Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Yes, it's more Donald Adams!

Princess Ida's three "hulking brothers" are bested by Prince Hilarion and his friends Cyril and Florian in Act III of the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players' Princess Ida.
Politics we bar,
they are not our bent!
On the whole we are
not intelligent!
-- Ida's brother Arac, in Act I of Princess Ida
by Ken

So far in this series we've heard our Donald as the army-besotted landlord Sergeant Bouncer in Burnand and Sullivan's Cox and Box and as the Usher in Trial by Jury, and most recently as the specter of the late Sir Roderic Murgatroyd in Ruddigore. And I thought we should start by finishing up with Sir Roderic, since we gave rather short shrift to the great scene in which the ancestral Murgatroyds step out of their picture frames in the great hall of the Bad Baronets of Ruddigore to torment the recently entitled Sir Ruthven over his failure to live up to the fabled Witch's Curse -- to "do one crime or more, once every day forever." After all, it was supposed to be our goal in last week's post, "When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls."

So we're going to return to the Picture Galley, then push farther into Ruddigore, and then we're going to hear Donald in another role, one he didn't have occasion to sing often, but sang wonderfully on two recordings of Princess Ida.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls

With update, in which I actually include the texts
and music for the meeting of the two Bad Barts

Carole Round in the 1999 SavoyNet Performing Group Ruddigore
DAME HANNAH [quoting the burning witch]:
"Each lord of Ruddigore,
despite his best endeavour,
shall do one crime, or more,
once every day forever.
This doom he can't defy,
however he may try.
For should he stay
his hand, that day
in torture he shall die!"

[We heard the story in full in this week's preview, "The Witch's Curse."]

Gillian Knight (ms), Dame Hannah; Orchestra or the Royal Opera House, Covent Gardn, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962

Monica Sinclair (c), Dame Hannah; Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 11-14, 1962

Ruddigore, Act I: All the village girls express their horror of SIR DESPARD MURGATROYD, Bad Baronet of Ruddigore. As he approaches them they fly from him, terror-stricken, leaving him alone on the stage.

SIR DESPARD MURGATROYD: Poor children, how they loathe me -- me whose hands are certainly steeped in infamy, but whose heart is as the heart of a little child! But what is a poor baronet to do, when a whole picture gallery of ancestors step down from their frames and threaten him with an excruciating death if he hesitate to commit his daily crime? But ha! ha! I am even with them! [Mysteriously] I get my crime over the first thing in the morning, and then, ha! ha! for the rest of the day I do good -- I do good -- I do good! [Melodramatically] Two days since, I stole a child and built an orphan asylum. Yesterday I robbed a bank and endowed a bishopric. Today I carry off Rose Maybud and atone with a cathedral! This is what it is to be the sport and toy of a Picture Gallery! But I will be bitterly revenged upon them! I will give them all to the Nation, and nobody shall ever look upon their faces again!

by Ken

Before we continue with Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, we're going to observe our frequent custom of starting at the beginning, with the Overture. For our purposes, as I hope you'll hear, it's especially important here. (Note that this is the "later" overture, in which Sullivan had no hand. But something had to be done when for the 1920-21 revival of the show -- after the deaths of both Gilbert and Sullivan -- the tune that had served as the big "developoment" tune of the original Overture, Robin's "When a man has been a wicked baronet" from the Act II finale, was cut. I happen to think that the replacement Overture, generally credited to Geoffrey Toye, a longtime assistant of Sullivan's, is quite dandy.)

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Ruddigore: Overture (1920)

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962

Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Nov. 3, 1960

[Sorry, I was so pressed for time that I completely screwed this up this morning. The texts and the audio files were all ready to go, and I didn't get around to inserting them!]

This is officially, or at least this post began life as, a continuation of last week's idea of a tribute to the great G-and-S bass Donald Adams. Well, things happen. Much of the text was written on paper napkins in the shadow of the Harkness Tower at Yale, with a carillon ringing that included "Send in the clowns." (I was hoping for "Send in the clowns," but that wasn't bad.) We actually will get to Adams. But first . . . .

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: The Witch's Curse

Dame Hannah (Maya Stroshane) tells the impressionable young village bridesmaids the story of the Witch's Curse in Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan's 2010 Ruddigore.

by Ken

We first pondered "The Witch's Curse," though at the time I wasn't able to enable you to hear it, in a June 2007 post called "'Laws? I don't obey no stinkin' laws!' Are Chimpy the Prez and his partner in crime 'Big Dick' Cheney blood brothers of the Bad Baronets of Ruddigore?," in response to a Washington Post report, "'Signing Statements' Study Finds Administration Has Ignored Laws." Right-wing scum pols ignoring the law -- what a surprise! This has a special resonance now when degraded and demented right-wing life forms like Darrell "The Unembarrassable" Issa have made a daily habit of persecuting the Obama administration for sins that were in fact spécialités de maison of the Bush regime, when they went routinely unremarked upon, even defended, by degraded and demented right-wing life forms like Darrell "The Unembarrassable" Issa.

Though I wasn't able to enable you to hear it back in 2007, we did eventually hear one of our versions of Dame Hannah's song in June 2010. We actually have entirely other-than-political reasons -- leftover business from last week, to be exact -- for returning this week to the ghost of Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, the first and baddest of the whole long line of Bad Baronets of Ruddigore. But I think it's never out of place to recall the curse that lay so heavily upon the bad barts, as explained by the doughty Dame Hannah early in Act I of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore.

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse: Act I, Song, Dame Hannah and chorus, "Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, his leisure and his riches"
DAME HANNAH: Sir Rupert Murgatroyd,
his leisure and his riches,
he ruthlessly employed
in persecuting witches.
With fear he'd make them quake—
he'd duck them in his lake—
he'd break their bones
with sticks and stones,
and burn them at the stake!
CHORUS OF BRIDESMAIDS: This sport he much enjoyed,
did Rupert Murgatroyd—
no sense of shame
or pity came
to Rupert Murgatroyd!

DAME HANNAH: Once, on the village green,
a palsied hag he roasted,
and what took place, I ween,
shook his composure boasted.
For as the torture grim
aeized on each withered limb,
the writhing dame
'mid fire and flame
yelled forth this curse on him:
     "Each lord of Ruddigore,
     despite his best endeavour,
     shall do one crime, or more,
     once, every day, forever!
     This doom he can't defy,
     however he may try,
     for should he stay
     his hand, that day
     in torture he shall die!"

The prophecy came true:
each heir who held the title
had, every day, to do
some crime of import vital;
until, with guilt o'erplied,
"I'll sin no more!" he cried,
and on the day
he said that say,
in agony he died!
CHORUS OF BRIDESMAIDS: And thus, with sinning cloyed,
has died each Murgatroyd,
and so shall fall,
both one and all,
each coming Murgatroyd!

Monica Sinclair (c), Dame Hannah; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 11-14, 1962

Gillian Knight (ms), Dame Hannah; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962

Ella Halman (c), Dame Hannah; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Promenade Orchestra, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 21, 1950

Bertha Lewis (c); D'Oyty Carte Opera Chorus, orchestra, Harry Norris (or maybe George Byng?), cond. EMI, recorded June 30, 1924

I don't suppose we can any longer call the more-than-50-year-old EMI and Decca recordings "modern," though they sound better to me than an awful lot of recordings that are unquestionably "modern" chronologically. Stil, we have to distinguish them somehow from the two "historical" recordings I've included. Ella Halman, who recorded most of the G-and-S contralto roles in the late '40s and early '50s, has ardent Savoyard admirers, which has always mystified me. The greatness of Bertha Lewis, however, seems to me to glow through the 1924 acoustical sound.


We'll meet the ghostly Bad Baronets of Ruddigore, including their spokesghost, Sir Roderic Murgatroyd.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Elaine Stritch (1925-2014)

We'll hear Elaine singing "The Ladies Who Lunch" when Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company was new, but I thought it would be nice to hear and see again this September 1998 performance, which we first looked at in December 2010. (It's from the Carnegie Hall cavalcade-of-stars concert My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies.)

by Ken

I know it seems like an odd thing to say, but in remembering Elaine Stritch on DownWithTyranny earlier today (when I promised some musical remembrances in a later post -- this one), I wrote with singular lack of grace:
It was quite a career, Elaine Stritch's. . . . Still, one thing you can say about the career is that, given the epic scale of her abilities, it's a shame more producers, directors, and writers didn't find (well, create) more vehicles that took full advantage of what this "force of nature" could do.
By way of example, though, let's take Company (1970). The creator of the music, Stephen Sondheim (doing both words and music himself for the first time, remember), and the book, George Furth, have made it clear that the role of the super-cynical Joanne was written with Elaine in mind, and she was brilliant, as everyone knows.

STEPHEN SONDHEIM: Company (1970)

"The Little Things You Do Together

"The Ladies Who Lunch"

Elaine Stritch (Joanne) and (in "The Little Things You Do Together") company; Original Broadway Cast recording, Harold Hastings, musical director. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded May 3, 1970

Still, except for the central role of Bobby, around him all the other relationships revolve, Company is a genuine ensemble show, and while Elaine's performance was probably the one most attendees had in their heads as they left the theater, it was hardly a large role.

That said, Joanne was a great role for Elaine, and in the end even the most compelling performer has to work with the material he/she has to work with. Elaine had been at the center of things in 1961 in Sail Away, the last "book" musical for which Noël Coward wrote both music and lyrics. Everyone who saw the show loved her and remembered her performance, but the show itself wasn't exactly memorable. A lot of the score is still worth listening to, though. Here's Elaine as Mimi Paragon, the hard-boiled, divorced cruise hostess.

NOËL COWARD: Sail Away (1961)

As I wrote when we first heard these excerpts in December 2010: Sorry about the LP surface noise [from my very own copy, bought when the thing was released 52-plus years ago -- Ed.] early on in the "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" track. I came close to paying the 99 cents to download this great song, but the noise cleared up, and as I like to say, 99 cents saved here and there adds up to 99 cents saved here and there.]

"Come to Me" (opening number, the Stewards and Mimi)

"You're a Long, Long Way from America" (Act I finale, Mimi and company)

"Why Do the Wrong People Travel (When the Right People Stay Back Home)?"

Elaine Stritch (Mimi Paragon) and company, Original Broadway Cast recording, Peter Matz, arr. and musical director. Capitol-EMI, recorded October 1961


At 8:01 Elaine talks about Sail Away, Noël Coward, and her mother. At 10:27 her attention is turned to Company.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Rataplan!

How many "Rataplan"s can you count in these 33 seconds?

rataplan  n.  A tattoo, as of a drum, the hoofs of a galloping horse, or machine-gun fire. [French, of imitative origin.]
-- The American Heritage Dictionary

by Ken

So this is what I suddenly found going through my head this week. And once it was lodged in there, it was mighty hard to get out. Then it occurred to me that we've never listened to this wonderfully goofy moment from the little one-act farce Cox and Box, with a libretto by F. C. Burnand, here in Sunday Classics. (Regular readers will know that my admiration for Sullivan as musical dramatist in his partnership with W. S. Gilbert is something like reverence. However, Cox and Box is the only music he wrote without Gilbert which I return to with real pleasure.) I figured that while the lights are still on here at Sunday Classics, however dimly, we ought to rectify this omission.

In a moment we'll hear a little more music to place the above in context. Then I thought, since the delicious Bouncer of these excerpts is the beloved (by me, anyway) Donald Adams, we should do some sort of Donald Adams retrospective, but that project quickly got out of hand, so maybe we'll do it some other time. For the record, though, as I recall we've already heard him in his most famous role, the Mikado (and he's still the best I've ever heard, without even a close second), and also as Colonel Calverley in Patience, as Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre in The Sorcerer, and even in a snippet from a role that as far as I know he never sang, the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance. (The Pirate King was another of his most famous roles, and we have heard him in a snippet from that, the incandescent Paradox Trio.)

I love the idea of a Donald Adams retrospective, but for now, in order to make this a proper post, even a proper "ghost" post, after we've dealt with the rataplanning Sergeant Bouncer, we'll hear quite a different "Rataplan."


This is an old Sunday Classics habit, and in this case it's pays quick dividends, as I think you'll hear pretty quickly. You'll also note very different approaches to our material from our first two conductors, our old G-and-S friends Isidore Godfrey and Sir Malcolm Sargent. For the heck of it, I've thrown in the perfectly solid Overture from the generally lackluster later D'Oyly Carte recording of Cox and Box, also of basically the "Savoy edition," which chops the show down to a half-hour -- a loss that's almost pure gain.

Cox and Box: Overture

New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded 1961

Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded 1961

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royston Nash, cond. Decca, recorded February 1978


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: It's a barely fathomable distance dramatically from the end of Act I to the end of Act II of Verdi's "Otello"

Aa Act II ends, Otello (Jon Vickers, right) swears vengeance and Jago (Cornell MacNeil) swears his support (all with subtitles), one of the most thrilling and most appalling moments you'll encounter on a stage -- with James Levine conducting, at the Met in September 1978.

by Ken

We've been dealing with the sisterly or at least cousinly kinship between Verdi's Luisa Miller and Desdemona, and in case it wasn't in obvious in last night's preview, this week we're back to Desdemona.

In the preview we heard the very end of the conclusion of Act II of Verdi's Otello, the moor's oath of vengeance, abetted by his "trusted' Jago, on his "unfaithful" wife -- violent, insanely overflowing with testosterone, but also undeniably thrilling. It's at once one of the most thrilling and most appalling moments you'll encounter on a stage.

Then we heard the next bit of music in the opera, the brief orchestral prelude to Act III, built on an insidious, slithery tune that was first heard Act II, and so we then backed up to listen to the theme to which the diabolical Jago, as part of his plan to use Otello's personal insecurity to destroy him, "warns" him against jealousy.

VERDI: Otello: Act II, Jago, "Temete, signor, la gelosia!" ("Beware, my lord of jealousy")
Beware, my lord, of jealousy!
'Tis a dark hydra, malignant, blind.
It poisons itself with its own venom.
Its breast is rent by a vivid wound.

(1) Leonard Warren, baritone; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, George Szell, cond. Live performance, Nov. 16, 1946
(2) Tito Gobbi, baritone; NHK Symphony Orchestra (Tokyo), Alberto Erede, cond. Telecast performance, recorded Feb. 4, 1959
(3) Sherrill Milnes, baritone; National Philharmonic Orchestra, James Levine, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded August 1978
(4) Leo Nucci, baritone; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded live in concert, April 1991
(5) Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded Aug, Oct., and Nov, 1968

Otello is filled with astonishments (it's practically nothing but astonishments). One real astonishment is how Verdi and librettist Arrigo Boito get us, in the space of an act of maybe 35 minutes, from the Act I curtain to the Act II curtain. I thought this week we might peek into the innards of Act II a little. That's not going to happen, at least not this week, But I think this little riff on jealousy, in which Jago significantly amplifies Otello's jealousy by warning him against jealousy, is a splendid sample of how those ardent Shakespeareans Verdi and Boito used their operatic toolkit to accomplish this astonishment.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: " 'Tis a dark hydra, malignant, blind"

by Ken

We tried something a few weeks back, listening just to a tiny bit of music, which turned out to be the brief orchestral prelude to Act IV of Verdi's Otello, with the (hopefully) suggestive question of what mood or moods it suggested ("How would you describe the atmosphere? Austere? Melancholy? Solitary? Foreboding?").

I have no idea whether that served any purpose, except maybe to me, but is that any reason not to try it again? Tonight we have two brief orchestral excerpts, and we start with a very brief one, which I don't think one has to be a wizard to intuit is the end -- of something. Just in case there's any doubt, three of our performances, being live, come with their own applause. And oh yes, in a moment we're going to hear what it ends.


For my money, while (2) has a wonderfully snarling sense of finality, it's (5) that walks away with this -- and the conductor has a score marking ("pesante") to back up his bold choice.


Okay, there could be, you know, an intermission in between. (Do you think I would try to trick you?)