WDBX Opera Overnight – Britten, Donizetti

Benjamin Britten, 1974

Benjamin Britten, 1974

We started tonight’s show with a work by the British composer Benjamin Britten, Peter Grimes.  Britten was inspired to write the opera by a poem by George Crabbe, and requested that Montagu Slater write the libretto.  Britten and his frequent collaborator (and life partner) Peter Pears played a significant role in the writing of the text, causing the title character to be altered from Crabbe’s original poem, lessening his villainy and making him more of a victim of society (which would become something of a recurring theme in Britten’s operatic work).   The music was written between 1942 and 1945, and the opera was premiered on 7 June 1945.  The work was his greatest success to that point in his career, and was the first of a number of English language operas that Britten would write.  For Britten, it is probably the opera with the greatest long-term and ongoing success, although several of his later operas probably deserve wider notice (a number of them have recently received new recordings).

The opera includes a set of interludes which are frequently performed by orchestras as Four Sea Interludes.  There are a number of recordings of the set.  There is also a Passacaglia at the end which is also frequently performed outside of the opera, either independently (as Op. 33b) or as a group with the Four Sea Interludes.

Tonight’s performance is from 2004, and features Glenn Winslade as Peter Grimes, Janice Watson  as Ellen Orford, Anthony Michaels Moore as Balstrode, Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Mrs. Sedley, Jill Grove as Auntie, Ryland Davies as Rev. Adams, and Nathan Gunn as Ned Keene.  Colin Davis leads the London Symphony Orchestra.

Front page of the libretto published by editio...

Front page of the libretto published by editions Ricordi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our next opera was L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), written by Gaetano Donizetti.  It was written in 1832, taking less than a month to complete (Donizetti was known to be a quick worker), with Donizetti using a libretto by Felice Romani , which in turn was modeled after a libretto by  Eugène Scribe for an opera by Daniel Auber.  It immediately achieved a great deal of popularity (Richard Wagner even wrote an adaptation for solo piano), and it still is Donizetti’s second most frequently performed opera (after Lucia di Lammermoor).  One of the tenor arias, Una furtive lagrima )Act 2 Scene 2), is considered to be one of the most frequently performed operatic arias in recitals, and this is just one of a number of arias from the opera which are frequently used in recitals.

Tonight’s recording is from 1970, and features Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti (one of his earlier recordings, right as he’s making his big breakthrough), Dominic Cossa, Spiro Malas, and Maria Casula.  Richard Bonynge (Sutherland’s husband, frequent collaborator, and preferred director) leads the English Chamber Orchestra.

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