We started tonight’s show a little differently. From time to time, I will end the show with a shorter piece of music, often a set of lieder. Tonight, I will start the show with a shorter piece of music, a piece with significant meaning for the composer. Richard Strauss wrote his Vier Letzte Lieder (trans: Four Last Songs) in 1948, in the last year of his life. He was inspired by the poem Im Abendrot by Joseph von Eichendorff, and as a result of this inspiration set three additional poems by Hermann Hesse, Frühling, September, and Beim Schlafengehen, thus making the four songs that he set for soprano with orchestra. Tonight’s recording is a 1982 recording with Lucia Popp singing, and Klaus Tennstedt leading the London Philharmonic Orchestra
Our next piece 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, 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.
Our next opera was Benjamin Britten‘s Peter Grimes. Britten was inspired to write the opera by a poem by George Crabbe, and requested that Montagu Slater write the libretto. 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, all written to be a feature for Britten’s partner Peter Pears.
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.