Sunday, December 9, 2018

To return to Caballé for a moment --

How softly and gently
he smiles,
how sweetly
his eyes open -
can you see, my friends,
do you not see it?
How he glows
ever brighter,
raising himself high
amidst the stars?
Do you not see it?
How his heart
swells with courage,
gushing full and majestic
in his breast?
How in tender bliss
sweet breath
gently wafts
from his lips -
Friends! Look!
Do you not feel and see it?
Do I alone hear
this melody
so wondrously
and gently
sounding from within him,
in bliss lamenting,
gently reconciling,
piercing me,
soaring aloft,
its sweet echoes
resounding about me?
Are they gentle
aerial waves
ringing out clearly,
surging around me?
Are they billows
of blissful fragrance?
As they seethe
and roar about me,
shall I breathe,
shall I give ear?
Shall I drink of them,
plunge beneath them?
Breathe my life away
in sweet scents?
In the heaving swell,
in the resounding echoes,
in the universal stream
of the world-breath -
to drown,
to founder -
unconscious -
utmost rapture!

Montserrat Caballé (s), Isolde; Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra, Alain Lombard, cond. Erato, recorded September 1977

by Ken

We're in I-forget-how-many-levels of digression from our serial remembrance of Montserrat Caballé. As of last week's post ("Word is that 'Today we are not shocked by Salome.' Really?") we've been drawn in -- by way of Caballé's (in my experience) unique recording of Salome -- to what seems to me the inescapable shockfulness of the 40-year-old Richard Strauss's breakthrough opera, which even when we're done we're going to have to pursue, without a Caballé connection, into the equally inescapable shockfulness of the Strauss opera that followed it, Elektra.

So this week I thought we'd pause that and return for a moment to just-plain-Caballé, and a recording I'd been saving for the final installment of this series, whatever and whenever that happens. Which, actually, we've now just heard: that Erato studio recording of Isolde's "Liebestod," which for me shows beautifully what Caballé could do when the big, beautiful voice was really well controlled technically and interpretively. It is, I think, just a gorgeous performance, and gorgeous in the ways that were specifically hers.


I thought we might as well bring back Liebestod performances we've already heard (I'm now enmeshed in what turns out to be the monumental job of technically rehabilitating the 2000 post that was the source for a number of them) and adding a couple more. We've got an assortment here: a couple of the all-time great Isoldes (Flagstad heard in her shimmering prime, Nilsson in what's still my favorite Tristan recording of hers), some singers who sensibly never essayed the complete role plus some who didn't but you wish had.

WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde: Act III, Isolde, "Mild und leise wie er lächelt" (Liebestod)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Word is that "Today we are not shocked by Salome." Really?

LATE SUNDAY UPDATE: Those who've visited earlier know that this post has been a construction zone. Now, though, apart from incidental fixes (if I find the courage to look at the thing), we've got our four performances of the "Dance for me, Salome" excerpt (with performance notes) and this week's four performances of the Final Scene. -- Ken

Salomé by Gustave Moreau (1876)
Salome's Dance (aka "Dance of the Seven Veils"): The musicians begin to play a wild dance. SALOME, at first motionless, reaches up high and gives the musicians a sign. At once the wild rhythm is succeeded by a gentle, rocking melody. SALOME then dances the Dance of the Seven Veils. After a moment of apparent exhaustion she leaps up, as if newly elated. For a moment she lingers in a trance-like state by the cistern in which JOCHANAAN is held prisoner; then she rushes forward and lands at HEROD's feet.

Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Heinz Rögner, cond. Berlin Classics, recorded Feb.-Mar. 1977

Vienna Philharmonic, André Previn, cond. DG, recorded October 1992

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Oct. 12, 1965

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded 1960

by Ken

I see that I didn't actually identify the music we heard above. As I'm pretty sure you figured out, it's "Salome's Dance" (aka the "Dance of the Seven Veils") from Richard Strauss's Salome. Actually, we've already heard an assortment of performances of the "Dance" -- two weeks ago, as "a Salome bonus" to the post "Some out-of-this-world sounds from a singer who proves mistress of a surprising role," part of our still-ongoing remembrance of Montserrat Caballé, whom we were encountering as a (to me) surprisingly remarkable exponent of the title role, at least in the RCA recording conducted pretty remarkably by Erich Leinsdorf.

(I've been listening to two other Caballé Salome performances, one earlier and one later than the recoding, as well as the still-later recording of the Final Scene, and while some of the qualities I find so remarkable in the RCA performance can be glimpsed in other performances, none of them seem really in the same class.)

In the course of playing with some of my Salome materials I happened to glance, apparently for the first time, at the background essay on the opera which Michael Kennedy wrote for the booklet of the 1985 CD issue of the classic 1961 Nilsson-Solti-Decca recording, which looks to be quite an interesting piece, but in which my eyes lit on a string of words that kind of made my blood run cold. After writing at length about the shock that the opera had caused in its early years, he writes:

"Today we are not shocked by Salome . . ."

Huh??? We're not shocked by Salome??? Huh???


Sunday, November 25, 2018

After all, the Page in Salome does warn that horrible things are going to happen

Salome (Angela Denoke at Covent Garden, 2010) finally gets to kiss the mouth of the prophet Jochanaan, who may have wished he'd let her do it when his head was still attached to him.

by Ken

It was as part of our Caballé-remembrance series that, last week, we ventured into Salome ("Some out-of-this-world sounds from a singer who proves mistress of a surprising role"). Now, having ventured there, I don't see how we can leave without some further exploring, and for this week's installment we're not even going to have Caballé at the center -- though I think you'll notice, if you compare her with the (very fine) other Salomes we'll be hearing, that she's plugged into the role in a way that is very much her own.

Just to recap, the opera is set on a terrace of the palace of Herod, the tetrarch of Judea, inside which a great feast is taking place. For a while the audience is invited to observe the wild infatuation of a handsome young captain, Narraboth, with the princess Salome, daughter of Herodias and stepdaughter (as well as niece) of the tetrarch (her father, Herodias's first husband, was Herod's half-brother), and we've been introduced to some of the many palace functionaries and guests who populate the terrace (and the opera), including a page of Herodias (presumably male) who appears as fixated on Narraboth as the latter is on Salome. We've also heard briefly from a still-invisible character: Safely locked away in a heavily guarded cistern is the prophet Jochanaan, aka John the Baptist, who despite his unfortunate incaraceration voices a soaring brand of religious ecstasy, for which Strauss found an appropriately ecstatic musical format, even as the prophet details the sea of human corruption all around.

Last week we heard Salome make her escape from the banquet to the terrace, and this week we're going to overlap a clip we heard last week, so we can immediately hear Salome switching on a dime from pouting rage to angelically youthful sweetness. One point to note: As far as I know we're not given an age for Salome, but the implication seems fairly clear that she's still a teenager, and again I would call attention to the young-girlishness that comes out so strongly in Strauss's musical setting, at least if the singer can make it come out, which it seems to me Caballé did, at least in the RCA recording of the opera conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, better than any other Salome I've heard. Again, the sound that's made by a big-voiced singer capable of scaling the voice down has an intensity and excitement that a smaller-voiced singer can't match -- as a matter of fact, as I think I've already mentioned, Birgit Nilsson, the greatest of the post-Welitsch Salomes, who pretty much obliterated the competition in the flaming outbursts, did some of her most memorable work in Salome's quiet moments.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Some out-of-this-world sounds from a singer who proves mistress of a surprising role

How good it is to see in the moon.
It is like a silver flower, cool and chaste.
Yes, like the beauty of a virgin,
who has remained pure.

How sweet is the air here.
Here I can breathe.

by Ken

Yes, yes, something happens at the end of the first clip, something I couldn't edit out, which is actually kind of the point. In Richard Strauss's Salome things just kind of happen, one thing after another, and one of the miracles of Strauss's breakthrough opera -- here we might bear in mind that his operatic breakthrough didn't come till he was 40 -- is that he had music, utterly extraordinary music, for all those things that happen.

As many of you will know, the two audio clips we've already heard are reversed -- for visual effect, the visual effect being the illustration of the full moon, which clearly favors our moon-clip. In the opera, though, the "How sweet is the air" clip comes first; it's almost the first thing we hear from Salome after she makes her entrance -- fleeing from the banquet inside to the terrace of the palace of the Tetrarch Herod, her stepfather (and also her uncle, which is even worse than it sounds, but that's another sordid story for another time). We'll be hearing these musical bits in context shortly, with all participants properly identified.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

I swear, Caballé and Domingo were electrifying that night, but I will still need to scrounge to give you an idea of what I remember

AMELIA: Grant me, o Lord,
strength to cleanse my heart
and allay the inflamed
throbbing in my breast.

by Ken

No, there's nothing wrong with your computer, or your ears -- there's no singing in this audio clip. What it is -- in what I think is a pretty special performance (we'll talk more about this later) -- is a chunk of the orchestral introduction to Act II of Verdi's A Masked Ball (Un Ballo in maschera), which so powerfully recalls this crucial moment from Act I, Scene 2, when Amelia visits the fortune-teller Ulrica seeking help with a desperate problem: that she's hopelessly in love with her husband's best friend, an unfortunate complication being that the proceedings happen to be overhead by that self-same best friend, who happens to share that very passion, and who, although he too knows that he mustn't act on it, regrettably doesn't necessarily not do things he knows he mustn't, self-denial not being his strong suit.


In a nutshell: It's tough to conjure Caballé up in the most electric performance I heard her give

AMELIA: Grant me, o Lord,
strength to cleanse my heart
and allay the inflamed
throbbing in my breast.
ULRICA [overlapping]: Go, do not tremble; the charm
will dry your tears.
Be bold, and in the drink you will drink
oblivion of your anguish.
RICCARDO [overlapping]: (Ah! I am on fire and am determined
to follow her, even were it into the abyss.
if only I may breathe
the air of your sighs, Amelia.)
-- English translation by Lionel Salter

Montserrat Caballé (s), Amelia; Erzsébet Komlóssy (c), Ulrica; Flaviano Labò (t), Riccardo; RAI Symphony Orchestra, Rome, Bruno Bartoletti, cond. Broadcast performance, Oct. 14, 1969

Montserrat Caballé (s), Amelia; Lili Chookasian (c), Ulrica; Plácido Domingo (t), Riccardo; Orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceo (Barcelona), Giuseppe Patanè, cond. Live performance, 1972

Montserrat Caballé (s), Amelia; Ruza Baldani (ms), Ulrica; José Carreras (t), Riccardo; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Live performance, Feb. 13, 1975

Montserrat Caballé (s), Amelia; Patricia Payne (c), Ulrica; José Carreras (t), Riccardo; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded 1978

by Ken

This week's actual post, a continuation of our series remembering Montserrat Caballé (see below), is mostly done, but it's going to be tricky to finish, and I'm not going to have a chance to do it even semi-properly till later today if I'm going to get to my walking tour of Brooklyn's Brownsville area. Meanwhile I hope this tease-post will give you some idea why I've been putting off trying to deal with this particular Caballé remembrance -- can you make head or tail of these four audio clips?

Please revisit -- there's going to be some interesting stuff, a fair amount of it non-Caballé, which I hope will be worth your while.

SUNDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Whew! Check it out!

Montserrat Caballé (1933-2018) (11/14/2018)
Yes, we have more Caballé, but mostly as a spur to reflecting on my (and others' too?) relationship to music (and other arts too?) (10/21/2018)
More Caballé: as Lauretta, Luisa, Violetta, Lucia, and Elisabeth (10/28/2018)
Queen Elisabeth stands up to King Philip, Caballé-style (11/4/2018)
In a nutshell: It's tough to conjure up Caballé in the most electric performance I heard her give (11/11/2018 [1])
I swear, Caballé and Domingo were electrifying that night, but I will still need to scrounge to give you an idea of what I remember (11/11/2016 [2])

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Queen Elisabeth stands up to King Philip, Caballé-style

MONDAY EVENING UPDATE: In addition to making the small addition to the opening audio clips described in the revised post text, I did substantially revise that text. -- Ken

The French LP issue of the always-problematic 1971 EMI Don Carlos
ELISABETH: I dare it! Yes!
You know it well: Once my hand
was promised to your son.
Now I belong to you, submissive to God,
but I am immaculate as the lily.
And now there is suspicion
of the honor of Elisabeth . . .
there is doubt about me . . .
and the person who commits the outrage is the king.

Montserrat Caballé (s), Elisabeth; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Live performance, Apr. 29, 1972

Montserrat Caballé (s), Elisabeth; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. EMI, recorded Aug. 18-31, 1971

by Ken

We've actually heard one of the above performances (the one from the 1972 Met broadcast) of Queen Elisabeth's haunting reply to her husband in Act IV, Scene 1 of Verdi's Don Carlos, the scene in King Philip's study -- except that last week, in our ongoing remembrance of Montserrat Caballé, we heard it in its proper place in the scene, which follows the sleepless king's break-of-dawn monologue and his subsequent just-past-dawn beatdown by the Grand Inquisitor, when the queen storms into the study demanding justice for the disappearance of her jewel box, containing "all my treasure, my jewels . . . other objects still dearer to me," which the king proceeds to produce, extracting from it a portrait of his son Carlos and expressing indignation when she "dares to confess" this, and she responds with indignation of her own, and in the deepest sadness as well as anger asserts her integrity and innocence.

[UPDATE NOTE: After the original posting, I rejiggered the pair of opening clips, which originally picked up at the queen's second line, "Ben lo sapete," but now have been made to include her first line, "Io l'oso! Si!" My original thought had been that if we just skipped over that first line, we could get away with just listening to the clips, without the need for all that explanation of what exactly Elisabeth is "daring." My second thought, however, was that no, we really do need to hear the first line.]

We're going to hear the "contextual" version again (this time with the ensuing quartet edited in, and bracketed with the same span from the near-contemporaneous EMI recording conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, with which I've had a difficult, deeply disappointed relationship all its life.

For example, given the already-known sonic homogenizing of U.S. Angel editions of EMI recordings, I invested in a German edition. They did sound better, but not enough (at least in this case) to upgrade my perception of the performance

Above we hear two performances by Montserrat Caballé, mere months apart, of Queen Elisabeth's haunting reply to King Philip in Act IV, Scene 1 of Verdi's Don Carlos after he indignantly charges her with "dar[ing] to confess" that yes, inside the casket that he has presumably had stolen from her, containing (as she has put it) "all my treasure, my jewels . . . other objects still dearer to me," there's a portrait of Prince Carlos (his son, her stepson). I should add, by way of update, that in the original posting I discreetly skipped over Elisabeth's first line, "Io l'oso! Si!," thinking we could just enjoy the clips without having to bother with this lengthy explanation of what exactly the queen is owning up to daring. On reconsideration, though, I decided that no, we in fact need to hear that line to properly register Elisabeth's answering indignation along with the pain with which she asserts her integrity.

We actually heard the first clip, the one rom the 1972 Met broadcast, last week in our ongoing remembrance of Caballé, except that last week we heard it in the context of this chunk of the great scene in Philip's study, which began before dawn as the king soliloquized in his sleepless agony, followed by the brutal beatdown he absorbed in the just-past-dawn visit of the Grand Inquisitor. And we're going to hear that chunk again, this time including the quartet that ensues when Philips accuses Elisabeth outright of adultery and she faints and he calls for help for the queen and in rush Princess Eboli, whom the queen thinks of as her confandant, and the Marquis of Posa, whom the king thinks of as his.

This time, you'll note, we're hearing the 1972 Met performance bracketed with the EMI studio recording conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini (which was probably just being released as the run of Met performances took place), in which not only Caballé but our Posa, Sherrill Milnes, had taken part. It's a recording with which I've had a difficult, disappointed relationship from the time the LPs turned up in U.S. shops, having bought an imported German edition well ahead of the domestic release. Which also means that none of the disappointment can be attributed to the sonic homogenizling Angel ritually performed for the, er, benefit of American music-lovers.

I had such hopes for this recording! Both previous recordings of five-act editions of the opera had serious problems, and EMI was offering us what looked like a plausible cast, under a conductor making his first operatic recording in ages, what with his much-heralded general withdrawal from the world of operatic performance based on his deep-seated disenchantment with that world. And he was conducting an opera with which he had a history, having famously conducted, in 1958, Covent Garden's first five-act Don Carlos.

Even now, feeling an urge coming on me to rant about the recording's unsatisfactoriness, I've gone the extra mile and invested -- after all these years! -- in a CD edition. And I have to say that listening to it again in this format has given me pause. But the more I listen to it, the more I sink back to a possibly refreshed version of the old disappointment, which I experience even in the minute's worth of the opera we hear above. I was surprised, when I dipped back into the 1972 Met performance while working on last week's post, how much more I enjoyed it than I remembered, very much including Caballé's vocally and dramatically focused Elisabeth. I also have to say that even in the context of a house like the Met that's not set up to encourage (allow?) individual conductorial statements, I hear a notably surer grasp of the opera's dramatic progress, and a noticeably more hospitable environment for the singesr to participate in that dramatic progress, with Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, a conductor about whom I didn't have a lot of good things to say back in the day, but whose considerable virtues I have come to value a lot more.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

More Caballé: as Lauretta, Luisa, Violetta, Lucia, and Elisabeth

Montserrat Caballé (1933-2018) as Violetta

by Ken

A couple of weeks ago we began taking note of the passing of Montserrat Caballé, and we began by perusing the Sunday Classics archives, which not that surprisingly held a fair amount of Caballé. So we started by hearing both arias from Caballé's extraordinary performance of Fiordiligi in Colin Davis's Philips recording of Mozart's Così fan tutte, followed by two of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs and two recordings of "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma.

There's still a lot to explore, both from the existing Sunday Classics archives and from newly added material. I thought we'd start today with this recording of that most beloved of soprano arias, "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's delicious one-act opera Gianni Schicchi, which we spent some time exploring back in July-August 2010.

PUCCINI: Gianni Schicchi: "O mio babbino caro"
O my dear little daddy,
I like him. He's lovely, he's lovely.
I want to go to the Porta Rossa
to buy a wedding ring!
Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if I were to love him in vain,
I would go to the Ponte Vecchio,
but to throw myself in the Arno!
I'm pining and I'm tormented!
O God, I'd like to die!
Daddy, have pity, have pity!
Daddy, have pity, have pity!

Montserrat Caballé, soprano; London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, cond. EMI, recorded c1969


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Yes, we have more Caballé, but mostly as a spur to reflecting on my (and others' too?) relationship to music (and other arts too?)

Last week we had to pause our threads-in-progress to note the passing of Montserrat Caballé -- we'll get back to that really soon

Clip 1

Montserrat Caballé, soprano

by Ken

As noted above, this week brings yet another digression -- a digression from our serial digressions, if you will -- in this case from last week's post, "Montserrat Caballé (1933-2018)." There's still a lot to ponder -- and listen to -- from Caballé's career, but a small yet provocative happening this week will get us into an area I've been wanting to get into. What I've done is to press Mme Caballé into service as this week's Special Guest Artist, in a role I don't think anybody especially thinks of when they think of her. Which means dipping almost blindly into her recording of the role, which I've never though much of. But what the heck? We can listen to it together, and see what we think. (In fact, I even acquired the CD edition to make the audio-file-making easier, not to mention of higher quality, since we don't have to do all those LP dubs.)


So I was sitting in the dentist's chair waiting to finish up a round of work (nothing terribly threatening or invasive, unless you count the question of how it's going to get paid for) and I realized some music was playing in my head, and it took me a few beats to identify it. What I was hearing was something like what we heard in Clip 1 above. Or sometimes maybe more like this:

Clip 1 alt

Victoria de los Angeles, soprano; and --

To be honest, this has happened to me in olden days, before the memory started being not what it once was. However, of late it happens more often, and more often than I would expect with music that I know I know gosh-darned well.

I kept restarting the music in my head, and trying to get it to start earlier and/or run farther, with the result that almost at the same time I realized (a) why I was having trouble identifying the original "clip" and (b) what it was, more or less. As regards (a), my brain backed the excerpt up to a more identifiable "pickup" point, so that the excerpt was now something like this:

Clip 2

Montserrat Caballé, soprano

Or, again, sometimes maybe more like this:

Clip 2 alt

Victoria de los Angeles, soprano; and --

At least mercifully, now I at least knew who it was who was singing. The character, I mean -- it wasn't a particular singer I was hearing.The only thing was, as my brain allowed the clip to run farther, and soon enough a second voice was entering (and then again sometimes wasn't, a puzzle that was also solved eventually), meaning that, while I was pretty sure I had the character right, what she was singing wasn't what I first thought it was.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Montserrat Caballé (1933-2018)

Montserrat Caballé (who died a week ago yesterday, at 85):
"All the vocal virtues are here in abundance, giving us the
special thrill of hearing this music sung by a voice
of this size, beauty, and range of color

In pity's name, my dearest, forgive
the misdeed of a loving soul;
amid this shade and these plants
forever hidden, oh God, let it be.

Montserrat Caballé (s), Fiordiligi; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded c1973

by Ken

Above we've heard the beginning of Fiordiligi's Act II rondo from Così fan tutte, "Per pietà." And yes, this is the very beginning, following directly -- as we'll hear again shortly -- with no further orchestral introduction from a stretch of orchestrally accompanied recitative. We've listened to "Per pietà" more than once, and each time I've tried to convey in words how beautiful it seems to me, and undoubtedly failed each time. So let me just say now, I'm not saying that it's the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote, but then again I'm not saying it isn't. It could be. From which it follows automatically: Something that could be the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote is one of the most beautiful combinations of sounds ever imagined by the mind of humankind.

We heard this opening chunk of "Per pietà" in a December 2015 post, "Ariadne and Fiordiligi: Real people and feelings vs. ideas about people and feelings," in which we hacked the aria into a series of chunks and made our way through them, listening to the same two performances all the way. Both were from complete recordings of Così: Margaret Price's (with Otto Klemperer, for EMI) and Montserrat Caballé's (with Colin Davis, for Philips). Eventually we heard not just theirs but a number of other fine recordings of the full recitative and aria, but none -- to my ears -- as good as Price's and Caballé's. As I wrote at the time:
Margaret Price's Fiordiligi seems to me one of the great recordings of an operatic role, fulfilling this extraordinariliy demanding music with an equally extraordinary array of vocal resources, and singing it all with such melting beauty and depth of feeling. Note in particular the handling of all those vocal skips and leaps, like that octave-and-a-fifth drop in the opening of "Per pietà"; I've never heard anyone make them sound as humanly believable. At a certain point in her career Price sensibly retired this role to move on to other things, but while she sang it, she sang it supremely.

And I would say pretty much the same for Caballé's Fiordiligi. We were just discussing her in the context of Strauss's Four Last Songs, wondering at the beauty, mobility, and size of the voice, and also venting frustration about the careless way the voice was often used. She was an unexpected choice as Philips's Fiordiligi, and, as it turned out, a spectacular choice. All the vocal virtues are here in abundance, giving us the special thrill of hearing this music sung by a voice of this size, beauty, and range of color.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Yet another digression that will be explained (eventually): Revisiting Sir Malcolm Sargent

MIDNIGHT UPDATE: Okay, I think we're just about there. For anyone who's been following along as this post filled out from its original "preliminary version," thanks for your patience and persistence. -- Ed.

It all started when I couldn't resist a too-cheap-to-pass-up copy of this 18-CD EMI set devoted to "The Great Recordings" of Sir Malcolm Sargent (from which some of the music files we're hearing today are drawn).

by Ken

Yes, as it says above, another digression, following upon last week's "'Spurn not the nobly born': No, not the proper post planned for this week, but we do make a little progress, and we hear some really nice music." And yes, we're still enmeshed in Wagner's Die Meistersinger, going back to September 23's "Still on the trail of our two classic Operatic Bad Days, we pause to sniff an elder tree."

In fact over the past week I've gotten enmeshed-er, which is far from an unpleasant thing, except for the expanses of lower-male-voice growling and rasping and grinding one is expected to endure -- and indeed lots of apparent Wagner fans smile and nod, as if this is perfectly normal and acceptable. Yikes! Of course in other Wagner operas the problem becomes even more acute, especially in the higher vocal categories: the heroic soprano and tenor roles (Isolde and Brünnhilde; Tannhäuser, Tristan, Siegmund, and Siegfried).


Monday, October 1, 2018

"Spurn not the nobly born": No, not the proper post planned for this week, but we do make a little progress, and we hear some really nice music

"Spurn not the nobly born," exhorts Earl Tolloller to the no-way-no-how-interested-in-high-rank Phyllis (who has much else to say and sing on the subject); here they're John Elliott and Kate Holt, in a 2009 Iolanthe production by Woodley Players Theatre (Stockport, U.K.). You won't hear much in the video clip, but naturally we've got a slew of audio clips --

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Iolanthe: Act I, Phyllis, "Nay, tempt me not, to wealth I'll not be bound" . . . Earl Tolloller, "Spurn not the nobly born"
PHYLLIS: Nay, tempt me not;
to wealth I'll not be bound.
In lowly cot
alone is virtue found.
CHORUS OF PEERS: No, no; indeed high rank will never hurt you,
the peerage is not destitute of virtue.
EARL TOLLOLLER: Spurn not the nobly born
with love affected,
nor treat with virtuous scorn
the well-connected.
High rank involves no shame --
we boast an equal claim
with him of humble name
to be respected!
Blue blood! Blue blood!
When virtuous love is sought,
the power is naught,
though dating from the flood,
blue blood!
Spare us the bitter pain
of stern denials,
nor with low-born disdain
augment our trials.
Hearts just as pure and fair
may beat in Belgrave Square
as in the lowly air
of Seven Dials!
Blue blood! Blue blood!
Of what avail art thou
to serve us now?
Though dating from the flood,
blue blood!
CHORUS OF PEERS: Of what avail art thou
to serve us now?
Though dating from the flood,
blue blood!

Elsie Morison (s), Phyllis; Alexander Young (t), Earl Tolloller; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 21-24, 1958

Mary Sansom (s), Phyllis; Thomas Round (t), Earl Tolloller; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded September 1960

Elizabeth Woollett (s), Phyllis; Phillip Creasy (t), Earl Tolloller; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus and Orchestra, John Pryce-Jones, cond. Jay Productions-Sony, recorded June 28-July 2, 1991

by Ken

No, as noted above, we have no proper post this week -- it just got too hard, and too stressful, and even though I got most of the audio clips made and had a pretty good idea (I think) of where and how the real post was/is intended to go, I just couldn't do it. (And after all, to anybody but me what does it matter?) Still, I've rallied enough to cobble together a sort of coulda-shoulda post-substitute, drawing on some of those already-made audio clips, which we'll hear in the click-through, but also with some additional clips made to order.

In the later stages of the time spent so busily not producing a post, I found myself reflecting me that the plight facing the operatic character we'll be hearing from in the click-through of this non-post, society's unyielding prejudice against persons of rank and privilege, isn't unique on the musical stage, which is how we come to be hearing from the implacable Phyllis and the imploring Earl Tolloller and chiming-in fellow lords.