Thursday, October 27, 2016

ROSSINI : CIRO IN BABILONIA

Ciro in Babilonia, ossia La caduta di Baldassare
Cyrus in Babylonia (or the fall of Belshassar)

INTRODUCTION
SYNOPSIS
LIBRETTO (Italian)

HISTORY
Read the true history of King Cyrus (Koresh)  of Persia and his conquest of Babylon (the city) and Babylonia (the land), in his own words, and his appearance in the Bible (Isaiah, Ezra, Daniel) with my comments. Daniel 5 has the story of Belshassar's feast, and the writing on the wall (telling him that his number was up); the end of the chapter (5:30-31) says that Belshassar was immediately slain, and Darius the Mede took over the empire; that is the author's special name for Cyrus of Persia. Because the prophet Jeremiah had said the Medes would conquer Babylon, Daniel had to refer to Cyrus the Persian as Darius the Mede, but in one place he shows that they are the same person (6:28)
My study of this was published here:
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 56 (1992) 113-126
Brian Colless, Cyrus the Persian as Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

TUTINO : TWO WOMEN

Marco Tutino's Two Women (La Ciociara)
Radio New Zealand Concert Network
Sunday 2nd of October 2016 at 6 - 8.30


TUTINO: Two Women, an opera in two acts with libretto by Marco Tutino and Fabio Ceresa, set in Rome and its surroundings in 1943-44
Cesira........................... Anna Caterina Antonacci
Giovanni...................... Mark Delavan
Rosetta ........................ Sarah Shafer
Michele ....................... Dimitri Pittas
Lena............................. Zanda Svede
John Buckley............... Edward Nelson
Fedor von Bock........... Christian Van Horn
San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Nicola Luisotti
PREVIEW
REVIEW
REVIEW
SELECTION (YouTube)


Sunday, June 26, 2016

JIMMY LOPEZ : BEL CANTO

Radio NZ Concert (Network New Zealand)
Sunday 26th of June 2016 at 6 - 9 pm
JIMMY LÓPEZ: Bel Canto
Ann Patchett's best-selling novel Bel Canto took the literary world by storm. Now, in a new work curated by Lyric's creative consultant, Renée Fleming, this riveting story inspired by a real-life event becomes a powerful opera
Roxanne - Danielle de Niese, soprano
Carmen - J'nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano
Hosokawa - Jeonhcheol Cha, bass-baritone
Gen - Andrew Stenson, tenor
General Alfredo - Rafael Dávila, tenor
Messner - Jacques Imbrailo, baritone
Ruben Iglesias - William Burden, tenor
Caesar - Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor
Lyric Opera Chorus & Orch/Andrew Davis
INTRODUCTION
PREVIEWS
REVIEW (Opera News)
REVIEW (NYT) 
DANIELLE DE NIESE!
What a website: self-promotion of the most endearing kind, and you just fall in love with her (a mix of Scottish, Dutch, Singhalese, Australian, American, British).

Bel canto means 'fine singing' as distinct from Can belto (but the orchestra will be belting their cans in these terrifying circumstances).The story (based on a true event) involves a siege of a mansion in Peru, by a group of rebels (terrorists), who make themselves comfortable with the company (including an opera soprano) when the house itself is under siege from outside. I never want be a spoiler, but a lot of eggs get broken, and Roxane (or Roxanne) is the last one standing on the stage; she has had a sexual relationship with a Japanese married man in the two months of internment; he is now dead; where does she go from here?.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

SULLIVAN : PRINCESS IDA

INTRODUCTION
LIBRETTO
Gilbert and Sullivan's eighth comic opera (1884)
 London Symphony Orchestra, Ambrosian Chorus, Alexander Faris, DVD 1982)
 
This comic opera requires intense concentration to catch the marvelous words, and we have it on royal authority (King Edward VII) that one act of an opera at a time is sufficient. As a compromise, we will have one and a half acts each time. And several (severe and severing) cuts were made in this production.
ACT 1  King Hildebrand, together with his son Hilarion, also Cyril and Florian (friends of the prince) and his soldiers and courtiers, are awaiting the arrival of King Gama and his daughter Princess Ida (note: they were betrothed “at the extremely early age of one”).
  If Gama does not bring Ida, that means war; Gama shall receive either “more than everything” or “less than nothing”. “We’ll shut him up in a dungeon cell, and toll his knell on a funeral bell”
   Hilarion now speaks up: “Today we’ll meet, my baby bride and I . . . Ida was a twelvemonth old, twenty years ago; I was twice her age, I’m told, twenty years ago . . .  She has gained upon me since” (she is now 21, he is barely 22). He knows that  she “has forsworn the world , and, with a band of women, shut herself within a lonely country house, and there devotes herself to stern philosophies!” (a university for celibate women, not a nunnery).
  Gama arrives at last, and introduces himself, to us: “If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am: I’m a genuine philanthropist, all other kinds are sham. Each little fault ...  in my erring fellow-creatures I endeavour to correct . . .  I do all the good I can, yet everybody says I’m such a disagreeable man! And I can’t think why! . . . . A charitable action I can skilfully dissect; and interèsted motives I ‘m delighted to detect; I know èvereybody’s  income and what everybody earns: and I carefully compare it with the[ir] income-tax returns ....You’ll  always find me ready with a crushing repartee .... I can tell a woman’s age in half a minute, and I do.
But although I try to make myself as pleasant as I can, yet everybody says I am a disagreeable man! And I can’t think why.!”
  Gama then practises his personal relations technique on the company.
  Hildebrand finally asks where Ida is. “In Castle Adamant, one of my many country houses. There she rules a woman’s University, with full a hundred girls, who learn of her.” 
(Cyril: “A hundred girls! A hundred ecstasies!”).
  Hilarion wants to go there with his friends, and charm Ida and her ladies: “Expressive glances shall be our lances . . . . A sweet profusion of soft allusion this bold intrusion shall justify”.
   Meanwhile, King Gama and his three sons will be imprisoned as hostages.



ACT 2  At Castle Adamant, girl graduates are “discovered” at the feet of Lady Psyche. She is advising them on which authors to read for an education in Classics: Anakreon (on wine and love?!), Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Juvenal, but they should get them Bowdlerized (expurgated, removing all references to men, I presume, for she exclaims “Man is Nature’s sole mistake”).
  Lady Blanche reads Princess Idea’s list of punishments: Sacharissa is expelled, for having chess-men: “They’re men with whom you give each other mate”. Chloe had a sketch of a perambulator in her drawing-book.
  The Principal, the Princess, gives her address to the young ladies who have just joined. They begin with a hymn to Minerva (Roman goddess of wisdom, arts, and trades).
  Lady Blanche is thinking of getting promotion.
  Hilarion and Co. arrive, having endured prickly cactus, stinging nettles, bull-dogs, broken bottles, and having learned that burglary (breaking and entering)  is a science.
  Florian scoffs at the idea of a Woman’s college. Hilarion rebukes him and gives details of the projects the ladies have.in mind. Example: they will find Perpetual Motion, if they can. “These are the phenomena, that every pretty domina is hoping we shall see at her Universiteee”.
  More idle conjecture has them supposing that the walls of the university (which they have managed to climb over) are not only for keeping men out, but for keeping the maidens in. They chance upon some “academic robes worn by the lady undergraduates when they matriculate”,  and they dress themselves up for the part. They are immediately tested by the arrival of the Princess herself. They introduce themselves as “three well-born maids of liberal estate, who wish to join the University”. She accepts them, and lays down the rules: “give the fullness of your love“ to the hundred maids within these walls (wholeheartedly!); ”never marry any man” (agreed!).
She puts it to them, ascetically: “The world is but a broken toy, its pleasures hollow, false its joy.”
   Ida goes off, but Lady Psyche (Professor of Humanities) appears. Catastrophe!  She is Florian’s sister, and she will surely recognize him; so they decide to “trust our secret to her gentle care”. She knows them all: they remember her as a precocious little phenomenon, a know-all child, who,
for example, would tell the company how the conjuror’s tricks worked before he did them.  “But, gentleman, ‘tis death to enter here.” She then expounds their teaching on the origins of the sexes, with a distorted view of Darwin’s theory:  the males of the species are apes in disguise, and known as Darwinian Man.
   Thereupon, to the consternation of all present, Melissa enters (she is the daughter [!] of Lady Blanche, Professor of Abstract Science, who aspires to the Principal’s position, we recall). Melissa finds the men interesting, and not at all like the malignant caricature she has been taught: “hideous,
idiotic, and deformed”.
   Psyche exclaims her sudden misgivings: “The woman of the wisest wit may sometimes be mistaken; in Ida’s views, I must admit, my faith is somewhat shaken”. Others express similar sentiments and join in a chorus of rejoicing: “Then jump for joy, and gaily bound, the truth is found”.
   Lady Blanche comes to quiz her daughter about the three new students; she has perceived from their singing that “two are tenors, one is a baritone! These ‘girls’ are men disguised!”. Melissa pleads for them, pointing out that Ida and Hilarion have been betrothed for twenty years already. If he takes his bride away, Blanche will move into the top position: “Now wouldn’t you like to rule the roast, and guide this university?” Blanche concurs in song.
(Nowadays ‘rule the roast’, older spelling rost or roste, has become ‘rulethe roost’, referring to a rooster and his hens; but the original idea was that the master of the house had the right to carve the roast meat.)
   Florian wants to whisk Melissa away; when the luncheon bell rings, he is happy to stay.
   Hilarian gives an account of himself (in the third person mode) telling Ida how desperate the Prince is for the love of his Princess. Cyril becomes tipsy and sings a kissing song. When he addresses the disguised Prince as Hilarion, Ida rushes from the table and falls into the stream. (Shades of Ophelia drowned here.) Hilarion rescues her, but she still has them sent to the dungeon.
    King Hildebrand arrives at the castle gates, and announces he will execute Ida’s three brothers unless she marries Hilarion by the following afternoon. Ida prepares for battle.
ACT 3  The ladies eventually confess their unfitness for fighting. King Gama and his three sons are admitted; he tells his daughter that he is a broken man: he has been treated with such courtesies and kindnesses that he has nothing to grumble about. She yields and finally agrees to accept Hilarion
and his love; Florian takes Melissa; Psyche goes with Cyril.


 
Douglas Fairbanks introduces the show, as a play within a play: it is performed within a garden party (so there are men in the scenes inside the college!). He says that we are getting it exactly as Gilbert and Sullivan wrote it. Wrong. Lady Blanche’s aria is omitted, for example.
   We certainly do not hear this line: “And the niggers they’ll be bleaching, by and by”. This might have been alliteratively  altered to "And the blacks they will be bleachiing".  But in 1954 it became "And they'll practice what they're preaching, by and by".

Sunday, January 24, 2016

WAGNER : DAS LIEBESVERBOT

Wagner's The Love Ban (or Forbidden Love)
after Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

INTRODUCTION
SYNOPSIS (by Wagner himself)
LIBRETTO (German)
PERFORMANCE (You Tube)


I am glad that this early ignored opera of Wagner (1813-1883) has survived its disastrous première (1836), and I am sorry I had to wait till late in my own life to hear it. The composer did not want any of his early works to be performed in his holy Bayreuth theatre, but his family finally staged it in 2013; and I remember 1983, when this and Die Feen (The Fairies) were being revived and recorded. I grabbed Rienzi and Die Feen, but this one escaped through my net till 2015. As was his custom, Wagner wrote his own book of words, and having examined this libretto for the first time today (I laboriously made for myself a copy that fits on 16 pages) I see that he has used rhyming extensively. Now we have another comedy of Wagner, but it has the usual conflict between love and law (here in a society where love was 'verboten', and the carnival was over before it had even started).
   I have never seen the Shakespeare play it is based on, so I must get round to that, too.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

MOZART : IL RE PASTORE

Radio New Zealand Concert Network
Sunday 27th of December 2015 at 6.30 - 8.35 pm

MOZART: Il re pastore, an opera in two acts
Alessandro........................ John Mark Ainsley
Aminta.............................. Sarah Fox
Elisa.................................. Ailish Tynan
Tamiri............................... Anna Devin
Agenore............................ Benjamin Hulett
Orchestra of Classical Opera/Ian Page (Signum SIGCD 433)

INTRODUCTION 

LIBRETTO (Italian/Spanish)

The Italian title Il re Pastore means 'the shepherd king'. In the ancient world, kings were compared to shepherds (King Jesus the Good Shepherd, for example), and King David was a sheep-keeper who became the King of Israel. This time we have a shepherd (Aminta) becoming king, but he really was a man born to be king it will finally be revealed (is that what they call a 'spoiler', or am I it?).
   The Alessandro in the cast is Alexander the Great, so we are in the 300s before the current era; he died in 323 (BCE). Alessandro, the king of Macedonia (and emperor of the world),  has overthrown Stratone, the tyrant of Sidon, in Phoenicia (Lebanon) and he endeavours to find the rightful king.
   The opera is rare (I can not remember having heard it before now) and it is actually called a serenata ('serenade'? a dramatic cantata, but designed to promote serenity, or to be performed in the evening?). It is also said to be a comic opera, in the sense of having a happy ending, with the right couples being allowed to marry.
   The libretto is one of the many that were composed by Pietro Metastasio; they were very 'serious', and none of them matched the style of Lorenzo da Ponte (Don Giovanni).

Thursday, November 19, 2015

TIPPETT : A CHILD OF OUR TIME

RadioNew Zealand Concert Network
Thursday 12th of November 2015 at 8-10 pm

INTRODUCTION
LIBRETTO
PERFORMANCE

CHORUS
The world turns on its dark side. It is winter.

The Argument

ALTO
Man has measured the heavens with a telescope,
driven the gods from their thrones.
But the soul, watching the chaotic mirror,
knows that the gods return.
Truly, the living god consumes
within and turns the flesh to cancer.

Scene

CHORUS
Is evil then good? Is reason untrue?
ALTO
Reason is true to itself; But pity breaks open the heart.
CHORUS
We are lost. We are as seed before the wind.
We are carried to a great slaughter.
BASS (Narrator)
Now in each nation there were some cast out
by authority and tormented,
made to suffer for the general wrong.
Pogroms in the east, lynching in the west;
Europe brooding on a war of starvation,
And a great cry went up from the people.
CHORUS OF THE OPPRESSED
When shall the usurers city cease,
And famine depart from the fruitful land?
TENOR
I have no money for my bread; I have no gift for my love.
I am caught between my desires and their frustration
as between the hammer and the anvil.
How can I grow to a man stature?
SOPRANO
How can I cherish my man in such days,
or become a mother in a world of destruction?
How shall I feed my children on so small a wage?
How can I comfort them when I am dead?

A Spiritual

CHORUS and SOLOISTS
Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus;
Steal away, steal away home I ain't got long to stay here.

My Lord, He calls me, He calls me by the thunder,
The trumpet sounds within-a my soul,
I ain't got long to stay here.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus;
Steal away, steal away home I ain't got long to stay here.

Green trees a-bending, poor sinner stand a-trembling,
The trumpet sounds within-a my soul,
I ain't got long to stay here.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus;
Steal away, steal away home I ain't got long to stay here.

PART II

CHORUS
A star rises in mid-winter. Behold the man!
The scapegoat! The child of our time.
BASS (The Narrator)
And a time came when in the continual persecution
one race stood for all.
DOUBLE CHORUS
PERSECUTORS, PERSECUTED
Away with them! Curse them! Kill them!
They infect the state.
Where? How? Why?
We have no refuge.
BASS (The Narrator)
Where they could,
they fled from the terror,
And among them a boy escaped secretly, and was kept in hiding in a great city.
CHORUS OF THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS
We cannot have them in our Empire.
They shall not work, nor beg a dole.
Let them starve in No-Mans-Land!
BASS (The Narrator)
And the boys mother wrote a letter, saying:

Scene

MOTHER (Soprano)
Oh my son! In the dread terror
they have brought me near to death.
BOY (Tenor)
Mother! Mother!
Though men hunt me like an animal,
I will defy the world to reach you.
AUNT (Alto)
Have patience.
Throw not your life away in futile sacrifice.
UNCLE (Bass)
You are as one against all.
Accept the impotence of your humanity.
BOY (Tenor)
No! I must save her.

A Spiritual

CHORUS and SOLOISTS
Nobody knows the trouble I see, Lord,
Nobody knows like Jesus.

Oh brothers, pray for me,
Oh brothers, pray for me,
And help me to drive Old Satan away.

Nobody knows the trouble I see, Lord,
Nobody knows like Jesus.

Oh mothers, pray for me,
Oh mothers, pray for me,
And help me to drive Old Satan away.

Nobody knows the trouble I see, Lord,
Nobody knows like Jesus.

Scene

BASS (The Narrator)
The boy becomes desperate in his agony.
ALTO
A curse is born. The dark forces threaten him.
BASS (The Narrator)
He goes to authority. He is met with hostility.
ALTO
His other self rises in him, demonic and destructive.
BASS (The Narrator)
He shoots the official—
ALTO
But he shoots only his dark brother—
And see— he is dead.
BASS (The Narrator)
They took a terrible vengeance.

The Terror

CHORUS
Burn down their homes! Beat in their heads!
Break them in pieces on the wheel!
BASS (The Narrator)
Men were ashamed of what was done.
There was bitterness and horror.

A Spiritual of anger

CHORUS and BASS
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land;
Tell old Pharaoh, to let my people go.

When Israel was in Egypt's land,
Let my people go.
Oppressed so hard they could not stand,
Let my people go.
“Thus spake the Lord”, bold Moses said,
Let my people go.
"If not, I'll smite your first-born dead”,
Let my people go.

Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land;
Tell old Pharaoh, to let my people go.

The boy sings in his Prison

BOY (Tenor)
My dreams are all shattered in a ghastly reality.
The wild beating of my heart is stilled: day by day.
Earth and sky are not for those in prison.
Mother! Mother!
MOTHER (Soprano)
What have I done to you, my son?
What will become of us now?
The springs of hope are dried up.
My heart aches in unending pain.
ALTO
The dark forces rise like a flood.
Men's hearts are heavy: they cry for peace.

A Spiritual

CHORUS & SOPRANO
Oh, by and by, by and by,
I'm going to lay down my heavy load.
I know my robe's going to fit me well,
I tried it on at the gates of hell.

Oh, hell is deep and a dark despair,
Oh, stop, poor sinner, and don t go there!

Oh, by and by, by and by,
I'm going to lay down my heavy load.


PART III


CHORUS
The cold deepens.The world descends
into the icy waters where lies the jewel of great price.
ALTO
The soul of man is impassioned like a woman.
She is old as the earth, beyond good and evil,
the sensual garments.
Her face will be illumined like the sun.
Then is the time of his deliverance.

Scene

BASS
The words of wisdom are these:
Winter cold means inner warmth,
the secret nursery of the seed.
CHORUS
How shall we have patience
for the consummation of the mystery?
Who will comfort us in the going through?
BASS
Patience is born in the tension of loneliness.
The garden lies beyond the desert.
CHORUS
Is the man of destiny master of us all?
Shall those cast out be unavenged?
BASS
The man of destiny is cut off from fellowship.
Healing springs from the womb of time.
The simple-hearted shall exult in the end.
CHORUS
What of the boy, then? What of him?
He, too, is outcast, his manhood broken
in the clash of powers.
God overpowered him—
the child of our time.

GENERAL ENSEMBLE

TENOR
I would know my shadow and my light,
so shall I at last be whole.
BASS
Then courage, brother,
dare the grave passage.
SOPRANO
Here is no final grieving, but an abiding hope.
ALTO
The moving waters renew the earth.
It is spring.

(Chorus repeats the wordsof the soloists)

A Spiritual

CHORUS and SOLOISTS
Deep river,
my home is over Jordan.
Deep river, Lord,
I want to cross over into camp-ground.
Oh chill! Oh don't you want to go,
To that gospel feast,
That promised land,
That land where all is peace?
Walk into heaven,
and take my seat,
And cast down my crown
at Jesus' feet.

Deep river,
my home is over Jordan,
I want to cross over into camp-ground,
Lord!



Sunday, November 15, 2015

CHAUSSON : LE ROI ARTHUS

Radio New Zealand Concert Network
Sunday 15th of November 2015 at  6 - 9  pm

CHAUSSON: Le Roi Arthus, an opera in three acts
Arthus............................... Thomas Hampson
Genièvre........................... Sophie Koch
Lancelot............................ Roberto Alagna
Lyonnel............................ Stanislas de Barbeyrac
Merlin............................... Peter Sidhorn
Mordred........................... Alexandre Duhamel
Allan................................. François Lis
A Worker.......................... Cyrille Dubois
A Knight.......................... Tiago Matos
An Equerry....................... Ugo Rabec
Paris National Opera Chorus & Orch/Philippe Jordan
(recorded in the Opéra Bastille, Paris by French Radio, Paris)

INTRODUCTION
COMPOSER
REVIEW 
REVIEW
LIBRETTO (English translation)

This Paris performance is one of those productions which saves money on the hiring or buying of costumes by telling the cast to simply turn up in their own old clothes.

This is a romantic Wagnerian opera, by a French composer, who was a cyclist (all these details I admire), but the bicycle was the cause of his death at age 44. Like Wagner, Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) chose to write his own libretto. I am frustrated at not being able to find the original French version on the wwweb.
   Previous recordings of it have involved Simon O'Neill and Donald McIntyre, be it noted. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

MOZART : LA FINTA SEMPLICE

Radio New Zealand Concert Network
Sunday 8th of November 2015 at  6 - 8.15  pm
MOZART: La Finta semplice K51, an opera in three acts
Fracasso............................ Leonardo Cortelazzi
Rosina............................... Chen Reiss
Cassandro......................... Kay Stiefermann
Polidoro............................ Oliver Ringelhahn
Giacinta............................ Elena Belfiore
Simone.............................. David Steffens
Ninetta.............................. Anna Lucia Richter
Munich Radio Orch/Rinaldo Alessandrini
(recorded in the Prinzregententheater, Munich)

INTRODUCTION
SYNOPSIS
LIBRETTO

SCORE
Wolfi Mozart was 12 years of age in 1768 when he composed this, in Vienna, at the request of the Emperor; it had a total of 558 pages. Intrigues prevented its performance in Vienna; but it had its première in Salzburg in 1769; after that it was put to rest until 1983.
   The title is La finta semplice, 'the feigned simpleton' (or 'the fake innocent'). We can see 'feint' and 'feigned' in the Italian word finta. The person who pretends to be naïve is the scheming Rosina, at the instigation of the wily Ninetta.   
   This opera must not be confused with Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera (The feigned gardener-girl , or words to that effect) of 1775.  
   It is an opera buffa, and thus ideal for comical opera buffs.                                                                                              

Sunday, November 1, 2015

BELLINI : LA STRANIERA

Radio New Zealand Concert Network
Sunday 1st of November 2015 at  6 - 8.35  pm
BELLINI: La Straniera, an opera in two acts
Alaide............................... Marlis Petersen
Arturo............................... Norman Reinhardt
Valdeburgo....................... Franco Vassalo
Isoletta.............................. Theresa Krollthaler
Osburgo............................ Vladimir Dmitruk
Il signore di Montolino..... Martin Snell
Il Priore degli Spedalier.... Stefan Cerny
Arnold Schoenberg Chorus,
Vienna Radio SO/Paolo Arrivabeni
(recorded in the Theater an der Wien, Vienna )

INTRODUCTION
LIBRETTO (Italian/English)
RECORDING (Opera Rara)
A Bellini rarity, which I have heard on our local Gramophone Room Opera Nights, but I have not studied it yet. Note NZ Martin Snell in this production from Vienna.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

LA TRAVIATA (29/10/2015)

This is the program for the Video Opera Show at 2 - 4 pm at 3 La Leña Grove (off Summerhill Drive)

Following on from the Sydney Harbour CARMEN we turn now to LA TRAVIATA on the same watery stage, We will begin with the final scene from Act 1, with Violetta on a high, swinging on a
chandelier which would be envied by the Phantom of the Opera.
   Sorry, no subtitles, but the Italian language will be part of the musical experience.
   The two operas share a few facets: a flower given to the male protagonist by the female agonist (both women die in agony in the end); there are gypsies running everywhere; bullfighters are rampant.
   Why didn’t Verdi (and the librettist Piave) give it the title “Violetta”? It seems that they did, but it was called La Traviata (the Deviant, the wayward woman, the woman who went astray, or the fallen woman) on the poster for its first performance on a Sunday evening in Venice in 1853.
   It was originally The Lady of the Camellias, a partly autobiographical novel and stage-drama by Alexandre Dumas (the son). He called her Marguérite (Daisy, or Pearl), and her real name was Marie Duplessis (but she was not South African). Marie was a Parisian courtesan (not simply a woman of easy virtue but a lady of expensive tastes); she was pretty, witty, and flitty. The list of her liaisons includes Liszt, Musset, and Dumas. Marie and Alexandre lived together in the country outside Paris in the summer of 1845, as in Act 2 of the opera; but it was not father Dumas who separated them (as Germont does), but their financial problems and the ‘waywardness’ of Marie. She died about three years later, at the age of 23, ‘consumed’ by 'consumption' (any disease causing wasting of tissues, especially pulmonary tuberculosis).

[1]  PARIS
At a party in her house, Violetta Valéry is introduced to Alfredo Germont, who  has loved her for a year. She starts coughing, and when he comforts her, she gives him a camellia, telling him that when it has withered he may visit her again. However, she does not want an attachment, but desires to remain free always (sempre libera).
[2.1]  AWAY FROM PARIS
 Nevertheless, they enter into a blissful partnership in the countryside, until Alfredo learns that Violetta is financing their affluent lifestyle by selling her possessions. He rushes off to Paris to get some money. His father comes to visit and spoils their happiness. He first persuades Violetta to end her relationship with his son (because it is affecting his daughter's chances of a good marriage)  , and then tries to persuade Alfredo to come home with him to Provence. 
[2.2]  FLORA”S PLACE
Alfredo has turned up at Flora’s party and he sees Violetta reunited with Baron Douphol; he is angry, and after remonstrating alone with her, he calls all the guests together and brandishes the money he has just won at cards, at the Baron’s expense; this will be payment for all the favours she has given him. His father intervenes and rebukes him; all including Violetta reproach Alfredo.
 [3.1]  VIOLETTA’S HOME
Violetta has reached her final hour of life; she is with her maid Annina, and is visited by Doctor Grenvil,  also a band of carnival revellers (outside her window), Alfredo (happy reunion), and then his father Germont (wishing to embrace her as his daughter).  She gives her lover a locket containing a portrait for him to keep as a memento. Note that Alexandre Dumas did not have a reunion with Marie Duplessis.

Friday, October 23, 2015

GOUNOD : CINQ-MARS

Radio New Zealand Concert Network
Sunday 25th of October 2015 at  6 - 8.40 pm
GOUNOD: Cinq-Mars, an opera in four acts and five tableaux
Le marquis de Cinq-Mars.......... Mathias Vidal
Le conseiller de Thou................. Tassis Christoyannis
Père Joseph................................ Andrew Foster-Williams
Le vicomte de Fontrailles.......... André Heyboer
Le roi, Louis XIII/Chancellor.... Jacques-Greg Belobo
De Montmort............................. Andrew Lepri
De Montrésor/Eustache............. Matthias Ettmayr
De Brienne................................. Wolfgang Klose
Princesse Marie de Gonzague.... Véronique Gens
Marion Delorme......................... Norma Nahoun
Ninon de l'Enclos....................... Marie Lenormand
Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Radio SO/Ulf Schirmer
(recorded in the Prinzregententheater, Munich)
This is a concert performance

INTRODUCTION
PREVIEW
LIBRETTO (French)

The time is the reign of King Louis XIII (b. 1601, d. 1643), a monarch of the House of Bourbon who ruled as King of France from 1610 to 1643, and as King of Navarre from 1610 to 1620, when the crown of Navarre merged with the French crown. He is a character in the opera, but Cardinal Richelieu does not appear on stage (nor the 3/4 Musketeers).
   This opera is French, about French history (stuff that is not taught in New Zealand schools, because it is only Kings and Queens of England that count as educational here, I have been told), specifically the reign od Louis XIII (natus 1601, regnavit 1610-1643). The composer is (one momentplease, struggling to open the filing cabinet drawer ....) you know, Gounod.
   We know Roméo et Juliette, Faust (et Marguérite), Mireille (et Vincent) (in which the woman always dies at the end) but who or what is Cinq-Mars? (The 5th of March?)
   The lovers in this case are Le Marquis de Cinq-Mars and Princesse Marie de Gonzague. But Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis Richelieu (whom we know through French literature of the musketeer genre) has given her to the King of Poland, and Cinq-Mars is executed for disagreeing with the Cardinal (the Secretary of State). The original Traviata (Marie) had that name Du Plessis. Could she have been a descendant of that almighty archbishop?
    The term éminence grise (grey eminence) lurks around Richelieu, but it was applied to his private secretary, Père Joseph, who is a scheming character in this opera, but the Cardinal is in his cabinet and never appears on stage, though this is a concert performance from Munich, and so that is two ways they saved on the expense of a costly costume for him.

Brian (pronounced nasally)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

MASSENET : CLEOPATRE

Radio New Zealand Concert Network
Sunday 11th of October 2015 at  6 - 8 pm

MASSENET: Cléopâtre, an opera in four acts
Cléopâtre.......................... Sophie Koch
Marc-Antoine................... Frédéric Goncalves
Octavie............................. Cassandre Berthon
Spakos.............................. Benjamin Bernheim
Sévérus............................. Jean-Gabriel Saint Martin
Charmion.......................... Olivia Doray
Ennius............................... Pierre-Yves Binard
L'Esclave de la Porte........ Yuri Kissin
Paris Opera Chorus, Mulhouse SO/Michel Plasson
(recorded in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris)

INTRODUCTION
SYNOPSIS
LIBRETTO (French)
RECORDING (2 Montserrats 2002)

Cleopatra. The face that sank a thousand ships, perhaps, or launched a score of operas, anyway, which sank without trace. But she has survived in Handel's Giulio Cesare, which might have been titled 'Caesar and Cleopatra' and which ends with the happy couple (Janet Baker and Valerie Masterson in my ENO recording) duetting thus: 'A vow I give you, my heart shall never leave you, if you are true as ever I shall prove'.

Yes, well, in Massenet's last opera Cléopâtre (first performed in 1914, two years after his death) it is Antony and Cleopatra, and no happy ending. Marcus Antonius (alias Marc-Antoine) wants nothing to do with this voluptuous courtesan with a crown, until he sees her and she looks at him. The glory of marrying Octavia, sister of Octavius, has no appeal to him now. In the end, it is a poisoned cup that is offered, but he dies by his own blade and she embraces her pet, a poisonous asp, asp.
'Make way for Caesar' are the closing words, but that is Octave César, and she has exclaimed with her final breath: 'Antoine, Cléopâtre à jamais réunis' (reunited for ever, that is, not for never).

And YouTube supplies a recording with Montserrat Caballé (Cleo) and her daughter Montserrat Marti (Octavie, the Roman girl Tony left behind him), from Rome, 2002 (no picture). This new one from Paris has Sophie Koch, who was in the NY Metropera Werther (also by Massenet).

The other twenty operas with Cleopatra in their title did not float for long. Handel wisely omitted her name and simply called his serious opera about her 'Julius Caesar', and while Caesar's boat sank in Act 3, Handel's opera is still keeping its head above water.

Let us not overlook the fact that Berlioz composed La mort de Cléopâtre, 24 minutes of it, but failed to complete the opera by adding a beginning and a middle, an Act 1 and an Act 2. It survived, though, and Janet Baker and Jessye Norman have recorded this scène lyrique.

This one is not in the top six of Massenet's 27 operas but his music is always tuneful.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

MASSENET : CHÉRUBIN

INTRODUCTION
SYNOPSIS
PIANO SCORE

Here again is that seventeen-year old devil known to us by the name Cherubino (in Mozart's version of The Marriage of Figaro, originally a French play by Beaumarchais). He is still chasing ladies, notably Countess Almaviva, as he celebrates his promotion from pageboy to officer in the army; but Susanna is no longer available (she and her husband Figaro are not in the picture). The objects of his affection (not to say seduction) are the Countess, a Baroness, a Spanish dancer (L'Ensoleillad), and Nina (The Countess's maid); Barbarina is missing, too. He is involved in three duels, but manages to worm his way out of all three, and he chooses to marry Nina.
   This opera of Jules Massenet (1905) is  based on a play by Francis de Croisset. Beaumarchais had already written his own sequel to the two Figaro comedies (The Guilty Mother, made into an opera by Darius Milhaud), in which Figaro and Susanna play a pivotal role in protecting the Countess from the Count's unwarranted jealousy. In that story, Chérubin actually has his way with the Countess Rosine, but he goes off to die in battle; she bears a son named Léon, and the Count knows it is not his; but he has a ward named Florestine (fathered by him).

Friday, September 18, 2015

MILHAUD : LA MÈRE COUPABLE

Radio New Zealand Concert Network
Sunday 20th of September 2015, 6 - 8 pm

INTRODUCTION
BACKGROUND
REVIEW 
FLORESTINE'S ARIA
MILHAUD: La Mère Coupable, an opera in three acts,
after the last play in Beaumarchais' Figaro trilogy,
'L'autre Tartuffe ou la mère coupable'
Begaers........................ Stephan Loges
Comte Almaviva.......... Markus Butter
Figaro........................... Aris Argiris
Florestine..................... Frederikke Kampmann
Leon............................. Andrew Owens
Regie............................ Herbert Fottinger
Rosine, Comtesse Almaviva..... Mireille Delunsch
Suzanne....................... Angelika Kirchschlager
Vienna Radio SO/Leo Hussain
(recorded at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna)


This is interesting: it is based on the sequel to the Marriage of Figaro by Beaumarchais (1792). Darius Milhaud composed it in 1966.
   The four main characters are there: Count Almaviva and his wife Rosine, Figaro and his wife Suzanne; but Cherubino is missing; he had finally gone soldiering and  had died in battle, after making the Countess pregnant, and this illicit coupling had produced a son named Léon. For his part, the Count has a ward named Florestine, and these two young people are in love.
   Figaro and Suzanne have to foil an Irish schemer (a blackguard named Bégearss, begorra) who wants to marry Florestine and inherit the Almaviva fortune (which is being squandered in Paris by the Count, because he does not wish Léon to inherit it).
   A happy ending ensues, with the lovers being united, since they were not brother and sister, as had been thought.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

TCHAIKOVSKY : THE MAID OF ORLEANS

Radio New Zealand Concert Network
Sunday 6th of September 2015, 6 - 9 pm

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Maid of Orleans (Orleanskaya deva)
an opera in four acts and six scenes
King Charles VII.............. Oleg Dolgov
Archbishop....................... Stanislav Trofimov
Dunois.............................. Igor Golovatenko
Thibaut d'Arc................... Petr Migunov
Raymond.......................... Arseniy Yakolev
Bertrand........................... Otar Kunchulia
Soldier.............................. Vladimir Krasov
Joan of Arc....................... Anna Smirnova
Agnès Sorel...................... Irina Churilova
Angel................................ Anastasia Shchegoleva
Bolshoi Theatre Chorus & Orch/Tugan Sokhiev
(recorded in the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow)

INTRODUCTION
SYNOPSIS

Here is Pyotr Ilyich's version of the life and death of Jeanne d'Arc (based on a play by Friedrich Schiller, as many operas are: William Tell, Don Carlos,  I Masnadieri). 
   Joan, the virgin warrior, falls in love with a Burgundian knight named Lionel; he should have been slain by her in battle, but when she saw the beautiful face he was hiding under his visor she saved him for her own (it is Tristan and Isolde again).
   She also saves Mother France from the English, who have no right to be there (maybe they could lay claim to Saxony, they being Anglo-Saxons, or even the whole of Germany, but their invasion of France is a gross intrusion). Anyway, when the Englanders catch Lionel and Joan naughtily embracing in a forest, they put him to the sword and her to the stake. So it ends with an immolation scene (shades of Götterdåmmerung); and, even though she has been too friendly with Lionel, there is room for her in Heaven, and her soul ascends thither.
   This is the opera that was to make Tchaikovsky world-famous, or so he thought, and it was the last opera that soprano Mirella Freni preformed in.
   First staged in Saint Petersburg in 1881, it was in the French style, with a ballet in Act 2. The Russian libretto was written by the composer himself, emulating Wagner by creating the words and the music himself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

DELIUS : THE MAGIC FOUNTAIN


INTRODUCTION
COMPOSER
REVIEW (of the recording)

Frederick (Fritz) Delius (1862 - 1934) composed this 'lyric drama' in 1893-5, but it did not receive its first performance till 1977, and this was as a concert in London, recorded by the BBC, and issued on vinyl discs. I snapped up a set, and later acquired the CD version, coupled with Margot la Rouge, a short opera (50m) from 1901-2.
   Delius was influenced in this project by Wagner's Tristan und Isolde: he wrote the libretto himself; the action begins on a ship (Act 1); his story has a woman of one ethnic group (Irish/ Amerindian) seeking revenge on a man of another group (Cornish/Spanish), but the pair die together as lovers; the leitmotif device is used; the music flows.
   Solano, a Spanish nobleman dreams of finding a fountain of eternal youth. He is shipwrecked on the coast of Florida. Witawa rescues him, but she intends to kill him. Eventually she takes him to the magic fountain, acknowledges her love for him, and the waters cause them to die together.