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.


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).


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).