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


6 comments on “WDBX Opera Overnight – Strauss, Monteverdi

  1. J .M. says:

    God, would you lose the opera already?!! Nobody listens to that on community radio, it’s the least popular show on WDBX next to that couple who do the show after and play the same music for the last 7 years. While you’re at it you ought to get rid of Amy Goodman’s news hour unless you want to balance it with Rush or some other right winger. There’s better alternative news programs out there and as for Saturday, please do something..even that boring World Cafe would be better than the Klingon opera and bad radio that follows it. Saturday is traditionally community radios biggest listening day. It’s WDBX’s worst day. People hate it. Poll the contributors and find out for yourselves.

    • dougflummer says:

      Actually, opera has historically been one of the more significant sources of contributions to the station. I’ve been programming various forms of classical music and opera for about 17-18 years now, and I’ve had numerous folks expressing their appreciation for it (including this past weekend). Classical music and opera are a necessity – music that has withstood the test of time, music that reveals to us the fullest extent of the human voice’s capacity to sing. No other art form accomplishes this. If we were to eliminate either of the station’s two opera programs from our schedule, we would be doing the community a great disservice.

      • juliano66 says:

        The “significant” donations are from a few select individuals. Hardly representational. Like I said, survey the listeners and you’ll get a much different picture.

      • wdbx says:

        You’re correct that no single listener “type” prevails at WDBX. However, I stand behind the diversity of our programming. For many listeners, our opera broadcasts are appointment listening. For others, they’re a break for gardening, a long bike ride, or family time before re-joining us for Starchild, Garden of the Goddesses, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, or Row Jimmy– and there’s nothing wrong with that.

      • dougflummer says:

        It would be extremely short-sighted to eliminate one of the world’s great musical art-forms, regardless of how popular it may or may not be. The diversity of our programming is what makes us stand out from the crowd, and that includes classical and opera. On the Galaxy, I program classical and opera in with metal, r&b, country, etc., and I receive just as many positive comments on the opera as I do anything else I program. It is serious music for serious listeners.

    • wdbx says:

      JM– Sorry you don’t enjoy it. However, Doug is absolutely right. Opera on WDBX has an amazing set of dedicated, vocal, and engaged listeners.

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