Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: One's a peasant and one's a governor's wife, but both are adored by the locals

Desdemona receives an outpouring of love from the adoring Cypriots in Act II of Cape Town's 2013 Otello.

by Ken

Last week we listened to the opening scene of Verdi's Luisa Miller, as I tried to make my case about the kinship between Luisa and her Verdian cousin Desdemona in Otello, heroines who (to quote myself yet again) --
who are genuinely and all but universally loved because of their basic uncompromised decency and humanity, living exemplary practitioners of the Golden Rule. Naturally they are crushed -- easy pickings in a world that talks a good game about the Golden Rule but truly doesn't believe in it.

One problem in making the connection is that the music in which the relationship between our heroines and the people who love them so tends to be performed as generic, saccharine mush, and so we're not often prompted to consider the effect it would have on us if Luisa's villagers or Desdemona's adoring Cypriots really meant it. It seems to me pretty clear in the music that they do.


VERDI: Otello: Act II, Chorus of Cypriots, "Dove guardi splendono raggi"
In Act II, JAGO is just introducing the first dose of poison into the mind of OTELLO regarding the (wholly non-existent) relationship between DESDEMONA and CASSIO when DESDEMONA reappears in the garden. She is surrounded by inhabitants of the island -- women, boys, and Cypriot and Albanian sailors -- who offer her flowers and other gifts." We come in near the end of this brief lovefest between the Cypriiots and Cypress's First Lady, with OTELLO and JAGO observing.

CYPRIOTS: Wherever you look rays shine,
hearts are enflamed.
Wherever you pass, descend showers
of flowers -- here among lilies and roses,
like before a chaste altar, fathers,
children, wives come singing.
DESDEMONA [deeply touched, very sweetly]:
The heavens shine, the breeze dances,
flowers perfume the air.
Joy, love, hope
sing in my heart.
OTELLO: That song overcomes me.
If she be false, then heaven mocks itself!
JAGO [to himself]:
Beauty and love united in sweet harmony!
I shall shatter your sweet accord.
CYPRIOTS: Live happily! Live happily!
Here love reigns.
OTELLO: That song overcomes me.
[When the singing ends, DESDEMONA kisses some of the children, and some of the women kiss the hem of her gown. She bestows a purse on the sailors.]

Gwyneth Jones (s), Desdemona; James McCracken (t), Otello; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Jago; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded Aug., Oct., and Nov. 1968

Leonie Rysanek (s), Desdemona; Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Tito Gobbi (b), Jago; Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1960

Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Desdemona; Luciano Pavarotti (t), Otello; Leo Nucci (b), Jago; Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded live in concert, April 1991


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Everybody loves Luisa

NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini, cond. RCA-BMG, broadcast performance from Studio 8-H, July 25, 1943

Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded 1976

RCA Italiana Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded June 1964

Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, Riccardo Muti, cond. Sony, recorded Sept. 5-7, 1993

by Ken

The rousing and stirring Overture to Luisa Miller is a piece I adore, and I'm surprised to see that, as far as I can tell, we've never listened to it. I thought we would at least have heard the performance from Tullio Serafin's EMI Italian Opera Overtures disc, but I see now that it's not included on that disc, which could explain it! I've had my copy off the shelf so long that I don't know where it is anyway.)

The Toscanini performance has a scorching intensity I've never heard anyone else even try to get. The Karajan performance (with, of all orchestras, the Berlin Philharmonic -- from a strange set of complete Verdi overtures and preludes I've never had much fondness for) takes the piece in a fairly different direction, and since the Schiller-based Luisa is set in the early-17th-century Tyrol (and even the southern Tirol didn't become Italian until after World War I, and itself isn't all that Italian), perhaps it's not such a demerit that the performance doesn't sound especially Italian.

The piece itself is in a very simple sonata form -- exposition, development, recapitulation, and whirlwind coda -- with the wrinkle that the secondary theme of the exposition, sounded by the solo clarinet, is simply the principal theme switched from the minor to the major -- a hallowed old trick we spotlighted in the December 2011 post "It's the old minor-to-major switcheroo -- courtesy of Mahler, Schubert, and Donizetti."

I could continue plying you with performances of the Luisa Overture, but I think I'll offer just one more: a fine all-purpose job from RCA's 1964 Luisa, the first stereo recording (my goodness, now 50 years old, but holding up very nicely), conducted by that age-old opera-house veteran Fausto Cleva. Well, okay, I threw in one more -- from a Sony Verdi overtures-and-preludes series by Riccardo Muti, to hear the concert version of La Scala's orchstra.


I began that post with the haunting orchestral prelude to Act IV of Verdi's Otello, asking, "How would you describe the atmosphere? Autere? Melancholy? Solitary? Foreboding?" Here it is again.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: How would you describe the atmosphere? Austere? Melancholy? Solitary? Foreboding?

Rome Opera Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1960

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded live, April 1991

by Ken

This week again I found myself in the grip of music, specifically the music we hear above, and even though we've in fact actually heard this music, it was in the context of remembering a fondly remembered singer, and so we didn't really deal properly with the music or the scene, which suggested a post, if I were up to it and there seemed any point.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Nocturne!

MENDELSSOHN: Notturno from A Midsummer Night's Dream (incidental music), Op. 61

Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam), George Szell, cond. Decca, recorded Dec. 2-4, 1957

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. Broadcast performance, May 23, 1969

by Ken

A much-loved little piece latched onto my brain this weeko. It was the "Nocturne" from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream incidental music, and it really still hasn't let go. That's the sort of thing that might once have triggered a post, especially since we don't seem to have spent as much time as I remembered with the incidental music. The only traces I can find are from a November 2008 Mendelssohn post, where we heard the Szell-Concertgebouw recording of the commonly played four-movment grouping of the Overture, Scherzo, Notturno, and Wedding March. and a more expanded suite that I drew from a Klemperer-Bavarian Radio Symphony broadcast performance of a generous selection from the incidental music.

I've re-extracted just the "Notturno" from those performances, as heard above.


I thought we might as well listen again to the full selections from the MSND music we heard back in 2008.