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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of July & August 2006

SUNDAY JULY 2ND: What could be more American in spirit than the music of John Philip Sousa (1854-1932)! Certainly you will hear the stirring marches of the "The March King" at Fourth of July celebrations across the country, especially "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Sousa composed 136 of them over his long career as a bandmaster but he also wrote the music for fifteen operettas and at least seventy independent songs. I have broadcast one those operettas before: El Capitan (1895), which takes its title from the famous march and indeed incorporates the march tunes into its score. Your heard the reconstructed score of El Capitan in its world premiere Zephyr recording on Sunday, July 4th, 1999. Now you get to hear another, earlier Sousa theater piece. When Desirée was first staged in 1884 it was billed as "America's First Comic Opera." It has some similarity to the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, but is more sentimental and does not indulge in social or political satire. I presume the AMDEC/Lyric Theater International CD release is Desirée's world premiere on disc. Again Jerrold Fischer and William Martin, the same team who restored El Capitan, edited Sousa's original score for modern performance. The actual taping of the operetta took place August 29th, 1993 in its Pocono Pops revival. The one drawback of this recording is that it lacks spoken dialog between the musical numbers. Following Desirée keep listening for the Concert, Theater and Parlor Songs of John Philip Sousa in a 1991 Premiere Recordings CD.

SUNDAY JULY 9TH: Desirée is certainly a work of historic importance in the development of the popular American musical theater. So is George and Ira Gershwin's Strike Up The Band! No piece of conventional flapper/gangster fluff this. Strike Up The Band! is a satiric comedy, a Yankee version of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta with an antiwar theme. The political criticism contained in this show was way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it all went over the heads of the audience. The original 1927 Broadway production was a flop. The 1930 revival succeed only because the antiwar aspect was greatly toned down. Two immortal songs came out the Strike Up The Band!, its theme song and "The Man I Love." Musical comedy historian Tommy Krasker spent two years of intensive musicological research in reconstructing the 1927 score. The world premiere recording of Strike Up The Band! came out in 1991 under the Roxbury/Electra Nonesuch label. Appendixed to all the tracks of the musical numbers from the premiere production are seven additional tracks of numbers from the 1930 show, Krasker considered too good to leave out. One of them is another song that became a popular standard: "I've Got a Crush on You." John Mauceri conducts the ensemble. I last made use of this same two CD set on Sunday, July 23rd, 1993.

SUNDAY JULY 16TH: Although Bedrich Smetana's "The Bartered Bride" (1866/70) has been rightly termed a "folk opera," it does not quote a single authentic Czech folk melody. To be sure, it does draw upon the Bohemian national musical idiom in a most effective way. As with Jaromir Weinberger's Bohemia folk opera "Schwanda The Bagpiper," the libretto for Smetana's Prodana Nevesta was translated from Czech into German and renamed Die Verkaufte Braut, in which language the opera became internationally popular, also like "Schwanda." The German version is thoroughly appropriate because at one time many German speaking people lived in Bohemia. "The Bartered Bride" succeeded outside its native land because the prevailing element of romantic comedy is universal and not bound down to nations of Czech nationalism. I last broadcast this charming work almost two full decades ago on Sunday, August 10, 1986. At that I presented in LP format what now is recognized as its classic recorded interpretation. Released in 1963 in early stereo sound, it stars the incomparable German tenor Fritz Wunderlich. Rudolf Kempe conducts the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and RIAS Chamber Chorus. You will hear those same three EMI/Angel vinyl discs again today.

SUNDAY JULY 23RD: Amazingly, I haven't broadcast a Mozart opera so far this year, the 250th anniversary of the birth of the musical genius from Salzburg. I have chosen an obscure one, one which is not much recorded and which is appropriate for summertime programming. Il Re Pastore ("The Shepherd King," 1775), k.208 is the tenth of Mozart's Operatic works. It certainly belongs in the genre of opera, but it's also been called a serenade, a pastorale, even a cantata, since its premiere in Salzburg may have been in an unstaged concert performance. At any rate, it is easy to listen to and its libretto by Metastasio, which many composers of the period had set to music, taxes no one's mental powers. The style of Metastasian opera was already old fashioned when Mozart wrote his Il Re Pastore. One conservative feature: it calls for a male soprano or castrato in the leading rôle. Female soprano Reri Grist takes on this breeches part as Aminta the noble-minded shepherd who ought to be king over Sidon in the time of Alexander The Great. The 1973 (?) RCA recording of "The Shepherd King" has a stellar singing cast: sopranos Lucia Popp and Arlene Saunders and tenors Nicola Monti and Luigi Alva. Denis Vaughan conducts the Orchestra of Naples. Arabesque Records reissued the RCA masters on two LP's in 1981.

SUNDAY JULY 30TH: No summer season of programming would be complete without one of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Today will not be the first time I have broadcast HMS Pinafore (1878). This time around I'm presenting a recording that will give listeners the true Savoyard experience, since it includes all of Gilbert's witty dialog and was made under the direction of Dame Bridget D'Oyly Carte. Originally released through Decca/London in 1969, it preserves on disc a memorable period in the long, distinguished history of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Isadore Godfrey conducts the D'Oyly Carte singing cast and chorus, with the New Symphony Orchestra of London. Perhaps most distinguished of all in the singing cast is veteran Savoyard John Reed as the Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B. Pinafore comes to us in a two-CD 1989 London reissue.

SUNDAY AUGUST 6TH: Although they weren't much impressed with it, the first night audience in Milan naturally regarded Gioacchino Rossini's Il Turco in Italia (1814), as the sequel to his highly successful L'Italiana in Algieri. It's true there are many parallels to be found in these two opera buffa masterpieces, but the similarity ends there. Rossini wrote all new music for "The Turk in Italy." He borrowed nothing from "The Italian Girl in Algiers," or any of his other previous operas (unusual for him), although the authorship of a few of the recitative passages of the score of "The Turk" are in doubt. "The Turk in Italy" played all over Europe, then fell out of the repertoire in the mid-nineteenth century. It has been successfully revived several times in the twentieth century. Maria Callas sang the rôle of Fiorilla to thunderous acclaim in Rome in 1950 and again in Millan in 1955. In 1982 "The Turk" was taped for Fonicetra, the Italian recording company, with no less a diva and Monserrat Cabellé as Fiorilla. That recording, with Samual Ramey as Prince Selim, was heard on this program on Sunday, August 9, 1987. A decade later came the 1992 Philips recording of Neville Mariner's interpretation of the new edition of Rossini's score. The third time I broadcast "The Turk" it will be the brand new Naxos two CD release, which was recorded live in performance at the Teatro Marrucino in Chieti, Italy in October, 2003. The opera is performed nearly complete, with a few trims in the recitatives and one little scene removed. Marzio Conti conducts the Marrucino orchestra and chorus. He does a great job with these singers and players in bringing the score to life. Fanfare magazine's reviewer David L. Kirk says "This is a likeable, polished performance…full of energy and good spirits." (Fanfare, May/June 2006).

SUNDAY AUGUST 13TH: The Rossini that I love best is the young prodigy Rossini of the five one act opera buffe. If Mozart had lived into the nineteenth century, I say he might well have written such gems as these. In 2005 Brilliant Classics re-released all of them in an eight-CD package. They were recorded between 1988-92 with Marcello Viotti conducting the English Chamber Orchestra, with various vocal soloists. You'll hear two of the five today. L'Occasione Fa Il Ladro (1812) is probably the least well known of them all. I've never broadcast it before. The storyline of this operatic burlesque is pretty silly. It revolves around two suitcases that get switched overnight at a country inn and the confusions that follow. It looks like an act of thievery, but true love can never be stolen. The musical farce called La Scala di Seta (1812) I have presented on a previous occasion (Sunday, June 15, 1997). The longstanding falsehood about La Scala di Seta is that its libretto was so bad it irked Rossini into penning some of his worst music. Rossini did this, so the old story goes, to spite the impressario of the Teatro San Moise in Venice, where the opera was first produced. The libretto, it's true, is quite conventional and derivative. Basically, it was plagiarized from the wordbook of Domenico Cimarosa's comic opera Il Matrimonio Segreto (1792). "The Silken Ladder" of the title refers to a rope used in an elopement. Rossini's music overcomes all the drawbacks of a slender plot. The music of the finale in particular is a marvel of contrapuntal vocal writing.

SUNDAY AUGUST 20TH: As the summer season nears its end I always try to present a sentimental Central European-style operetta. Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951) was a Hungarian by birth. He studied music in Vienna, then came to the United States in 1913. He spent his career as a composer entirely in New York City. He wrote a string of hit shows for the Shubert Brothers impressarios. The most successful of them all was The Student Prince (1924). It had a fabulous run of 608 performances, the longest of any Romberg show. It has been filmed at least twice and revived on stage in various adulterated versions. Hard to believe, though, that until 1989 Romberg's score in its original orchestration had never been heard following the premiere production. You'll hear it in a British production with the Ambrosian Chorus and Philharmonia Orchestra, John Owen Edwards conducting. That taped-in-studio recording is based on the New York City Opera staged revival employing the arrangements by Romberg's principal orchestator, Emil Gerstenberger. I last broadcast Musical Heritage Society's two-CD release of The Student Prince Sunday, August 18, 1996.

SUNDAY AUGUST 27TH: This will be the sixth time over the past twenty-odd summers when I will be airing the best known opera of Frederick Delius A Village Romeo and Juliet (1907). The last previous time was in 2002. Every year on the last Sunday of August I feature one of Delius' six operas, because I believe his music evokes so beautifully the lazy, hazy end of Summertime. On Sunday, August 30, 1992 I presented the 1989 Decca/Argo recording, in which Sir Charles Mackerras leads the Symphony Orchestra of ORF (Radio Austria) and the Arnold Schoenberg Chorus. I have recently discovered that this recording is in reality the soundtrack of director Petr Weikl's film version of the opera. With one exception, the actors seen onscreen merely lip-synch for the actual voices of the distinguished British singers that Mackerras directed at the audio end of the movie production, I finally got to see Weikl's A Village Romeo and Juliet, thanks to one of my listeners, Arthur Welwood of West Hartford, professor of composition at the Berklee College of Music. He, like me, is a longtime lover of Delius music. Prof. Welwood gave a videocassette copy of the 2003 Decca/DVD reissue. The lip-synching is OK with me, because this movie overwhelms me with its scenic beauty. Perhaps this is how opera as film ought to be! That sole exception among the cast of Weikl's lip-synchers is American baritone Thomas Hampson in the rôle of the Dark Fiddler. Visually he's everything the part could be. He proves himself to be a gifted actor as well as top-drawer operatic singer. The libretto of A Village Romeo and Juliet is derived from a story by Swiss German author Gottfried Keller about Swiss peasant life. It is a tragic tale reminiscent of Shakespeare's famous play, with the star-crossed lovers, peasant boy and girl, consummating their passion in a Wagnerian-style Liebestod. Seeing the film of the opera impressed me most of all with this aspect of Keller's story. He got the idea for it from a real life double suicide reported upon in a newspaper. In July of 1999 our Monday evening classics guy Keith Barrett kindly loaned me his Zephyr recording of John Philip Sousa's El Capitan. (He's also known on air as "Drake The Bandmaster," our resident authority on American music, especially American brass band music.) Now, fifteen years later Keith Barrett has loaned me his copy of Sousa's Desirée and the CD of Sousa's parlor songs. I take pleasure once again of thanking him in print for his contribution to his two month period of lyric theater programming. All the other recordings featured over this summer either come out of my own collection of opera on disc (Strike Up The Band!, Mozart's It Re Pastore, HMS Pinafore, The Student Prince and Delius' A Village Romeo and Juliet) or from our station's classical music record library. Let me also thank Vickie Hadge of Virtually Done by Vickie for her help in the preparation of these notes for publication.

Classical Music Trivia Question Answer:
  At Prokofiev's funeral there were no flowers. Sergei Prokofiev died on the same day as Soviet leader Joseph Stalin - March 5, 1953. Prokofiev's death went unpublished and unknown to anyone but close friends for days. He had died of a massive brain hemorrhage about an hour before Stalin. All of the flowers in Moscow were gathered for Stalin's funeral. Because of the official mourning for Stalin, barely 40 people were able to attend a civil funeral for Prokofiev at the Composers' Union, where David Oistrakh played the first and third movements from the composer's Violin Sonata #1

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