WDBX Opera Overnight – Handel, Verdi, Praulens

Caricature of Handel by Joseph Goupy (1754)

Caricature of Handel by Joseph Goupy (1754) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Israel in Egypt (HWV 54) is a biblical oratorio by the composer George Frideric Handel. Many historians believe the libretto was compiled by Handel’s collaborator Charles Jennens, and it is composed entirely of selected passages from the Hebrew Bible, mainly from Exodus and the Psalms.  Handel premiered it in April of 1739, one of a series of works that began with Alexander’s Feast in 1736, and which culminated in 1742’s Messiah.  Israel in Egypt came at a transition point for Handel, as the oratorios were so generally successful that he was using more choral parts and less soloists, with Part 1 of Israel in Egypt consisting entirely of choral parts.  Handel later moderated this practice, and he later made a revised version of Israel in Egypt in 1756, balancing the choral parts with solo parts, similar to what he had done with Messiah.  Tonight’s recording gives the listener both options, but we shall hear the original version, as Handel premiered it in 1739.  The recording is a truly excellent one, one of the 2013 Grammy nominees for Best Choral Recording (a well deserved nomination).  The Trinity Wall Street Church Choir and Orchestra are conducted by Julian Wachner.

Aida, one of Giuseppe Verdi‘s truly great works, was commissioned by an Ottoman governor of Egypt, and as such is set in Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and was premiered in Cairo, Egypt, in 1871.  Verdi did not write an overture for the opera, so it just dives right into the action.  It ranks as the 13th most performed opera worldwide, with more than 1,100 performances at the Met.  It was the first opera to be televised, has been made into several motion pictures, and the story was used as the basis for a musical by Elton John and Tim Rice.

Leontyne Price's Aida album cover (1962)

Leontyne Price’s Aida album cover (1962)

Tonight’s recording is a 1962 recording, featuring Leontyne Price, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, Rita Gorr, Franco RiccardiSir Georg Solti conducts the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro del’Opera di Roma.  The recording is not without some controversy, as some think that Solti was too bombastic with how he handled the orchestra, and that he took the opera into Wagnerian territory.  This is fairly natural, as Aida is probably the closest that Verdi came to Wagnerian proportions.  But many will argue that this may be one of the best Aida recordings available.

Our last piece this evening is a choral piece from the Danish composer Ugis Praulins.  The Nightingale is a 2010 composition that is based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen.  It was nominated for two 2013 Grammy Awards, for Best Choral Recording and for Best Contemporary Composition.  Michala Petri performs on recorder, with Stephen Layton leading the Danish National Vocal Ensemble.

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WDBX Opera Overnight: 200 years of Verdi

English: The Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi Azərba...

Giuseppe Verdi, in a well-known portrait by Giovanni Boldini, 1886.

We’re going to devote tonight’s show to a celebration of the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, whose birthday was this past Thursday.  This week starts Verdi’s bicentennial year, as he was born on October 10, 1813, and there are a number of opera companies that will be prominently featuring Verdi works in their schedule for the year.  Tonight, we’re going to start the show with Aida (pronounced a – I – da), one of his truly great works.  Aida was commissioned by an Ottoman governor of Egypt, and as such is set in Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and was premiered in Cairo, Egypt, in 1871.  Verdi did not write an overture for the opera, so it just dives right into the action.  It ranks as the 13th most performed opera worldwide, with more than 1,100 performances at the Met.  It was the first opera to be televised, has been made into several motion pictures, and the story was used as the basis for a musical by Elton John and Tim Rice.  However, when you get beyond the historical info, the reality is that the opera is a musical thrill ride, demanding strong performances from strong singers – truly a great piece of music.  One of the great epic operas.

Tonight’s recording is a 1962 recording, featuring Leontyne Price, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, Rita Gorr, Franco RiccardiSir Georg Solti conducts the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro del’Opera di Roma.

Italiano: Libretto Luisa Miller,melodramma tra...

A period libretto for Luisa Miller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second portion of our Verdi birthday celebration will be Luisa Miller.  This opera in three acts premiered on December 8, 1849, and although it is not Verdi’s most well-known opera, it still sees regular performances.  Indeed, several performances of the opera are currently planned in celebration of the bi-centenary year that began last week.  Tonight’s recording is a 1964 recording that features Anna Moffo, Carlo Bergonzi, Cornell MacNeil, Shirley Verrett, Giorgio Tozzi, and Ezio FlagelloFausto Cleva leads the RCA Italiana Opera Chorus and Orchestra.