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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" Program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of July / August 2007
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Sunday JULY 1st:  This Sunday begins nine weeks of summer season lyric theater programming, most of which will be comic, bucolic, and easy-to-take so as to reflect your relaxed, vacation time frame of mind. With the Fourth of July holiday coming up something that is American through and through is required. In 1974 actor James Whitmore wowed 'em with his uncanny portrayal of President Harry S. Truman in Samuel Gallu's play Give 'Em Hell, Harry! The show adapts readily to radio. Whitmore's solo performance was preserved for audio history on two LP discs by Bill Sargeant's Theatrovision for United Artists Records. Here's a chunk of Americana that will really sock it to you! I last broadcast Give 'Em Hell, Harry! on Sunday, July 5, 1987.
Don't worry, opera lovers, you'll get your share of singing in today's show. Nancy Van de Vate (b. 1930) is a composer of American origin who lives and composes in Vienna, Austria. You heard one of her operas, All Quiet on the Western Front (2003), in remembrance of Armistice Day on Sunday, November 7, 2004. Van de Vate writes operas both in English and German language librettos. Sometime soon I plan to present one of the German ones, Nemo: Jenseits von Vulkania (2001), an operatic take off on the Jules Verne science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Keep listening for an hour-long one act opera in American English, Where The Cross Is Made, based on the play by Connecticut's own dramatist Eugene O'Neill. Van de Vate came back to the states to record this opera with the performing resources of the Illinois State University Opera Theater. It was released on a single compact disc last year through Vienna Modern Masters, a record label founded by her late husband Clyde Smith in 1990.

Sunday JULY 8th:  Sometime long ago, probably in late summer of 1982, I remember broadcasting the complete music for the comic opera Hary Janos (1926) by Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967). Kodaly's orchestral suite derived from the opera is much more frequently performed and recorded. Hungaroton, the old Hungarian stat record label, did indeed issue the complete opera on two CDs in 1986, with Janos Ferencsik conducting the Hungarian State Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Some folks as old as myself would recall the 1970 (?) London two LP set with Isztvan Kertesz leading the London Symphony Orchestra and the Endinburgh Festival Chorus and a singing cast of native Hungarian singers. What makes this British recording so wonderful is its English language narrator, that comic genius of an actor, Peter Ustinov. He is also the voice of Hary Janos, a bombastic village storyteller. If he sneezes on purpose it's a signal to his listeners that his story is pure fantasy. You hear that sneeze in Kodaly's music. Ustinov's vocal caricatures of various figures in the stories, especially the drunken Austria Emperess Maria Teresia, I say is still hilarious. After the lapse of a quarter of a century, it will be a joy to air this Sunday my old favorite Kertesz interpretation of Hary Jonas. More vocal music of Hungary to follow.

Sunday JULY 15Th:  Every summer I try to present something bucolic or pastoral. In looking back on summers past to my surprise I discover that I have never aired Leoš Janáček's most endearing opera, called in his native Moravian dialect, Prihody Lysky Bistroušky, but known in English as "The Cunning Little Vixen" (1923). It sets forth upon the lyric stage a novelette by Rudolf Tesnohlidek about the animals of the forest and their relations with the resident forester. Janáček himself rendered this fairy-tale like narration into a libretto. The novelette is actually the text of something approaching a graphic novel. It accompanies a comic strip. Janáček ran across the cartoon in a local newspaper and was charmed by it. Conductor Vaclav Neumann recorded Janáček's masterpiece twice for Supraphon, the old Czechoslovak state record label, first in 1957, then again in 1980. Supraphon passed the 1980 recording along to Pro Arte Records for distribution in this country on two stereo LPs. Neumann leads the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus and Kuehn Children's Chorus. The vixen is soprano Magdalena Hajossyova. "Golden Stripe" The Fox is soprano Gabriela Benackova.

Sunday JULY 22nd: Bollywood is the colloquial term used to refer to the film industry of India. It seems to be a combination of two city names, Bombay and Hollywood. Bollywood has brought us enormous quantities of the popular contemporary music of India via movie soundtracks. This category of recordings now looms so large that Fanfare magazine, that bible of classical music record review, devotes a regular column to it. Bollywood has even succeeded in influencing the popular lyric theater of the Western world, reflecting the international impact of the growing Indian economy and technocracy. Andrew Lloyd Webber brought a Bollywood-style musical to London's Apollo Victoria Theatre in June, 2002. Bombay Dreams has music by A. R. Rahman and lyrics by Don Black. Rahman is quoted as acknowledging his debt to the Indian film directors who inspired him to write some of his music. His remarks appear in the notes to the Sony Classical CD cast recording. Keep listening for some of Bollywood's biggest musical hits.

Sunday JULY 29TH: On the last Sunday in July I usually keep on hold for one of the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. I have broadcast Princess Ida (1884) only once before. Coming between Zolanthe and The Mikado, it belongs to the period when the powers of composer and librettist were at their zenith. Strangely, Gilbert wrote the play for this operetta in blank verse, and it has three acts, as opposed to the expected two. Gilbert contrived a satire on Tennyson's poem, The Princess, incorporating his own wry commentary on the Victorian movement for women's emancipation and education. On Sunday, July 27, 2003 I drew upon an old Decca/London LP set. It preserves a classic 1965 stereo recording of Princess Ida with Sir Malcolm Sargeant directing the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the cast and chorus of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, who have long been the internationally recognized guardians of the G & S canon, as directly passed down to them from impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte and his daughter Bridget. Nobody has a lock on that canon, however, since amateur lyric theater companies of considerable talent all over the world perform these works, like our own Simsbury Light Opera Company. (The renowned Savoyard Martin Green coached them at the very end of his career.) On a more professional level, the Ohio Light Opera Company staged Princess Ida in the summer of 1999. Founded in 1979, this is the resident lyric theater institution at the College of Wooster (Ohio), a school with a strong emphasis on the performing arts. Newport Classics released their production on two CDs in 2000. This recording is the first to include all of Gilbert's witty dialog. The classic Decca/London release has no dialog at all.

Sunday AUGUST 5th:  Now is the time of year for the best of Italian opera buffa. The Rossini that I love best is the young Rossini of the five one-act opere buffe. If Mozart had lived into the nineteenth century, I figure he might well have composed such gems as these. In 2005 Brilliant Classics released all of them in an eight CD boxed set. They were recorded between 1988-92 with Marcello Viotti conducting the English Chamber Orchestra and various vocal soloists. Last year in August I presented two works from the Brilliant set: La Scala di Seta (1812) and the most obscure of the one-actors L'Ocassione Fa il Lardo (1812). La Cambiale di Matrimonio (1810) is Rossini's very first opera. It too is nowhere near as well known as it should be. In the notes for Brilliant Eduardo Ferrati writes that it "…demonstrates that the young Rossini possessed a sophisticated dramatic instinct, a sure command of technique and an uncanny ability for characterization." I last broadcast La Cambiale di Matrimonio on August 24, 1986 working from two early stereo LPs recorded for Mercury Records in 1960. What you hear today was recorded in London in 1990.
Paired with this work in today's presentation will be L'Inganno Felice (1812), which is designated a farsa or farce in the music, as were Rossini's other single act operas. These were the craziest sort of opere buffe! Yet this one is a darker variation of comedy, where the protagonists smile through their tears, after having suffered injustice. L'Inganno Felice was also recorded in London in 1992.

Sunday AUGUST 12th:  The career of Herman Goetz (1840-76) as a composer was pitifully short. His life stopped just short of his thirty-sixth birthday. He left us only two operas, the first one Die Widerspenstige Zahmung (1868-72) is a German language adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. It could be said to be Goetz's masterpiece. Even in his own time it was acclaimed as one of the two best German comic operas of the nineteenth century, the other one being Otto Nicolai's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (1849), upon which Goetz seems to have modeled his own work. Goetz's style of opera has nothing to do with Wagner. Rather, Goetz follows a creative line from Mendelssohn going back to Mozart. This effervescent and tuneful music seems to have bored the jaded ears of the twentieth century. "The Taming of the Shrew" was produced throughout Europe and clung to the fringe of the international standard repertoire until the First World War, then disappeared. It has, however, been recorded complete in relatively modern times and in relatively good sound. Profil/Hannssler has reissued in 2006 the monaural recording made in Munich in 1955. Josef Keilberth led the chorus and orchestra of Bavarian Radio. Many of the great male voices of German opera of a half century ago took part in the studio sessions: Gottlob Frick, Waldemar Kmentt, Benno Kusche and Paul Kuen. The shrew Katharina is soprano Annelies Kupper. Her sister Bianca is soprano Elizabeth Lindermeier. Profil's engineers have digitally enhanced the pretty-good-to-begin-with mono sonics for transfer onto compact disc.

Sunday AUGUST 19th:  On this Sunday in the summer sequence I usually present a Viennese-type operetta. Emmerich or Imre Kalman (1882-1953) was a native of Hungary who wrote operettas with German language librettos. Die Czardasfuerstin ("The Czardas Princess," 1915) was his greatest theatrical success, capturing in music the ebullient spirit of Vienna before the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up and the city was still a great imperial capital. Everything Kalman ever wrote contains beautiful melodies with the distinct tonal accent of his homeland. The czardas, of course, is a Hungarian dance. Kalman beautifully adapted Magyar dance and song to the accepted Viennese idiom of operetta. Leo Stein and Bela Jenbach provided him with a story about an Austrian prince's infatuation with a Hungarian showgirl, with all the complications regarding social rank that an illicit affair of that sort entails. I broadcast "The Czardas Princess" once before on Sunday, August 21, 1994. The 1991 Denon recording I aired at that time had complete spoken dialog. Rudolf Bibl conducted the soloists, chorus, and orchestra of the Vienna Volksoper in a 1985 live-in-performance taping in Tokyo. Naxos records issued in 2004 its own Czardasfuerstin in a studio recording made at the Slovak Radio Concert Hall in Bratislava just downstream on the Danube from Vienna. Richard Bonynge directed the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Choir. The charismatic showgirl Silva Varescu is soprano Yvonne Kenny. The Naxos set of two CDs lacks the dialog. Since its time of play is shorter, there's opportunity to fit into the timeslot highlights from another of Kalman's operettas, Grafin Maritza (1924). Robert Stolz leads the Berlin Symphony and Guenther Arndt Choir. The wealthy Hungarian Countess Maritza is soprano Margit Schramm. Her compatriot, the down-on-his-luck aristocrat Count Tasilo, is tenor Rudolf Schock. Issued originally on LP in the 1970's, Eurodisc gives it back to us in compact disc format.

Sunday AUGUST 26th:  The last Sunday in August I customarily reserve for broadcast of one of the seven operas of Fredrick Delius (1862-1934), who has been called "The English Debussy." I program them now because Delius' exquisite impressionistic style is so evocative of the lazy, hazy end of summertime. Delius' second attempt at writing opera, The Magic Fountain (1895), never saw the stage in his lifetime. The great English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham befriended Delius and championed his music. Beecham planned to have The Magic Fountain staged in 1953, but its actual premiere came over BBC Radio in 1977 without need of visible staging. Delius so captures the spirit of nature you can see in your mind's eye the setting: the Everglades in the day of the Spanish conquistadors. In seeking the Fountain of Eternal Youth and Life in South Florida a Spanish nobleman falls in love with a Native American princess. He dies for her sake by drinking from the fatal waters. Delius knew the scenery of the land of this story quite intimately. In his youth he spent time managing a small citrus plantation near Jacksonville. His deepest artistic inspirations go back to that place. The world premiere recording of Delius' The Magic Fountain heightens with environmental sound effects the balmy atmosphere the music has already created. Norman Del Mar leads the BBC Concert Orchestra with vocal soloists. I have broadcast the 1985 BBC Artium CD release twice before on the Delius Sunday of August, 1991 and 1999, and presented it way back on Sunday, August 30, 1987 on Arabesque LPs.
Most of the recordings featured over the summer weeks come out of my own collection. The exceptions are all LPs or CDs derived from our station's ever-growing library of classical music on disc. They include Nancy Van de Vate's Where The Cross Is Made, Janacek's "The Cunning Little Vixen," the two one-act Rossini operas, and Hermann Goetz', "The Taming of the Shrew."

WWUH Program Guide 2007 ©

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