Our first opera this evening is a work by Louis Spohr. We don’t hear much about Louis Spohr now, but in his day he was a highly regarded composer, musician, author and conductor, and his work, along with that of composers such as Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann helped mark the turning point between Classicism and Romanticism. There are some other areas that you might not have expected in which his work impacts the larger scope of music history – he invented the violin chinrest and the orchestral rehearsal mark, and he was among the first conductors to use a baton.
Tonight’s opera is Faust, an opera Spohr wrote in 1813, using a libretto by Josef Karl Bernard that was not based on Goethe’s Faust, but rather on other Faustian plays and poems. The opera was premiered in 1816, with Carl Maria von Weber conducting. Spohr first wrote it as a Singspiel, but revised it in 1851 and turned it into a grand opera in three acts. This is the form that we hear tonight. The Bielefeld Opera revived the opera in 1993, and it is their recording that we will be hearing. Michael Vier, Eelco von Jordis, Diane Jennings, and Claudia Taha lead the cast. The Bielefeld Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir are directed by Geoffrey Moull.
Our second opera of the evening is a familiar standard done in a manner that we don’t hear too often anymore. Georges Bizet wrote Carmen between 1873 and 1875, one of the more notable French operas of the late 19th century, and we normally hear it in the original French. However, in years gone by, it was a fairly common practice to occasionally translate operas into other languages, especially locally spoken common languages like Italian or English. Some of these translations became such an accepted part of the repertoire that some operas have multiple critical editions that are in multiple languages (most notably, Sergei Prokofiev‘s Love for Three Oranges, which Prokofiev himself prepared in French, English and Russian language editions).
Now, tonight’s recording of Carmen is in Italian, and the sound quality is not all that great, as it is a 1949 live recording done as part of a failed movie project. But our interest in the recording lies primarily in the two stars. Ebe Stignani and Beniamino Gigli were two of the great Italian singers of the ‘30s and ‘40s. This recording catches both of them later in their careers, but it is still an interesting document of two of the great vocal talents of the 20th century. We also hear Gino Bechi, Gigli’s daughter Rina Gigli, Giulio Tomei, and Guido Mazzini. The Orchestra e Coro del Teatro del’Opera di Roma was under the baton of Vincenzo Bellezza.