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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of January / February 2007
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Sunday January 7th:
Preempted by broadcast of a University of Hartford women's basketball game.

Sunday January 14th:  Aulis Sallinen (b. 1935) is Finland's preeminent contemporary composer of opera. I have broadcast recordings of two of his six operas: "The Horseman" (1975) way back on Sunday, January 27, 1985 and "The Palace" (1991-93) more recently on Sunday, January 29, 1997. Global warming is on everybody's minds these days, so what would happen to the climate of Europe if the current melting of the Greenland icecap caused the warm waters of the Gulf Stream to shift their course away from Scandinavia and the British Isles? Perhaps that possibility was at the back of the composer's mind when he took up a radio play by his countryman Paavo Haavikko, "The King Goes Forth to France" (1974). The audio drama was a quasi-comic fairy tale for grown-ups, set in a fantasy version of medieval England. The libretto of Sallinen's more sober operatic treatment of the take bears the subtitle "A chronicle for the music theatre of the coming Ice Age." In this fantasy England and other parts of Northern Europe are being swallowed up by the advancing glacial ice. The implication in the story is that such a climatic shift had indeed occurred in Europe's past, i.e. The "Little Ice Age" of circa 1300-1750 AD, and that it could come again, maybe much more icy in the future. The ostensible time period in the opera is during England's Hundred Years' War with France. In the fantasy chronicle an English king invades France so that he and his people can flee to ice-free French soil. Sallinen's "The King Goes Forth to France" (1983) was recorded for the Finnish label Ondine in 2005 and released the following year in a two-CD package. Okku Kamu conducts the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and singing cast. Somewhere down the line I will present yet another Sallinen opera on LP discs, "The Red Line" (1978).

Sunday January 21st:  Le Clemenza di Tito ("The Mercy of Titus," 1791) was Mozart's last opera, written immediately after his Viennese Singspiel "The Magic Flute." It's difficult to believe today that La Clemenza di Tito was a close second in popularity to Die Zauberflote. Mozart was fortunate to be granted the commission to write a coronation opera for the new Austrian emperor, Leopold II. He was crowned king of Bohemia at Prague with much festivity. The nobles present in the opera house may have slept through it, but the music loving public in Prague took to Mozart's latest opera the way they did only a few years before for  his Figaro and Don Giovanni.  La Clemenza di Tito was performed again and again all over Europe until about 1830, where after it disappeared from the repertoire. The obscurity of Mozart's last opera has been blamed on its libretto, derived from Metastasio, the stodgy old master of the libretto writing of Italian opera seria. Tito falls into that genre. Before Mozart, at least a dozen eighteenth century composers had already used this same text. Mozart's librettist Caterino Mazzola much improved upon Metastasio's work, streamlining it to serve the new dramaturgical requirements of a later age. Mozart worked his musical magic. It fills the rather creaky scenario with life and will convince you through the sheer beauty and classic tranquility of its melodies. It might even convince you that the Roman emperor Titus was a man of noble character. In the later half of the twentieth century Mozart's opera seria masterpiece was revived onstage or recorded. On Sunday, May 8, 1986 I presented a 1968 London LP recording of Mozart's "mercy opera," in its Vienna State Opera production, with Isztvan Kertesz conducting. More than any other modern interpreter, Rene Jacobs has succeeded in bringing out the magic in Mozart's operatic scores. His recorded interpretation of Le Nozze di Figaro for French Harmonia Mundi won highest praise in 2004. I broadcast the HM silver discs on Sunday, May 15, 2005. Jacobs recorded La Clemenza di Tito later that same year at Teldex Studio in Berlin. He directed the RIAS Chamber Choir and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, who play period instruments. French Harmonia Mundi issued Jacobs' Tito on three CD's in 2006.

Sunday January 28th:  Half a century ago the novel was made into a great Hollywood movie starring Gregory Peck, why shouldn't it also be adapted for the operatic stage? Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851) is a story of enormous scope. American composer Peter Westergaard (b. 1931) realized from the outset that many episodes and several characters in the book would have to be left out of the libretto of his Moby Dick opera. Westergaard retired from the faculty of Princeton University's Department of Music in 2001. Moby Dick is the fifth of his six operas. The world premiere performance of Moby Dick was given at Princeton in 2004. Michael Pratt conducted the singing cast and chorus and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. Westergaard was longtime director of the Princeton University Opera Theatre. He collaborated with Pratt from 1984 onwards in productions of the Opera Festival of New Jersey. The live-in-performance recording of what Westergaard humbly calls "Scenes from An Imaginary Opera" were issued in 2005 through Albany Records on two compact discs. Since opera on the radio is really a listener's theater of the imagination, Westergaard's work fits in perfectly with my concept of "lyric theater" programming.

Sunday February 4th: 
Preempted by broadcast of a University of Hartford women's basketball game.

Sunday February 11th:  The age-old conflict between Muslims and Christians has often been portrayed upon the operatic stage. The crusader called El Cid, "The Conqueror," is the single most dramatic figure in Spanish history. At least twenty six operas have been based on the El Cid legend. One of the greatest of them has got to be Jules Massenet's Le Cid (1885). This opera, rather than Mignon, is really Massenet's finest lyric theater work, and was probably the most popular one for a certain period. The enthusiasm with which Le Cid was greeted at the Paris Opera was phenomenal. It reached the Met in New York City in 1887 and was mounted in Chicago in 1902. Shortly thereafter it disappeared from the international operatic repertoire. It continued to be well thought of, but known only by reputation. In 1976 it was at long last revived, albeit in concert performance at Carnegie Hall. It was recorded live for Columbia Masterworks featuring the voices of tenor Placido Domingo as Rodrigo "The Cid" and soprano Grace Bumbry as Chimene, the Moorish princess. Eve Queler conducted the entire ensemble. I last broadcast this opera long ago on October 11, 1987. I intended to rebroadcast it after so many years in its old original Columbia Masterworks release on three LP's on Sunday November 19 of last year. That scheduled show was cancelled by broadcast of a basketball game, so I reprogram it for your enjoyment this Sunday.

Sunday February 18th:  George Frideric Handel's Belshazzar (1745) is an oratorio in the same grand and glorious Handelian vein familiar to us from Messiah, written four years earlier. The big difference between these two large-scale choral works is that Messiah is a musical reflection upon a composite of various verses from Holy Scripture including the New Testament, whereas Belshazzar sets forth a specific story in the Old Testament Book of Daniel. Charles Jennens, Handel's librettist for Messiah, added elements from classical Greek texts (historians Herotodus and Xenophon), plus the prophecies of the fall of Babylon in Isaiah. The result was a highly dramatic, i.e. operatic wordbook for Handel to put to music. The tale is told of the rash young tyrant Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, and the ill-fated feast he gave in the royal palace. The pleas of his mother Queen Nitocris would not prevent him from committing sacrilege. The feasting stopped suddenly when the king saw the Lord God's handwriting on the wall. While the Hebrew prophet Daniel interpreted the cryptic writing, Persian emperor Cyrus the Mede staged the palace coup. Belshazzar was slain and Cyrus freed the Hebrews from their captivity in Babylon. Belshazzar was recorded complete for the first time in 1977 for Teldec, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting his own Concentus Musicus period instrument band. Also musically complete is a 1997 DGG Archiv recording on three CD's. Trevor Pinnock leads the choir and period instrumentalists of the English Concert. You hear the Archiv Belshazzar today, featuring a stellar cast of British vocal soloists.

Sunday February 25th:  "The Bartered Bride" is appreciated throughout the world, but in his native Bohemia Bedrich Smetana's opera of Czech national history is rated even more highly among Smetana's lyric stageworks. Libuse is held in reverence as a musical monument to the Czech spirit. In the years during which Smetana labored over the opera (1868-72), Czech nationalists were struggling towards autonomy within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Eventually the old Czech kingdom would become an independent nation. The story of the opera looks back to the very origins of the kingdom in pagan times many centuries ago. Princess Libuse ruled Bohemia in tranquility until various princes sought her hand in marriage. She became the center of a political tug-of-war between Eastern and Western influences. In the end she made a wise choice of king and husband. The princess was also a prophetess. She tells of the heroes of the Czech nation who will stem from her. Supraphon, the old Czechoslovak state record label, recorded all of Smetana's operas in stereo sound for the first time in the 1960's. Libuse was released in 1965 on three LP's. Jaraslav Krombholc directs the chorus, orchestra and cast of the Prague National Theatre. I last broadcast these same Supraphon vinyl discs long ago on Sunday, March 29, 1987.

In this two-month period programming I am indebted as usual to Rob Meehan for the loan of his recordings of Sallinen's "The King Goes Forth to France" and Westergaard's Moby Dick. Rob is a former WWUH classics deejay. As a record collector he specializes in the alternative musics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Handel's Belshazzar comes from my own record collection. The operas by Massenet and Smetana come out of our station's extensive library of classical music on disc. A special thank-you goes to Vickie Hadge of Virtually Done by Vickie for the technical preparation of these notes for publication.

WWUH Program Guide 2007 ©

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