Sunday, June 30, 2013

In "The Flying Dutchman" Wagner shows there's more than one way to get from Act I to Act II and from Act II to Act III

by Ken

In our earlier post about Wagner's Flying Dutchman we heard the Norwegian sea captain Daland return home from a perilous voyage bringing a guest, none other than the Flying Dutchman to meet (and hopefully entrance) his daughter, Senta. Then we left the two potential lovers alone for their long scene, and I would have liked to return for the end of Act II, as Daland returns. Here is that little fragment.
DALAND: Forgive me! My people will stay outside no longer;
each time we return home you know there is a feast.
I would enhance it. Therefore I come to ask
if it can be combined with a betrothal.
[To the DUTCHMAN]: I think you've wooed her to your heart's content!
[to SENTA]: Senta, my child, do you too consent?
SENTA [with solemn resolution]:
Here is my hand! And without regret
I plight my troth till death!
DUTCHMAN: She gives her hand! Powers of hell,
through her troth I defy you!
DALAND: You shall not regret this union!
To the feast! Today let all rejoice!

Karl Ridderbusch (bs), Daland; Gwyneth Jones (s), Senta; Thomas Stewart (b), Dutchman; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded live, 1971

Kurt Moll (bs), Daland; Dunja Vejzovic (s), Senta; José van Dam (bs-b), Dutchman; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded 1981-83


In Friday's preview we heard the Sailors' Chorus that opens Act III. Now we're going to hear two ways that Wagner put Acts II and III together. Originally he imagined the opera's three acts running together; later he separated them by repeating orchestral material at the ends and beginnings of the interior acts.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Preview: A little more of "The Flying Dutchman" -- we hear from the sailors

WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman: End of Act I, Daland, "Hei! Wie die Segel schon sich blähn" ("Hey, how the sails are already filling!") . . . Sailors, "Mit Gewitter und Sturm" ("Through thunder and storm")
DALAND [going aboard his ship]:
Hey, how the sails are already filling!
Hallo! Hallo!
[He gives a signal on his whistle.]
Quick, lads, cast off!
SAILORS [as they sail off]:
Through thunder and storm, through distant seas
I draw near, my lass! Hurrah!
Through towering waves, from the south
I am here, my lass! Hurrah!
My girl, were there no south wind,
I could never come to you:
Oh, dear south wind, blow once more!
My lass longs for me!
Ho! Ho! Ho, yo-lo-ho!
Ho ho ho ho ho!
Ho! Ho! Ho, yo-lo-ho! Ho ho ho ho ho ho!

Hans Sotin (bs), Daland; Vienna State Opera Concert Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Christoph von Dohnányi, cond. Decca, recorded March-Nov. 1991

by Ken

Two weeks ago, in our Father's Day special, we made the acquaintance of the Norwegian sea captain Daland in Wagner's Flying Dutchman -- first (barely) surviving a sudden, violent storm just as his ship is nearing home port, in sight of his own house; then introducing his cherished daughter, Senta, to an eminently marriageable fellow sea captain he has met by the most remarkable chance.

The gentleman caller is in fact none other than the legendary Flying Dutchman, doomed to sail the seas until he finds redemption through love. Only the Dutchman turns out to be not a legend but a flesh-and-blood man, and one who could provide for Senta better than Daland could have dared hope. In our excerpt above, after Daland and the Dutchman have gotten to know each other under these bizarre circumstances and the Dutchman has agreed to call on Senta, the sailors have been roused by the sudden rising -- finally! -- of a south wind, the wind that will take them home. What we've heard is in fact the end of Act I.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

"In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing," sings the one and only John McCormack

There's a tear in your eye,
and I'm wondering why,
for it never should be there at all.
With such pow'r in your smile,
sure a stone you'd beguile,
so there's never a teardrop should fall.
When your sweet lilting laughter's
like some fairy song,
and your eyes twinkle bright as can be,
you should laugh all the while
and all other times smile,
and now smile a smile for me.

When Irish eyes are smiling,
sure, it's like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter,
you can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
all the world seems bright and gay.
And when Irish eyes are smiling,
sure, they steal your heart away. . . .

John McCormack, tenor. Victor, recorded in Camden, Sept. 20, 1916

by Ken

In Friday night's preview we heard just the first verse, leading up to but stopping at, the first chorus of John McCormack's astonishing 1916 recording of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," one of four Irish songs included on the LP side devoted to McCormack in the c1960 RCA Victor anthology Ten Great Singers. (We'll hear the other three in a moment.)


The Ten Great Singers set was accompanied by a booklet with essays on each singer by longtime Met Assistant Manager Francis Robinson, one of the opera world's most tireless and natty schmoozers. Here's what he had to say about McCormack:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Preview: You know who this famous tenor is, and what he's singing, right?

There's a tear in your eye,
and I'm wondering why,
for it never should be there at all.
With such pow'r in your smile,
sure a stone you'd beguile,
so there's never a teardrop should fall.
When your sweet lilting laughter's
like some fairy song,
and your eyes twinkle bright as can be,
you should laugh all the while
and all other times smile,
and now smile a smile for me. . . .

by Ken

In the cruelly aborted audio clip above, everyone knows what's coming next, right? After all, it is perhaps the signature song of this great tenor. And a great tenor he indisputably was; we're going to hear a couple of other selections in a moment.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day special -- Wagner's Daland usually knows better than to trust in the wind

DALAND: [coming down from the cliff]:
No doubt! Seven miles away
the storm has driven us from safe port.
So near our goal after a long voyage,
this trick was saved up for me!
STEERSMAN [on board, shouting through cupped hands]:
Ho! Captain!
DALAND: On board with you -- how goes it?
STEERSMAN [as before]: Good, captain!
We have firm grounding.
DALAND: It's Sandwike! I know the bay well.
[0:53] Damn! I already saw my house on the shore.
Senta, my child, I imagined myself already embracing.
Then came this blast from the depths of hell.
Who trusts in wind trusts in Satan's mercy.
Who trusts in wind trusts in Satan's mercy,
trusts in Satan's mercy.

[He goes on board the ship.]
There's no help for it! Patience! The storm is abating;
so fierce a storm couldn't last long.
[On board] Hey, lads! Your watch was long --
to rest then! I'm not concerned anymore.
[The sailors go below deck on the ship.]
Now, steersman, will you take the watch for me?
There's no danger, but it's good if you keep watch.
STEERSMAN: Be without worry! Sleep peacefully, captain!
[DALAND goes into his cabin. The STEERSMAN is alone on deck. The storm has abated somewhat and returns only at sporadic intervals. The waves are still rough on the open sea. The STEERSMAN makes his round once more, then sits down near the rudder. He yawns, then rouses himself as sleep comes over him.]

Karl Ridderbusch (bs), Daland; Harald Ek (t), Steersman; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded live, 1971

by Ken

In Friday night's preview we met the Norwegian sea captain Daland in happy homecoming mode, in Act II of The Flying Dutchman -- not just happy to be returning to his home and his beloved daugher Senta from an unusually perilous voyage with life and limbs intact, but returning in the company of a stranger, met under extraordinary circumstances, who is the best son-in-law material fate could have sent his way.

Now we're returning, not quite to Act I curtain rise (we'll get there in a moment), but to the brush with death, for him and his crew, that Daland has just survived thanks to a combination of luck and his own nautical skill. With his ship becalmed but safe just off the coast, not far from home, he berates himself for having, incredibly foolishly, let slip his guard against the vagaries of fate. The section we're especially concerned with here is the highlighted one, where for the first time he indulges in sustained singing, when he recalls that literally within sight of home, already imagining himself there, with Senta in his arms, he was beset by a violent storm outburst that caught him almost tragically unprepared.

This extraordinary little set piece he sings is at once one of the most vivid examples I know of the way music, and in particular vocal music, can be used to create character and dramatic urgency and one of the most challenging but potentially rewarding pieces of vocal writing I know. And I've never heard anyone do it fuller justice than Karl Ridderbusch in this live performance from the 1971 Bayreuth Festival.

He sings high, he sings low; he sings with unmatched power and unrivaled delicacy; he attacks every pitch dead-on while binding phrases with ravishing tone and dramatic sweep. Above all he really does sing every note, filling out each syllable with the ravishing sound of a great bass voice under complete, sculpting phrases with seemingly effortless control.

To be perhaps a little clearer, I though we'd listen to this amazing scene chunk again, in an assortment of performances that I consider admirable in many respects (much better than the average one encounters; it would be too easy to make the case with that sort of performance), and then listen to Ridderbusch's again.

WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman: Act I, Daland, "Kein Zweifel! Sieben Meilen fort" ("No doubt! Seven miles away")

Friday, June 14, 2013

Preview: Father's Day special -- meet the sea captain Daland (with UPDATE: Overture!)

In Act II of Wagner's Flying Dutchman, the sea captain Daland has just walked into his home on the rugged Norwegian coast following a harrowing voyage with a near-fatal landing, as we witnessed in Act I. Here bass Karl Ridderbusch as Daland exhorts his daughter, Senta, to welcome the guest he's brought home with him (from a Rome Radio broadcast performance conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch, February 15, 1969).

DALAND: Would you, my child, bid this stranger welcome?
A sailor is he, like me; he asks our hospitality.
Long without homeland, always on far, long journeys,
in foreign lands he has gained great wealth.
Banished from his fatherland,
for a home he will pay richly.
Say, Senta, would it displease you
if this stranger stays with us?
[SENTA nods her approval. DALAND turns to the DUTCHMAN.]
Say, did I praise her too much?
You see her yourself -- does she please you?
Should I let my praises yet overflow?
Admit, she is an ornament to her sex.
[The DUTCHMAN makes a gesture of approval.]
Would you, my child, show yourself well-disposed to this man?
He also asks for the beautiful gift of your heart.
If you give him your hand, you are to call him bridegroom.
If you heed your father, tomorrow he'll be your husband.
[SENTA makes a convulsive, painful movement. DALAND produces some jewelry and shows it to his daughter.]
See this ring, see these bracelets!
What he owns makes this meager.
Mustn't you, dear child, long for it?
It's yours if you exchange rings.
[SENTA, without paying any attention to him, doesn't take her eyes off the DUTCHMAN, who likewise, without listening to DALAND, is absorbed in contemplating her. DALAND becomes aware of this; he looks at them both.]
But neither speaks . . . Am I not wanted here?
So it is! I'd best leave them alone.
[To SENTA] May you win this noble man!
Believe me, such look won't happen again.
[To the DUTCHMAN] Stay here alone! I'll go away.
Believe me, however beautiful, she is that faithful.
[He goes out slowly, watching them both with pleased surprise. SENTA and the DUTCHMAN are alone. Long pause.]

by Ken

This week's post has come about in an even more than usually roundabout way, triggered by a comment I was startled to encounter online about a performance by the bass we just heard, Karl Ridderbusch -- a comment so bizarrely off the mark that it made me wonder whether it tells us something about the way at least some latter-day listeners hear singing.

The comment pertained to Ridderbusch's first commercial recording of King Heinrich in Wagner's Lohengrin, but it soon occurred to me that the discussion should be expanded to include his Daland in The Flying Dutchman as well. Then it occurred to me that the discussion might more sensibly begin with The Flying Dutchman, and finally it occurred to me that we could hardly have a more appropriate subject for the Father's Day weekend.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Our Beethoven Seventh performances are connected the most obvious way -- they're by the same conductor

Otto Klemperer

BEETHOVEN: The Creatures of Prometheus (ballet), Op. 43: Overture

Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Nov. 25, 1957
New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded June 17-18, 1969

by Ken

In Friday night's preview we heard two extremely lovely performances of the haunting and powerful slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, and I invited readers to identify the connection between them.

As our friend me noted in a comment, performance A is older and quicker than performance B. I'm not sure that the Internet-transmitted mp3 sound does full justice to B, and the sound really does matter, because the wealth of sonic color and texture our conductor is coaxing from his players becomes part of the expressive structure of the performance. It is, as it happens, a performance that's some 45 years old but that I don't think I've ever heard, for reasons I'll explain in a moment.

Let's listen again to performances A and B, with a performance X thrown in between them.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Preview: What's the connection between these performances of the uplifting Allegretto from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony?

by Ken

Nothing fancy tonight. It's even music we've heard before: the always-uplifting Allegretto of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. We're just going to listen to two recordings, which actually have a connection, which we'll talk about in this week's Sunday Classics post. Clearly one of the performances is broader than the other, but I'm not going to say any more for now except that one of these Beethoven Seventh recordings achieved a certain infamy and a place in certain commentators' recorded Hall of Shame.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92:
ii. Allegretto




Sunday, June 2, 2013

Colin Davis's surprising triumph in Mahler's "Song of the Earth"

The firmament is eternally blue, and the earth
will long stand fast and blossom in spring.
But thou, O man, how long then livest thou?
Not a hundred years canst thou delight
in all the rotten trash of this earth!
-- from "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde" ("The Drinking Song of Earth's Sorrow"), the opening movement of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth); English translation by Deryck Cooke

Jon Vickers, tenor; London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded March 1981

by Ken

In Friday night's preview I argued that Jon Vickers's massive but "slow-speaking" tenor was heard to limited advantage in "On Youth," the finely detailed second of the three tenor songs of Mahler's song-symphony The Song of the Earth. I certainly wouldn't say the same of at least this fraught chunk of the opening song. This seems to me very much the kind of sound -- that of a full-fledged heroic tenor -- that Mahler must have had in mind.

We're going to hear the full song momentarily, but first I think we need to repeat an experiment we've done before in approaching Mahler's Song of the Earth(1908-09), his six-movement setting of Hans Bethge's then-recently-published German renderings of classical Chinese poems, which was the first work he conceived after learning that he had untreatable heart disease. We're going to listen again to his final, confidently heaven-storming musical utterance before the fateful diagnosis. (It's the conclusion of Goethe's Faust.)

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E-flat (1906):
conclusion, "Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis"

All things transitory are but parable;
here insufficiency becomes fulfillment,
here the indescribable is accomplished;
the ever-womanly draws us heavenward.
[much repeated]
-- English translation by Peggie Cochrane

Soloists, choruses, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. BMG, recorded live, July 7-8, 1996

Soloists, choruses, London Symphony Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein, cond. BBC Legends, live performance from the Royal Albert Hall, March 20, 1959