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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of November and December 1998

Sunday November 1: While it's called All Saints' Day in the official Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, in Latin American countries November First is know colloquially as 'The Day of the Dead," with special pagan rites observed in honor of the departed spirits. A helluvalot of Halloween carries over into "The Day of the Dead," and that is reflected in our opera for today, La Grande Macabre (1978) by Hungarian composer Gyorgi Ligeti (b. 1923).

Based on a play by the Flemish author Michel de Ghelderode, it has a surrealistic macabre setting in Breughelland and draws on the fantastical deathly visions of the painters Pieter Breughel and Hieronymus Bosch. Le Grande Macabre of the title is none other than the Grim Reaper, who announces at the outset of the opera all the horrors of the Apocalypse he will now unleash upon humanity, but in the light of day on November First Death himself must die and all will end in love and happiness. Michael Mescbke helped the composer to work up a German-language libretto for La Grande Macabre that imbibes deeply all the crazy, scary, drunken revelry of All Hallows' Eve. Bawdy, vulgar, absurd, nightmarish: this must have been some stage show! Radio Austria recorded it for issue on two Wergo CD's in 1991.

Sunday November 8: My concept of "lyric theater" programming, as I defined it years ago, has always included spoken-work audio presentations. The recorded plays of William Shakespeare figure importantly in that category. I have broadcast many of Shakespeare's works in LP format, but not recently. The last one I aired was The Winters Tale on Argo LP's on Sunday, January 3, 1993. Today you'll hear my first Shakespeare presentation on silver disc: King Lear, released on three CD's by Random House Audiobooks. The play was broadcast over BBC Radio Three on April 10, 1994 and stars the legendary Sir John Gielgud in the title role. The last time his golden voice was heard on this program was in my broadcast of a really old mono LP recording of Oscar Wilde's comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. That was on Sunday, May 17, 1992. Gielgud is joined by the Renaissance Theater Company. The other cast members have had similarly illustrious theatrical caesers. Kenneth Branagh is heard as Edmond and Derek Jacobi is the King of France.

Sunday November 15: Many of George Friderick Handel's oratorios have been unjustly neglected. People think of his oratorios as all religious in nature, because the only one they've ever heard is Messiah. Handel wrote several oratorios on secular subjects, too. One is The Occasional Oratorio (1746), which has a clearly political subtext. Handel wrote it in praise of the Duke of Cumberland's triumph over the revolt in Scotland headed by Bonnie Prince Charlie. The libretto by Newburgh Hamilton wallows in English national pride and Anglican piety. Handel's music for The Occasional Oratorio is suitably grand. He plagiarized much of it from previously composed works of his own, but even regurgitated Handel sounds splendid to me as interpreted by conductor Robert King and the King's Consort. This period instrument ensemble is joined by the King's Consort Choristers and the Choir of New College, Oxford. Musical Heritage Society here in the US has picked up the King's Consort world premiere recording of The Occasional Oratorio originally issued in 1995 under the British label Hyperion.

Sunday November 22: Adelson e Salvini (1826) is Vincenzo Bellini's first opera, composed near the end of his student days at the Naples Conservatory. The first version of his opera semiseria was staged at the conservatory just prior to graduation. Bellini greatly revised it for another production in 1829. While the music is recognizable in the tuneful style of the composer, you can't expect it to rise to the lyric heights of Norma. The action of Adelson e Salvini is set in Ireland and the story concerns the friendship of the Anglo-Irish lord Adelson and the Italian painter Salvini. A beautiful woman comes between them, and the plot has a curiously murderous twist. Domenico DeMeo further revised and edited the score of Adelson to prepare it for its' 1992 production at the Teatro Bellini in the composer's hometown, Cantania in Sicily. The following year the Italian label Nuova Era issued Adelson e Salvini on two compact discs.

Sunday November 29: This will be the fourth time in nigh-on two decades of opera deejaying that I will have broadcast Ralph Vaughan-Williams' The Pilgrim's Progress (1951). And why not, since this is the perfect opera for the Sunday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I wouldn't have presented it again quite so soon if Chandos hadn't released this year an new recording of it with Richard Hickox conducting the Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with baritone Gerald Finley as Pilgrim. Vaughan-Williams had always wanted to write an opera based on John Bunyan's Christian allegory. Sections of the score were written separately over a period of decades. Musically, The Pilgrim's Progress is a summation of Vaughan-Williams style beginning with his work on the new English Hymnal in 1967. Ultimately, this opera has never gone over very well on stage. A pity, to, since no one has ever set the words of the English Bible to music so beautifully or so movingly as Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

Sunday November 6: It's taken decades, but now in the 1990's all of Handel's operas have finally been recorded. Poro, Re dell'Indie (1731) was one of the first to be committed to disc by the German label Eterna in the 1950's. That old set of LP's has been out of print for so long, we might as well regard the 1994 release of Poro on the French label Opus 111 as a world premiere recording. Ralph Lucano, the reviewer for Fanfare magazine (the bible of classical music criticism), gave Opus 111 a thumbs-up write-up in the May/June 1995 number. Mezzo Gloria Banditelli takes the title role as Poros, king of one part of India, whose lands are conquered by Alexander the Great. It was a role originally, created for the illustrious Italian castrato Senesino. The libretto for Poro was set by at least eighty composers in the eighteenth century.

One of them was Johann Adolf Hasse, who called his opera Cleofide instead, after Poros' wife. (Hasse's Cleofide was among the first few CD recordings I ever broadcast on this show back in September of 1989.) Handel tweaked Metastassio's wordbook quite a bit to suit his own own dramatic purposes. His opera was a big success at London's Haymarket Theater, but the days of Italian opera seria in England were coming to an end and soon Handel would give up the genere altogether in favor of English-language oratorio. In our Opus 111 recording Favio Biondi leads the period instrument ensemble Europa Galante.

Sunday December 13: Again this year WWUH will broadcast Women Hawks basketball. This Sunday there will be no opera as we broadcast the basketball game at 2PM.

Sunday December 20: Although it was composed by an American, Samuel Barber's Vanessa (1958) is a tale of thwarted love among the well-to-do of an unspecified Northern European country. Vanessa is a wintertime story, set in snowy weather a century ago, when ice skating often served as a vehicle for courtship. A New Year's Eve party figures importantly in the third act. The lonely ending of this story should remind us that the winter holiday season may be a happy time for some folks, but others feel more isolated and unloved than ever. Ibsen or Chekhov could easily have written a similar tragedy involving unwanted pregnancy and suicide, but it was Gian Carlo Menotti (an opera composer in his own right) who wrote the libretto. Barber was, to be more specific, a gay American composer, and Gian Carlo was in truth his longtime companion. The characters Menotti dreamed up for Vanessa are pretty nasty and unlikeable. Why then was Barber inspired to write such wonderful, melodic music for them? One way of explaining the incongruity is to think of this opera as "high camp." At least that's how Fanfare magazine's Walter Simmons thought of Vanessa when he praised the CD reissue of the RCA Victor recording, made in very early stereo sound only a month after the opera's stage premiere at the Met (Fanfare, January/February, 1991). The Met's vocal luminaries of the fifties took the principal roles: soprano Eleanor Steber as Vanessa, "a lady of great beauty," with tenor Nicolai Gedda the suitor Anatol and Regina Resnick as Erika, Vanessa's niece. Dmitri Mitropoulos conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus. I last broadcast Vanssa in its original LP format on Sunday, December 16, 1984. The CD reissue was scheduled for Sunday, December 14 of last year, but was preempted by a broadcast of a U of H Lady Hawk's basketball game.

Sunday December 27: I can't believe it has been so long since I last broadcast Rossini's La Cenerentola (1817)! My records indicate I did it last on Sunday, July 29, 1984. There's a very good recording of it in circulation on London CD's with the esteemed Cecilia Bartoli in the title role. The mezzo-soprano's characterization of Angiolina, the Cinderella of the opera, is so good that Fanfare's reviewer James Camner says she "obliterates all previous recorded performances" and her agile voice amply demonstrates "her complete mastery of a difficult role" (Fanfare, March/April 1994 issue). Camner also praises most of the rest of the cast, which includes bass Michele Pertusi as Alidoro, tenor William Matteuzzi as Don Ramiro, baritone Alessandro Corbelli as Dandini and Enzo Dara, bass, as Don Magnifico. He also says the chorus and orchestra of the Teatro Communale of Bologna are just great, and the recording itself was sonically engineered just right. Camner claims "Riccardo Chailly's conducting is nothing short of brilliant, among the best on record for any Rossini opera." La Cenerentola is the story of an Italian Cinderella minus the fairy godmother element. Our recording omits two arias that were not actually written by Rossini for the hastily-prepared premiere production.

As the year ends I reflect on how indebted I have been to the Hartford Public Library's music librarian Bob Chapmen for his kind assistance in helping me program this show throughout 1998. He made it possible for me to obtain on special loan for broadcast nearly half of everything you've heard this past year. In these two closing months of 1998 the HPL has loaned out to me Ligeti's La Grande Macabre, Bellini's Adelson e Salvini, and Rossini's La Cenerentola. Some years ago Linda Blottner, head of the music library at the Hartt School here on the campus of the University of Hartford, kindly extended to me and all the other WWUH classical deejays special faculty-level borrowing privileges for our programming. I availed myself of the Hartt library's holdings of classical music on disc in programming Handel's Poro and Barber's Vanessa. Vaughan-Williams' Pilgrims Progress is a new acquisition to our ever growing library of classical CD's. King Lear and Handel's The Occasional Oratorio are drawn from my own recorded music collection.

Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 1998

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