Sunday, December 27, 2015

We continue our detour through "Così fan tutte" on the road back to poor Ariadne, abandoned -- only now with company! -- on the isle of Naxos

"Soave sia il vento"
("Gentle be the breeze")



FIORDILIGI, DORABELLA, and DON ALFONSO:
Gentle be the breeze,
calm be the waves,
and every element
smile in favor
on their wish.


Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; Yvonne Minton (ms), Dorabella; Hans Sotin (bs), Don Alfonso; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan. 25-Feb. 18, 1971

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Nan Merriman (ms), Dorabella; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Don Alfonso; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

[in English] Elizabeth Harwood (s), Fiordiligi; Janet Baker (ms), Dorabella; John Shirley-Quirk (bs-b), Don Alfonso; Scottish National Opera Orchestra, Alexander Gibson, cond. Live performance, May 1969

by Ken

Okay, I know we've heard "Soave sia il vento" bunches of times before. And it seems likely that we'll hear it bunches of times again, maybe even in this post. (It could be that I know something, but I'm not telling.) It goes like this: We have occasion to listen to it this week, and if you think we're going to bypass a gimme like this, you're wrong.

Last week's post was called "Ariadne and Fiordiligi: Real people and feelings vs. ideas about people and feelings," and you may have noticed that I didn't particularly pursue the theme announced in the title. Mostly I presented Fiordiligi's two stupendous showpiece arias from Mozart and da Ponte's Così fan tutte. Both show Mozart deploying all his craft and a good measure of his genius toward creating a show-stopper of an aria. But there's a world of difference between Fiordiligi's Act I declaration of rock-like fidelity and the heart-rending state of confusion she's reduced to in her Act II rondo as she finds herself prepared to betray her beloved.

The men whom Fiordiligi and her sister Dorabella love -- or at least think they love in Act I -- aren't drawn in anything like the depth of the women, but their music reflects the same schism: trafficking in Act I with unthinking, abstract images of people, and then in Act II coming up against feal feelings as they find themselves dealing with their fiancées as real people. Here, for example, is how it all starts.

Well, not quite how it all starts. It all starts with a sparkling Overture, and long-time visitors to Sunday Classics know that we often like to start at the start. So here's the actual start. (We've heard all these performances before, but let me just say a couple of things again. The Jochum and Klemperer are from complete recordings of the opera, and the Jochum Così, which I've been living with now for 50-plus years, still seems to me a wonder -- perhaps more of a wonder than ever. The Klemperer Così remains indispensable if only for the almost-superhuman Fiordiligi of Margaret Price. The Colin Davis performance comes from a wonderful early Davis LP of Mozart overtures which is still the way I would wish to remember him.)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ariadne and Fiordiligi: Real people and feelings vs. ideas about people and feelings

[This isn't the full post yet, but it's closer than I was expecting. Stay tuned. UPDATE: Okay, this is pretty much the post. I scaled down the intended scope, so that we still have some Così business to pursue along with making the connection to Ariadne. -- K]
[LATER UPDATE: There's now a linked list of "The Ariadne Posts" at the end of this post.]


In pity's name, my dearest, forgive
the misdeed of a loving soul;
amid this shade and these plants
forever hidden, oh God, let it be.

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan.-Feb. 1971

Montserrat Caballé (s), Fiordiligi; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded c1973

by Ken

Yes, we're still talking about Strauss and Hofmannsthal's Ariadne auf Naxos, and we're getting nearer to dealing directly with its supposed musico-dramatic split personality, between the "Italian buffo manner" (as the Music Master refers to it) of Zerbinetta and her commedia dell'arte companions and the tragic world of Ariadne herself, abandoned by Theseus on the isle of Naxos.

If you look at early reviews of Ariadne, whether in its original 1912 format as an entertainment within Hofmannsthal's adaptation of Molière's Le bourgeois gentilhomme, or in the 1916 revision with the added Prologue that made the opera free-standing, you frequently encounter the criticism that the two musico-dramatic worlds that the creators so gleefully moosh together simply don't go together, that they're incompatible. Which is odd, because you'd think that one of the first things an audience member might want to puzzle out is why they've been mooshed together. And you'd think it would be rather obvious that they give us two quite different ways of looking at the same set of circumstances, each of which has something important to show us.

And somewhere along the line this week that got me to thinking about Mozart's Così fan tutte, the last of the three operas he set to librettos by his great librettist Lorenzo da Ponte -- and the only one of the three that on da Ponte's part wasn't an adaptation of existing material. And it occurred to me that the very different understandings of the characters of Così between the start and finish of the opera have a lot in common with the different ways of looking at Ariadne's bust-up with Theseus and subsequent hookup with Bacchus.

And that difference is embedded in the markedly different character of Fiordiligi's two great, hugely difficult showpiece arias, which we've heard before -- and we're now going to hear again. Starting, naturally, backwards. (Isn't that how we usually do things around here?) Just as I've been burbling on about the depth of beauty of Ariadne's music, I would venture that Fiordiligi's Act II aria, "Per pietà," might be the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote. I'm not going to say that it is the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote, because there are probably a dozen or two others to set alongside it. But the mere fact that it might be so considered tells us that we're dealing with one of the supremely beautiful creations of the human mind.

And this time I thought we might begin by breaking down just the very opening. In part this is useful because the aria is in the form of a rondo, meaning that we're going to be hearing this "A" section again, and again. And in part this is useful because it allows us to trail along as Mozart puts these musical materials together.


LET'S GET OUR GRAPHIC UP AGAIN AND GET STARTED

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ariadne is "the symbol of human solitude" -- which is "just why she needs company" (says the Dance Master)

[NOTE: This is still a rough version of this post, which needs a bit of fixing and amplifying that I'll get to ASAP. Okay, the updating is pretty well done -- or at least done as well as it's gonna get done.]

THE DANCE MASTER: There's nothing more tasteless than a desert island.
THE COMPOSER: Ariadne on Naxos, sir -- she is the symbol of human solitude.
THE DANCE MASTER: That's just why she needs company.

Murray Dickie (t), Dance Master; Sena Jurinac (s), Compower; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Gerhard Unger (t), Dance Master; Tatiana Troyanos (ms), Composer; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Nov. 29, 1967

by Ken

Awhile back I asked, "Why won't everyone just let poor abandoned Ariadne die in peace?" Rather than try to answer the question directly, I hoped that the answer, or at least an answer, would be clear from the extravagantly gorgeous music the abandoned princess sings in the two-part monologue she has been given upon her awakening from her weeping slumber.

Of course, as we're reminded by the little exchange I've reproduced atop this post, there are two decidedly different schools of thought about Ariadne abandoned on Naxos among the participants in the strange hybrid entertainment about to be performed in the house of the richest man in Vienna: the "serious opera" folk including the Music Master and his student, the Composer, the composer of the opera seria Ariadne auf Naxos that's on offer; and the entertainers "in the Italian buffo manner," as the Music Master puts it, led by the Dance Master and "the incomparable Zerbinetta."

Now I don't believe we've yet seriously encountered the Dance Master, a treat of a little character-tenor role. For one thing, the fellow knows how to present himself. Here we're hearing one of my favorite character tenors, Murray Dickie, a Scotsman we've heard in repertory from Mozart to Wagner to Mahler.
THE MAJOR-DOMO: Where is Master Dance Master? I have an instruction from my honorable master for you both.
THE DANCE MASTER: What's wished of me?

Kurt Preger (spkr), Major-Domo; Murray Dickie (t), Dance Master; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

And he knows how to plead his case. Here he's debunking the notion that the comic presentation will be dragged down if it's give following the soporific opera seria.
THE DANCE MASTER [to ZERBINETTA]: On the contrary. They've just got up from table, they feel much too full and disinclined for anything save forty winks on the side. They clap, then, out of politeness and to wake themselves up. In the meantime they become quite lively. "What's next?" they say to themselves. "The Inconstant Zerbinetta and Her Four Suitors": a merry comedy to follow with dancing, light, tuneful music and a plot as clear as daylight where one knows where one is. "That's what we like," they say to themselves. "This is where we wake up. We know where we are with this!" And afterwards, when they're driving home, they can't remember a single thing, except that they saw the incomparable Zerbinetta dance.

Murray Dickie (t), Dance Master; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Now here's how this occurs in context, reflecting the comedians' view of the Ariadne story, with some other characterful Dance Masters. I would put in a good work in particular for that wonderful Spieltenor of the '50s and '60s Gerhard Unger. (One thing to note in these excerpts is how each tenor copes with that totally exposed, long-held high B-flat at the end, on "Zerbi-net-ta." Peter Schreier may not have been the goldenest-voiced of tenors, but he was a legit lyric tenor rather than, strictly speaking a Spieltenor, and I think that gives him an edge here.)

I was already thinking that maybe we should do a "Murray Dickie Day" post, if only gathering together the repertory we've already heared; now I'm thinking maybe we should do Murray Dickie-plus-Gerhard Unger, since there was of course a good deal of repertory overlap.

R. STRAUSS: From the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos
ZERBINETTA sits on a little straw stool at the front of the stage and finishes applying her makeup assisted by her partners; HARLEKIN holds the light, BRIGHELLA the mirror.

PRIMA DONNA [opens the door and beckons to the MUSIC MASTER]: Have you summoned the Count?
[Comes out a little and notices ZERBINETTA and the rest]
Pfui! What kind of visions are these, pray?
[To the MUSIC MASTER, not exactly softly] Fancy our being mixed up with people of that sort! Don't people hereabouts know who I am? How could the Count --
ZERBINETTA [with an impudent look at the singer and in a purposely loud voice]: If the rubbish is so boring, then we ought to have been allowed to appear first, before they become irritable. If they've been bored for a whole hour beforehand, then it will be twice as hard to make them laugh.
DANCE MASTER [to ZERBINETTA]: On the contrary. They've just got up from table, they feel much too full and disinclined for anything save forty winks on the side. They clap, then, out of politeness and to wake themselves up. In the meantime they become quite lively. "What's next?" they say to themselves. "The Inconstant Zerbinetta and Her Four Suitors": a merry comedy to follow with dancing, light, tuneful music and a plot as clear as daylight where one knows where one is. "That's what we like," they say to themselves. "This is where we wake up. We know where we are with this!" And afterwards, when they're driving home, they can't remember a single thing, except that they saw the incomparable Zerbinetta dance.

Leonie Rysanek (s), Prima Donna; Jeanette Scovotti (s), Zerbinetta; Gerhard Unger (t), Dance Master; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Nov. 29, 1967

Gundula Janowitz (s), Prima Donna; Sylvia Geszty (s), Zerbinetta; Peter Schreier (t), Dance Master; Staatskapelle Dresden, Rudolf Kempe, cond. EMI, recorded June-July 1968

Maria Reining (s), Prima Donna; Alda Noni (s), Zerbinetta (s), Josef Witt (t), Dance Master; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance in honor of Strauss's 80th birthday, June 11, 1944


BUT ABOVE ALL THERE'S ARIADNE'S MUSIC

And now, as promised way back when, we're returning to Ariadne's monologue, this team hearing the whole chunk of the opera seria through the second part of the monologue. Is it really possible to stand by and allow Ariadne to will herself into oblivion, even for the commedia dell'arte players?

R. STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos, Op. 60:
The first part of the Opera Seria

(1) Overture

(2) Ariadne watched by the nymphs Najade, Dryade, and Echo (Najade, "Schläft sie?")

ARIADNE lies prostrate on the ground before the mouth of a cave. NAJADE is left, DRYADE right, ECHO at the back against the wall of the grotto.

["Is she sleeping?" first NAJADE and then DRYADE ask. "No, she is weeping," they determine. "Weeping in her sleep." "Day after day benumbed in sorrow." And they continue their lamentations, joined by the echoing ECHO, until finally ARIADNE awakens.]

(3) Ariadne awakens ("Ach! Wo war ich?")

ARIADNE [on the ground]: A-ah!
ECHO: A-ah!
ARIADNE: Where was I? Dead? And alive, alive again
and still living?
And yet it is no life that I live!
Broken heart, will you continue forever beating?
[Half raising herself]
What then was I dreaming? Woe is me! Forgotten already!
My head retains nothing anymore.
Only shadows slip
through a shadow.
And yet, something suddenly blazes up and pains me so!
A-ah!
ECHO: A-ah!

(4) Ariadne's monologue, part 1: "Ein schönes war, hiess Theseus-Ariadne"

ARIADNE [to herself, as in a monologue]:
There was a thing of beauty, called Theseus-Ariadne,
that walked in light and rejoiced in life,
that walked in light and rejoiced in life.
A thing of beauty was: Ariadne. Theseus.
Theseus! That walked in light and rejoiced in life.
Ariadne. Theseus.
Why do I know of it? I want to forget!
[Another idea occurs to her poor deranged mind.]
This one thing I have still to find: It is shameful
to be as confused as I am.
I must try to rouse myself: Yes, this I still must find:
the maiden that once I used to be!
Now I have it -- the gods grant that I hold on to it!
Not the name -- the name has grown together
with another name, one thing grows
so easily into another, alas!
NAJADE, DRYADE, and ECHO [trying to awaken her]:
Ariadne!
ARIADNE [motioning them away]:
No, not again! She lives here quite alone.
Lightly she breathes, lightly she moves,
not a blade stirs where she treads,
her sleep is chaste, her mind serene,
her heart as pure as a spring;
she keeps herself undefiled, for the day is soon to come
when she can wind herself in her mantle,
cover herself with a cloth
and lie there,
among the dead.

(5) Ariadne not quite alone (including Harlekin's song)

ZERBINETTA [from the wings]:
Oh then, try a little song!
HARLEKIN [singing from the wings]:
Love, hatred, hope, fear,
every joy and every pain,
all this can a heart endure
once and many times again.
ECHO: repeats it soullessly, like a bird, without words.
HARLEKIN: But to feel not joy nor sadness,
even pain itself being dead,
that is fatal to your heart,
this you must not do to me!
You must lift yourself from darkness,
were it but to fresher pangs!
You must live, for life is lovely,
you must live again once more.
ECHO: as before.
[ARIADNE, unmoved, dreams on as before.]
ZERBINETTA [sotto voce]: She didn't raise her head once!
HARLEKIN [the same]: It's all no use.
I felt as much while I was singing.
ZERBINETTA: You're quite upset.
HARLEKIN: Never have I been so moved by any human being.
ZERBINETTA: You're the same about every woman.
HARLEKIN: And aren't you the same about every man?

(6) Ariadne's monologue, part 2: "Es gibt ein Reich, wo alles rein ist"

ARIADNE: There is a realm where all is pure:
it has a name too: Realm of Death.
[Rises from the ground.]
Here nothing is pure.
All is finished here.

[She pulls her robe close around her.]
But soon a messenger will draw nigh,
Hermes they call him.
With his staff
he rules all souls:
Like birds on the wing,
like dry leaves,
he drives them before him.
Thou beautiful, serene god!
See! Ariadne awaits!

Oh, my heart must be cleansed
of all wild grief,
then your presence will call me,
your footsteps will approach my cave,
darkness will cover my eyes,
your hand will touch my heart.
In the beautiful festal robes
that my mother bequeathed me
my body will remain;
the silent cave will be my tomb.
But mutely my soul
will follow its new lord,
as a light leaf in the wind
flutters downward, gladly falling.
Darkness will cover my eyes
and fill my heart;
this body will remain,
richly adorned and all alone.

You will set me free,
give me to myself,
this burdensome life,
take it from me.
I will lose myself entirely in you;
with you Ariadne will abide.
[She stands lost in thought.]
-- English translation of texts by Peggie Cochrane

Erika Wustmann (s), Najade; Annelies Burmeister (ms), Dryade; Adele Stolte (s), Echo; Gundula Janowitz (s), Ariadne; Hermann Prey (b), Harlekin; Sylvia Geszty (s), Zerbinetta; Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (t), Brighella; Siegfried Vogel (bs), Truffaldin; Peter Schreier (t), Scaramuccio; Staatskapelle Dresden, Rudolf Kempe, cond. EMI, recorded 1967
[(1)-(6) tracks 1-6]

Mimi Coertse (s), Najade; Hilde Rössl-Majdan (ms), Dryade; Liselotte Maikl (s), Echo; Leonie Rysanek (s), Ariadne; Walter Berry (b), Harlekin; Roberta Peters (s), Zerbinetta; Murray Dickie (t), Brighella; Gunter Adam (bs), Truffaldin; Kurt Equiluz (t), Scaramuccio; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958
[(1) start; (2) 3:38; (3) 7:30; (4) 10:15; (5) 16:00; (6) 18:53]

Eleanor Bergquist (s), Najade; Gwendolyn Jones (ms), Dryade; Pamela South (s), Echo; Leontyne Price (s), Ariadne; Dale Duesing (b), Harlekin; Ruth Welting (s), Zerbinetta; Robert Johnson (t), Brighella; Alexander Malta (bs), Truffaldin; Joseph Frank (t), Scaramuccio; San Francisco Opera Orchestra, János Ferencsik, cond. Live performance, Oct. 28, 1977
[(1) track 1; (2) track 2; (3) track 3; (4)-(5) track 4; (6) track 5]

Deborah Cook (s), Najade; Enid Hartle (ms), Dryade; Norma Burrowes (s), Echo; Leontyne Price (s), Ariadne; Barry McDaniel (b), Harlekin; Edita Gruberová (s), Zerbinetta; Gerhard Unger (t), Brighella; Manfred Jungwirth (bs), Truffaldin; Kurt Equiluz (t), Scaramuccio; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded November 1977
[(1) start; (2) 3:30; (3) 7:41; (4) 11:00; (5) 18:15; (6) 20:19]

Emmy Loose (s), Najade; Melanie Frutschnigg (ms), Dryade; Elisabeth Rutgers (s), Echo; Maria Reining (s), Ariadne; Erich Kunz (b), Harlekin; Alda Noni (s), Zerbinetta; Peter Klein (t), Brighella; Marjan Rus (bs), Truffaldin; Richard Sallaba (t), Scaramuccio; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance in honor of Strauss's 80th birthday, June 11, 1944
[track 1: (1) start, (2) 3:58, (3) 8:38, (4) 11:53; track 2: (5) start; (6) 1:56]

UPDATE: A note about the recordings

We already heard Leonie Rysanek's thrilling "Es gibt ein Reich," from the Leinsdorf-RCA studio recording, in the earlier Ariadne's-monologue post, at which time I promised that we would be hearing the whole scene. I assumed nobody would mind hearing the Es gibt ein Reich" again! By virtue of the voice's natural weight and soaring upward extension, it seems to me a just about ideal Ariadne voice -- like Jessye Norman's, which we heard in both halves of the monologue, with its sumptuous lower range as a vocal bonus.

Gundula Janowitz, of course, is a representative of the lighter-weight sopranos who have made the role work, and while some listeners have been put of by the quasi-instrumental quality of the vocalism, I really loved the sound of the voice in these glory years -- and especially working with a conductor as inspiring as Rudolf Kempe in this outing, she remains for me a memorable Ariadne.

I haven't included two Leontyne Price performances because I think either is "definitive"; I would have loved, for one thing, to hear her in the role when she was younger -- as in the gleaming studio recording we heard of "Es gibt ein Reich" (and also the first two of the Four Last Songs). The San Francisco performance and the London studio recording are almost contemporary; one gets the feeling that Price headed straight from San Francisco to London to make the recording. That said, she sounds to me vocally more assured and dramatically more comfortable in the live performance, but since I had already made a file of the studio version, I decided to include both.

Finally, I'm happy to have included the excerpt from the June 1944 Vienna State Opera performance conducted by Karl Böhm to commemorate Strauss's 80th birthday, from which we've already heard the Prologue. Maria Reining, the Ariadne, was not at all surprisingly in considerably better vocal health here, at age 41, than she was in the recording for which she's surely best known, the Marschallin in the June 1954 Decca recording conducted by Erich Kleiber, when she was about to turn 51. The Ariadne seems to me an all-round lovely piece of work.


STILL TO COME: No, we're not done with Ariadne

We still have to look at the way the comic and tragic elements are not only balanced but in fact brought into harmony.
#

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Richard Strauss in the twilight




The Metamorphosen really is "a study for 23 solo strings" -- it's scored for 23 individual instruments (10 violins, 5 violas, 5 cellos, and 3 double basses).

"Metamorphosen . . . is a work I have loved, on paper, as a concept, for nearly thirty years but which I had long since written off. . . . All that changed when I first heard Karajan's magisterial recording. For weeks . . .. I played that disc, passed through the eyes-uplifted-in-wonder stage, went well beyond the catch-in-throat-and-tingle-on-the-spinal-cord phase."
-- Glenn Gould (1976), quoted on the Arkiv Music website

by Ken

As we'll see, my experience with the Metamorphosen is rather different from Glenn Gould's, but rest assured, we are going to hear the Karajan recording in question. The point to take away here is that this is an extremely unusual, and extremely complex piece, this product of Richard Strauss's final years.

No, we haven't finished with Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos -- or, for that matter with his Four Last Songs. But since the Four Last Songs have already raised the subject of Strauss in his final years, I thought this might be a good occasion to fill out that picture a little.

As we learned several weeks ago ("Richard Strauss: 'Music is a holy art,' sings Strauss's Composer -- plus Two (out of Four) Last Songs, part 2"), the last of the Four Last Songs to be completed, the Hesse setting "September," was completed on Sept. 20, 1948, when the composer was 84, less than a year before he died, on September 8, 1949.


THE WORKS ON TODAY'S MENU ARE
EARLIER, BUT NOT BY THAT MUCH

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Chausson's "Poème": a gem of French Romanticism

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899), around 1895




Ginette Neveu, violin

David Oistrakh, violin

Zino Francescatti, violin

by Ken

Now that, I dare say, is one gorgeous tune, and a tune gorgeously suited to the solo violin. (One feature worth noting in the tune's formal notation: The accented beats the ear hears hardly ever occur on the downbeats where one would expect them. What seems like such a simple, straightforward flowing melody actually isn't so simple or straightforward.)

As I mentioned last week, when we listened to Ravel's "funny music," the concert rhapsody for violin and orchestra Tzigane, it was actually its frequent disc-mate, Ernest Chausson's Poème for Violin and Orchestra, that actually got me thinking about the pieces, which were both included, with Zino Francescatti as soloist, on a CD in Sony's Leonard Bernstein Edition, filling out Lenny's 1961 New York Philharmonic recording of Berlioz's Harold in Italy (with William Lincer, the orchestra's principal violist from 1942 to 1972, as soloist).


SO THIS WEEK: CHAUSSON'S POÈME

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Ravel's "funny music"


The first 18 bars (1:48 in the Heifetz recording, 1:42 in the Francescatti, and
1:56 in the Perlman) of the 58-bar solo that opens Ravel's "funny music"

RAVEL: Tzigane (concert rhapsody for violin and orchestra):
Opening solo


Jascha Heifetz, violin (1953)

Zino Francescatti, violin (1964)

Itzhak Perlman, violin (c1974)

by Ken

No, we haven't by any means finished with our listen-in to Richard Strauss's serio-comic operatic treasure Ariadne auf Naxos -- or to Strauss's Four Last Songs (we still have the two most ambitious songs to cover). But for several weeks now I've had another musical itch eating at me, so I thought we could take some time out to deal with it.

And it involves a little story.

Playing in my NYC public-high-school orchestra wasn't all toil; there was the occasional perk. Okay, I'm way overstating the "toil" part, being that I wasn't what you would call a nose-to-the-grindstone practicer, which probably has something to do with how mediocre a violinist I was. And the perks weren't so grand either. The one I'm thinking of this week was a pass to a presentation on that week's New York Philharmonic subscription concert, at the Juilliard School -- not where it is now, in Lincoln Center, but in its old home on Claremont Avenue in the vertiginous reaches of Manhattan's Morningside Heights, premises that were taken over by the Manhattan School of Music when the Juilliard packed up and moved downtown.

Note that this beneficence didn't include a ticket to the actual concert.

It was a pretty venturesome solo subway journey from Brooklyn for a young teen still relatively new to the city, but I actually found the place, and then found my way back home, and in between I was treated to a presentation by the professor and composer Hugo Weisgall (right), who was so charming and witty and welcoming and smart that ever since, whenever I happen to listen to some of his music, I wish I enjoyed it half as well as I enjoyed Dr. Weisgall himself that evening.

I no longer remember the full program for that concert, or who the perfomers were -- in large part because the perk didn't include a ticket to the actual concert. But I do remember Dr. Weisgall talking about two of the works on the program. It was, I think, my first exposure to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor (one of only two Mozart concertos in a minor key), and that exposure must have something to do with the lifelong passion I've since enjoyed for Mozart's piano concertos.


THEN THERE WAS RAVEL'S TZIGANE

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Richard Strauss: "Music is a holy art," sings Strauss's Composer -- plus Two (out of Four) Last Songs, part 2




"Music is a holy art"
THE COMPOSER: Music is a holy art, which brings together all men of courage, like cherubim around a shining throne, and for this reason it is the holiest of the arts. Holy music!
-- from the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos

Sena Jurinac (s), Composer; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Teresa Zylis-Gara (s), Composer; Staatskapelle Dresden, Rudolf Kempe, cond. EMI, recorded June-July 1968

Agnes Giebel (ms), Composer; Vienna Philharmonic, James Levine, cond. DG, recorded January 1986

Anne Sofie von Otter (ms), Composer; Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond. DG, recorded Sept. and Dec. 2000

by Ken

Last week, in part 1 of this post, our ongoing look-and-listen to Richard Strauss's favorite among his operas, and probably among his works, Ariadne auf Naxos, landed us at this passionate declaration by the idealistic young Composer in the Prologue created with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal for the revised 1916 version. And from there we detoured to the first two of Strauss's Four Last Songs, at least in the order devised by Strauss's publisher at Boosey and Hawkes, Ernst Roth, who took the posthumous publication of these songs in hand and included this note (in German, French, and English):
These four songs are not only Strauss's last contributions to the "Lied," which played such an important part in his life's work, but they are also the last compositions that he finished.

The first sketches of Im Abendrot (At Dusk) are found in a notebook from the end of 1946 or beginning of 1947. The final sketch of the score is dated "Montreux, 27th April 1948" and the score itself was finished on 6th May of that year.

The sketch of Frühling followed, with the full score completed at Pontresina on 18th July 1948.

Beim Schlafengehen (On Going to Sleep) was finished on 4th August and September, Strauss's last completed work, on 20th September of the same year.

A mood of farewell pervades the four songs, particularly Im Abendrot and September. It is, however, the farewell of a man who leaves the scene of earthly struggle and triumph without disappointment or reproach, without fear of destruction and doom, but with serene confidence in eternity and immortality. And so when the poet asks in Im Abendrot (bars 69-75) "Ist dies etwa Tod?" ("Can this be death?") the horn enters with that same Transfiguration motif which the young man 60 years before had set against Death.
E.R.
The title Four Last Songs isn't Strauss's, of course. In fact, from among the poems of Hermann Hesse he had been considering (he flagged 14 in a collection he had been given), in addition to the three he completed setting -- "Frühling" ("Spring"), "September," and "Beim Schlafengehn" ("On Going to Bed") -- he began sketching a fourth, "Nacht" ("Night"), to go with a setting of Joseph Eichendorff's "Im Abendrot" ("At Dusk").


LAST WEEK WE HEARD LISA DELLA CASA SING
"FRÜHLING" AND "SEPTEMBER" IN JUNE 1953


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Richard Strauss: "Music is a holy art," sings Strauss's Composer -- plus Two (out of Four) Last Songs, part 1

"What is music then?"


The question is asked at 0:28 of this concluding clip of the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos -- asked and then answered by the composer of the about-to-be-performed "opera seria" (Sena Jurinac), as filmed at the 1965 Salzburg Festival, directed by Günther Rennert and conducted by Karl Böhm (with Paul Schoeffler, nearly 68, as the Music Master; in a moment we'll hear him 21 years earlier).
COMPOSER: What is music then?
[With almost drunken solemnity] Music is a holy art, which brings together all men of courage, like cherubim around a shining throne, and for this reason it is the holiest of the arts. Holy music!
[ZERBINETTA appears at the back and calls her partners onto the stage. HARLEKIN comes hastily out of the room on the right, buckling his belt as he runs onstage.]
What is that? From where?
[SCARAMUCCIO enters, like HARLEKIN finishing his dressing as he comes.]
These creatures!
[TRUFFALDIN and BRIGHELLA enter.]
In my holy sanctuary cutting their capers! Ah!
MUSIC MASTER: You allowed it!
COMPOSER [furious]: I ought not to have allowed it; you shouldn't have allowed me to allow it! Who told you to drag me into this world? Let me freeze, starve, die in my own!
[He runs off in despair. The MUSIC MASTER looks after him, shaking his head.]
-- English translation by Peggie Cochrane


Julia Varady (s), Composer; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Music Master; Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig), Kurt Masur, cond. Philips, recorded January 1988

Imrgard Seefried (s), Composer; Paul Schoeffler (bs-b), Music Master; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance in honor of Strauss's 80th birthday, June 11, 1944

Tatiana Troyanos (ms), Composer; Paul Schoeffler (bs-b), Music Master; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Nov. 29, 1967

[in English] Janet Baker (ms), Composer; Malcolm Donnelly (b), Music Master; Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Norman Del Mar, cond. Live performance from Glasgow's Theater Royal, 1977

by Ken

In last week's post, "Why won't everyone just let poor abandoned Ariadne die in peace?," as we focused on the two-part monologue of the title character of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Ariadne auf Naxos, one thing I was constantly on the verge of saying was: Just listen to the epic, unrestrained gorgeousness of this music. For sheer unrestrained gorgeousness, I'm not sure I know anything like it in all of music. Somehow, though, I managed to leave it to the music to speak for itself.

Last week we were stressing the "serious" side of Ariadne -- without, I hope, completely losing sight (or sound) of the comic side, because it's the combination of the two that make the opera, in its revised 1916 form, with the Prologue added, such a treasure -- treasured not least by its composer. It wasn't an accident that it was chosen to honor Strauss on his 80th birthday, via the performance from which we heard the whole Prologue in the October 11 post "Meet the composer, Richard Strauss-style."


"MUSIC IS A HOLY ART"

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Why won't everyone just let poor abandoned Ariadne die in peace?

"There is a realm where all is pure"

Ernst Stern's design for the original 1912 Ariadne auf Naxos (click to enlarge)
There is a realm where all is pure:
it has a name too: Realm of Death.
[Rises from the ground.]
Here nothing is pure.
All is finished here.

[She pulls her robe close around her.]
But soon a messenger will draw nigh,
Hermes they call him.
With his staff
he rules all souls:
Like birds on the wing,
like dry leaves,
he drives them before him.
Thou beautiful, serene god!
See! Ariadne awaits!

Oh, my heart must be cleansed
of all wild grief,
then your presence will call me,
your footsteps will approach my cave,
darkness will cover my eyes,
your hand will touch my heart.
In the beautiful festal robes
that my mother bequeathed me
my body will remain;
the silent cave will be my tomb.
But mutely my soul
will follow its new lord,
as a light leaf in the wind
flutters downward, gladly falling.
Darkness will cover my eyes
and fill my heart;
this body will remain,
richly adorned and all alone.

You will set me free,
give me to myself,
this burdensome life,
take it from me.
I will lose myself entirely in you;
with you Ariadne will abide.
[She stands lost in thought.]
-- English translation by Peggie Cochrane

Maria Cebotari, soprano; Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded Nov. 16, 1948

Leontyne Price, soprano; London Symphony Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. RCA, recorded 1965


"Playgoers, I bid you welcome. The theater is a temple, and we are here to worship the gods of comedy and tragedy. Tonight I am pleased to announce a comedy."
-- the principal player at the outset of A Funny
Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

by Ken

We've already had a taste of the comedy of Ariadne auf Naxos, in the October 11 Sunday Classics snapshots post "Meet the Composer, Richard Strauss-style," observing the comically serious young Composer make his way backstage through the craziness preceding the performance of his opera seria of the same name. Now, above, we've gotten a taste of the tragedy.

(In studio recordings, I should add, of just this excerpt. The lovely Maria Cebotari [seen at right], heard here less than seven months before her untimely death, at 39, did sing Ariadne, and must have been radiant in the role, but Leontyne Price didn't take it on until years after she recorded this stand-alone "Es gibt ein Reich" in her Art of the Prima Donna series, in which she sampled roles she hadn't sung. (Eventually -- not this week, but eventually -- we'll hear more of her eventual Ariadne.)

We've also had a masterful exposition, two weeks ago, of the conventional way of handling comedy and tragedy, from the principal player at the top of Burt Shevelove, Larry Gelbart, and Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the first show for which Stephen Sondheim wrote music as well as lyrics. It's probably still my favorite Sondheim song, and I can't ever hear it enough. So . . .

LET'S HEAR IT AGAIN -- AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Classics tribute: Apple pays homage to the Captain


We have here, at 0:12, one of the world's great march tunes --

Eastman Wind Ensemble, Donald Hunsberger, cond. KEM-Disc, recorded c1981

by Ken

In the above audio clip I've left in some lead-in, so we can hear the pulse-quickening build-up to the Big Tune, except that when it comes, it comes -- devilishly, given that build-up -- in hushed form! Then at 0:27, when the tune gets its only repetition, it's heard in full voice, after which, all too quickly, it's gone! Leaving us wanting more, no? (We're going to hear one conductor who came up with a solution of sorts to this problem.)


IF YOU'RE WONDERING WHAT OUR MARCH IS, AND
WHY WE'RE HEARING IT TODAY, CLICK THROUGH


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Free! [an updated, more "post-like" version]

• Updated again: We've got the Frankie Howerd "Free"!
• And one last bonus update: "Comedy Tonight"
• Okay, one more thing, or actually two: Let's hear Zero
do "Comedy Tonight" too (twice, in fact)



"Free": "Oh, what a word!" sings Pseudolus (the great Zero Mostel, 1915-1977)


Zero Mostel (Pseudolus) and Brian Davies (Hero), vocals; Original Broadway Cast recording, Harold Hastings, musical director. Capitol, recorded 1962

Frankie Howerd (Pseudolus) and John Rye (Hero), vocals; Original London Cast recording, Alyn Ainsworth, musical director. EMI-DRG, recorded 1963
[Note: More of Frankie Howerd's Pseudolus to come at the end of the post]

by Ken

Yesterday I missed a walking tour (of Brooklyn's Bensonhurst and Bath Beach neighborhoods, not something that comes along every week), one that I'd not only paid for but that I wanted to do badly enough to have registered for it even knowing that it would knock out all afternoon possibilities for the Saturday of Open House New York Weekend.

But for the first time in I-don't-dare-try-to-calculate-how-many years, it wasn't because of the obligations of daily blogging. Which no doubt accounts for the fact that out of the mass of music rattling around my head, this song from Burt Shevelove, Larry Gilbert, and Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has been singing in my head.

I had planned to offer you Frankie Howard singing "Free" as well, from the London cast recording, but so far that plan remains a victim of the software revolt I cited in an earlier version of this post. I would need to dub it from LP, and so far my audio editing software isn't working with the years-delayed computer OS upgrade I just installed.

Meanwhile, here's Zero Mostel, as the Roman slave Pseudolus, contemplating being "Free" with his young master, Hero (Brian Davies), from the Original Broadway Cast recording of Forum (the first musical for which Sondheim wrote music as well as lyrics). [UPDATE: As noted up top, and as heard above, in a tiny triumph of human over technology we've now got the Original London Cast version of "Free"!]


HERE'S ANOTHER MUSICAL MEDITATION ON FREEDOM

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Meet the composer, Richard Strauss-style


The first part of the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos, with Paul Schoeffler as the Music Master and Sena Jurinac as the Composer (we're going to hear the radiant Jurinac in her glorious 1958 studio recording, which I've described as the best recorded performance I know of any operatic role, and Schoeffler in a 1944 live performance), staged by Günter Rennert and conducted by Karl Böhm, filmed at Salzburg in 1965 -- the remaining four parts are also on YouTube.

by Ken

It was a long, arduous path from conception to ultimate creation, the strange entertainment concocted by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, his librettist on two previous, wildly different operas, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, in collaboration with the great stage director Max Reinhardt, who had collaborated with them on Rosenkavalier.

The original idea was to provide a half-hour musical entertainment to be inserted in an adaptation (by Hofmannsthal) for Reinhardt of Molière's Le bourgeois gentilhomme. Not surprisingly, the half-hour entertainment grew and grew, until it was a weird one-act opera that -- despite being scored for chamber orchestra -- would tax the vocal resources of the greatest opera houses. And it combined two seemingly uncombinable art forms: a deeply serious opera seria that is observed, commented on, and eventually intruded on by a troupe of commedia dell'arte musical comedians. And of course it was imprisoned inside the play, and constitued too much opera for playgoers and too much play for operagoers.

Long story short: Eventually Hofmannsthal and Strauss liberated Ariadne by creating a Prologue, set backstage in the room of the home of the richest man in Vienna where the evening's entertainment is shortly to be performed. And they created the character of the Composer, the creator of a deeply serious opera seria. The new Prologue not only explains how these two wildly different entertainments came to be scheduled for the same evening's entertainment (and, eventually, how they come to be combined) but creates for us the world of a theatrical backstage. (The always-practical Strauss arranged an orchestral suite from the incidental music he had written for the play, in its German guise as Der Bürger als Edelmann.)

We've already heard the very opening of the Prologue -- still scored for chamber orchestra, as the original opera-intermezzo was.

R. STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos: Prologue: Orchestral introduction


Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Mar. 28, 1970


AS THE CURTAIN RISES ON THE PROLOGUE --

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: They don't make organists like Virgil Fox anymore


Virgil Fox at the console of Riverside Church's grand Aeolian-Skinner organ

by Ken

Somehow I wound up with at least two and maybe three copies of a CD reissue in the "RCA Living Stereo" series: the album of Encores recorded January 27-30, 1958, on the grand Aeolian-Skinner organ of Manhattan's Riverside Church by that master showman of the organ Virgil Fox (1912-1980). When one of those copies, still sealed, suddenly popped out in the open, it got me to thinking.

While most of the selections would be sneered into oblivion by today's musical intelligentsia, I had a feeling it would be both more fun and more musical than the music being generated contemporarily in what word has it is a new golden age for the organ, with incomparable genius organists composing new horizons for this grand old instrument. The only thing that would be more exciting is if any of the music was the tiniest fraction as interesting as these little baubles.

So I thought today we'd just arrange a series of musical snapshots from the album, like these organ arrangements of three thrice-familiar little pieces.

BACH: Jesu, joy of man's desiring (arr. from final chorale of Cantata No. 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben)



Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: In D.C., still no Lincoln -- or even a Boccanegra

Leonard Warren as Simon Boccanegra
I weep for you, for the peaceful
sun on your hillsides,
where the olive branches
bloom in vain.
I weep for the deceptive
gaiety of your flowers,
and I cry to you "Peace!"
I cry to you "Love!"

Leonard Warren (b), Simon Boccanegra; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Live performance, Jan. 28, 1950

Lawrence Tibbett (b), Simon Boccanegra; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Ettore Panizza, cond. Live performance, Jan. 21, 1939

by Ken

The great political chronicler Richard Reeves titled his book about the start of the post-Nixon (i.e., post-Watergate) presidency of Jerry Ford: A Ford, not a Lincoln. I think of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt. And while other American presidents have certainly risen to moments of great challenge, it's not something our political system can be counted on to make happen, and if anything even less so with the rabble that makes up our Congresses.

So perhaps it's not surprising that under the combined influence of the fratricidal follies rending the House of Representatives and a not-all-that-attentive watching of the whole of the upgraded-for-HD Ken Burns Lincoln film, and in addition with the notable contrast of the summonses to a very different sort of action delivered by Pope Francis on his American visit, my mind wandered to the rising-to-the-moment of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, the plebeian Doge of Genoa faced with the riot that breaks out in his own Council Chamber between the blood-rival factions of Plebeians and Patricians, following the attempted abduction of the patrician daughter Amelia (in reality Boccanegra's long-lost daughter Maria, as he himself has only recently discovered, in the Recognition Scene of Act I, Scene 1, which we spent a fair amount of time on here once upon a time) on behalf of the Doge's henchman Paolo, which was foiled by Amelia's patrician fiancé, Gabriele Adorno, who killed the would-be abductor.


ABOVE WE'VE HEARD THE DOGE'S GREAT PLEA --

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Ramón Vinay and the search for the soul of Otello


Lauritz Melchior sings Otello's monologue (in German, in a 1930 HMV recording) maybe better than I've heard anyone else sing it. (Note: We've got English texts coming up in a bit if you want to jump ahead to them.)

by Ken

I first heard about the Melchior performance of Otello's monologue in Conrad L. Osborne's 1963 High Fidelity magazine discography of Otello. It took awhile, but eventually one day I was browsing the import section of the new releases at one of the record stores I frequented, and there was an LP devoted to Melchior on a label I had never seen, which as far as I could tell didn't even identify itself, except as "Lebendige Vergangenheit," or LV. The company turned out to be Preiser, which became and remains an important source of vocal reissues. I didn't know that then, though, but I had no choice except to pay bust-out retail for the disc. (When could I expect to find this unknown label on sale?)

As I hope you've already heard, the performance turned out to be every bit as good as promised by CLO.

As it happens, Conrad's Otello discography in High Fidelity is also the source of the quote about Ramón Vinay's Otello that I talked about the other day, when I recounted how I succeeded in digging it up for an obituary I was assigned to write of the Chilean-born baritone-tenor-baritone after he died (on Jan. 4, 1996; I looked it up).


NOW HERE I AM, FACED WITH THE SAME SITUATION!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Swinging Haydn with Vilmos Tatrai playing and conducting


Violinist and conductor Tátrai (1912-1999)

Symphony No. 31 in D (Horn Signal) (1765):
i. Allegro


Symphony No. 73 in D (La chasse) (The Hunt) (1782):
iv. Presto


Hungarian Chamber Orchestra, Vilmos Tátrai, cond. Hungaroton, recorded 1965

by Ken

So I noticed this CD lying atop one of the millions of piles of CDs I've finally been trying to organize, and it didn't instantly ring a bell: a pair of D major sort of hunt-themed Haydn symphonies -- the Horn Signal, No. 31, and La Chasse, No. 73, performed by the Hungarian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Vilmos Tátrai. Above we've heard the movements most responsible for the symphonies' nicknames (though it should be noted that the then-overwhelming contingent of four horns is used throughout the Horn Signal Symphony).


MY FIRST THOUGHT WAS THAT THE CD WAS LYING ABOUT --

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Signposts on the steep path of Otello's downfall


Now and forever farewell, blessed memories!
Farewell, sublime enchantments of her thought!
Farewell, shining battalions; farewell, victories,
flying arrows and flying steeds!
Farewell, triumphant and sacred banner,
and reveille ringing shrilly in the morning!
The clamor and song of battle, farewell!
The glory of Otello is here at an end!

Francesco Tamagno (t), Otello; piano. Victor, recorded February 2003 (digital transfer by Tim Ecker) -- for some notes on this recording, see below

by Ken

We've been ruminating about and eavesdropping on Verdi and Boito's Otello and his monstrous fall, and last week I posed the question of how the Moor of Venice sinks from the ecstatic raptures of the Act I Love Duet to the moment in Act III when he browbeats the innocent Desdemona lying in the dust by his hand ("More Vickers -- 'Otello fu,' how he gets from here to there").

I would like to answer that more fully, but for now we're just going to signal a pair of signposts along the way, as the poisons his lieutenant "honest Jago" dumps in his mind take hold, in the form of the lie that Desdemona is having an affair with the Moor's former lieutenant, Cassio. Then next week I hope to flesh these moments out.

Otello: Act II, Otello "Tu, indietro" . . . "Ora e per sempre addio"
OTELLO: You! Stand back! Flee!
You have bound me to the cross! Alas!
More horrible than any horrible injury
is the injury of suspicion!
In the secret hours of her lust
(and they were stolen from me!) was by breast agitated
by no omen? I was bold, happy.
I knew nothing yet; I didn't feel
on the divine body that I adored
and on her lying lips
the burning kisses of Cassio! And now, and now . . .

Now and forever farewell, blessed memories!
Farewell, sublime enchantments of her thought!
Farewell, shining battalions; farewell, victories,
flying arrows and flying steeds!
Farewell, triumphant and sacred banner,
and reveille ringing shrilly in the morning!
The clamor and song of battle, farewell!
The glory of Otello is here at an end!

[from "In the secret hours of her lust"] Enrico Caruso (t), Otello; Victor Orchestra. Victor, recorded in New York City, Dec. 28, 1910

Mario del Monaco (t), Otello; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Georg Solti, cond. Live performance, June 30, 1962

Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, July 30, 1971

Plácido Domingo (t), Otello; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Carlos Kleiber, cond. Live performance, Dec. 7, 1976

Luciano Pavarotti (t), Otello; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded live in concert, April 1991

The great heroic tenor Francesco Tamagno was 36 when he created the role of Otello at La Scala in February 1887, but 52 and semi-retired when he recorded three excerpts, in February 2003: Otello's entrance, "Esultate"; the scene at the end of the opera following his murder of Desdemona, "Niun mi tema"; and the performance we heard above of the Act II outburst "Ora e per sempre addio." At least four takes have been circulated, and they're noticeably different, perhaps nor surprising when we hear his sort of improvisatory, embellished approach -- and all much slower than the composer's metronome marking, which we see above.

But notice that Enrico Caruso too sings "Ora e per sempre addio" a lot more lyrically than the virtual battle cry we're accustomed to. Would they actually have sung it this way (a good deal slower than Verdi's metronome marking, as we see above) in the theater? Who knows?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: More Vickers -- "Otello fu," how he gets from here to there



Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Rome Opera Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1960

by Ken

Leonard Bernstein had such a strong feeling for the scene of the death of Otello as depicted by Arrigo Boito and Giuseppe Verdi that, as I recall the story (maybe somebody can help me out here? I can't remember where I read or heard him tell the story), he named a family dog "Otello Fu" -- and everyone assumed the name was Chinese.

Last week, remembering Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, we heard two performances of the sublime Love Duet that ends Act I of Verdi's Otello, one of his legendary roles. I should perhaps have issued a spoiler alert before noting that by the end of the opera Otello will murder Desdemona.


HOW DO WE GET FROM HERE TO THERE?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: More Vickers -- "I am afraid, I am afraid that I will never again be granted this divine moment" (Boito and Verdi's Otello)


A chunk near the end of the Otello Act I duet lip-synched by Jon Vickers (Otello) and Mirella Freni (Desdemona), from the Unitel film, with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, including our excerpt (at 1:21)
[The sky is now quite clear. Some stars are visible and, on the rim of the horizon, the blue reflection of the rising moon.]
OTELLO: Such is my soul's joy that I am afraid,
I am afraid that I will never again be granted
this divine moment
in the unknown future of my destiny.
DESDEMONA: Dispel such anguish.
Our love will not change from year to year.
OTELLO: Upon this prayer,
let the ranks of angels respond: Amen.
DESDEMONA: Amen, let them respond.

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

Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Mirella Freni (s), Desdemona; Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, July 30, 1971

by Ken

We've talked about this before, and for me the giveaway here is Otello's repeated "temo" ("I am afraid"). I suppose someone without his potentially disabling fear might express himself similarly at a moment of such perfect happiness -- and this is surely the greatest love scene, with or without music, ever imagined by the mind of artistic man, only somewhat undercut by our knowledge that by the end of the opera the man will murder the woman.

But again, listen to that repeated "temo," and tell me you're not hearing a man who, at the pinnacle of his success, both career-wise and personal, believes at every moment that in the next moment it could all be taken away from him. If for some reason you really, really hated Otello, and wanted to destroy him, and you knew this about him, this might be the angle you would work.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Jon Vickers in consolatory, even happy mode

"Froh, froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen"

Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
which he set on their courses,
through the splendor of the firmament;
thus, brothers, you should run your race,
like a hero going to conquest.

Jon Vickers, tenor; London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Westminster-MCA-DG, recorded June 1962

Jon Vickers, tenor; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded Oct. 13-15, 1978
-- from the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

by Ken

Last week I put together, from audio clips we'd already heard over the years, a quick tribute to the late Jon Vickers, and still feel guilty about not including at least English texts for the selections, on the shabby ground that digging them out would have involved too much time and effort. (Well, oo-hoo!) Nobody complained, which is even more discouraging. One of these days I will go back and fix that post.

I led that post off with the above excerpt from the epochal finale of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, precisely to hear Vickers in a "froh" frame of musical mind, since his greatest musical assumptions, despite moments of triumph, were on the desolate side. Again, we have two versions, one early-ish, the other much later. I thought you might like to hear the complete performances of the finale from which the excerpts are drawn (which we have in fact heard before, so you'll find them at the end.)


NOW FOR SOMETHING PRETTY DIFFERENT

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Jon Vickers (1926-2015)


Jon Vickers and Sena Jurinac as Florestan and Leonore (Covent Garden, 1961)

From the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony:
"Froh, froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen"
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
which he set on their courses,
through the splendor of the firmament;
thus, brothers, you should run your race,
like a hero going to conquest.

Jon Vickers, tenor; London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Westminster-MCA-DG, recorded June 1962

Jon Vickers, tenor; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded Oct. 13-15, 1978

by Ken

Jon Vickers died last week at 88. Over the years at Sunday Classics we've heard a lot of Vickers, for reasons I hope will be obvious from the the handful of selections I've selected for today's "Snapshots" post. I'm thinking we ought to do some sort of proper retrospective of just the stuff we've heard, but meanwhile, I think these snippets will speak for themselves.

[Sorry, no texts this week. I thought I could round them up relatively easy from the original posts, but Yahoo, which used to make it not-too-difficult to find DWT posts, now seems to all but ignore "downwithtyranny" in searches, and I just didn't have the time or will to search out all these posts or redo the texts. I'm not even crazy about the Beethoven Ninth translation fragment I hurriedly popped in above.]

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Lucia's last happy snap


Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti at the Met in 1987
LUCIA: Ah! On the breezes
will come my ardent sighs.
You will hear in the murmuring sea
the echo of my grieving
Thinking that I feed on sighs and grief,
shed a bitter tear then on this ring.
Ah, on this ring then!
Ah, on this ring then!
Ah, on that ring then!

Joan Sutherland (s), Lucia; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tullio Serafin, cond. Live performance, Feb. 26, 1959

by Ken

I know we're making microscopic progress toward our goal, that other Verdian musical dramatization of the aging process (besides Germont's aria "Di Provenza" in La Traviata, by way of the "double aria" format Verdi inherited from the Italian bel cantists. And this week we're slowing down even further.

Last week we heard Lucia di Lammermoor's great Scene 2 double aria as she awaited her secret lover, Edgardo, near the fountain on his family's ruined Scottish estate. I thought this week we would move on, or rather back, to the Scene 1 double aria of Lucia's brother, Lord Enrico Ashton and maybe get as far as the way he treats his sister. But even though we left Lucia singing rapturously of her love for Edgardo, a rare moment of unbridled happiness for her, I don't think we can leave her there. We really need to "see" her meeting with Edgardo. Here are four musical snapshots.


(1) ENTER EDGARDO

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: A fountain, a harp, and a mind in distress


No, this isn't the fountain of "The Siren" referred to in the stage direction, but it's a reasonable guess that the Ravenswood fountain might have been based on the Fontana della Sirena in the Piazza Sannazaro in Naples. Just imagine it on a lonely Scottish estate fallen nearly to ruins, like so --
A park in the ground of the Scottish castle of Ravenswood. We see the fountain called "The Siren." Once it was covered by a beautiful structure decorated with all sorts of Gothic details; now only the ruins of this structure remain. It is nightfall.
[All translations in today's post by William Ashbrook]

RAI Turin Symphony Orchestra, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Broadcast performance, Oct. 10, 1967

RCA Italiana Orchestra, Georges Prêtre, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1965

Orchestra of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Richard Bonynge, cond. Live performance, Nov. 12, 1975

by Ken

Here we hear three takes on a lovely 2½-to-3-minute musical snapshot -- Molinari-Pradelli decisive and sympathetically straightforward; Prêtre similarly decisive but a little more individual in some of his phrasing choices and, surprisingly (at least to me), turning out to time out a little quicker; and Bonynge more romantically discursive.

The music, which is sometimes described as an "interlude" between the scene preceding and the one about to take place, is pretty clearly indicated in the score as an orchestral lead-in to what follows -- though of course it's up to the stage director to decide where exactly to raise the curtain on Scene 2. In the meantime, I'm delaying identifying this piece of musical mood-setting (in the event that you don't know) to give you a chance to just allow it to wash over you and maybe sink in a little, to maybe set a mood. It's clearly the harp that dominates the music, and the fountain that dominates the scene, but I don't think anyone can say how exactly they're expected to relate.

And here I think we can jump ahead just a bit to our next snapshot, to add this vivid response to mention of the aforementioned fountain. In fact, since it's only 11-12 seconds, we're going to hear it three times.
That fountain! Ah! never
do I see it without trembling.


I think we clearly have three interesting, and interestingly, different renderings of this extraordinary moment, but one thing I think we can also say is that, from the purely vocal standpoint, singer B handles it with greater assurance, and singer C handles it with astonishing assurance -- producing a sound of amazing fullness that doesn't strain or curdle at all on the upward leap for the "Ah!" in "Quella fonte! Ah! mai."


PROCEEDING NOW TO THAT NEXT SNAPSHOT --

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: LIfe among the Druids


The first page of Bellini's Norma autograph score

BELLINI: Norma (1831): Overture

Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala (Milan), Antonino Votto, cond. Live performance, Dec. 7, 1955

Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala (Milan), Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded Nov. 5-12, 1960

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlo Felice Cillario, cond. RCA, recorded September 1972

National Philharmonic Orchestra, James Levine, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded 1979
About the performances: I really admire the weight that Votto brings to the Overture without stretching or padding it, as Serafin and Cillario do with varying degrees of success. If you want just the notes, Levine's your guy.

by Ken

The plan was different. We've been poking around the 19th-century Italian opera format of the aria-and-cabaletta or "double aria" -- a contrasting pair of arias, usually the first slowish and the second fastish, which with an adjustment of circumstances producing the change allows the singer to show off a wide range of vocal and dramatic capabilities.

We started with Verdi struggling with the format in La Traviata, producing pedestrian or worse cabalettas for the tenor and baritone in Act II, Scene 1, but then last week pointed out that to end Act I he had produced for Violetta what is surely the greatest double aria of them all, her "Ah, fors'è lui" and "Sempre libera."


YOU HAVE TO LOVE THOSE DRUIDS

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Look, it's Violetta!

Joan Sutherland as Violetta in Act I of La Traviata

Act I of La Traviata ends with Violetta's great solo scene

[in English] Valerie Masterson (s), Violetta Valéry; John Brecknock (t), Alfredo Germont; English National Opera Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. EMI, recorded Aug.-Oct. 1980

by Ken

Last week I tried to explain that in order to continue with the second example I promised of Verdi depicting a conspicuously aging parent, we really needed to give some attention to the composer's triumphs and tribulations with the "double aria" form carried over from the bel canto period. It's what always used to be known as an "aria and cabaletta" -- the first aria typically situational and often reflecting on that situation; the second aria, in reaction to the first, ususally with some additional circumstances tossed in to alter the situation or the perception of the situation, typically more declarative, often energized for pyrotechnical display.

While Verdi was capable of using the format brilliantly, we have a pile-up of evidence that even as he was making his historicthe "breakthrough" into his middle period with the overlappingly created masterpieces Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata, all three operas contain evidence that cabaletta-for-the-sake-of-cabaletta was something that didn't much stimulate his creative juices. By way of demonstration, last week we took as our musical snapshots the celebrated arias for tenor and baritone with regrettable cabalettas tacked on at the start and finish of Act II, Scene 1 of Traviata, the scene in Violetta's country house (where she and Alfredo have been living idyllically), the cabalettas for Germont fils and père, respectively.

I did point out last week, though, that "if we think of the form as 'double aria' rather than 'aria and cabaletta,' then Violetta's "Ah! fors'è lui" plus "Sempre libera" at the end of Act I of Traviata may be the supreme example of the format." And having dropped that loaded statement in, even though we did listen to this great solo scene, which so starkly rounds out an act that began with perhaps opera's most rousing party scene in February 2011, we can hardly escape "snapshotting" it now.


SO HERE ARE THREE REALLY NICE PERFORMANCES

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Verdi at peak power soars and slumps

Thomas Hampson as Germont at Covent Garden, 2009
GERMONT: No, you won't hear reproaches from me;
let's bury the past in forgetfulness.
The love that guided me
can pardon everything.
Come, see your loved ones
in joy with me again;
do not deny this joy
to one who has suffered long.
A father and a sister --
make haste to console them.
No, you won't hear reproaches from me, etc.
ALFREDO: A thousand serpents devour my breast!
GERMONT: Are you listening to me?
ALFREDO: No.
GERMONT: A father and a sister --
make haste to console them.
No, you won't hear reproaches from me, etc.
ALFREDO [arising and suddenly finding Flora's letter on the table]: Ah!
She's at the ball!
I must fly to avenge the offense.
[He rushes out.]


Thomas Hampson (b), Giorgio Germont; Rolando Villazon (t), Alfredo Germont; Vienna Philharmonic, Carlo Rizzi, cond. DG, recorded live, August 2005

by Ken

About a month ago I started what was intended to be the first part of a two-part series with a post called "The sound of aging, Verdi-style (1)," in which I suggested that the whole structure of "Di Provenza il mar, il suol," the elder Germont's celebrated aria in La Traviata, is built on fatigue -- or rather this father's struggle to overcome his fatigue in his enormous effort to not only console his boy but to lure him back to the comfort and wholesomeness of his native Provence. My suggestion was that Germont is not only fighting his fatigue but milking it, showing it off to Alfredo as he throws everything he can at the shell-shocked young man.

Our other example of "aging, Verdi-style," tidily enough, will involve a mother's exhaustion, an exhaustion that sounds to me not just physical but spiritual -- as if she's just barely on this side of. I admit that it's a case so extreme, and one that exerts such dreadful force on me, that I'm probably stalling a little. Nevertheless, I really would like to get to it, and regret that before we can get there, we have some gaps to plug, in part because we left a dangling end in our consideration of "Di Provenza": its usually missing cabaletta, which is hardly more welcome when it isn't omitted. And then, once we get into the baritone's cabaletta, how can we not broach the subject of the tenor's, an even feebler piece?

The "aria and cabaletta," which recent usage seems to prefer to call a "double aria," is a carry-over from the bel canto era, when it was common to arrange dramatic situations in which a character might sing an aria typically of moderate pace and temperament followed -- with some tweaking of the circumstances -- by a more excited second aria, or cabaletta, which by happy chance for the performer tends to lend itself to the character of a showpiece.


I JUST DIDN'T WANT TO GO THERE!