The Best of the 31 Days of Halloween Series: Commendatore Scene from Don Giovanni

>> Saturday, October 30, 2010

Now what kind of a Mozart lover would I be if I failed to include the Commendatore Scene from Don Giovanni in a Halloween series? After all, this has been described as one of the most terrifying scenes in opera, and in Mozart's day was considered so dark and disturbing that Mozart and Da Ponte were forced to write an additional "happy ending" finale for the Viennese audience to soften it for them.

This clip features the legendary Sir Thomas Allen as the wayward Don Giovanni, baritone Stafford Dean as his side-kick Leporello, and bass Gwynne Howell as Il Commendatore's ghost, from a 1988 Royal Opera House production with Sir Colin Davis conducting.


The Best of The 31 Days of Halloween Series: Karl Jenkins Requiem: Dies Irae

>> Friday, October 29, 2010

Released in 2005, Requiem is an album by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. In this work, Jenkins interjects movements featuring Japanese death poems in the form of a haiku with those traditionally encountered in a Requiem Mass. At times, the Latin text is sung below the text of the haiku.

A far cry from the Verdi Dies Irae that I featured a few days ago, the Jenkins Dies Irae uses a driving, repetitive beat and a choral chant to create an unsettling mood and sinister feel, and combined with the deviant art chosen for this particular presentation, it really sets the listener on edge.


The Best of the 31 Days of Halloween Series: Der Erlkönig by Franz Schubert

>> Thursday, October 28, 2010

As a freshman music student I was first introduced to Franz Schubert's Lied (German for "song"), Der Erlkönig (The Elf King), in my freshman music appreciation class. It was presented to us as one of the finest examples of the German art song ever composed, and among Schubert's vast collection of Lieder, it is considered by most, his greatest.

From Wikipedia:

Franz Schubert composed his Lied, "Der Erlkönig", for solo voice and piano in 1815, setting text from the Goethe poem. Schubert revised the song three times before publishing his fourth version in 1821 as his Opus 1; it was cataloged by Otto Erich Deutsch as D. 328 in his 1951 catalog of Schubert's works. The song was first performed in concert on December 1, 1820, at a private gathering in Vienna, and received its public premiere on March 7, 1821, at Vienna's Theater am Kärntnertor.

The four characters in the song — narrator, father, son, and the Erlking — are usually all sung by a single vocalist; occasionally, however, the work is performed by four individual vocalists (or three, with one taking the parts of both the narrator and the Erlking). Schubert placed each character largely in a different vocal range, and each has his own rhythmic nuances; in addition, most singers endeavor to use a different vocal coloration for each part.

The Narrator lies in the middle range and is in minor mode.
The Father lies in the low range and sings both in minor mode and major mode.
The Son lies in a high range, also in minor mode, representing the fright of the child.
The Erlking's vocal line undulates up and down to arpeggiated accompaniment resulting in striking contrast and is in the major mode. The Erlking lines are typically sung pianissimo.
A fifth character, the horse, is implied in rapid triplet figures played by the pianist throughout the work, mimicking hoof beats.


Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the boy well in his arm
He holds him safely, he keeps him warm.

"My son, why do you hide your face so anxiously?"
"Father, do you not see the Erl king?
The Erl king with crown and tail?"
"My son, it's a wisp of fog."

"You lovely child, come, go with me!
Many a beautiful game I'll play with you;
Many colourful flowers are on the shore,
My mother has many golden robes."

"My father, my father, and don't you hear
What Erl king is quietly promising me?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child;
The wind is rustling through withered leaves."

"Do you want to come with me, dear boy?
My daughters shall wait on you fine;
My daughters will lead the nightly dance,
And rock and dance and sing you to sleep."

"My father, my father, and don't you see there
Erl king's daughters in the gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it clearly:
The old willows they shimmer so grey."

"I love you, your beautiful form entices me;
And if you're not willing, I shall use force."
"My father, my father, he's grabbing me now!
Erl king has done me some harm!"

The father shudders; he swiftly rides on,
He holds the moaning child in his arms,
is hardly able to reach his farm;
In his arms, the child was dead.

I have recently been introduced to a new baritone (actually, he's not new, only new to me), who in my humble opinion rivals the great German baritone, Fisher Dieskau. Romanian baritone, Dan Iordachescu, was in his prime at the same time as Dieskau, but because of the political situation in Romania at the time, his opportunities for world recognition were extremely limited. Through the miracle of Facebook, I have recently met one of his lovely daughters, Cristina, who is quite a singer in her own right and when she first sent me this YouTube video of her father singing Der Erlkönig, I was simply blown away.


The Best of the 31 Days of Halloween Series: Pavane by Gabriel Fauré

>> Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Using the key of F-Sharp Minor (considered to be the saddest and most emotional key in Western harmony), the late 19th century French composer, Gabriel Fauré, evokes a hauntingly pensive and mournful feel to his Pavane, which is actually a type of dance. Combined with the sensual Neo-Gothic images of the stones and crypts at the cemetery in Staglieno, Italy, this particular presentation is among the most disturbing, yet hauntingly beautiful performances I've ever experienced.


The Best of the 31 Days of Halloween Series: The Black Riders from The Lord of the Rings

>> Monday, October 25, 2010

I remember back to the days when I was a teenager and I read J.R.R. Tolkien's Ring Trilogy. His description of the Ringwraiths or Black Riders was terrifying enough, but many years later when I saw the film, they nearly gave me nightmares. I'm sure much of the credit for the frightening effects goes to Howard Shore for his amazing score.


Opera 101 for those who think they hate opera

>> Sunday, October 24, 2010

How many times have I heard someone say to me, “Oh you’re an opera singer? No offense, but I can’t stand opera.” My standard reply is always, “Oh really? Well have you ever been to an opera?” Invariably the reply will be “no” they haven’t ever actually seen one, but they just know from some of the clips and parodies that they’ve seen on television that they wouldn’t like it. Yes, the good old Loonie Toons Bugs Bunny-does-opera cartoon parodies, although hilariously pointed and funny (and some of my very favorites), didn’t do opera’s reputation any favors with the general public, and in the era where America’s Got Talent winners get all the breaks and pop music celebrities rule, respect and popularity for classical music and musicians is down to zilch. That was all too apparent when only a few weeks ago we lost one of opera and classical music’s greatest, the Australian soprano, Dame Joan Sutherland. When I posted news of the 94-year-old Sutherland’s death at her home in Switzerland on my Facebook profile, the response was limited to a few of my friends with whom I had gone to college or graduate school in music. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Sutherland was practically a household name in the United States, and one of the Metropolitan Opera’s brightest stars, but very few today even know her name, much less who she was or that she was one of the finest Verdi sopranos opera has ever known.

So you think you hate opera, but you’ve never even seen one. So just how do you know you hate opera? (This is a variation on the same annoying question that my mother always used to ask me whenever I was challenged to try a new vegetable.) Well, just like the popular music you listen to on the radio today, there are a variety of different kinds of opera, and if you like music and singing, then there is probably an opera out there that you would enjoy. For instance, did you know that what we term “musicals” like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar are really opera? No kidding--they’re rock operas. And then there are the different light, comic operas of the late 18th century, (that are really hilarious), the best and most popular by Mozart including The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte, and The Magic Flute. And I would be remiss not to include the light operas or operettas, some of the best being by the late 19th century English team of Gilbert & Sullivan including The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, and the always-popular The Mikado. (It’s interesting to note here that in the early 1980s, Broadway did a successful revival of The Pirates of Penzance starring none other than the then wildly popular pop music singer, Linda Ronstadt as Mabel and Kevin Kline as The Pirate King.)

For your first opera I would highly recommend seeing a production of any of the ones I have mentioned in the above paragraph. And if you have a local college or university that is producing one of these shows, those performances are most generally high quality, and the ticket prices much lower. Plus, you get the added benefit of supporting your local college or university’s music department. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going to see an opera that would normally be sung in another language, performed in English. If you like it, and decide that you want to see another, then perhaps later on you’ll be more ready for one say, in Italian or German. And now, English subtitles are always flashed on a screen above the stage, making it easier for the audience to keep up with the story without having to have their heads buried in the translations in the program.

Before you go, educate yourself about the opera. Learn about the plot, the characters, the composer, and the history behind the opera. The best and easiest place to do this is to look it up in Wikipedia. They have a page for the most popular to the most obscure operas that include history, characters, plots, and even a list of the most popular arias and pieces contained within each. After doing just a little homework, when you get there you won’t have to concentrate so hard on keeping up with the plot and the characters, and you can just sit back and enjoy the show.

There are some operas, or rather operas by certain composers that probably should be avoided if you’re a first-timer. Heavy, long, dramatic operas by late Romantic era composers such as Richard Wagner or Richard Strauss should probably wait until one’s taste and palate for opera has been more developed. And anything by the mid to late 20th century composers where the music and stories are a bit avant-garde might be a bit much as well. I would also wait on operas by Puccini and Verdi, although Puccini’s operas like La Boheme or Madame Butterfly might make a nice transition from the lighter operas and operettas into the heavier Italian operas by Verdi.

So if you think you hate opera, but you’ve never actually seen an opera, I challenge you to go see one. If you’ll keep to the suggestions above, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and it won’t be too long before we’ll have you hooked!

Update: 11/19/10  This is now a featured article on Betterfly!


World Class Tenor, Arnold Rawls, in Recital

World Class Tenor, Arnold Rawls, will be in recital at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, October 26th, at 7:30. He will be singing selections from Verdi & Puccini.

"When tenor Andrew Richards cancelled due to indisposition, Arnold Rawls (who was scheduled for three performances) took over the role of the Egyptian warrior Radames for the entire run. Rawls possesses a firm, pliant lyric tenor with ringing high notes that easily dominated the ensembles. His Celeste Aida was distinguished by sweetness of timbre and emotional fervor." (There is a long history of lyric tenors singing this role - Bergonzi, Gigli, Bjoerling. Rawls follows that tradition.)
- Entertainment News & Views

Arnold and I were dear friends & classmates at OBU, and I'm proud to announce this event. I'll also be presenting a signed copy of my book So Faithful a Heart: The Love Story of Nancy Storace & Wolfgang Mozart to Arnold, who has graciously offered me a space at his CD sales table to take orders for my book.


The Best of The 31 Days of Halloween Series: Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem

>> Saturday, October 16, 2010

Who can deny that the Day of Wrath is upon us when one hears the sounds of thundering tympani, blaring trumpets and a massive wall of choral sound raining down in angry, terrifying torrents?

The following is from Wikipedia regarding the creation of Verdi's Requiem:

When Gioachino Rossini died in 1868, Verdi suggested that a number of Italian composers should collaborate on a Requiem in Rossini's honor, and began the effort by submitting the conclusion, Libera me. During the next year a Messa per Rossini was compiled by 13 composers, famous at the time, of whom the only one well known today is Verdi himself. The premiere was scheduled for 13 November 1869, the first anniversary of Rossini's death.

However, on 4 November, nine days before the premiere, the organising committee abandoned it. Verdi blamed the scheduled conductor, Angelo Mariani, for this. He pointed to Mariani's lack of enthusiasm for the project, even though he had been part of the organising committee from the start, and it marked the beginning of the end of their long-term friendship. Verdi never forgave Mariani, although Mariani pleaded with him.[citation needed] The piece fell into oblivion until 1988, when Helmuth Rilling premiered the complete Messa per Rossini in Stuttgart.
In the meantime, Verdi kept toying with his Libera me, frustrated that the combined commemoration of Rossini's life would not be performed in his lifetime.

In May 1873, the Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni, whom Verdi had admired all his adult life and met in 1868, died. Upon hearing of his death, Verdi resolved to complete a Requiem—this time entirely of his own writing—for Manzoni. Verdi travelled to Paris in June, where he commenced work on the Requiem, giving it the form we know today. It included a revised version of the Libera me originally composed for Rossini.


Absence makes the heart grow fonder

>> Sunday, October 10, 2010

It has been brought to my attention that I have been missed. It actually feels good to know that. It often gets lonely in the blogosphere, especially when the comments aren't coming in and you're not sure that people are even reading (or in this case, listening). To be quite honest, I have been otherwise occupied with the marketing of my book and with the blog that accompanies it. It's a lot of work maintaining a blog, especially one of this nature. Much time, thought, and research goes into each and every post, and now that I am concentrating so heavily on my book (I actually think that the marketing aspect is much harder and more time-consuming than the research and writing of it!), I have little or no energy left to contribute anywhere else. In addition to the above, I was taken quite ill in early May with an acute gallbladder attack that very nearly robbed me of my life. I wasn't even aware that I had gallbladder disease, but I ended up in the hospital with a badly infected gallbladder and a liver that was near shutdown. I had emergency surgery and my recovery has been full and swift, but I was robbed of several weeks of energy and concentration as a result of the entire ordeal. After that, I fell out of the habit and when my energy returned, I had to devote it to my book. However, since it has been expressed that my absence is being felt, I will see if I can work in some time to post something at least once a week. That's a reasonable place to start, I think.

That being said, I have nothing prepared for this particular post, and since I've spent the past couple of weeks working on the new video trailer for my book, I'll share that with you.


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