SUnday Opera

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your Lyric Theater Program
With Keith Brown

Programming Selections for
April 2011

Sunday April 3rd: Haydyn, Die Schöpfung. Now for one of the greatest of all oratorios. Franz Josef Haydn's Die Schöpfung ("The Creation," 1798) ranks with Handel's Messiah as a classic of the genre. I have presented several different recordings of it for over three decades of lyric theater programming. The creation story that's told through music is certainly Biblical, derived ultimately from the Old Testament Genesis narrative, but by way of Milton's English-language epic poem Paradise Lost, translated into German and subsequently reworked into a libretto by Austria's cultural mentor of the age, Baron Van Swieten. "The Creation" you'll hear today is on two Harmonia Mundi compact discs, with Rene Jacobs conducting the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and RIAS Chamber Choir. It was released in the bicentenary year of Haydn's death, 2009. Just about everything Jacobs has done in his career as a conductor specializing in eighteenth-century repertoire has been truly ear-opening, revealing beautiful new aspects of the old music. His recordings for the Harmonia Mundi label have consistently won critical praise. You've already heard his HM recording of that other famous Haydn oratorio, Die Jahreszeiten ("The Seasons," 1800). That was on Sunday, January 2, 2005. HM opera recordings with Jacobs in charge have gone out over the air on this program in recent years: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (Sunday, April 28, 2002). Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (October 10: 02) and La Clemenza di Tito (January 21: 07).

Sunday April 10th: Martin, Golgotha, Zelenka, Lamentations. Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890 -- 1974) was inspired to write his Passion oratorio Golgotha (1949) after viewing an exhibition in Geneva of copperplate engravings by Rembrandt, which included one particularly arresting one of Christ's crucifixion. Martin put together his own libretto for Golgotha, drawing on the Passion narratives of the Evangelists and the writings of the Church Father St. Augustine. There is a Hanssler Classic release of Golgotha from 1988 that I broadcast on Sunday, April 1, 2001. This is not a frequently recorded piece of music, so I was surprised the French Harmonia Mundi label came out in 2010 with a new Golgotha, and one recorded in, of all places, Talinn, the capital of the little Baltic state of Estonia. The Estonian people happen to have a long tradition of choral singing. German conductor Daniel Reuss leads the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, augmented by the Dutch choral group Capella Amsterdam and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, with a cast of solo singers hailing from the UK, Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands. Fanfare's reviewer Henry Fogel says, "... this new Harmonia Mundi release is the best way to get to know this wonderful score." (Fanfare, July/August, 2010).

Next comes the choral music for Holy Week from the Bohemian counterpart to J.S. Bach, Johann Dismas Zelenka (1679 -- 1748). He was, like Bach, a conservative musically, an eminent contrapuntalist. The Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah were customarily chanted in Catholic churches on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Many composers of the Renaissance lent their polyphonic treatments to these alphabetically ordered passages of Hebrew scripture. Zelenka's 1772 score for the Lamentations from the high Baroque era is an unusual survival in one unique manuscript. Zelenka scored his Lamentations for a small string ensemble and wood wind instruments, with organ continuo. These parts are taken on instruments of the period by the Chandos Baroque Players. Three distinguished English vocalist join them: countertenor Michael Chance, tenor John Mark Ainsley, and bass Michael George. The British Chandos label originally released Zelenka's Lamentations in 1991. That recording reappeared on a single CD in 2002 in Chandos' "Helios" line.

Sunday April 17th: Wagner, Parsifal, ACT ONE, Rautavaara,Vigilia. This Sunday, Palm Sunday, and next Sunday, Easter Sunday, for the second time on this radio program we will take part in a sacred drama in music based on the medieval legend of the Holy Grail, the wine cup Jesus passed around among his disciples at the Last Supper prior to his crucifixion. Wagner's last opera, his masterpiece of Romantic mysticism, Parsifal (1882) is too long in complete recorded performance to be accommodated in one Sunday's timeslot. For Wagner, like so many other nineteenth century Romantics, art was his religion. The Festspielhaus at Beyreuth was his temple. There Parsifal was premiered and there it was staged exclusively over the following three decades. I last presented Parsifal at Palm Sunday/Easter of 2008, making use of our station's copy of a four CD Deutsche Grammophon set. That recording preserves a 2006 Vienna State Opera production starring tenor Placido Domingo. Parsifal was recorded again in 2009, unstaged, in the concert hall of the historic Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Valery Gergiev directed the Mariinksy's orchestra and chorus. Reviewing the 2010 Mariinsky four CD release, both critics for Fanfare magazine, Henry Fogel and Andrew Quint, concur that the sound quality is superb. Both of them praise bass Rene Pape in the role of Gurnemanz. To Andrew Quint he is the Wagnerian bass of our time. Henry Fogel confesses he is a true admirer of Gergiev's interpretive powers as a conductor, especially as evidenced in his skillful handling of the most complex and exacting music Wagner ever wrote.

There's time remaining this afternoon to listen to some modern liturgical vocal music inspired by the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church. Beginning on the evening of Holy Saturday the faithful take part in a Divine Service of Vespers and Matins involving much choral singing and lasting into Easter morning. The All Night Vigil (1972) of Finnish composer Einujuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) was commissioned by the Helsinki Festival and the Orthodox Church of Finland. It premiered as part of the divine service in the Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki. The music was originally performed not at the Easter vigil, but for the vigil associated with the holy Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The recorded version of Rautavaara's Vigilia you'll hear today is his concert adaptation for non-liturgical performance. The sacred text is in the Finnish language, not the expected Old Church Slavonic the Russian faithful are accustomed to hearing. The mixed male and female voices are those of the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir, with five vocal soloists. A 1998 release on a single silver disc through the Finnish label Ondine; last broadcast on Palm Sunday, March 28, 1999.

Sunday April 24th: Wagner, Parsifal ACTS TWO AND THREE.
With the exception of the Erato recording of Carpenter's "sacred opera" David et Jonathas, which comes out of my own collection, all the featured musical selections in this two month period of programming are drawn from our station's ever-growing library of classical music on disc. Thanks as always to Vickie Hadge of Virtually Done by Vickie for her invaluable assistance in the preparation of these notes for online publication.