News includes Occupy Updates Daily; Western Antarctica Warming Three Times Faster Than Rest Of World; 2012 Climate Scorecard; Seattle Mayor Calls For City’s Pension Funds To Dump Oil Stocks; Energy Conservation Gets Gamified; School District Saves $1.5 Million By Turning Off Lights And Stuff. Happenings include Sierra Club Stone Soup Picnic; Winter Farmers’ Market; Holiday Foods At Good Samaritan; Second Annual Christmahanukwanzadan. Note: The show did not air on December 21 due to both hosts being out of town.
Our first opera of the evening was the only operatic work written by Ludwig van Beethoven, and it is considered to be one of his great masterpieces. Fidelio was premiered in Vienna as a three act work on November 20, 1805. Subsequent revisions shortened it to two acts, which were premiered later in 1805 and 1806, and finally in 1814. The 1814 revision, with a premiere that featured Johann Michael Vogl and which was attended by a 17 year old Franz Schubert, was a considerable success. The opera is noted for the three overtures that Beethoven wrote for it at various points in the revision process. Three of the overtures have entered the regular concert repertoire, although I believe that what we will hear tonight will be the third.
Tonight’s recording is a 1998 recording that features Gosta Windbergh, Inga Nielsen, Wolfgang Glashof, Alan Titus, and Kurt Moll. Michael Halász directs the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia and the Hungarian Radio Choir.
The next opera that we’ll hear this evening is Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Wagner based the libretto on a poem by Heinrich Heine, the same poet who inspired Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, although Wagner also found some inspiration in a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, the 15th century folk ballad Das Lied von dem Danheüser, and a collection of folk legends from Thuringia called Der Sagenschatz und die Sagenkreise des Thüringerlandes. Heine published his poem in 1837, and Wagner wrote a draft libretto in prose in 1842. He began the composition of the music in the summer of 1843, and completed the full score on April 13, 1845. It was premiered on October 19 of that same year, with Wagner’s niece Johanna singing the part of Elizabeth. The opera was not initially as successful as some of Wagner’s previous works, and he spent parts of 1846 and 1847 revising it. He also produced a well known revision of the opera in 1860 for a special performance in Paris, and that revision was itself revised in 1875.
Tonight’s recording is a legendary live recording from the 1962 Bayreuth Festival. It is commonly referred to as the “Black Venus” because of the presence of Grace Bumpry, the first black singer to appear at Bayreuth. Along with Grace Bumpry (whose Venus is quite prominent in Act 1), we hear Wolfgang Windgassen and Anja Silja in the lead roles, along with Eberhard Wächter, Gerhard Stolze, Franz Crass, Georg Paskuda, Gerd Nienstedt, and Else-Margaret Gardelli. The Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra is conducted by Wolfgang Swallisch.
We started tonight’s show with a tribute to Ravi Shankar, who passed away this past week at the age of 92. He was an absolutely amazing musician, influential in Indian classical circles and world-wide. He famously influenced George Harrison during Harrison’s tenure with the Beatles, resulting in Harrison using the sitar in several Beatles recordings, and his appearance at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival was notable (interestingly, he had refused to play on the same day as Jimi Hendrix, stating that he found Hendrix’s destruction of his guitars to be disgusting; he also did not care for the manner in which some in pop culture was associating his traditional music with “the vulgarity of rock music”, and did not care for the association of his art with drug use. Although some in Indian classical circles accused him of “selling out”, he maintained a high degree of spirituality within his music (ragas are largely intended for meditative purposes). Tonight we heard two 23 minute ragas, recorded by Shankar for an unknown Indian label at some point in the ’50s (the documentation on my imported material does not provide any background info, although the recording quality is good): Raga Mohan Kauns, and Raga Hemant.
As December 14 is the anniversary of the birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, it is my tradition to devote a show to some of his music. While we did not give the entire show over to Beethoven this year, we still heard some lovely music from the great master. We started with Beethoven’s Piano Quartet in D, WoO36 No. 2. This is one of several piano quartets that he wrote at the age of 14, displaying the influence of Mozart while at the same time suggesting the stylistic direction that he would yet travel. Tonight’s performance was recorded live at the Lugano Festival in 2007 by Karin Lechner (piano), Alissa Margulis (violin), Lida Chen (viola), and Mark Drobinsky (cello).
We also heard a lovely Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Cello, Op. 11. Written in 1798, four years after Beethoven concluded his studies with Joseph Haydn, the score actually allows for a violin to be substituted for the clarinet, but the inclusion of the clarinet gives the work a lovely color palette, and gives us a glimpse at Beethoven’s deep appreciation for chamber music. Indeed, while one might first consider the grand, dramatic symphonies when first mentioning Beethoven, his voluminous chamber music works (especially if one considers the solo piano works to be among those ranks) are just as wonderful. Tonight’s recording, with Rudolf Serkin (piano), Richard Stoltzman (clarinet) and Alain Meunier (cello) was recorded at the Marlboro Festival in 1974.
We closed tonight’s show with a cantata that Beethoven wrote for the accession of Emperor Leopold II to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, which took place in 1790. Neither this work, nor its companion cantata that was written to honor the passing of Emperor Joseph II, was performed in Beethoven’s lifetime, and both works remained unpublished until almost a century later. The cantata for Emperor Joseph was at one point scheduled to be performed (it had been written on commission), but was apparently cancelled, possibly due to the difficulty of the score. No known performance was set for the Leopold cantata, but it also had virtuoso parts, and some see in it a foreshadowing of his eventual composition of his Ninth Symphony. We heard the Corydon Singers and Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Best. The soloists were Judith Howarth, Jean Rigby, John Mark Ainsley and Jose van Dam.
News includes Occupy Updates Daily; Tiny Twisters Could Power Your Town; Antarctica Invaded By King Crabs; Seven States Sue EPA Over Methane From Oil And Gas; How To Get Conservatives To Care About The Environment; Agroforests Heal Food Systems And Fight Climate Change. Happenings include Latin Holiday Party at Rice and Spice; Open Mic at Gaia House; Winter Farmers’ Market; U.N. Human Rights Day; Holiday Foods at Good Samaritan. Note: Unfortunately, we were unable to record our show on December 7, 2012.
We started tonight’s set with Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca. Puccini based the opera on an 1887 play by Victorien Sardou, and had Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa write the libretto, a project that took four years due to the wordiness of the original French play. It was premiered at the Teatro Costanzi on January 14, 1900. The young tenor Enrico Caruso, then on the brink of fame, wanted to create the part of Cavaradossi, but was passed over for the more experienced Emilio De Marchi. He eventually became a regular in the role at the Metropolitan Opera, as did Emmy Destinn, and later Maria Callas, in the role of Tosca.
Indeed, tonight’s recording is a 1953 recording that features Maria Callas, along with Giuseppe Di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, and Franco Calabrese. Victor De Sabata leads the Orchestra & Chorus Of La Scala Milan.
Our next piece is a rather popular piece by Giuseppe Verdi, La forza del destino, translated as “The Force of Destiny”. It was based on an 1835 play by the Spanish playwright Ángel de Saavedra, Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino, and premiered on Nov 22nd, 1862 in the Bolshoi Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is a frequently performed piece, and the overture is also part of the standard repertoire for symphony orchestras. Tonight’s recording features a large cast, led by Leontyne Price, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, Shirley Verrett, Giorgio Tozzi, Ezio Flagello, with the RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra and Chorus as conducted by Thomas Schippers.
- WDBX Opera Overnight: 200 years of Verdi (wdbx.wordpress.com)
We began tonight’s show with a bit of Dave Brubeck. Dave passed away this past week at the age of 91, a day before his 92nd birthday. Brubeck made no concessions to age, and performed as recently as Father’s Day, 2011. His achievements are numerous. His rhythmic complexity was groundbreaking, as was his use of unusual time signatures and arrangements, but this should be no surprise when one considers that he studied with the great composer (and subject of a fair amount of this show’s broadcasts) Darius Milhaud. We could talk about his achievements all night, but I figure it is better to celebrate him through his music. So we heard a portion of his classic Time Out album (it was intended to play the entire album, but some album skips prevented that): Blue Rondo A La Turk, Strange Meadow Lark, and Take Five. (We also heard portions of Three to Get Ready and Kathy’s Waltz.)
Frederic Chopin wrote the third movement (known popularly as the “Marche funèbre” “Funeral March”) of his Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 in 1837. He had nothing else to go with it, but in the following two years he felt so haunted by the elegiac music that he had written that he ended up writing material to add to it. The resulting grouping of movement was thought by many critics of the day to be somewhat disjointed (noted critic and composer Robert Schumann famously suggested that Chopin “simply bound together four of his most unruly children”), but the great music has withstood the test of time. The aforementioned Third movement has found its way into popular culture, having been played at a number of state funerals, including John F. Kennedy’s and Leonid Brezhnev. Tonight’s recording is a 2005 set by Nelson Freire.
The contrasts between Dave Brubeck, Frederic Chopin and Johnny Cash are pretty significant, both in terms of style and technique. But there is a great beauty in Cash’s music, starting with that beautiful bass-baritone voice. His music was so intensely focused, a feeling that was intensified by the arrangements performed by the Tennessee Two (at times during his early days, I’ve felt that his intensity bore a striking similarity to that of punk rock). He defied the limits of genre, yet he helped make rock and roll what it eventually came to be. So since it has been a while since I’ve done a good Johnny Cash set, it is about time I did one, focusing primarily on his Sun Records output. We heard Hey Porter, Cry Cry Cry, I Walk The Line, Get Rhythm, Big River, Guess Things Happen That Way, Five Feet High and Rising, I Still Miss Someone, and Ring of Fire.
Paul Simon’s 1986 Graceland album stirred some controversy in its day, given that he went to South Africa to record with South African musicians, breaking a cultural boycott then in place to protest apartheid. Of course, the reality is that the album did quite a bit to bring worldwide awareness to the quality of South African music, with Ladysmith Black Mambazo in particular making quite a splash in the United States (including a rather striking performance here in Carbondale). So it is nice to hear a few of these great songs: I Know What I Know (a song written primarily by, and featuring, General M.D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters), Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes (a collaboration between Simon and Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo), and You Can Call Me Al (which, contrary to the video, does not involve Chevy Chase at all).
We closed out tonight’s set with some music from Underoath that I’ve been trying to program into the show for a few weeks now: My Deteriorating Incline and In Completion (both from 2010’s Disambiguation), Emergency Broadcast: The End is Near (from 2008’s Lost in the Sound of Separation), and finishing the show with Illuminator, also from Disambiguation.
One of the things that I’ve found most interesting during the course of WDBX Opera Overnight is the chance to get to know some really interesting pieces of music written by composers who, for one reason or another, have become forgotten over time. We’re going to start the evening with such a composer. Johann Adolf Hasse was born in 1699 in Bergedorf, Germany, and he died in 1783 in Vienna. His early works, such as what we’re going to hear tonight, were distinctly baroque, but he also represents a key point in the development of German opera.
Tonight’s recording is a pretty good one, a 2011 Grammy nominee, with Jamie Barton and Ava Pine as soloists. Ars Lyrica Houston is conducted from the harpsichord by Matthew Dirst.
For more info about Hasse, check out my previous blog entry on him. I hate to be repetitive, but Hasse’s story is a truly interesting one, and his music distinctly deserves more attention than what it has received. I for one would love to hear more of his works.
Our second opera of the evening is a work by Claudio Monteverdi. Monteverdi wrote his first full-length operas between 1606 and 1608 while he was in the service of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga in Mantua. He left Mantua in 1612 to take the position of director of music at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. But while he wasn’t writing operas, he was still interested in theatrical music, and produced a shorter stage work, Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, for the Venetian Carnival season of 1624-25. However, he did not return to writing full-scale operas until Venice opened its opera house in 1637, one of the first full-sized opera houses in the world. Monteverdi composed L’incoronazione di Poppea in 1642 for the 1642-43 Carnival season, although the exact date of the premiere is unknown. There is some debate as to whether the work was completely authored by Monteverdi, as scholars have identified portions of the work that may have been written by others. Other theories suggest that the work may have been a collaboration that was supervised by Monteverdi. But in any case the work is an important one, one of the early examples of the use of historical context, and one of the first examples of the use of comedy in an opera. It was Monteverdi’s last work, and it is widely considered to be his greatest.
Tonight’s recording is from 2005, and features Arleen Augr, Della Jones, Linda Hurst, Gregory Reinhart, James Bowman, Sarah Leonard, Adrian Thompson, and Catherine Denley. Richard Hickox leads the City Of London Baroque Sinfonia.