SUNDAY JANUARY 1ST:
Spoken-word drama has always played a part in my concept of lyric
theater programming-especially the plays of Shakespeare. That's
because Cyrano, the swash-buckling hero of the story, possesses
a poet's soul and wit. Edmond Rostand's famous play has been enormously
popular ever since it was first staged in its original French in
Paris in 1897. Many great actors have essayed the title role. José
Ferrer in his movie portrayal immediately springs to mind. Sir Ralph
Richardson was a magnificent Cyrano in the 1946-47 London production.
He recreated his classic performance in audio especially for the
Theater Recording Society. Caedmon Records issued that recording
on three LP's in early stereo sound. Director Howard Sackler worked
from the 1923 English language version of the play prepared by Brian
Hooker. I last broadcast these old vinyl discs on Sunday, October
SUNDAY JANUARY 8TH: Belisa (1966) by Danish
composer Poul Rovsing Olsen (1922-82) is a one act opera that ought
to be regarded as a masterpiece on an equal par with Bartok's Bluebeard's
Castle or perhaps Puccini's Il Tabarro. Olsen worked from a Danish
translation of a play by the Spanish playwright Federico Garcia
Lorca. Belisa presents the strange story of a wife's erotic passion
and a husband's cuckoldry. In the end the cuckold commits suicide.
Following a successful stage premiere this opera was broadcast in
1970 on Danish Radio. It was in 2002 in the Concert Hall of Danish
Radio that Belisa was recorded for release under the Danish national
record label Dacapo on a single silver disc. Fanfare magazine's
John Story concurs with me that Belisa is an overlooked masterpiece.
In his review in the Nov/Dec 2004 issue, he states unequivocally,
"The performance is wonderful, beautifully sung, played and recorded."
I have paired the cuckold's more modern tragedy with the truly ancient
tragedy of incest and patricide. Igor Stravinsky was drawn to the
Oedipus myth as handed down to us by the Greek playwright Sophocles.
In composing his opera/oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927) he wanted to
set a text in a "dead" classical tongue-Latin, the language of Seneca,
the Roman playwright who adapted Sophocles' original drama. Stravinsky's
severely neoclassical musical style perfectly suits the Latin libretto
that Jean Cocteau prepared for him. Although it lasts less than
an hour in performance, Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex is truly monumental
in conception. It's arguably the greatest thing he ever wrote. I
have broadcast it once before, on Sunday, January 10, 1993. A Sony
Classical release, it featured the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
and chorus, with Esa Pekka-Salonen conducting. Now you get to hear
the 2002 Koch International Classics CD. Robert Craft leads the
musical forces. This disc also has three little cantatas by Stravinsky
that you'll hear following Oedipus Rex.
SUNDAY JANUARY 15TH: It's been a while since
I last featured anything on this program by Robert Ashley (b. 1930).
I would have liked to present something of his I've never aired
before, like Dust (1993), but it contains a long passage with sexual
wording that is integral with the composition, so I can't simply
edit it out. Many years ago in the pages of Fanfare magazine reviewer
Mike Silverton declared Ashley a "genius." To this day he sticks
to his judgment. Ashley certainly has a genius for innovation. He
has written several operas combining vocals and electronic sounds.
Atalanta (1985) is the first work in a trilogy, the second part
of which Perfect Lives went over the air on Sunday, January 24,
1993. Atalanta was originally commissioned for performances produced
by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, but the Lovely Music
release is derived from the live mix of the recorded performance
at the Teatro Olimpico in Rome. The opera is an updated treatment
of the ancient Greek myth about Atalanta and the curse of fruitless
lust laid upon her by the gods. More specifically, it deals with
the character of the husband she was forced to take. What sort of
man would he be if he were around today? Listen and decide for yourself
if Ashley deserves the term "genius" in the higher sense. Last broadcast
Sunday, February 22, 1998.
SUNDAY JANUARY 22ND: "Holy Smoke! What an
opera!" You may well cry out when you hear Perelá: uomo di fumo
(2001), by Pascal Dusapin (b. 1955). Perelá is "The Man of Smoke."
This ethereal being drops down out of nowhere into a mythical country.
At first the leaders and the citizenry adore him as a Christ-like
figure. They want him to rewrite all their laws. But one citizen
wants to be too much like him. She sacrifices her life. Thereafter
everyone turns against "The Man of Smoke." He is put on trial and
condemned to prison for the rest of his life. Dusapin got his story
from a surrealistic fable by Aldo Palazzeschi, published in 1911.
In putting together a libretto the composer employed only the author's
own words in Italian language. There is a grotesque and nightmarish
quality about Dusapin's Perelá, similar to György Ligeti's opera
Le grand macabre (1978), heard on this program on Sunday, November
1, 1998. Musically, Perelá is entirely accessible and listenable,
with real melodic content, including honest-to-gosh arias, duets,
choruses, etc. Take it from Robert Carl, professor of music composition
at the Hartt School, right here at the University of Hartford. He
wrote a very positive review of Perelá that appears in the Jul/Aug
issue of Fanfare magazine. A live-in-performance Naive recording
of Perelá came out of the 2003 Montpelier Festival staged production.
SUNDAY JANUARY 29TH: George Frideric Handel
got his start as an opera composer at Hamburg's Gänsemarkt Theater.
This "Goose Market" opera house was in operation from 1678 to 1738.
Designed along the same lines as an opera house in Venice, this
place was the most important venue of its kind in all Northern Europe.
You have heard operas that premiered at the Gänsemarkt Theater before
on this program: Reinhard Keiser's Croesus (1730) and Der Geduldige
Sokrates (1721) by Telemann. Johann Georg Conradi (1645?-99) was
director of the Gänsemarkt from 1690 to '93. During his tenure he
wrote several operas, of which only one has survived in manuscript,
Ariadne (1691). We do know from contemporary accounts that it was
very popular, and was revived repeatedly into the 1720's. Conradi's
operas are an amalgam of elements from Venetian opera and the French
tragedie lyrique of Lully. The arias are certainly Italiante, although
they are sung in German. The Gänsemarkt had a dance troupe and a
large orchestra. Conradi provided them with wonderful Lullian-style
dance numbers, chaconnes and choruses. Ariadne is the oldest example
of German baroque opera, which only now seems to be getting the
attention it deserves. The libretto and score of Ariadne were discovered
by American musicologist George Buelow in the Library of Congress
in 1970. It was staged in 2003 at the Boston Early Music Festival.
Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs, who prepared the manuscription
score into a performing edition, direct the singers and players.
A 2005 cpo release on two silver discs.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 5TH: February is Black History
Month. I have the perfect recording to musically observe it. Wynton
Marsalis (b. 1962) is now recognized as Americas leading composer
in the jazz mode. The people who packed Alice Tully Hall the evening
of April 1, 1994 for the world premier of Blood on the Fields knew
they were witnessing something truly great in jazz history. In creating
this three-hour dramatic performance Marsalis had out done in grandeur
of scale even Duke Ellington's 1943 Black, Brown and Beige. Marsalis'
work is operatic in conception. The story of the opera shows us
the life of two black slaves, Jesse and Leona: how they confront
their servitude and learn to transcend it spiritually. In the 1997
world premiere recording of Blood on the Fields Marsalis directs
the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with vocal soloists Jon Hendricks,
Cassandra Wilson and Miles Griffith. Issued on three CD's under
Sony's revived Columbia label.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 12TH:
Preempted by University
of Hartford Women's Basketball game.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 19TH: After his immortal
Messiah, the oratorio Saul (1739) was probably Handel's next most
popular work in that genre during his lifetime, and it continued
to be regularly performed in England after his death and right on
into modern times. Messiah is quite different from Saul in that
it is a musical reflection upon an assemblage of passages from many
places in the Bible. Saul takes its story specifically from the
First and Second Books of Samuel in the Old Testament. In Saul the
English oratorio most closely approaches staged opera in its dramatic
intensity. Indeed, the printed librettos given out at performances
in Handel's day provide detailed stage directions, as if it were
presented as opera for visual imagination, or for us today as a
music movie in the listener's mind. Saul has occasionally been acted
out on stage with success. René Jacobs' recorded theatricalization
(as it were) of Saul is the latest thing on disc in the way of Handel
oratorios. It was taped in the Teldex Studio in Berlin only last
year. I say "theatricalization" because Jacobs' interpretation is
indeed an opera for the ear. The various vocal airs and interspersed
recitatives flow swiftly along in a continuous theatrical action.
Jacobs directs the period instrument orchestra Concerto Köln, the
RIAS Radio Berlin Chamber Chorus and eight vocal soloists, all of
whom hail from English-speaking countries. Saul was last heard on
this program on Sunday, January 17, 1988, when I presented a 1972
Archive set of LP's. Sir Charles Mackerras' interpretation with
the English Chamber Orchestra and Leeds Festival Chorus was good
for its time, but the new Jacobs' account on two Harmonia Mundi
CD's has clearly supplanted it.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 26TH: In his works for the
Parisian opera houses Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842) built upon the
"reformed" classical style of opera established by his predecessor
there, Christopf Willibald Gluck. Cherubini's lyric tragedy Medea
(1797), heard on this program more than two decades ago in LP format
(Sunday, February 3, 1985), is a masterpiece of dramatic concentration
in an austere symphonic musical framework. Brilliantly successful
in its own day was his Lodoiska (1791), an opera comique with spoken-word
dialog and musical numbers almost as intense as Media, Lodoiska
is a heroic "rescue opera", one of the forerunners of Beethoven's
Fidelio. In time this revolutionary piece de sauvetage fell out
of the repertoire, but it forever changed the course of French operatic
history. Nineteenth century composers like Spontini and Rossini
were greatly indebted to it. Lodoiska was revived to the first time
in the twentieth century at Milan's Teatra alla Scala in 1951, in
Italian language translation and with a badly adapted musical score.
When it was next staged there in 1991 conductor Riccardo Muti drew
upon a new score based on the two oldest and most reliable printed
editions. Lodoiska was recorded at La Scala live for issue on two
Sony Classical CD's. You heard this recording once before on this
program on Sunday, May 3, 1992. A clutch of great new opera recordings
have recently been processed into our station's ever-growing library
of classical music on disc; Dusapin's Perelá, Conradi's Ariadne,
and Handel's Saul. Cherubini's Lodoiska and Ashley's Atalana are
also to be found in the station's CD collection. I am indebted as
always to Rob Meehan, former WWUH classics deejay and specialist
in the alternative musics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries,
for the loan for broadcast of his recordings of Olsen's Belisa,
Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, and Marsalis' Blood on the Fields. The
old Caedmon LP set of Cyrano de Bergerac comes out of my own collection.
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WWUH: January / February
Program Guide 2006 ©