Sunday, March 16, 2014

Verdi's Queen Elisabeth demands justice from King Philip but gets something else

Ferruccio Furlanetto (at the Met last year) as the sleepless King Philip in his study -- with the fateful jewel box
The KING's study in Madrid. The KING, plunged in deep meditation, leaning on a table covered with papers, where candles are near burning out. Day begins to illuminate the colored glass of the windows.

KING PHILIP [as if in a dream]:
She never loved me.
No, that heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

I still see her again, contemplating with a sad look
my white mane the day that she came here from France.
No, she doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.

[in Italian, as above] Cesare Siepi (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Live performance, Nov. 11, 1950

[in Italian, as above] Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bs), King Philip II; NHK Symphony Orchestra (Tokyo), Oliviero de Fabritiis, cond. Telecast performance, Sept. 2, 1967

[in French (slightly different text)] Erwin Schrott (bs), King Philip II; Rafat Jezierski, cello; Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana, Riccardo Frizza, cond. Decca, recorded Jan.-Feb. 2008

by Ken

As I noted in last night's preview ("Poor King Philip receives yet another unwelcome early-morning visitor"), we're resuming our journey through the Don Carlos Act IV scene in King Philip's study which began with his pre-dawn monologue ("Verdi's King Philip -- a man in crisis," January 2013) and continued with the crack-of-dawn confrontation between the king and the 90-year-old blind Grand Inquisitor pay a just-at-dawn call on the king ("'The pride of the king withers before the pride of the priest!' (Verdi's King Philip)," March 2013).

Back when we began our journey, I said that sleeplessly half-deranged state in which we found the king, exacerbated by the severe bullying inflicted by the Grand Inquisitor, would lead him to commit a monstrous act. That act is the climax of the slender bit of scene which is our work unit this week.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Preview: Poor King Philip receives yet another unwelcome early-morning visitor

by Ken

I've thought of another loose end I'd really hate not to tie up: our gradual traversal of the great scene in King Philip's study in Act IV (Act III of the four-act version) of Verdi's Don Carlos.

We've already covered the Spanish king's bleak pre-dawn monologue ("Verdi's King Philip -- a man in crisis," January 2013), where he makes clear that he knows his young wife, the French princess Elisabeth, doesn't love him and never loved him, the proceeds to pretend that his only problem is that even royalty doesn't give people to see into human hearts, where only God can see. And then we've seen the 90-year-old blind Grand Inquisitor pay a just-at-dawn call on the king ("'The pride of the king withers before the pride of the priest!' (Verdi's King Philip)," March 2013) to take advantage of his sleep-deprived, half-crazed state of mind to bully him into submission.

Tonight's brief exchange (whose significance to me personally I'll explain tomorrow) comes after the king has received his next early-morning visitor: the queen, demanding justice for the theft of her jewel box.

VERDI: Don Carlos, Act IV (III), Scene 1: Elisabeth, "Ben lo sapete"
ELISABETH: 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.
KING PHILIP: You speak to me too boldly!
You think me weak
and seem to defy me;
weakness in me
can turn to fury.
Tremble then,
for you, for me!

Eleanor Steber (s), Elisabeth; Jerome Hines (bs), King Philip II; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Kurt Adler, cond. Live performance, Mar. 5, 1955

Sena Jurinac (s), Elisabeth; Cesare Siepi (bs), King Philip II; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Silvio Varviso, cond. Live performance, June 15, 1968

Gundula Janowitz (s), Elisabeth; Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), King Philip II; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Horst Stein, cond. Live performance, Oct. 25, 1970


The whole of the brief but crucial Philip-Elisabeth scene.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mahler's "Song of the Earth" in full orchestral dress and chamber-scaled

The inspiration for Das Lied, and the source for the texts, was Hans Bethge's German reworking of a bunch of Chinese poems in Die chinesische Flöte (The Chinese Flute).

by Ken

As I mentioned in last night's preview, I was then about to head out for a chamber-scale performance of Mahler's Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony, the Songs of a Wayfarer, and Das Lied von der Erde. It was actually pretty nice -- at least an experience of the music was had, something that isn't at all guaranteed these days.

The chamber version of Das Lied, first proposed and begun by Arnold Schoenberg, then finally realized in 1983 by Rainer Riehn, has become strangely popular. It's really no more than a stopgap, a way to experience this masterpiece on the cheap, but it does have charms of its own, and when I realized that I actually have six recordings of it, I decided we'd hear one song from each of the dozen soloists involved.

Then I made the large decision to go ahead with the full Das Lied that was promised last month. And we've covered the piece so much that I further decided not to say anything more. Oh, eventually I'll probably throw in some links to earlier posts (you'll find some in the February 2 post noted above). But for now I thought I'd let the songs stand on their own.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Preview: Chamber-scale Mahler

by Ken

I'm just about to leave for a chamber-ensemble concert devoted to, of all composers, Mahler -- comprising, in reduced-orchestra form, the Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony, the Songs of a Wayfarer, and Das Lied von der Erde.

As some of you out there will recall, we still have a "complete" Das Lied under Sunday Classics promise, and I've done a fair amount of performance-sorting and thinking, but I still don't know what I want to say. Maybe nothing more. We'll see.

In the meantime I thought tonight we'd listen to the famous Adagietto, familiar from countless funerals, memorial services, and Luchino Visconti's film of Death in Venice, where you'll recall that Aschenbach was converted from Mann's novelist to a composer.

To the best of my knowledge, I don't own a peformance of the Adagietto in chamber-orchestra form, so we'll just hear it "straight"; it's scored for strings and harp only in any case. I discovered that we've already heard two performances of it, though despite a vague recollection I honestly don't remember the post they're from. I was going to use the Kletzki recording anyway, and I figured why not hear the Levine again? Then I was surprised to see that Wyn Morris's performance is actually shorter than Kletzki's. (I generally associate Morris with gradual-ish tempos in Mahler.) So I thought I'd throw that in.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor:
iv. Adagietto

Philadelphia Orchestra, James Levine, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded Jan. 17-18, 1977

Philharmonia Orchestra, Paul Kletzki, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 27, 1959

Symphonica of London, Wyn Morris, cond. IMP, recorded January 1973