WDBX Opera Overnight – Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen, Day 1; Puccini, Britten, Barber

The giants seize Freya. One of Arthur Rackham'...

The giants seize Freya. One of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations from 1910 to Wagner’s Das Rheingold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight we shall be starting a series that I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time – perhaps as long as 17 years, the length of time that I’ve been hosting radio programming here at WDBX.  For the first time since I’ve been here, we are going to do a Ring Cycle.  The Ring Cycle, of course, refers to Richard Wagner’s epic four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, The Ring of the Nibelung.  Wagner considered it as a trilogy with an Vorabend (“ante-evening”, or a preliminary evening), and he intended the cycle to be performed on consecutive nights.  The effort required of the singers is immense, without match in the operatic world, and the singers who are able to withstand the demands of a full cycle are a rare breed, and often become specialists in the music of Wagner.  This is not just because of the length of the four operas, but also because of the difficulty of the parts, which require voices of unusual range and strength.  Wagner wrote the music for the cycle over the course of 26 years, starting in 1848 and completing the cycle in 1874.  Eventually he had a theater built specifically to house productions of the cycle, and the Bayreuth Festspielhaus remains a mecca for opera lovers with its annual productions of the Ring Cycle.


A page from Wagner's autograph score of Das Rh...

A page from Wagner’s autograph score of Das Rheingold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are numerous difficult choices to make when choosing a Ring Cycle set for our show.  There are numerous recordings of the complete cycle, and there are also numerous recordings of the individual parts.  For our first Ring Cycle, I’ve acquired a set of live recordings of Bayreuth’s 1966 cycle, considered by many to be among the best recorded representations of the cycle, and which gives excellent sound quality.  So, we start with Wagner’s “vorabend”, Das RheingoldAlthough this was written as a prelude, it was actually the last of the four operas that Wagner conceived, as he planned the opera backwards, starting with the eventual death of the hero and then working back to include the hero’s youth, and the backstory of the heroine Brünnhilde.  At one point in 1851 Wagner was planning for the Cycle to be a trilogy, but by December of that year he decided that a prelude was needed.  Wagner completed the libretto by December of 1852, and a fair copy of the opera was completed on September 26, 1854.  It was premiered in Munich on September 22, 1869, and it was first performed as part of the Cycle on August 13, 1876.


Richard Wagner Festspielhaus am Grünen Hügel i...

Richard Wagner Festspielhaus am Grünen Hügel in Bayreuth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said, tonight’s recording comes from the 1966 Bayreuth Festival, considered by many to rank among the better full-Cycle recordings.  The cast consists of Theo Adam, Gustav Neidlinger, Wolfgang WindgassenAnja Silja, Martti Talvela, Annelies Burmeister, Kurt Böhme, Gerd Nienstedt, Hermin Esser, Věra Soukupová, and Erwin Wohlfahrt.  Karl Böhm directs the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, as he did for all four operas in the cycle that we shall be hearing over the course of the next four weeks.


Italiano: Frontespizio del libretto d'opera &q...

Italiano: Frontespizio del libretto d’opera “Turandot” di G. Adami e R. Simoni musica di Giacomo Puccini – edizioni G. Ricordi & C. Milano – Prima rappresentazione alla Scala di Milano 25 aprile 1926 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For our second opera this evening, we’re going to hear the last composition by Giacomo Puccini, Turandot.  Puccini began composition in January of 1921, using a libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni.  He had completed all but a final duet by March of 1924, but was dissatisfied with the text for the duet.   He finally received a version of the text that he found satisfactory on October 8th, but two days later was diagnosed with throat cancer.  He continued writing while undergoing what was then an experimental radiation treatment, but died of a heart attack on November 29th, 1924.  He left 36 pages of sketches, along with instructions for how it was to be completed and whom should complete it – the last part of which Puccini’s son objected to.  The job was eventually handed to Franco Alfano, whose contributions were edited by conductor Arturo Toscanini, who had worked extensively with Puccini in the past, and who conducted the premiere.  Although there have been a number of recent attempts at revising this last portion, none have managed to stick, and the edition with Alfano’s contribution is the version that is usually heard.


Tonight’s performance is a 1966 recording that features top vocalists Birgit Nilsson (whom we’ll be hearing a lot from over the next few weeks, as she is prominent in our Ring Cycle, just not tonight’s recording) and Franco Corelli, two of the greatest voices of their era, along with Bonaldo Giaiotti, Renata Scotto, Angelo Mercuriali, and the Rome Opera House Orchestra & Chorus under the baton of Franco Molinari-Pradelli.


Our next piece is a short song cycle by Benjamin Britten, written for what he described as “high voice and orchestra”.  Our Hunting Fathers, Op. 8, was based on a paper Britten wrote as a schoolboy, titled  “Animals”.   The paper was so controversial in its pacifism that it got Britten expelled from school, but pacifism remained a life-long passion for Britten, and he held the work in such high regard that he often referred to it as his “Opus 1”.  He wrote it for orchestra, even though he had never had done such a composition before, and the work demonstrates a great degree of skill for such arrangements.  Tonight’s recording features Phyllis Bryn-Julson with the English Chamber Orchestra.


English: Leontyne Price (b&w) by Jack Mitchell

Leontyne Price, photographed by Jack Mitchell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our last work of the evening is another short song cycle, this time by Samuel Barber.  Despite and Still, Op. 41, was one of Barber’s last compositions, and was written for and dedicated to Leontyne Price, who had originated a number of Barber’s works.  Price premiered the piece in 1969, and she also sang the piece at Barber’s memorial service in 1981.  Tonight’s recording is by Thomas Hampson, with John Browning accompanying on piano.



The Galaxy – Remembering the Possum

I Am What I Am (George Jones album)

I Am What I Am (George Jones album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was inevitable that I would have to do a tribute to George Jones, when I heard of his passing the other day.  There are many things that can be said about this great performer, yet words seem to fail me.  His voice was singularly expressive, with a knack for bending notes to great effect.  He excelled as a solo singer, yet his ability to blend his voice in harmony, and his willingness to share the spotlight as a duet partner, frequently with female voices like Melba Montgomery and Tammy Wynette (to whom he was famously married for several years), was unsurpassed.  Brad Paisley says it well:

“George Jones’ life is an example of so many wonderful things – how someone’s God-given gifts can make this a richer, better place. How one human being can overcome adversity, addiction and life-threatening obstacles time and time again.  That it is not the stumble or fall that counts, but the willingness to stand again. How a keen sense of humor and a twinkle in a person’s eye can still prevail even after all of life’s hard knocks. How mistakes, missteps, and bad choices are not the end of the world if a person chooses to turn them into something good. And George’s life is above all the strongest example of how the love of a great woman can get a man through anything,” the singer concluded. “All of this made its way beautifully into every note of the greatest voice country music will ever know, and one of the greatest friends you could ever have.”

English: George Jones performing at Harrah's M...

English: George Jones performing at Harrah’s Metropolis in Metropolis, Illinois in June 2002 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, with that, my George Jones tribute:


Soundgarden (Photo credit: mediageek)

It has been a while since I’ve been able to play some Soundgarden.  I’d wanted to feature their new album, King Animal, but I’ve not yet been able to acquire it.  That certainly doesn’t prevent us from featuring a few of their classics: Rusty Cage, Limo Wreck, Face Pollution, Head Down, and The Day I Tried to Live.  All of these come from their classic ’90s albums, Badmotorfinger and Superunknown.  I am so, so, so glad that they are back together, recording and touring again.

I’ve been playing a lot of material from the band The Ocean Blue at home in recent weeks (I love their bass lines).  They hail from Hershey, PA, and they played a rather enjoyable show at Shryock in Carbondale back in the ’90s, notable for catchy tunes and great stage-craft.  So we heard Just Let Me Know (from their first, self-titled album), then Ballerina Out of Control and Hurricane Amore from their second album, Cerulean.

We finished the show with some Cure: Dressing Up (from The Walk), At Night (from Seventeen Seconds), and Charlotte Sometimes (issued as a single in ’81, now available on the remastered Faith Deluxe Edition)

Your Community Spirit 2013 April 26

News includes 11 Cities Commit To Fossil Fuel Divestment; Big Ag Fights To Keep Out Prying Eyes; Fracking Waste Deemed Too Radioactive For Hazardous Waste Dump; Solar Power System Makes Electricity And Clean Water At The Same Time: Cats Get Addicted To McDonald’s. Happenings include Spring At Rice And Spice; Open Mic At Gaia House; Carbondale Farmer’s Market; Monk On The Go; AIDS Candlelight Memorial Service.

WDBX Opera Overnight – Strauss, Monteverdi

Nederlands: Kostuum voor der Amme van Alfred R...

Poster created by graphic artist Alfred Roller (1864-1935) for the premiere of Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first work of the evening is Die Frau Ohne Schatten (“The Woman Without a Shadow”).  Strauss began composition in 1911, working hand-in-hand with his frequent librettist Hugo von Hoffmansthall, who used a variety of sources, ranging from several works by Goethe to Grimm’s fairy tales and portions of the Arabian Nights set of tales.  But the composition became an extended effort, and was not completed until 1915.  Then, as Europe was in the midst of war, the piece would not be produced until 1919.  When this finally occurred, it met with mixed reaction.  The libretto was complicated and highly symbolic (something that Hoffmansthal had fought to maintain in the face of attempted changes by Strauss), the score was written for a 164 piece orchestra, and the staging is complicated and difficult, even for modern opera companies (one scene calls for children singing out of a frying pan).  Moreover, the opera calls for five top singers in the primary roles and first-rate singers in the secondary roles, something which is prohibitively expensive.

Yet, even with all these cons weighing against the work, the music itself ranks among Strauss’ most compelling works.  Strauss used a similar style of musical dreamscape to that which he achieved with Der Rosenkavalier (also written in 1911), replacing the waltzes and neo-classical staging with a sort of Wagnerian heft that few other composers could hope to achieve.  Yet the music was distinctly that of Richard Strauss, carrying stylistic tags that one hears in many of his works, operatic and otherwise.  So, while the opera is rarely staged, it is musically one of his best.

Tonight’s recording is a 1988 edition that features Rene Kollo, Cheryl Studer, Hanna Schwarz, Andreas Schmidt, and Alfred Muff, with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus.

Polski: Emmanuelle Haïm podczas konferencji pr...

Conductor Emmanuelle Haïm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part of our interest here on Opera Overnight is to illustrate some of the interesting history behind the form of music that we call opera.  Tonight we have one of the earliest surviving examples of opera, Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo.  L’Orfeo was written in 1607 for a court performance during the annual Carnival at Mantua.  It is not the first actual opera – the first composition that is considered to have been opera was Dafne by Jacopo Peri, a lost work that was written in 1597.  It is not even the earliest surviving opera.  But it is the earliest surviving opera that is still regularly performed.

Tonight’s recording is a 2004 recording that features Ian Bostridge, Natalie Dessay, Oatruzua Ciofi, Alice Coote, Christopher Maltman, Veronique Gens, and Paul Agnew, leading a large cast.  Emmanuelle Haïm directs Le Concert D’Astrée, Les Sacqueboutiers, European Voices

The Galaxy – Shall we return to forever, or wait ’til tomorrow?

English: Stanley Clarke, Al DiMeola, Chick Cor...

English: Stanley Clarke, Al DiMeola, Chick Corea: Return to Forever Onondaga Community College, Syracuse, New York, 1974 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We started the evening with some lovely material by the fine jazz pianist Chick Corea.  Many will remember him for his fusion work with his Electric Band (with bassist John Pattucci).  But if you turn back a few pages in the calendar, you’ll find that he put out some varied, interesting work during the ’60s and ’70s.  Naturally, we would be amiss to forget his significant contributions to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album, and the tour that supported it.  But he did an album in ’68, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, that had some tremendous material, performed in a trio format with Miroslav Vitous (a Czech bassist who did quite a bit of work on the ECM label in the late ’70s and early ’80s) and the noted drummer Roy Haynes.  After doing Bitches Brew with Miles Davis, he formed Circle, a free jazz quartet with Barry Altschul, Dave Holland (another Brew alum) and the experimental saxophonist Anthony Braxton.  Corea then went on to form Return to Forever with Stanley Clarke and yet another Brew alumnus, drummer Lenny White.  This band would create some of the better fusion jazz of the ’70s, blending the best of their rock influences with the best of their jazz influences.  So we heard a pair of songs from Now he Sings, Now He Sobs (the title track, and Steps – What Was), then we heard a pair of Return to Forever songs (from 1973’s Light As A Feather) and Captain Senor Mouse (from ’74’s Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy).

English: Robert Plant (left) and Jimmy Page (r...

English: Robert Plant (left) and Jimmy Page (right) of Led Zeppelin, in concert in Chicago, Illinois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do enjoy it when I am presented the opportunity to play some Led Zeppelin.  Of course, I could probably play Led Zeppelin whenever I wanted to, but I do my best to avoid being overly repetitive, one of those little rules that I use to govern the programming of the show.  Having recently seen the Celebration Day DVD (and what a show it was – an absolute treat for fans of this great band), I feel inspired to program some Zep in this week,  as it has been a bit since I’ve played this great band, I figure that now is a pretty good time.  So we heard a couple songs from Physical Graffiti, and a song from Presence (I purposefully chose from their later material, as : In The Light, Achilles Last Stand, and Sick Again.


Pixies (Photo credit: Random Things Entering My Field of Vision)

The Pixies were one of those monumentally influential indie bands from the late ’80s/early ’90s.  You might not have heard them on radio (unless you were listening to a college radio station), but they were there.  Their first album, Surfer Rosa, was quite excellent, a wonderful mix of interesting ideas, the rich vocal interplay between Frank Black and bassist Kim Deal, and gritty guitar playing on the part of Black and Joey Santiago.  The result is probably some of the most memorable music from the late ’80s.  So, from Surfer Rosa, we heard Where Is My Mind, Bone Machine, and Broken Face.

Deutsch: Paul Hindemith, 1895-1963, deutscher ...

Paul Hindemith, 1895-1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul Hindemith was an interesting composer, and a noted teacher and music theorist.  He was a contemporary of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern (b. 1895, d. 1963), yet his ideas of tonality provided a sharp contrast to the twelve-tone methods of Schoenberg and his school (he used his own distinctive twelve-tone method that was less abstract than that of Schoenberg’s).  Although he at times identified himself as an Expressionist, his music is often described as “neo-classical”, although there are significant differences between Hindemith’s “neo-classical” and that of Igor Stravinski’s.  Like Schoenberg, he also emigrated to the United States in order to escape Nazi repression, although he later resided in Switzerland.  Tonight we heard an early work of his, his Violin Sonata Op. 11 No. 1 in E Flat.  Written in 1918, it was one of two violin sonatas that Hindemith wrote for his Op. 11.  Tonight’s recording also has some historical significance, as this 1965 recording was the first recording made by the noted violinist Itzhak Perlman.  David Garvey provides the piano accompaniment.

Sigur Rós

jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós (Photo credit: Mira Shemeikka)

Like the Led Zeppelin, Sigur Ros is a band that I frequently play on the show, yet have not had the opportunity to play in a while.  So we closed the show with some Sigur Ros – Sæglópur, from 2005’s Takk, and the more recent Varúð, from last year’s Valtari.  I am pleased to hear that they will be issuing a new album in mid-June, although I’m sorry to see that their long-time keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson.  They have announced that they shall tour as a three-piece (although that in reality is fairly relative, as they frequently have a string section touring with them).  Although they have stated that the material on Valtari is hard to recreate on stage, it is still some gorgeous material, and worthy of being heard.  I will look forward to hearing the new album.


Your Community Spirit 2013 April 19

News includes Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill; Court Rescues Belizean Coral From Offshore Drillers; Peabody Energy Screwing Workers Out Of Health Care; Representative Says Exxon Deserves Pat On Back For Response To Arkansas Spill. Happenings include Rise Up Southern Illinois; Do The Math Climate Change Film And Discussion; Forests, Climate, And Carbon; Persian Feast At Rice And Spice; Open Mic At Gaia House; March Against Child Abuse; Monk On The Go; Sale To Fight World Hunger; Spring Cleanup And Recycling Day; LOGIC Earth Day Jamboree; Carbondale Interfaith Council Anniversary Dinner And Program.

WDBX Opera Overnight – Verdi, Schumann

Italiano: Copertina libretto "Rigoletto&q...

A Rigoletto libretto from 1916 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our first work for the evening was an extremely controversial opera in its day.  Giuseppe Verdi was commissioned in 1850 by the La Fenice opera house in Venice to write an opera, and he eventually chose to base his work on a play by Victor Hugo, Le roi s’amuseHugo’s play had been banned in France, and the local authorities (Venice was under Austrian control at the time) did not take too kindly to the play’s depiction of an immoral and cynical king.  After extensive negotiation between Verdi, Francesco Maria Piave (Verdi’s librettist) and the censors, they eventually agreed to move the action to the Dukedom of Mantua and to make the immoral king into a duke, so as not to risk offending anyone.  With these and other changes, the work became known as Rigoletto.  It was premiered on March 11, 1851, and was a major success.   It currently ranks as the 10th most performed opera in the repertoire.

Tonight’s performance is from 1971, and features Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, Joan Sutherland, Martti Talvela, and Kiri te Kanawa.  Richard Bonynge directs the London Symphony Orchestra.

English: Robert Schumann in an 1850 daguerreotype.

English: Robert Schumann in an 1850 daguerreotype. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For our second work of the evening, we have a song cycle by Robert Schumann.  Myrthen, Op. 25, was published in October 1840, and was written as a gift for his bride Clara on the occasion of their wedding.  Schumann used love poems from a number of notable poets, including Robert Burns, Friedrich Rückert, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Lord Byron and Thomas Moore.  The piece was written for alternating soprano and tenor.  Tonight’s recording is by Lynne Dawson, Ian Partridge, with accompaniment by Julius Drake.