The World's most beautiful music: Karl Jenkins "Ave verum corpus"

>> Monday, June 29, 2009

I challenge you to listen to this lovely duet setting of the Ave verum corpus, featuring the incredible talents of baritones Bryn Terfel and Simon Keenlyside, and not sigh or perhaps shed a tear. This is one of the most gorgeous settings of the text that I've ever heard. (Thanks Steph, for introducing this to me!)


A birthday treat: The 2003 Covent Garden production of "Die Zauberflöte"

>> Saturday, June 27, 2009

My daughter, Lauren, gave me a very special gift for my birthday yesterday. Since I saw a clip of the German soprano, Diana Damrau singing the Queen of the Night in the 2003 Royal Opera House production of Die Zauberflöte with Sir Colin Davis, I have wanted to own it. Her performance as the dark and power-hungry queen is so impressive that I knew that the rest of the production must follow suit. I wasn't disappointed. We watched it twice, and the second time, Steph and I followed along with the orchestral score, (yes, I know, we're geeks!).

This is an elegant, charming, and sophisticated performance, drawing out and highlighting the deeper meanings of the story, and transforming it from a cute fairytale to the allegorical piece that Mozart and Schikaneder intended - the quest for enlightenment and the rejection of the fear and superstition of the church and the oppression of the aristocracy brought to the forefront. I've read mixed reviews on it, some claiming this interpretation is "too dark". I beg to differ, for this particular interpretation only exposes what it really is along with the revolutionary political and spiritual messages that its creators wanted to convey. Having sung the role of the Third Lady myself, I always liked this opera, but it never ranked among my favorites of Mozart's works. This production changed that for me, for yesterday I fell in love with it for the first time.

I've chosen several clips to share with you. Along with Damrau's exciting and chilling performance as the Queen of the Night, I found the performances of Dorothea Röschmann as Pamina, Will Hartmann as Tamino, Simon Keenlyside as Papageno, and Franz-Josef Selig as Sarastro to be every bit as compelling and profound. This was a well-matched, elegant cast which only added to the sophistication and beauty of the entire piece.


Just because it's June!

>> Friday, June 26, 2009

As a child, I loved the musical Carousel, and one of my favorite numbers was "June is busting out all over", simply because my birthday is in June. So today, I've chosen to feature this great piece from the 1956 film version of Rogers & Hammerstein's Carousel, including the wonderful dance sequence, just because it's June and it's my birthday!


Steven Storace: How Mistaken is the Lover from "The Doctor & the Apothecary"

>> Wednesday, June 24, 2009

When Stephen Storace and his sister, Nancy returned to England from Vienna in early 1787, he set to work on a comic piece in the order of the German Singspieler, (what eventually developed into the operetta, and then into what we now know as the musical), entitled the "The Doctor & the Apothecary". Stephen went on to become the father of the English operetta, (Nancy always being the star of his pieces), and was the primary influence for the great English team of Gilbert & Sullivan.

This delightful little aria, composed for Nancy, is one of the few pieces that still survive from him.

How mistaken is the lover,
Who on words builds hopes of bliss!
And fondly thinks we love discover,
If perchance we answer "Yes".
Off the tongue, the heart belying,
Dares not venture on denying;
But, in spite of discontent,
Gives the semblance of consent.

Ah! how vain is art's profession,
Though the faltering tongue comply!
What avails the cold confession,
If the averted eyes deny!
Happier far, the experienced swain
Knows he triumph must attain,
When in vain successless trial,
Language gives the faint denial;
While the eyes betray the fiction
In delightful contradiction;
And the cheeks with blushes glow.
And the tongue still falters "No".


All is not lost: Pamina & the Three Boys

>> Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tamino and Papageno must again suffer the test of silence. Papageno can no longer hold his tongue, but Tamino remains firm, even when Pamina speaks to him. Since Tamino refuses to answer, Pamina believes he loves her no longer. (Aria: Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden). The three boys see Pamina attempting to commit suicide because she believes Tamino to be faithless. They prevent her from doing so, and take her to see him.


Sometimes I feel like Pamina

>> Monday, June 22, 2009

There have been many days in the last several years when I have felt the sense of sadness and futility that is expressed by Pamina in her aria, Ach, ich Fühls, (not because of love loss, Steph's and my relationship is still wonderful--it's life that is kicking us), but none as much as I do today.


Another "I knew him when": Randyn Miller singing Nessun Dorma

>> Saturday, June 20, 2009

This is a video of a young tenor, Randyn Miller, who was an undergraduate voice major at the same time I was in grad school. We were in the same studio and I knew then, that he had a destiny before him. He is doing his graduate work at New England Conservatory in Boston, where he just completed his master's degree. He is currently in Italy where he just completed a concert in Fidenza. Here he is, singing Nessun Dorma from Puccini's beloved Turandot. He was so nervous that he wouldn't let the person filming aim the camera at him so all you see here is a beautiful view of the ceiling, with Randyn's lovely tenor voice soaring. This young man has great promise. I'd be looking out for him if I were you.


Just for fun: The Mikado: Miya Sama & Three Little Maids From School

>> Thursday, June 18, 2009

I sang the role of Katisha in a production of The Mikado several years ago, so these scenes from the film Topsy Turvy, about the famous team of Gilbert & Sullivan bring back some delightful memories!


Ladies & Gentlemen, we have a tenor!

>> Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This is a clip from the HD broadcast of the Met's production of Lucia di Lammermoor in which the young polish tenor, Piotr Beczala was called out from the audience to sing because of illness on the part of the regularly scheduled singer. Steph and I got to see this performance a couple of months ago on PBS and were amazed by this fabulous tenor and I have been following him since. Here he is as Edgardo in the last scene singing the tragic aria, Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali.


Sunday Shubert: Piano Trio No 2 in E flat major, Andante con moto

>> Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Trio No. 2 in E-flat major for piano, violin, and violoncello, D. 929, was one of the last compositions completed by Franz Schubert, dated November 1827. It was published by Probst as opus 100 in late 1828, shortly before the composer's death. Unlike much of Schubert's late music, he actually heard this work performed before he died. It was also used as one of the central themes of music in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, a period film about a boy called Redmond Barry. It has been used in a number of other films, including The Hunger, Crimson Tide, Land of the Blind and the HBO miniseries John Adams.

Informatioin source: Wikipedia


Saturday Salieri: " Vi sono sposa e amante"

>> Saturday, June 13, 2009

Of course I had to include Mozart's "arch nemesis", Antonio Salieri. Actually he wasn't a nemesis at all. That was all a big myth propagated by the film, Amadeus. In truth, Salieri and Mozart were very good friends and respected one another tremendously. Of course there was some healthy rivalry at times, but in the highly competitive world in which they were associated, there was always some rivalry.

The following aria was composed in 1772 for the opera La fiera di Venezia, and is an example of some of Salieri's best and most challenging compositions. Sung marvelously here by Cecilia Bartoli.


Friday Faure: Pavane, Op. 50

>> Friday, June 12, 2009

Without a doubt, my favorite French composer has to be Gabriel Fauré. As I have sung many of his numerous vocal pieces, as well as his Requiem, I am always impressed by his sensitive and tender melodic lines and voice leading. I'm featuring today, one of his instrumental works, which I believe to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed. I featured it several months ago in my "World's most beautiful music" series, but I didn't receive any comments on it, so I figured that it didn't get a fair listen, so I'm featuring it again today.

The Pavane in F-sharp minor, op. 50, is a composition for orchestra and optional chorus by the French composer Gabriel Fauré and dates from 1887. Obtaining its rhythm from the slow processional Spanish court dance of the same name, the Pavane ebbs and flows from a series of harmonic and melodic climaxes, conjuring a cool, somewhat haunting, Belle Époque elegance. The piece is scored for only modest orchestral forces consisting of strings and one pair each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns. A typical performance lasts around seven minutes.

When Fauré began work on the Pavane, he envisaged a purely orchestral work to be played at a series of light summer concerts conducted by Jules Danbe. After Fauré opted to dedicate the work to his patron, Elisabeth, comtesse Greffulhe, he felt compelled to stage a grander affair and thus he added an invisible chorus to accompany the orchestra (with additional allowance for dancers). The choral lyrics were based on some inconsequential verses, à la Verlaine, on the romantic helplessness of man, which had been contributed by the Countess' cousin, Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac.

The orchestral version was first performed at a Concert Lamoureux under the baton of Charles Lamoureux on November 25, 1888. Three days later, the choral version was premiered at a concert of the Société Nationale de Musique. In 1891, the Countess finally helped Fauré produce the version with both dancers and chorus, in a "choreographic spectacle" designed to grace one of her garden parties in the Bois de Boulogne.

From the outset, the Pavane has enjoyed immense popularity, whether with or without chorus. It entered the standard repertoire of the Ballets Russes in 1917, where it was alternatively billed as Las Mininas or Les Jardins d'Aranjuez. Fauré's example was imitated by his pupils, who went on to write pavanes of their own: Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte and Debussy's Passepied from his Suite bergamasque.

Information source: Wikipedia


Thursday Telemann: Concerto for Recorder and Viola da Gamba

>> Thursday, June 11, 2009

I had a hard time coming up with another "T" composer when all of a sudden Telemann popped into my thoughts! And this little concerto is quite charming, (I know you'll enjoy it, Kathy!).

Georg Philipp Telemann (March 14, 1681 – June 25, 1767) was a German Baroque music composer and multi-instrumentalist, born in Magdeburg. Self-taught in music, he studied law at the University of Leipzig. Often described as the most prolific composer in history (at least in terms of surviving oeuvre), he was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and a lifelong friend of George Frideric Handel. While in the present day Bach is generally thought of as the greater composer, Telemann was more widely renowned for his musical abilities during his lifetime.

Telemann traveled widely, absorbing various musical styles and incorporating them into his own compositions. He is known for writing concertos for unusual combinations of instruments, such as multiple violas, trumpets, oboes, or harpsichords.

He held a series of important musical positions, culminating in that of music director of the five largest churches in Hamburg, from 1720 until his death in 1767.

Information source: Wikipedia


Wednesday Wagner: Overture to "The Flying Dutchman"

>> Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I can't say as I'm a fan of Wagner, but I just couldn't think of any other "W" composers, so here we are! (At least I'm honest.)

Der fliegende Holländer
(The Flying Dutchman) is an opera, with music and libretto by Richard Wagner. The story comes from the legend of the Flying Dutchman, about a ship captain condemned to sail until Judgment Day.

Wagner claimed in his 1870 autobiography Mein Leben that he had been inspired following a stormy sea crossing he made from Riga to London in July and August 1839, but in his 1843 Autobiographical Sketch Wagner acknowledged he had taken the story from Heinrich Heine's retelling of the legend in his 1834 satirical novel The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski (Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski). The central theme is redemption through love, to which Wagner returns in most of his subsequent operas.

Wagner conducted the premiere at the Semper Oper in Dresden, 1843. This work shows early attempts at operatic styles that would characterise his later music dramas. In Der fliegende Holländer Wagner uses a number of leitmotifs (literally, "leading motifs") associated with the characters and themes. The leitmotifs are all introduced in the overture, which begins with a well-known ocean or storm motif before moving into the Dutchman and Senta motifs.

Wagner originally wrote Der fliegende Holländer to be performed without intermission — an example of his efforts to break with tradition — and, while today's opera houses sometimes still follow this directive, it is also performed in a three act version.

Information Source: Wikipedia


Tuesday Tchaikovsky: Violin concerto in D major

>> Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one of the best known of all violin concertos. It is also considered to be among the most technically difficult works for violin.

This is an early live recording of Itzhak Pearlman playing the Allegro Moderato of the wonderful Tchaikovsky violin concerto. Too amazing for words!


Monday Mozart: Piano Concerto no. 17

>> Monday, June 8, 2009

A favorite Mozart piano concerto to brighten up your Monday.

Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, KV. 453, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was written in 1784.

The work is orchestrated for solo piano, flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings. As is typical with concertos, it is in three movements:

1. Allegro
2. Andante in C major
3. Allegretto Presto

According to the date that the composer himself noted on the score, the concerto was completed on April 12, 1784.

The date of the premiere is uncertain. In one view, the work is said to have been premiered by Mozart's student, Barbara Ployer, on June 13, 1784 at a concert to which Mozart had invited Giovanni Paisiello to hear both her and his new compositions, including also his recently-written Quintet in E flat for Piano and Winds. Afterwards, Ployer was joined by Mozart in a performance of the Sonata for Two Pianos, K. 448. Another possibility, advanced by Lorenz (2006, 314), is that Mozart did not wait over two months to premiere the work, but performed it in his concert with Regina Strinasacchi on 29 April 1784 at the Kärntnertortheater.

The finale is a set of variations on what Alfred Einstein has described as a birdlike theme, which Mozart taught his pet starling to sing. The movement ends with an extensive coda.

JE Gardiner, Malcolm Bilson, English Baroque Soloists


The World's most beautiful music: Purcell: Rondeau from "Abdelazer"

>> Sunday, June 7, 2009

When I heard this used in the 2005 production of Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightly, I thought it was Bach. Silly me, for it wasn't until I started searching for it on YouTube that I found out that it was by Purcell, as the piece used in the soundtrack, (beautifully composed by Dario Marianelli), was entitled A Postcard to Henry Purcell.

Posted here are the original version by Purcell, and the dance sequence from Pride & Prejudice in which this piece was so beautifully incorporated.


Mozart Showdown: Vorrei Spiegarvi O Dio, K418

>> Saturday, June 6, 2009

Vorrei Spiegarvi O Dio, K418 was composed in 1783 for Mozart's sister-in-law and former sweetheart, Aloysia Weber Lange, as an insertion aria for Il curioso indiscreto, an opera by Anfossi, along with No, che non sei capace and Per pieta non ricercate. The aria is one of Mozart's most delicate and effective, especially in its stunning use of the voice in conjunction with various instruments. The very delicate orchestral introduction sets the tone of the piece, and the various obbligatos with the voice and instruments can be stunning. It seems quite likely that the opera composers of the Romantic era who used similar devices(e.g. Lucia's Mad Scene in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor) were influenced by this aria.

Clorinda, who is in love with the Count, who is promised to Emilia, sings that she wishes she could explain to him why she appears not to return his love. In the fast-paced second part of the aria, she urges him to leave her, telling him to go to Emilia. The whole piece is quite moving as well as being lovely, and an excellent display piece for vocal agility and grace.

It is sung here by three great Mozart divas. You choose your favorite and tell us why you chose her.

Sumi Jo

Natalie Dessay

Kathleen Battle


Friday Jazz: Sting sings "My One and Only Love"

>> Friday, June 5, 2009

The things I admire the most about certain performers is their flexibility, and willingness to branch out into other genres of music other than the one which made them famous. Among one of the greatest is Sting. From the music of Dowland and 16th century Elizabethan England, to rock and roll, to classical lounge jazz, Sting has proven himself versatile and worthy of the title, musician.


A Gaelic Blessing: John Rutter

>> Thursday, June 4, 2009

The English composer, John Rutter, has been one of my very favorite composers of sacred choral works since my college days. We sang many of his works in the Chorale at Oklahoma Baptist University and this particular piece became our signature piece, as we would close all of our concerts with it.


Goin' for Baroque: Bach's Orchestral Suite

>> Wednesday, June 3, 2009

These pieces need no introduction, for they're probably among Bach's most famous. I've chosen three of my favorites from Bach's Orchestral Suite, (Bwv 1067), the Badinerie, Bourree, and Polonaise, played beautifully by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. So get out your powdered wigs and put on your red-heeled dancing shoes and dance!


Haydn: The Seasons

>> Monday, June 1, 2009

Haydn was led to write The Seasons by the great success of his previous oratorio The Creation (1798), which had become very popular and was in the course of being performed all over Europe. The libretto for The Seasons was provided to Haydn, just as with The Creation, by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an Austrian nobleman who had also exercised an important influence on the career of Mozart. Van Swieten's libretto was his own rendering into German of extracts from the long English poem "The Seasons" by James Thomson (1700-1748), which had been published in 1730.

The composition process was arduous for Haydn, in part because his health was gradually failing and partly because Haydn found van Swieten's libretto to be rather taxing. Haydn took two years to complete the work.

The premiere, in Vienna on April 24, 1801, was considered a clear success, but not a success comparable to that of The Creation. In fact, this has been the critical verdict on The Seasons ever since, and to this day it is performed considerably less often than the earlier oratorio.

It is widely felt that the blame lies not with Haydn, who remained at the height of his powers musically, but with the libretto. Oratorios typically are written on weighty subjects, such as episodes and characters from the Christian religion or heroes of classical mythology, but the libretto of The Seasons is mostly about the weather and about everyday life. The stirring final solo and chorus, which take up weightier matters (the meaning of life, the last trumpet, the eternal afterlife), might be taken to show what a remarkable work Haydn could have composed had he had access to a more serious libretto.

Like The Creation, The Seasons is a bilingual work. Since Haydn was very popular in England (particularly following his visits there in 1791-2 and 1794-5), he wished the work to be performable in English as well as German. Van Swieten therefore retranslated the Thomson original back into English, fitting it to the rhythm of the music. The resulting English text has not always proven satisfying to listeners; for example, one critic writes, "Clinging to [the] retranslation, however, is the heavy-handed imagery of Haydn's sincere, if officious, patron. Gone is the bloom of Thomson's original."

Information source: Wikipedia

The following is the Soprano aria, Die Jahreszeiten Welche Labung für die Sinne!. It is interesting to note that Nancy Storace, who was Mozart's original Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro sang the soprano role of Hanne at the London premiere of The Seasons in 1806. This particular recording features two different recordings of the same aria by two different sopranos, Edith Mathes and Ileana Cotrubas.


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