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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" Program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of January / February 2008
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Sunday January 6th: Next to Benjamin Britten, Sir Michael Tippett (1905 - 98) is rightly regarded as the most imposing figure in British musical life in the twentieth century. The last time I broadcast his oratorio A Child of Our Time (1944) was on the first Sunday of the New Year, 1987. At that time the PHILIPS LP recording with Sir Colin Davis conducting was the only one available to me. Several CD recordings have come out since then. Tippet wrote both music and libretto between 1939 and '41, and structured the oratorio in three parts along the lines of Handel's Messiah. This subject is "man's inhumanity to man," reflecting upon the horrors of World War Two. (The composer was an avowed pacifist who did jail time for his beliefs.) From the new recordings I chose the one reissued by Naxos in 2005. Collins Classics originally put it out in 1992. The year previous, at eighty five years of age, the composer himself conducted the city of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with four vocal soloists. Surveying the discography, reviewer Raymond Tuttle thinks Tippett directed it better even than Davis. In the July/August '05 issue of Fanfare magazine Tuttle tells us, "All in all, this is a deeply moving performance and it is a well executed one too." This Sunday is also the Feast of the Epiphany, the last of the twelve traditional days of Christmas, so A Child of Our Time will be followed by music appropriate for Christmastide listening.

Sunday January 13th: Today will be the fourth time I have broadcast Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (1951). Previously, I have presented recordings of this, Stravinsky's one and only full scale opera, on Sundays in 1983, 1989, and 2001, making it one of the most frequently heard works in my lyric theater programming history. The Rake's Progress is in fact Stravinsky's single longest composition in his best neoclassical style, with elements harkening back to the original "classical" period. The eighteenth century was a great period for satire in the arts. Stravinsky took his inspiration for the opera from a series of paintings A Rake's Progress (1732 - 33) by England's master of pictorial satire William Hogarth. Stravinsky studied the operas of Mozart intensively to prepare himself for the task at hand. His opera presents with biting wit the story of a rich young wastrel who makes a pact with the devil. England's best poet of the mid-twentieth century, W. H. Auden and Auden's lover Chester Kallman provided Stravinsky with a first-rate libretto. The occasion for rebroadcast of The Rake's Progress now after seven years is the reappearance in CD format of the same Columbia early stereo LP recording I aired or twice before, with the composer directing the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Sadler's Wells Opera Chorus. Tenor Alexander Young starred as Tom Rakewell along side soprano Judith Baker as Anne Truelove. Sony Classical reissued it in 1991 on two CDs in Volume IX of its compendium silver disc set "The Igor Stravinsky Edition."

Sunday January 20th: Acis et Galatée (1686) is the last and perhaps the greatest of the many lyric Theatre Works Jean Baptiste Lully wrote for the royalty of France. This specific sub genre of French Baroque opera is called a Pastorale Heroique, and always included extensive ballet music. Lully wrote it as a special entertainment for the Dauphin upon his first visit following a hunt to the rural chateau at Anet. Shortly thereafter the composer injured his foot wielding a huge baton as he conducted a performance of his Te Deum. The wound became gangrenous and he died March 22, 1687 at the height of his powers. The story of the pastorale is a familiar one out of classical mythology. The love of the sea nymph Galathea for the mortal shepherd Acis is thwarted by the giant Polyphemus, who kills the boy with a thrown boulder. The nymph cannot revive her lover, so she transforms him, elevating him to immortality. Marc Minkowski and his Musiciens du Lourve have given us so many fine, historically-informed
 interpretations of the neglected operatic repertoire of the French baroque. This 1998 Archiv record of Minkowski's take on Acis et Galatée is no exception.

Sunday January 27th: The Greater Good or The Passion of Boule de Suif (2006) is the first opera by American composer Stephen Hartke (b. 1952). He wrote it on commission from Glimmerglass Opera. It received its world premiere staging at the Glimmerglass Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown, NY. Recorded live-in- performance, The Greater Good made its world premiere appearance on two compact discs through Naxos Records in their American Opera Classics series. Stewart Robertson conducts the Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra. A seasoned opera librettist Philip Littell worked up a libretto for Hartke to put to music. It's a dramatic adaptation of a short story by French author Guy de Maupassant. This scene is the French countryside in 1871. A group of grand bourgeois folk has fled Paris following the Prussian occupation in the Franco-Prussian war. In the coach with them is a courtesan well known in the city, nickname Boule de Suif or "Ball of Fat" The respectable people expect her to perform her duty when a Prussian officer detains the entire traveling party. She must do it for "the greater good."

Sunday February 3rd: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composed a series of fairytale operas full of Russian folk melody and the exotic tonal coloration of the Orient. The orchestrator of Scheherazade was no less brilliant in scoring "The Golden Cackerel" (1909), the fifteenth and last of his lyric stage works. For the story of this opera, Rimsky-Korsakov drew upon a literary fairytale by Alexander Pushkin about a foolish old king who, infatuated with the mysterious Eurasian Queen of Shemakha, refuses to grant his court astrologer one most important request. As a result the King's precious toy, a mechanical golden rooster, pecks the old fool to death. "The Golden Cockerel" was recorded live in performance at the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow in 1988. In this our country that recording was released in 1991 through MCA records on two CDs. Evgeny Svetlanov directs the Choir and Orchestra of the Bolshoi. I last broadcast the MCA discs on Sunday, May 31, 1992.

Sunday February 10th: In old Catholic Europe the opera houses were shut down during the penitential season of Lent and did not reopen until after Easter. During that five-week period sacred oratorio held sway. Even in Protestant England, George Friedrich Handel launched productions of his oratorios at this time. I have aired many of them over the years in historically-informed interpretations on silver disc. On this first Sunday in Lent you'll hear one I have never previously broadcast: Joshua (1748), which takes its story from the sixth book of the Old Testament. The martial music in Joshua is Handel at his most tub-thumping grand and glorious. The chorus "See the conqu'ring hero comes," became so popular that Handel decided to insert it into another successful work in the same line, Judas Maccabaeus (1747) Joshua may be new on this radio program, but I have broadcast many Hyperion recordings of other works by Handel featuring Robert King and his King's Consort period instrument players. In this 1991 Hyperion release he also directs the boy trebles and adult male choristers of New College, Oxford. Tenor John Mark Ainsley is heard in the title role. The Hyperion two-CD set was rereleased in 1998 in the US under license through Musical Heritage Society.

Sunday February 17th: Lenten programming proceeds to a monument of seventeenth century Lutheran music literature: the Schwanengesang or "Swan Song" of Heinrich Schütz (1585 - 1672). At the end of his life Germany's most distinguished composer of the era wanted to leave a legacy of his personal faith. He took as a challenge a setting from Luther's translation of the Bible of the lengthy "Alphabet Psalm," Psalm 119, broken up into eleven motets for double choir and continuo, augmented by similar choral settings of Psalm 100 and the German version of the Magnificat. Schütz's carefully copied score for Schwanengesang disappeared after his death but was rediscovered through a curious set of circumstances in the twentieth century. I last broadcast Schütz's meisterwerk on Lenten Sunday in 2000, presenting it in its world premiere on disc, a single Celestial Harmonies CD. The complete motet cycle under the Latin title Opus Ultimum was issued on two CDs last year through French Harmonia Mundi. Philippe Herreweghe leads the Collegium Vocale Gent and Concerto Paladino. The continuo part is fleshed out with an ensemble of period instruments: organ, lute, viola da gamba and violone, plus cornet and sackbutts. Listen thereafter for another recent Harmonia Mundi CD issue of Schütz's Symphoniae Sacrae (1650). Again the instrumentalists of Concerto Paladino are heard backing the voices of the Cantus Colln under the direction of Konrad Junghaenel.

Sunday February 24th: Today's programming consists of three Romantic masses, the first of which I have presented before, once in February of 1987 and again during Lent in 2002: Giaocchino Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle (1864). Rossini retired from writing opera in 1829. His last operas were seminal works of the Italian bel canto style rendered into French for the Grand Opera of Paris. Rossini ended his career in that city, where he continued to live for many years and to compose a few things for private performance. Among these late compositions are the witty piano pieces Sins of My Old Age. Otherwise he wrote only two large scale vocal works, both of them devotional: a setting of the Latin hymn Stabat Mater (1832), which was performed publicly in Paris to great acclaim, and an operatic-style treatment of the Latin Ordinary of the Mass. The Petite Messe Solenelle was intended to be sung in a small venue, the Parisian salon of a countess. Rossini originally scored this work for a chorus of only twelve choral singers, four of whom take solo parts, backed by two pianos and harmonium (a chamber organ). As an afterthought he orchestrated his "little solemn mass." You'll hear it this Sunday in a recreation of the conditions of its first performance in 1864. Robert King directs the members of the King's Consort. King found the three mid-nineteenth century keyboard instruments required. A 2006 Hyperion release on a single compact disc.
The other two masses submitted for your audition today have never before gone over the air on this program: Missa O Pulchritudo (1979) by the American opera composer Giancarlo Menotti (b. 1911) and the Messe Solennelle (1899) of the Frenchman Louis Vierne (1870 - 1937). Menotti's mass is in an easily accessible and neo-Romantic style, as operatic as Verdi's famous Requiem mass. What makes Menotti's mass is singular is a substitution for the expected Credo text of an adaptation of a passage in Latin from the Confessions of St. Augustine beginning O Pulchriudo… or "O Beauty, ever ancient ever new, late have I loved You!" Vierne' solemn mass is Romantically grand in conception. It may remind some listeners of Gabriel Fauré's Requiem. The scoring for four part chorus and two organs was intended to show off the sound of those magnificent instruments in Notre Dame, Paris. (Vierne was the organ virtuoso who played them.) A 2006 Cedille Records CD gives us both of these masses. The Skinner pipe organs in Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Chicago were chosen for the Vierne piece. Menotti's O Pulchritudo was recorded live in concert performances in 1982 at St. James Cathedral, Chicago in the presence of the composer. Menotti made a special plea to William Ferris, conductor of the esteemed Ferris Chorale to give his "Beauty" Mass the vocal interpretation it deserved.
With the exception of Lully's Acis et Galatée, Handel's Joshua and the Golden Cockerel by Rimsky-Korsakov, all the featured recordings you will be hearing during this two-month period of programming come out of our station's ever growing collection of classical music on disc.


WWUH Program Guide 2008 ©

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