Friday, November 30, 2012

Preview: "Between us, everything is finished" (Carmen)

Olga Borodina and Marcelo Álvarez as Carmen and José (Act II)

by Ken

We've been working our way up to the final meeting of the free-spirited (but also doom-ridden) gypsy Carmen and her onetime soldier lover Don José. This week we get there.

We've got a lot of performances of chunks of this surprisingly compact climactic scene coming up, but I want to highlight in particular two statements that define the state of stalemate Carmen and José have reached by the start of Act IV of Bizet's Carmen.


which, as we'll see in a moment, is only sort of what they actually say. (I don't want to make too much fun of Ramón Vinay's English, which after all is no less idiomatic than most of our original-language Josés' French. The Chilean tenor was a wonderfully intense and humane singer in some of opera's most demandingly heroic roles.)

DON JOSÉ: "I'm not threatening you"
[rendered here as "I have not come to harm you"]

[in English] Ramón Vinay (t), Don José; Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, cond. Live performance, July 11, 1946

CARMEN says: "Between us, everything is finished"
[rendered here as: "For you and I, this is the end"]
DON JOSÉ says: "Carmen, there's still time! Yes, there's still time!"
[rendered here as: "Carmen, I cannot believe you! No, I cannot believe you!"]

[in English] Winifred Heidt (ms), Carmen; Ramón Vinay (t), Don José; Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, cond. Live performance, July 11, 1946


Sunday, November 25, 2012

All the major players in "Carmen" gather outside the bullfighting arena in Seville

The Entr'acte to Act III is played by the Berlin Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel, with Emmanuel Pahud as flute soloist, at the orchestra's 2010 Silvesterkonzert (i.e., New Year's Eve concert)

by Ken

As I explained in Friday night's preview ("Enter the Toreador"), we're picking up on our look at the unfolding of the romantic obsession of the Army sergeant Don José, a Basque who has left his home in Navarre for the southerly latitudes of Seville, for the free-spirited gypsy Carmen, whose original interest in José was the very fact that he was one of the rare man who shows absolutely no interest in her. However, by the end of Act II, where we left the couple in part 1 of this series ("'And long live the music that falls on us from heaven' (Carmen)"), he was thoroughly under her spell.

We're going to move pretty quickly through Act III to get to the climactic meeting of the now-former lovers in Act IV.

BIZET: Carmen: Entr'acte to Act III

We already did the Act III Entr'acte pretty thoroughly in a February 2012 flute-and-harp post, and we just heard (and saw) it again at the top of the post. Well, here it is again.

Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, cond. EMI, recorded 1969-70

Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. EMI, recorded 1958-59


Friday, November 23, 2012

Preview: Enter the Toreador

By the time Don José arrives at Lillas Pastia's joint in Act II of Carmen, we have a new player. Enter the Toreador. (Above: Aris Agiris as Escamillo at Covent Garden, 2010.)
ESCAMILLO: Let's go! On guard! Let's go! On guard!
Ah! Toreador, on guard! Toreador! Toreador!
And surely think, yes think while fighting
that a dark eye is watching you,
and that love awaits you!
Toreador! Love awaits you!
ALL: Toreador, on guard! Toreador! Toreador!
And surely think, yes think while fighting
that a dark eye is watching you,
and that love awaits you!
Toreador! Love awaits you!

The high-flying French baritone Ernest Blanc sings the refrain of the first stanza of the Toreador Song, with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting Radiodiffusion Française forces in his 1958-59 EMI recording of Carmen. (Don't worry, we're going to hear the complete Toreador Song.)

by Ken

Even though in this Carmen series (begun two weeks ago, "'And long live the music that falls on us from heaven' (Carmen)") we're trying to focus on the romantic obsession of Don José, we can't ignore the other characters who intersect with the poor fellow's existence at this crucial moment -- most obviously Carmen herself, of course, but also the bullfighter Escamillo. For him Bizet happens to have concocted one of the most famous tunes in the history of tunedom.

In Part 1 of this series we had taken José up to the point of being the recipient of a special dance from the object of his infatuation when he meets her at Carmen's friend Lillas Pastia's joint on the outskirts of Seville -- just as soon as the young sergeant has been released from the brig for allowing Carmen to escape from his custody in connection with her stabbing of a fellow cigarette-factory worker. However, by the time José shows up at Lillas Pastia's, the dashing toreador has made an appearance, followed by his adoring throng. As it happens, the final stage of the relationship between José and Carmen is going to play out in front of the arena where Escamillo is toreadoring.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mahler's most characteristically "Mahlerian" symphony is also his least loved, part 2

This is the start of Leonard Bernstein's October 1974 video recording of the Mahler Seventh Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic.

by Ken

In approaching the gigantic opening movement of the Mahler Seventh Symphony (in the Klemperer recording it runs to almost 28 minutes), we cheated. We've already heard our reward once we cross to the other side, in the previous post in this series ("Mahler's most characteristically "Mahlerian" symphony is also his least loved," Nov. 4): the three movements that Mahler imagined first -- the two Nachtmusik (Night Music) movements bracketing a scherzo -- before finding himself at a loss as to what should surround all of them.

By way of reminder, here again is musicologist-critic Mosco Carner (1904-1985) telling the story of how Mahler overcame this creative impasse, from Carner's liner note for the 1968 Klemperer-EMI recording:
From a letter written to his wife five years after the completion of the symphony (1905) we learn that it was while being ferried across a lake in the Tyrol that the movements of the oars suddenly released in him the music or, rather, the rhythm and character of the slow introduction, and that in four weeks the first, third and last movements were finished. (This is an excellent illustration of a fact observed in the psychology of the creative process that a quite trivial event may act as a trigger to make conscious what was once stored deep down in the artist's unconscious.)
And here again are the two performances we heard two weeks ago of just the opening minutes of the opening movement (I've replaced my LP-dubbed Klemperer clip with one from the CD which also runs as far into the introduction as the Solti clip):

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded May 1971

New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 18-28, 1968


Friday, November 16, 2012

Preview: Another set of three exotic Mahler "middle movements"

Gianandrea Noseda conducts the BBC Philharmonic in the Deryck Cooke performing version of the first of the two scherzos of Mahler's uncompleted Tenth Symphony, 2007.

by Ken

We're in the middle of two projects. Last week we continued our Sexual Obsession in Opera series with the initial intersection of the protagonists of Bizet's Carmen, the free-spirited gypsy Carmen and the Basque army sergeant Don José, both displaced to Seville. And two weeks ago we attacked Mahler's uniquely wonderful Seventh Symphony from the middle: listening to the three middle movements -- the two Nachtmusik (Night Music) movements that frame a scherzo. Those two movements are in turn framed by the symphony's "big" movements.

We're going to come back to Carmen, probably next week, to hear Carmen and José through to their climactic confrontation. Meanwhile this week we return to the Mahler Seventh, to hear those grand outer movements, which we'll do on Sunday. For tonight I thought we'd take a peek into the future.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"And long live the music that falls on us from heaven" (Carmen)

Plácido Domingo sings the Flower Song at the Vienna State Opera, Dec. 9, 1978, with Carlos Kleiber conducting and Franco Zeffirelli directing. (The unheard Carmen is Elena Obraztsova.)
DON JOSÉ: The flower that you threw me
stayed with me in my prison.
Withered and dried out, that flower
always kept its sweet perfume;
and for hours at a time,
with my eyes closed,
I became drunk with its smell,
and in the night I saw you.
I took to cursin gyou,
to desting you, to saying to myself,
"Why did fate have
to put her there in my path?
Then -- I accused myself of blasphemy,
and I felt within myself
I felt only one desire,
one lone desire, one lone hope:
to see you again, Carmen, to see you again.
For you had only to appear,
only to cast a glance at me,
to take possession of my whole being,
o my Carmen,
and I was your possession!
Carmen, I love you!

Enrico Caruso, tenor; orchestra. Victor, recorded Nov. 26, 1911 (restored by Bob Varney)

Georges Thill, tenor; symphony orchestra, Philippe Gaubert, cond. EMI, recorded 1928-29

Jussi Bjoerling, tenor; Frederick Schauwecker, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded in recital at Carnegie Hall, Sept. 24, 1955

Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Prague Phliharmonic Orchestra, Marco Armiliato, cond. Decca, recorded August 2007

by Ken

As I mentioned in Friday night's preview ('If you don't love me, I love you, and if I love you, watch out' -- meet La Carmencita"), we're putting our Mahler Seventh Symphony project on hold after doing the three middle movements last week ("Mahler's most characteristically 'Mahlerian' symphony is also his least loved"). (I can report that the set containing the Klemperer-EMI recording finally arrived yesterday!)

Instead this week we've started another two-part post, in effect a continuation of a series that began with a fair amount of still-not-completed poking around the two great operatic retellings of the story of Manon and the Chévalier des Grieux an then the famous Letter Scene inspired by the passion of Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Yevgeny Onegin. The subject here is obsessive passion: first as shared by Manon and des Grieux, then as experienced unidirectionally by Tatiana, and starting this week going in the opposite direction, with the obsession of the Basque Don José, an army sergeant, for the gypsy Carmen.


We've heard the Carmen Prelude and the entr'actes to Acts II-IV, back in March. The rousing Prelude is music that has entered the popular imagination. We hear it continuing on into the first statement of the "fate motif," which we've already heard attached to Carmen's hurling of a cassia flower at José's feet (which he would shortly after be seen picking up), and we just heard as the lead-in to José's desperately imploring Flower Song from Act II.

BIZET: Carmen: Prelude

Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, cond. EMI, recorded July 1969-Feb. 1970

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded November 1963

Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Michel Plasson, cond. EMI, recorded Feb.-Mar. 2002


Friday, November 9, 2012

Preview: "If you don't love me, I love you, and if I love you, watch out" -- meet La Carmencita

Keep your eye on the flower: We're in the square in Seville outside the cigarette factory where the charismatic gypsy CARMEN and the other cigarette girls work.CARMEN has just sung her Habañera (which we'll be coming back to in a moment) to the assembled soldiers and assorted other drooling males. As our excerpt begins she has been surrounded by a group of importuning young men. The only man paying no attention to her the young Basque sergeant DON JOSÉ.
CARMEN looks at the young men one after the other, leaves the circle they've formed around her, and goes straight up to DON JOSÉ, who is still occupied with his little chain. CARMEN throws a cassia flower at DON JOSÉ. He stands up abruptly. The flower has fallen at his feet. Outburst of general laughing.

CIGARETTE GIRLS [surrounding DON JOSÉ]: Love is a gypsy child;
it's never, never had any law.
If you don't love me, I love you;
if I love you, watch out!

The factory bell. The girls exit running. CARMEN exits first. The young men exit right and left. The soldiers and the lieutenant return to their posts. DON JOSÉ has his eyes fixed on the flower, which has fallen on the ground in front of him.

Chorus of Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. Philips, recorded July 13-22, 1988

by Ken

In just a moment José is going to pick that flower up, and then . . . well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Just keep your eye on that flower!

You thought we were going to be finishing up with the Mahler Seventh Symphony this week, right? Or rather starting and finishing up, since it's the hulking first and last movements that still await us after hearing the enchantingly weird three middle movements last week ("Mahler's most characteristically 'Mahlerian' symphony is also his least loved").

Well, for various reasons -- not least that I'm still waiting for that CD set I mentioned ordering which includes the Klemperer recording of the symphony, rather than working from my LP copy -- I'm going to put that off till (probably) next week, and this week start another two-part inquiry, which itself forms a series of sorts with our recent looks at the operatic retellings of the story of Manon and the Chévalier des Grieux and the unrequited passion of Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Yevgeny Onegin.

I'll explain this better, or at least more fully, on Sunday. Meanwhile, as promised above, let's have our proper introduction to La Carmencita.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mahler's most characteristically "Mahlerian" symphony is also his least loved

Claudio Abbado conducts the first five minutes of the chamber-music-like fourth movement, the second "Night Music" (yes, with guitar, mandolin, and cowbells!), of Mahler's Seventh Symphony -- at the 2006 Lucerne Festival.

by Ken

We concluded Friday night's "Night Music" preview with a two-minute-plus "glimpse" of "what I think qualifies as the ultimate in Night Music." Here's the complete movement:

MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor:
ii. Nachtmusik I (Night Music I): Allegro moderato

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded May 1971

If you wonder about that movement designation "Nachtmusik I," it means just what it says. It's the first of two "Night Music" movements. Here's the other, "Nachtmusik II," from the same recording.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor:
iv. Nachtmusik II (Night Music II): Andante amoroso

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded May 1971


. . . because that's where Mahler started. As it happens, we've already heard his Sixth Symphony ("The Andante of the Sixth Symphony -- the most beautiful movement Mahler ever composed?" and "Is Mahler's Sixth Symphony any more 'tragic' than life itself?," July 2011), so we're starting more or less where he did. And the first ideas that came to him which seemed capable of being developed further were the two Nachtmusik movements. And then he was stuck. He doesn't seem to have lost confidence that his pair of "Night Music"s could be the core of something; he just couldn't figure out what.

In a useful liner note for Otto Klemperer's 1968 EMI recording of the Mahler Seventh, the Austrian-British musicologist-critic Mosco Carner (1904-1985) tells the story of how the composer overcame this creative block:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Preview: Night Music

Part 1 (of the poster's 17) of the 1990 New York City Opera telecast of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music

by Ken

The German Nachtmusik is literally "night music," but by extension it's also the standard term for "serenade." As for example:

MOZART: Serenade in G, K. 525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)

Vienna Philharmonic, Bruno Walter, cond. Victor 78rpm set M 364, recorded Dec. 17, 1936, digital transfer by F. Reeder

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. Victor 78rpm set DM 1163, recorded 1945, transferred and restored by Bob Varney
[Restorer Bob Varney notes of the 1945 Beecham set: "A 1947 magazine ad showed this recording priced at $3. That would be the equivalent of about $30.25 today and would buy only 16 minutes of music."]


We'll be hearing what I think qualifies as the ultimate in Night Music. Here's a glimpse. Note that in the opening two-horn dialogue, the theatrical first part is played by the Chicago Symphony's legendary Dale Clevenger (born 1940), who has been the orchestra's principal horn since 1966 -- and, yes, is still on the job.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded May 1971