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")

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.


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


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!
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 [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.