WDBX Opera Overnight – Johann Strauss II, Berlioz

Johann Strauss II with a large beard, moustach...

Johann Strauss II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our first opera for the evening is actually an operetta, Die Fledermaus, by the legendary Austrian “Waltz King” Johann Strauss II.  The opera was based on a farce by the German playwright Julius Roderich Benedix, and Strauss also used a French vaudeville play, Le réveillon, by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, as source material.  The operetta was premiered on 5 April 1874 in Vienna, and has been regularly performed ever since.  Not only is it a fine operatic work that serves as an excellent showcase for the lead soprano (I’ve seen some lovely video of the excellent soprano Nathalie Dessay performing the lead role with great panache), but it is also a rare, maybe even unexpected, combination of waltz and opera.  If you love waltz, then Die Fledermaus is a treat for the ears.

Tonight’s recording is from 1971, and features Nicolai Gedda, Anneliese Rothenberger, Renate Holm, Adolf Dallapozza, and Brigitte Fassbaender.   The great Willi Boskovsky directed the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and State Opera Chorus.

English: Poster advertising the first performa...

English: Poster advertising the first performance of the opera Benvenuto Cellini by Hector Berlioz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our second opera of the evening is an opera by Hector BerliozBenvenuto Cellini is an opera in two acts that is loosely based on the memoirs of the Florentine Renaissance era sculptor Benvenuto Cellini.  Berlioz first devised the opera with his librettist Henri Auguste Barbier in the opéra comique style, with spoken dialog, but it was rejected by the opera company that he intended to submit it to.  So he reworked it into a more conventional opera format, omitting the spoken dialogue.

English: French Romantic composer Hector Berli...

English: French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The opera was first performed at the Paris Opera on September 10, 1838, conducted by François Antoine Habeneck, and with Gilbert Duprez (the first tenor to be able to sing the high C naturally, without going into falsetto) in the title-role.  The opera was so radical in its construction that the audience rioted, and the musicians branded it impossible to play.  It was only performed two more times in Berlioz’s lifetime, with one of the performances being conducted by Franz Lizst (who also suggested changes).  It is not frequently performed, although there are occasional revivals, and several recordings.

Tonight’s recording is from 2004, and features Gregory Kunde, Patrizia Ciofi, Joyce DiDonato, Laurent Naouri, Jean-François Lapointe, Renaud Delaigue, Eric Salha, Marc Mauillon, Roman Nédélec , Eric Huchet; the Orchestre National de France was conducted by John Nelson.


The Galaxy – Don’t Forget to Mess Around!

English: Louis Armstrong, jazz trumpeter Franç...

Louis Armstrong, 1953 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find it hard not to smile when listening to some of the older recordings of Louis Armstrong.  Armstrong’s attitude was vivacious and catching, the trumpet powerful, and his sidemen (Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on Clarinet, Johnny St. Cyr on banjo, and Lil Armstrong – Armstrong’s wife, but also an excellent player in her own right – on piano) were among the best of the business.  Its no wonder that jazz caught on, first as a form of popular music, and then eventually as an art form – Armstrong laid out the parameters of the art-form in these 1926 recordings.  We heard Oriental Strut, You’re Next, Don’t Forget to Mess Around, I’m Gonna Gitcha, Heebie Jeebies (which features the first scat vocals ever recorded), Droppin’ Shucks, Who’ Sit (featuring Louis on the slide whistle).


English: Screenshot of Bob Nolan in Lights of ...

English: Screenshot of Bob Nolan in Lights of Old Santa Fe (1944) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sons of the Pioneers were one of the finest country and western bands of the 1930s and ’40s.  Formed by Leonard Slye (later to become well known as Roy Rogers), Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan in 1933, they soon added fiddler Hugh Farr (who also sang bass), and later his brother Karl on guitar (Slye had been playing rhythm guitar at that point, while Nolan had been playing bass).  This group made a significant contribution to the development of country music through their excellent songwriting, tight, multi-part vocal arrangements, and jazzy instrumental parts that bore a debt to Django Reinhardt.  From the Sons of the Pioneers, we heard Echoes from the Hills, The Hills of Old Wyoming, Ride Ranger Ride, One More Ride, and I Hang My Head and Cry.


Giovanni Gabrielli easily ranks as one of the more influential composers and musicians of the Renaissance.  He studied with Orlando di Lassus, and eventually acquired a position at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where the high level of musical activity, combined with his compositional abilities, made him one of the more noted composers in Europe.  Composers from across Europe came to study with him, especially from Germany, and his use of both madrigals and polychoral works as teaching material allowed these Italian innovations to influence composers like Heinrich Schütz, thus becoming a major influence to the entire German Baroque tradition that culminated in J.S. Bach.

Giovanni Gabrieli

Giovanni Gabrieli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We heard three works of Gabrielli’s which were arranged specifically for performance at St. Mark’s, which has facilities that allowed the composer to situate instrumental and vocal ensembles at various points around the room, creating something not unlike a sort of home-made surround sound effect.  All of the works were published in 1615 but were probably written much earlier:

  • In eccelsiis, a work scored for a vocal quartet with two separate groups of instrumental accompanists, which is considered unusual in that it is one of only two Gabrielli works that includes a bosso continuo part, which at the time was only starting to see usage.
  • Sonata No. 19, a work scored for three choirs, all consisting of a violin, 4 sackbuts and organ.  Contemporary accounts tell us that the church was equipped with up to 7 organs that could play simultaneously.
  • Suscipe, clementissime Deus – a work scored for a vocal sextet (2 tenors, 2 baritones, 2 basses), along with 6 sackbuts and an organ.

This was all performed by the Gabrielli Consort and Players, under the conduction of Paul McCreesh.

Cover of "Live 1969"

Cover of Live 1969

When Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel split up their wildly successful folk/pop/rock act in 1970, they had recently concluded a 1969 tour that they had recorded for the purposes of releasing a live album.  The live album was shelved, but the recordings were resurrected a few years ago and compiled to create the live album that never was, now titled Simon and Garfunkel Live 1969.  The album actually has some local interest, in that a number of the songs released in this compilation were recorded in our own SIU Arena (11-8-1969, just in case you were there).  We heard four songs from Live 1969: For Emily, Whenever I May Find her, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Mrs. Robinson, and The Boxer.

Child Is Father to the Man

Child Is Father to the Man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many will remember the band Blood, Sweat & Tears for their excellent 1968 self-titled album, which was a Grammy winner in 1969 and which features some excellent songs and performances.  But that Blood, Sweat & Tears lineup was significantly different from the lineup that recorded their first album, Child is Father To The Man, and the musical differences are so significant that they are like night to day.  Child is Father to the Man is the rare album that combines rock, pop, jazz, blues and classical influences into one recipe, with the spices equally measured, with a bit of ’60s Greenwich Village mixed in for good measure.  Some critics consider this one of the great post-Sgt. Pepper albums of the ’60s, and I have to agree.  We heard I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know and My Days are Numbered.

Like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Creedence Clearwater Revival is a band with an interesting musical impact.  They came out of San Francisco, yet they were less Haight-Ashbury than they were southern rock.  Their music was less of a product of the times than it was a product of a back-to-basics approach.  Of course, that back-to-basics approach gives us music that is essentially timeless.  We heard Suzie Q (their first single), and Fortunate Son.

Cover of "Let My Children Hear Music"

Cover of Let My Children Hear Music

We finished tonight’s show with some Charles Mingus.  Of all the interesting albums that Mingus assembled, one of the more interesting of Mingus’ albums may have been his 1972 album Let My Children Hear Music.  He had been working with larger ensembles for some time before taking time off due to health problems, but he had never worked with a full big band like the one that would be assembled for this album.  The music that he intended to record for the album had been percolating in his mind in various forms for an extended period of time (one going as far back as 1939), and several of the pieces had been recorded or performed in one format or the other.  But he had some rather pointed ideas for this album, most notably in the instrumentation, which went far beyond the usual parameters of jazz, even for big band.  Here is Mingus writing for the liner notes:

As I say, let my children have music.  Jazz – The way it has been handled in the past – stifles them so that they believe only in the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, maybe a flute now and then or a clarinet.  But it is not enough.  I think it is time our children were raised to think they can play bassoon, oboe, English horn, French horn, full percussion, violin, cello.  The results would be – well the Philharmonic would not be the only answer then.  If we so-called jazz musicians who are the composers, the spontaneous composers, started including these instruments in our music, it would open everything up, it would get rid of prejudice because the musicianship would be so high in caliber that they symphony couldn’t refuse us.

In fact, who wants to be in the symphony anyway, nowadays? If you stop and take note of what jazz has done, and the kind of musicianship which has developed from each instrument, it becomes obvious that it has made each player a virtuoso.

Charles Mingus - Bi Centenial, Lower Manhattan...

Charles Mingus – Bi Centenial, Lower Manhattan July 4, 1976 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this album, Mingus practiced what he was preaching.  Several of the songs on the album, including the two (The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive-Ass Slippers and The Chill of Death) heard tonight, are scored for configurations of ten woodwinds (ranging from piccolos to contra-bass clarinets), brass which includes French horns (and notably so), and a bass section that includes six basses and a cello.  Just as the instrumentation is aggressive, so is the performance, with two or three soloists sometimes soloing over each other.  The first half of The Chill of Death revolves around the recitation of a poem that is rather Poe-ish in its subject (I do not know the writer, but I assume that it was Mingus), before turning to an instrumental.  Mingus wrote in his liner notes about wanting to build new tall buildings in music.  Well, “tall buildings in music” can’t get much taller than this.

Your Community Spirit 2012 July 27

News includes Occupy Updates Daily; Falling Renewables Costs and Fracking; Beef Magazine Rejects Meatless Monday; LED Lighting Imitates Sun; Green Project of the Week. Happenings include Open Mic Night; Rice and Spice; Salsa; Morning Yoga Basics for Women; International Coffee Hour; Friday Night Fair; Keep Carbondale Beautiful’s 25th Anniversary Celebration; Campfire Programs at Crab Orchard; Dinner Fundraiser for Super Splash Park Outdoor Aquatic Center.

WDBX Opera Overnight: Verdi, Handel

English: *Description: Violetta's costume for ...

English: *Description: Violetta’s costume for the premiere of La traviata, 1853 Artist: Giuseppe Bertoja (1803-1873) Provenance: Museo Ricchieri, Pordenone Source: “La Traviata” – Programma di sala, Teatro La Fenice, p. 20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The piece that we’re going to start the evening with is the first opera I ever attended personally.  Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata was based on La dame aux Camélias, an 1852 stage play that was adapted from a novel by the same name by Alexandre Dumas.  It was premiered on March 6, 1853 in Venice, with audience members jeering the casting of Fanny Salvini-Donatelli in the lead role of Violetta, as they thought that she was too old (38) and overweight to play the role of a young woman dying from consumption.  The first performance met with mixed reactions (Donatelli is said to have actually sang well, although she did not look the part, but other performers were apparently not as effective), but after some revisions made in 1853 and 1854,  the opera was re-presented with more success, largely due this time to the casting of Maria Spezia-Aldighieri.  It eventually became immensely popular, and currently ranks second most often presented opera worldwide, only behind Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

Tonight’s recording is from 2006, and features Anja Harteros (Violetta), Piotr Beczala, Paolo Gavanelli and Heike Grötzinger.  The Bavarian State Opera is conducted by Zubin Mehta.

Our second opera of the evening is Floridante, an opera seria in three acts by George Frideric Handel.  Part of the pre-oratorio Italian opera stage of his career, the opera used a libretto by Paolo Antonio Rolli, and was premiered on December 9, 1721.  Although it received several performances between 1722 and 1733, it was not performed after that point in time until a 1962 revival.  The same sort of thing happened to many of Handel’s works.

Tonight’s recording is a 2005 recording that features Marijana Mijanovic, Joyce Didonato, Vito Priante, and Sharon Rostorf-Zamir.  Alan Curtis leads his Il Complesso Barocco, part of his excellent series of Handel operatic recordings.

The Galaxy – Losing Control

Joy Division in 1979. Left to right: Stephen M...

Joy Division in 1979. Left to right: Stephen Morris, Peter Hook, Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure what got me started on it, but I found myself a few days ago on a Joy Division kick.  There is a lot for me to like about Joy Division, both musically and historically.  Musically, they took the inspiration of punk rock, slowed it down, gave it space, and helped lead a new generation in search of its own unique musical expression.  Historically, they are interesting in that they are one of a select group of persons that attended the early Sex Pistols performances (the second Sex Pistols show, given in Manchester), a number of whom would go on to form bands themselves, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Billy Idol and Steve Severin.  We heard a nice set from Joy Division: Leaders of Men (from 1977), Transmission (1979), She’s Lost Control (one of several mixes that I’ve heard, this one from July of 1979), Incubation (from 1980), Dead Souls (from October 1979), and finally Love Will Tear Us Apart (from March 1980).


From time to time I like to bring back the piece that I used a portion of as the theme for this show.  Richard Strauss premiered Also Sprache Zarathustra in 1896, and it was immediately successful and has become a regular part of the symphonic repertoire.  The opening fanfare, titled “Sunrise” in the composer’s notes, has been used on a number of occasions, most notably in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Tonight’s recording is a 1968 rendition by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the conduction of Zubin Mehta.


Another thing that I like to return to from time to time is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.  As is my practice, we heard this classic album from start to finish, as this is the only real way to listen to this masterpiece of progressive rock music.


Bob Wills

Bob Wills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We closed the show with a pair of lovely numbers from Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: a Tiffany transcription of Take Me Back To Tulsa, from May of 1946, and then Ida Red, a similar transcription from the same transcription session.  The transcriptions were a method of essentially pre-producing a program for radio broadcast.  Wills recording 350+ such transcriptions, and many of these have only recently (as in the 1980s/1990s) been released to the public.  Some of his best work can be found on these transcriptions, and they are a vital document as to what Wills and his band could do.


Your Community Spirit 2012 July 20

News includes Occupy Updates Daily; DIY Electronics; Kinetic Sidewalks Enlighten Olympics; 100 Groups Ask Surgeon General for Report on Soda; Las Vegas Turns Beer Bottles Into Building; What’s Wrong With Your Tomato Plant; Revitalizing Detroit with Zombies. Happenings include Open Mic at Gaia House; Rice and Spice; Salsa Dancing; Morning Yoga Basics; International Coffee Hour; Friday Night Fair; Habitat for Humanity; Big Muddy IMC Open House; Picnic for Pride in Jefferson County.

WDBX Opera Overnight: Wagner, Debussy

Backstage at the War Memorial Opera House, San...

Backstage at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco 1936. from left: conductor Fritz Reiner, Lauritz Melchior, and Kirsten Flagstad. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We start the evening with one of the great works of operatic history.  Richard Wagner wrote Tristan und Isolde between 1857 and 1859, but it took Wagner 6 years from the time of its completion before he was able to premier it in Munich.  The opera was way ahead of its time musically, and is widely considered as one of the great works in operatic history, if not the history of music in general, and some historians credit the opera as laying the groundwork for where classical music would go in the 20th century.

However, the particulars about tonight’s performance are about as interesting as the opera itself.  The recording captures two of the great Wagnerians of the 20th century, Kirsten Flagstad, and Lauritz Melchior in a 1936 performance in London, along with Sabine Kalter, Herbert Janssen, Emmanuel List, Frank Sale, Roy Devereux, Octave Dua, Leslie Horsmann; Chorus of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; the London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Fritz Reiner.  The sound quality may not be up to 2012 digital standards, but it is actually pretty good for 1936, and there are very few recordings of Flagstad at this point in her career, which makes this one quite a treasure.

Our second work is the incidental music for a 5 act mystery play called The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian by Claude Debussy.  Debussy wrote the piece on commission in 1911, and was assisted in the orchestration by André Caplet, who also conducted the premiere.  Although the full play is not regularly performed, the incidental music has been recorded several times, including recordings by Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas.  Tonight’s recording is a 2012 recording that features Irene Jacob (narrator), Elizabeth Atherton, Jennifer Johnson, and Trove Dahlberg.  Thierry Fischer leads the BBd National Orchestra of Wales.