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.

The Galaxy – Put some enthusiasm in that music!

There is a scripture in the Bible that speaks about God’s distaste for lukewarm Christians.  (Revelations 3:15-16 – “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”)  I confess that I feel the same way about music.  I’m not much for “lukewarm” music, and to be quite honest, I’m not into cold music, either.  I like my music hot.  Now, this isn’t to say that I have a set definition for what is “hot”.  If there is one, it starts with driving musicianship.  This can be achieved through multiple means and in multiple genres.  This is the common thread that ties my various disparate genres together – a high degree of musicianship.

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos

Buck Owens with the classic Buckaroos lineup: Owens, Don Rich (g), Willie Cantu (d), Tom Brumley (steel guitar), Doyle Holly (b)

The artist that we started the night with, Buck Owens, had a knack for great songwriting, and he had a top notch group of musicians who could bring his musical vision to life.  It is easy to focus on lead guitarist Don Rich, whom we hear singing high harmony vocals here as well, but Doyle Holly, Tom Brumley (the son of noted gospel composer Albert Brumley) and Willie Cantu were all fine musicians as well.  We heard a lovely set from Owens’ Live at Carnegie Hall disc: Act Naturally, Together Again, and Love’s Gonna Live Here.

Metallica, mid-80s

Ride the Lightning-era Metallica

I do love to shift gears, to mix my pitches (to use some baseball lingo), as I enjoy the contrast from one genre to another.  Although the selection of Metallica was not an attempt to maximize the contrast in genres, I can’t think of a better way to do so than to jump into some early Metallica.  They have it all – musically tight exploration of what the genre can do, with great songs and great performances.  We heard  Master of Puppets (surely you know which album that one is from) and One (I would hope that you’re familiar with …And Justice for All).

Duke Ellington, c. 1930s

The ever-dapper Duke Ellington, c. 1930s

Now, one of my main thematic interests for the evening was a celebration of the birthday of the great jazz musician and composer Duke Ellington.  We cannot give the Duke sole credit for making jazz great – that credit belongs to a group of persons, a group that he holds a charter membership in.  But his work was truly vital in establishing jazz as an art form.  His early recordings are some absolute treasures, and we heard a few of them tonight – Harlem Twist (a redo of his earlier East St. Louis Toodle-oo, The Moochie, Saturday Night Function, Move Over, Ring Dem Bells – all from 1930 or earlier (Ring Dem Bells was the only one of these from 1930).  Each of these recordings are pretty important in the history of jazz, with moments that make the jazz lover salivate freely (i.e. Bubber Miley’s growling trumpet lines in Harlem Twist, or Baby Cox’s vocals on several of the songs, or the unbelievable recording quality on several of these songs – these are from the 1930s, after all).  We also heard a few songs from the classic 40’s era band –  (Otto Make That) Riff Staccato, Prelude to a Kiss, and Caravan.  Just a small demonstration of the greatness that the Duke left as his legacy, the same greatness that would inspire countless great musicians that would follow.

New Order, c. mid '80s

New Order, c. mid '80s (Bernard Sumner (g, v), Gillian Gilbert (synth, guitar), Stephen Morris (d, synths), Peter Hook (b, synths)

Another study in contrasts comes with our inclusion of some classic New Order.   New Order is unique in the manner in which they constructed dance music, while at the same time maintaining the standard of music that was fully constructed, and many of their albums present both dance music and more elemental post-punk rock.  Tonight we heard a sampling of some of their classic dance songs:  Blue Monday (from 1983’s Power, Corruption and Lies), Bizarre Love Triangle (from  1986’s Brotherhood), and Mr. Disco (from 1988’s Technique).

OMD, c. 1983

OMD, c. 1983 (clockwise from top: Martin Cooper (sax, synths), Malcom Holmes (d), Paul Humphreys (synths, vocals, etc), Andy McCluskey (v, bass, synths, guitars, etc)

While it is a good thing to hear some good New Order, it is just as instructive to hear other bands who were influential in the development of electronic rock music, such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.  Like New Order, OMD were heavily influenced by Kraftwerk (the title of their second album, Organisation, refers to an early group name of Kraftwerk’s), although their focus tended to be more along the electronic line than of the dance music trend, at times bordering on the experimental.  Their music was indeed quite experimental for the time, with liberal use of tape collages, found sounds, and other electronic musical advances.  We heard Almost and Mystereality from their self-titled first album.  We then heard 2nd Thought and VCL XI from Organisation.

It is interesting to note some of the hidden connections between New Order and OMD, aside from their mutual interest in Kraftwerk:

  • OMD put their first single out through Factory Records, which was New Order’s long time label.  It was produced by Martin Hannett, the noted producer who helped Joy Division find their sound.  Hannett also worked with JD after they became New Order, but the members of New Order quickly learned how to handle mixing boards, and soon elected to produce themselves.
  • OMD’s 1980 album Organisation is said to have been heavily influenced by Joy Division, with its darker feel and jarring drum sounds (which was brought to Joy Division in part by Martin Hannett).
  • OMD gave Stephen Hague his first full record production credit when he produced their 1985 album Crush, the album which served as a chart breakthrough for OMD in the US.  Later that same year, New Order brought Hague in to do a single and b-side for True Faith, resulting in part from the success seen with OMD.
  • Peter Saville did the album art for several of OMD’s albums throughout the early ’80s.  He is, of course, well known for his work on albums issued by the Factory label, including those of New Order’s.

Cancer Bats are a metal band from Toronto, Canada whom I was quite impressed with when I saw them opening for As I Lay Dying in St. Louis in 2010.  From their 2008 album Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones, we heard Sleep This Away and Dead Wrong.  I look forward to hearing more from this band.

Punk rock hardcore band The Bad Brains at Nigh...

We close the show with a classic live album from the Bad Brains, the seminal hardcore group that blended hardcore and reggae together back in the early to mid ’80s.  Their recordings were great (the Rock for Light album is a particular classic), but their live performances were absolutely incendiary – one reason why they are credited with being a major influence for bands ranging from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Flag and Living Colour, to the Beastie Boys (Adam “MCA” Yauch produced their most recent album).  Happily, we have an excellent recording of one such concert, The Youth are Getting Restless, recorded on 5/28/1987 in the Paradiso in Amsterdam.   From this very important recording, we heard Banned in DC, Sailin’ On, Fearless Vampire Killer, and At The Movies.

A great way to end the show – with a BANG.

Ms. Bags ends WDBX Membership Drive w/ massive pledge to “Style City”

Thanks to the incredible generosity of a long-time WDBX listener, this year’s Spring Membership Drive ended early, with a massive pledge allowing the station to meet its $13,000 goal! Ms. Bags, the pseudonym of an anonymous donor and fan of many shows at WDBX, made her pledge to “Style City” in support of the Friendly Badger Committee. For those not aware of the Friendly Badger Committee, it is a cross-species effort made by Badger University at Style City to promote understanding between badgers and humans, with adopt-a-badger programs and reduced-price meals for senior badgers.

 

WHAT MOMMA SAID…

WHAT MOMMA SAID

WDBX 6:30-8am Saturdays

April 28,2012

ARTIST /SONG /CD NAME

  1. Tom Glazer -Come Down The Aisle-Honk Hiss Tweet GGGGG…
  2. Brian Vogan-We Call It Fall-Little Songs
  3. Eve and Mare-Squirrel Ran Up My Leg-Green Means Go
  4. Railroad Earth –Right In Tune – Amen Corner
  5. Disney-Hakuna Matata-Disney’s Greatest Hits vol 2
  6. UB40 –I wanna Be Like You –Disney Club Reggae

7am  

7.Sweet Honey In The Rock-Member of the World Community –Experience 101

8. Billy Kelly-I Don’t Know-Oasis Records Vol 10

9. Mr. Blotto – Kiss Me In The Morning – Bad Hair Day

10. Alice Evans, Alan Brasington, James Mironchik – Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee –Oasis Vol 10

11. Tony-Rice-Mansanita-Life Goes On a benefit cd for St Jude’sHospital

7:30am

12. Muddy Waters – The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll – Hard Again

13. They Might Be Giants – Flying V – Here Come The ABC’s

14. Bob Mould – Shine Your Light Love Hope-Body Of Song

15. Dire Straights-Romeo and Juliet –Alchemy

16. Susie Arioli-Blue Skies – Night Lights

17. Mott The Hoople –The Golden Age of Rock and Roll – Super Hits

Your Community Spirit 2012 April 27

News includes Occupy Updates Daily; High Gas Prices Affecting U.S. Drivers Differently This Time; Burger King Pledges Cage-Free Pork; Yet Another GMO Resistant To An Herbicide; 10 Green Topics Worth Losing Sleep Over. Happenings include Unite Against War on Women; International Coffee Hour; Local Foods Dinner; Open Mic; Salsa Dancing; Habitat for Humanity; AIDS Memorial Service; 11 Days of Compassion; Interfaith Dialog on Compassion in Religious and Public Space; Lunchtime Yoga Basics; Landscaping with Native Wildflowers at Giant City; Sale to Fight World Hunger in honor of Margie Parker. NOTE: Six minutes into the recording, there was a technical difficulty. About 4 minutes of audio were lost. This gap was edited down to about three seconds in post-production.

WDBX Opera Overnight – Julius Caesar, Handel-style

George Frideric Handel, born in the same year ...

George Frideric Handel, by Thomas Hudson (1749) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We began tonight’s show with one of George Frideric Handel’s more significant operas (not an oratorio, the classification that much of Handel’s later operatic work falls under), Giulio Cesare in Egitto, commonly referred to as Giulio Cesare.  This Italian operatic retelling of the story of Caesar and Cleopatra was written in 1724, using a libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, and the role of Julius Caesar was written specifically for the noted castrato Senesino.  In modern productions, this role is sung by a contralto or mezzo soprano, or occasionally a countertenor.  This is considered to be one of Handel’s finest operas (as well as being among the lengthiest works of the Baroque era, timing in at 4 hours and 3 minutes).

Like many of his other works it was revived in the early 2oth century.  Hans Knappertsbusch and Karl Böhm gave early performances of the revised edition in Munich in 1923, and a young Herbert von Karajan conducted it in Ulm in 1930.  It is now part of the regular operatic repertoire.

Tonight’s recording is a 1991 recording that features Jennifer Larmore, Barbara Schlick, Bernada Fink, Derek Lee Ragin, Marianne Rorholm, Furio Zanasi, Olivier Lallouette, and Dominique VisseRené Jacobs leads the Concerto Köln.

Portrait de Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)

Portrait of Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For our next opera, we shall hear Maurice Ravel  L’enfant et les sortilèges: Fantaisie lyrique en deux parties (The Child and the Spells: A Lyric Fantasy in Two Parts).  This is an opera in one act, using a libretto by Colette. One of only two operas that Ravel ever wrote, it is only 43 minutes long, but it packs a lot of music into 43 minutes.  It can be a bit of a challenge to stage, due to some rather fantastic scenery requirements, so as a result it is not often performed, but it has some rather gorgeous music and is a worthy listen.  There are a few recordings of the piece that are commercially available, as recordings do not incur the costs that a full-scale production would require.

Ravel began composing the piece in 1920, after having been contacted by Collette (who is best known for her novel Gigi, upon which the Lerner and Loewe writing team based the stage and film comedies of the same name) in 1917.  In keeping with the common practice of the day, he used a number of subtle lietmotifs, similar to the style established by Wagner and used by Puccini, although he also took inspiration from Gershwin and other things going on in American operettas.  Poor health forced Ravel to delay completing the piece until 1924, and it was finally premiered in March of 1925.

The work is notable for its orchestral arrangement (something that Ravel was quite good at, noting his arrangement of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition), with the score calling for a large orchestra.  Also notable is the duet of cats in the last 1/3rd of the opera, and the work features some very nice choral work at the end.

Tonight’s performance is a 2005 recording that features Collette Alliot-Lugaz, Catherine Dubosc, and Didier Henre.  Charles Dutoit conducts the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

The Galaxy – A musician like no other

Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus

This week we find ourselves in the midst of an occasion that I enjoy observing annually.  Charles Mingus was more than a great bassist, or even a great jazz musician.  He was a man of passionate ideas.  He wore his heart out on his sleeve – at times maybe a little too much – but he also had a rare ability to channel his huge reservoir of passion into his music.  The result is a musical catalog like no other.  His music breathed, a unique sort of breath that balanced purposeful dissonance with natural harmonies.  His music was not sterile or calculated – it was frequently improvised on the spot, with little preparation.  His music gives testimony to the notion that life is full of its little dissonances, even as we seek harmony within ourselves and others – Mingus had the innate ability to harness that musical dissonance, to make it speak of matters of the soul.  So it is only appropriate that we celebrate what would have been Mingus’ 90th birthday on April 22nd.

The Clown (album)

The Clown (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We started the evening with one such soulful piece, Haitian Fight Song, a great song from The Clown.  Recorded in 1957 but released in 1961, this is but one example of how unique Mingus’ compositional style was.  As he put it in a letter to DownBeat Magazine:

“I write or play me, the way I feel, through jazz, or whatever Music is, or was, a language of the emotions.  If someone has been escaping reality, I don’t expect him to dig my music… My music is alive and it’s about the living and the dead, about good and evil.  It’s angry, yet it’s real because it knows it’s angry.”

In the liner notes for the Clown, Mingus said this about Haitian Fight Song:

My solo in it is a deeply concentrated one. I can’t play it right unless I’m thinking about prejudice and persecution, and how unfair is it. There’s sadness and cries in it, but also determination. And it usually ends with my feeling ‘I told them! I hope somebody heard me!'”.

Blues & Roots

Blues & Roots (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We then heard Eh’s Flat, Ah’s Flat Too, from Blues and Roots.  Like with Haitian Fight Song, Blues and Roots was an effort to do “a barrage of soul music, churchy, blues, swinging, earthy”.  After the album was issued, Mingus assembled his usual cast of players, adding Eric Dolphy, and went out on tour.  A live album for this tour was issued, Mingus at Antibes, from which we heard several classically representative cuts, Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting (featuring Dolphy, Ted Curson on trumpet and Booker Ervin on tenor sax (originally recorded for Blues and Roots), Prayer for Passive Resistance, and What Love (a reworking of What is This Thing Called Love?, featuring Curson and Dolphy interplaying – “conversing” brilliantly with Mingus’ bass and with each other).  After some consideration, we also heard I Remember April, also from the Antibes album, that features the great Bud Powell sitting in with Mingus’ band for an extended solo, before Mingus launches a set of solos and “conversations” between Curson, Dolphy, and his bass.

Cover of "Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Min...

Cover of Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus

We next heard a cut from Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, Better Get Hit In Yo’ Soul, from 1963.  Mingus stated that he “enjoyed the challenge of playing in 6/8 time faster than anybody had tried before… and I wanted to show that a band can swing as deeply in 6/8 as in the more usual time signatures.”  The recording is also notable for being one of Mingus’ earlier experiments with using a larger ensemble, experiments which would go on for much of the ’60s.  Better Get Hit In Yo’ Soul became one of his better-known songs.

Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus in the Studio, May 1959

A key aspect of Mingus’ music is his civil rights activism.  The roots of that trace all the way to his childhood, when he was denied the opportunity to learn how to read music, or to play symphonic classical music, due to his race (he was of mixed race, his mother being Chinese and English, while his father was of African and Swedish ancestry).  A number of his best songs were inspired by civil rights issues: Fables of Faubus was a protest directed at Orval Faubus, the segregationist governor of Arkansas who had been fighting desegregation of the schools in Little Rock, while Freedom is one of the few Mingus songs with an organized vocal part, sung by members of the band in unison).  While we were not able to play those two songs (owing mainly to time constraints), we heard another such song, Meditations on Integration, which at times had been given the title “Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters” (Mingus was notorious for his ornate titles).  This performance is from the April 1964 Paris concert recording that was infamously bootlegged for years until Mingus’ wife Sue formed a record company and issued a high quality recording of the set (bootlegging was a long-time Mingus pet peeve).