attentive STUDENTS.]

Entr'acte

Ann Murray (ms), Nicklausse; Neil Shicoff (t), Hoffmann; José van Dam (bs-b), Councilor Lindorf; Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of the Opéra National du Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Brussels), Sylvain Cambreling, cond. EMI, recorded June-July 1988

[in German] Ilse Gramatzki (ms), Nicklausse; Siegfried Jerusalem (t), Hoffmann; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Councilor Lindorf; Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Radio Orchestra, Heinz Wallberg, cond. EMI, recorded 1979

[in English] Monica Sinclair (ms), Nicklausse; Robert Rounseville (t), Hoffmann; [Lindorf's line omitted]; Sadler's Wells Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. Decca, recorded 1947-51 (soundtrack of the Powell-Pressburger film)


TONIGHT WE MEET THE FAMOUS OLYMPIA
THE TALES OF HOFFMANN POSTS

"The poet Hoffmann and the legend of Kleinzach" (Sept. 14)
Preview, "The name of the first was Olympia" (Sept. 19)
"Hoffmann just can't get over is 'three mistresses'" (Sept. 21)
Preview, "Our Frantz knows it's all a matter of technique" (Sept. 27)
"Who is the author of Hoffmann's misfortunes?" (Sept. 28)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: The poet Hoffmann and the legend of Kleinzach

"Le nom de la première était Olympia"




Nicolai Gedda, tenor; Paris Conservatory Orchestra, André Cluytens, cond. EMI, recorded 1964

Richard Tucker, tenor; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Live performance, Dec. 3, 1955

Léopold Simoneau, tenor; Orchestra of the Concerts de Paris, Pierre-Michel Le Conte, cond. Philips-Epic, recorded 1958

Plácido Domingo, tenor; Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. DG, recorded 1986

Francisco Araiza, tenor; Staatskapelle Dresden, Jeffrey Tate, cond. Philips, recorded 1987-89

by Ken

I don't think I have, but it may be that you've heard music more hauntingly beautiful than this tiny bit -- the final half-minute of the Prologue to Jacques Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, as the drunken poet Hoffmann offers a tavern's worth of adoring students, hanging on his every word, his promised account of the first of his promised three "mad loves." I've gathered five distinctly different performances, plain and fancy, but all, I think, decently haunting. (Any preferences?)

I've painted myself into a corner here. For a good part of this week it was seeming like the time for the giving up the Sunday Classics ghost. However, while we already had, goodness knows, lots of loose ends that will be left dangling, one that I added just last week is strikes too close to home for me. I explained that last week's assortment of operatic (mostly) drinking songs touches me too personally. (There are times when Hoffmann is my favorite opera.)


I THOUGHT POSSIBLY I COULD SIMPLY
THROW OUT HOFFMANN'S DRINKING SONG

THE TALES OF HOFFMANN POSTS

"The poet Hoffmann and the legend of Kleinzach" (Sept. 14)
Preview, "The name of the first was Olympia" (Sept. 19)
"Hoffmann just can't get over is 'three mistresses'" (Sept. 21)
Preview, "Our Frantz knows it's all a matter of technique" (Sept. 27)
"Who is the author of Hoffmann's misfortunes?" (Sept. 28)
Starting by going just up to the point where something clearly goes wrong with the song.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: I have a song to sing, O!



Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland sing the "Brindisi" from Act I of Verdi's La Traviata, with Richard Bonynge conducting, at the Met in October 1970.
ALFREDO: Let’s drink, let's drink
from the joyous chalice where beauty flowers.
Let the fleeting hour
to pleasure’s intoxication yield.
Let’s drink to love’s sweet tremors –
to those eyes that pierce the heart.
Let’s drink to love -- to wine,
that warms our kisses.
ALL
: Ah! Let’s drink, let's drink to love --
to wine, that warms our kisses.
VIOLETTA [rising]: With you, with you
I would share my days of happiness.
Everything is folly in this world
that does not give us pleasure.
Let us enjoy life,
for the pleasures of love are swift and fleeting,
as a flower that lives and dies
and can be enjoyed no more.
Let’s take our pleasure!
While its ardent, brilliant summons lures us on.
ALL: Let’s take our pleasure
of wine and singing and mirth,
till the new day dawns on us as in Paradise.
VIOLETTA [to ALFREDO]: Life is just pleasure.
ALFREDO [to VIOLETTA]: But if one still waits for love --
VIOLETTA [to ALFREDO]: I know nothing of that --
don’t tell me --
ALFREDO [to VIOLETTA]: But there lies my fate.
ALL: Let’s take our pleasure
of wine and singing and mirth,
till the new day dawns on this paradise of ours.

by Ken

Extra credit if you saw the title of this post and sang back, "Sing me your song, O!"

In a moment we'll come back to "I have a song to sing, O!," but first, by way of sort-of-explainaton of what we're up to today, it's not exactly a rarity in opera where one character or another is asked to sing for the entertainment of a gathering, often with drinking involved. Nor is it a rarity for one character or another to offer a song to a gathering for their entertainment. I have such a scene in mind, and to get there I thought we'd hit some of the more notable specimens, and we've started with perhaps the most famous of all, the "Brindisi" (drinking song) sung by Alfredo, and joined by Violetta, at the start of Act I of La Traviata.

In fact, we're going to hear the full setting of Alfredo's "Libiamo," but first --

"I HAVE A SONG TO SING, O!"

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: "Kaleidoscope" -- a fondly remembered LP happily holds up under decades-later scrutiny


HOW DO WE GET FROM POINT A TO B TO C?

Point A, the opening of the piece (as heard last night):

Shortly we'll hear how we get from there to Point B:

However, Point B leads directly into Point C:

London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, cond. Philips-Mercury, recorded July 1961

by Ken

Last week I reported my discovery of a hidden treasure trove (free!) of overtures, F. Reeder's Internet Archive compendium of "Overtures - Recorded 1926-1847)" -- 33 mp3 transfers of 29 overtures conducted by 18 conductors, most of them legendary (e.g., Barbirolli, Beecham, Furtwängler, Mengelberg, Mitropoulos, Reiner, Rodzinski, Toscanini, Walter, Weingartner). That helped nudge me into an overtury mood. I recalled that a happy heap of my listening over the years has been to recorded collections of overtures and related short orchestral pieces.

As I mentioned, this mood inspired me to finally order CD issues of material that had once been part of my "go to" listening material. As a result, we're not going to do much with the Reeder treasure trove this week, but we'll come back to it. Also, I should mention that in a February 2011 post I already flashed back to one of those treasured overture discs, the Capitol Paperback Classics reissue of Erich Leinsdorf's wonderful c1958 catchily titled Opera Overtures LP with the Philharmonia, augmented on CD with some fine overture performances by Felix Slatkin and Miklós Rózsa.

Another of those LPs sprang back to life with the arrival of those ordered CDs: a Mercury Living Presence CD reincarnation of sorts of Charles Mackerras's Philips LP Kaleidoscope. What we heard in last night's preview was the music that more than anything made me fall in love with the original Kaleidoscope. The CD isn't the original Kaleidoscope, exactly. On it material from two LPs is smooshed together (from the Kaleidoscope LP everything is here except two additional Brahms Hungarian Dances, a minimal loss), all recorded at the same time by the legendary Mercury "Living Presence" team of Wilma Cozart Fine, recording director; Harold Lawrence, musical supervisor; and C. Robert Fine, chief engineer and technical supervisor. The domestic Philips LP was in effect a "Living Presence" LP, which explains why it sounded so good. Unfortunately as with the general run of domestic Philips pressings, it could be, well, problematic -- my copy came badly warped.

But that didn't stop me from listening to it a few zillion times, especially the piece we began hearing last night. What we heard was the hushed, haunting opening -- "Point A" in the A-to-B-to-C sequence above. Now here's the whole thing, starting with the Mackerras recording. Then we have that wise old German hand Robert Heger (from a complete Merry Wives recording) and vintage Herbert von Karajan, plus a dip into the F. Reeder overture grab bag, turning up a conductor now hardly known, Nikolai Sokoloff (1886-1965), who does a pretty nice job while squeezing the thing onto one 78 side.

NICOLAI: The Merry Wives of Windsor: Overture


London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, cond. Philips-Mercury, recorded July 1961

Bavarian State Orchestra, Robert Heger, cond. EMI, recorded 1964

Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded c1959

[trimmed (and rushed) to fit on one 78 side] Cleveland Orchestra, Nikolai Sokoloff, cond. Brunswick, recorded May 1927 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)


A CONDUCTOR NOT SO EASY TO "TYPE"

Schedule note

There will be a post today, which will include all of the piece whose opening we heard in last night's preview ("Attention, please!"). But I got bogged down doing some LP dubbing (yes, for a ghost post!). Check back at 2pm PT/5pm ET -- maybe sooner!
#

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: Attention, please!

Can you imagine a more ravishing musical attention-getter?



London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, cond. Philips-Mercury, recorded July 1961

by Ken

What we hear above is really and truly a preview; we're not going to hear any more of this piece until tomorrow's Ghost of Sunday Classics post. Many of you will recognize it (we've actually heard it before), but for now I just want to focus on this ravishing opening.

This is a talent, I think, the ability to grab a listener's attention musically. Not in a mechanical, conk-over-the-head way, which I suppose can be done by formula, but in a genuinely imagination-engaging way. The talent can certainly be cultivated, shaped, refined, but I think either you've got stuff in you head that can do the trick or you don't. We've listened, for example, to the way Puccini opened nearly all of his mature operas -- that, I think, is simply astounding, and a measure of unique genius.

One reason I'm so bowled over by the way our composer above seizes hold of our imaginations is precisely because there isn't any conking over the head. Just listen to what he does with that out-of-nothing hush, then gradually gathers momentum. Gorgeous!

This makes me think of the musical solutions Puccini's great predecessor Verdi found for the first of his two supreme masterpieces, Otello. We've heard all of these before (if anyone would like links, please just let me know in the comments; it's so tedious gathering them when there's no earthly purpose), but let's listen first to the similarly quiet orchestral introductions to Acts II, III, and IV.

VERDI: Otello

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: "Baton Bunny" music with and without the Bunny, plus a treasure trove of overtures and, oh yes, "Gaudeamus igitur"

In which we watch part of a cartoon, then listen
to an overture, and then another overture, and then --
can you imagine? -- drift off into other, er, stuff



A nice chunk of Chuck Jones's Baton Bunny (1959) -- from the confident-looking start, things deteriorate pretty quickly.

by Ken

As I mentioned most recently Friday night, New York City's Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, is currently hosting a grand exhibition devoted to one of the giants of animated film, Chuck Jones. And as I mentioned Friday night, this afternoon I hope to get to MoMI for this week's "Chuck Jones Matinee" (each week the same hour-long program is offered on Saturday and Sunday), to see -- in 35mm, on a large screen -- Duck Amuck, which I've already declared the greatest cartoon ever made, and What's Opera, Doc?, the famous Bugs Bunny classical-music extravaganza.

On my last weekend visit to the museum, the CJM program included a different classical-Bugs enterprise, one I didn't remember: Baton Bunny, from 1959. In it Bugs attempts to conduct Suppé's A Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna Overture, and you can see some of it above.

We've heard our fair share of Suppé, entirely in the form of overtures. Yes, occasional efforts are made to revive some of his numerous operettas, but they don't stick. A dozen or so of his overtures do, however, for the simple reason that they're utterly wonderful, utterly gorgeous music, and among them are a couple -- I mean Poet and Peasant and Light Cavalry -- that I would listen to as happily as anything in the orchestral repertory.

When the poster of our Baton Bunny clip posted it, a rash of commenters were frantic to know what the music was. The question was answered in due course, of course, but we're going to answer it in our own way -- with three distinctly different performances.


FRANZ VON SUPPÉ: A Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna: Overture

Sunday, August 17, 2014

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


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

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

-- Lady Psyche, in Act II of Princess Ida

by Ken

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

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

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

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

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


IF THIS SOUNDS LIKE A SONG CUE, IT IS

Sunday, August 10, 2014

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


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

by Ken

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

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

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

THE PLAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PENETRATING THE PERIMETER