May 13, 2021 – Sir Arthur Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore & The Rose of Persia
The name of the Victorian-era British operetta composer Sir Arthur Sullivan is inextricably linked to librettist Sir William Gilbert. Between 1871 and 1896, they collaborated on fourteen works for the musical theatre, most of which were written for London’s Savoy Theatre. Indeed, many theatre ensembles that exclusively perform G&S operettas (or comic operas) are known as “Savoyards.”
Sullivan’s first successful comic opera was Cox and Box (1866), with a libretto by Sir Francis Cowley Burnand, followed a year later by The Contrabandista. After The Gondoliers (1889), the partnership began to break up and Sullivan collaborated with Julian Sturgis on Ivanhoe (1891) and Sydney Grundy on Haddon Hall (1892) before briefly reuniting with Gilbert on Utopia, Limited (1893). He wrote The Chieftan (1894) with Burnand, and then embarked on his final collaboration with Gilbert, The Grand Duke (1896).
Sullivan collaborated with Arthur W. Pinero and J. Comyns Carr on The Beauty Stone, a Faustian tale, in 1898. His final work for the musical theatre was The Emerald Isle, written in collaboration with Basil Hood in 1901 (completed by Edward German). Two years earlier, Sullivan first worked with Hood on the second of tonight’s offerings, The Rose of Persia.
In H.M.S. Pinafore, the gentlemanly Captain Corcoran (baritone Jeffrey Skitch) has a daughter, Josephine (soprano Jean Hindmarsh), who is in love with a lowly but gallant sailor named Ralph Rackstraw (tenor Thomas Round). The Captain forbids the marriage, wanting to match Josephine instead with the well-bred Sir Joseph Porter (baritone John Reed), the First Lord of the Admiralty. In the meantime, the Captain finds himself in nearly the same position as his daughter: his former nanny, Little Buttercup (contralto Gillian Knight), falls in love with him, but he hesitates to reciprocate due to his higher social rank. The whole situation is turned on its head when Little Buttercup reveals a game-changing secret she has kept for decades.
Isidore Godfrey conducts the New Symphony Orchestra of London and the Chorus of the D’Olyly Carte Opera Company in this 1959 Decca/London recording.
Laurie Murdoch and the chorus of the 2017 Stratford (Ontario) Festival sing Sir Joseph Porter’s Act I patter song “When I was a Lad”: https://youtu.be/Kfao1s3Tiek
The Rose of Persia is the story of Abu Hassan (baritone Richard Stuart), a merchant who prefers the company of beggars to that of rich people. His wife, Dancing Sunbeam (contralto Marcia Bellamy), wants him declared insane by the priest Abdullah (bass-baritone Jonathan Veira). But Abdullah certifies Hassan to be sane after Hassan signs a will leaving his riches to Abdullah, who plans to have Hassan executed. The Sultana, Rose-in-Bloom (soprano Sally Harrison), gets caught up in this when she and her slaves leave the palace in disguise. To avoid entanglements with the Sultan’s retinue they hide in Hassan’s house, but are discovered by Abdullah, who thereby finds the grounds for Hassan’s execution. The Sultan is inclined to comply, but Hassan saves his skin (and the Sultana’s) by meeting the Sultan’s demand for a story with a happy ending: he offers an autobiographical sketch, making it impossible for the Sultan to execute him.
Tom Higgins conducts the Hanover Band and the Southwark Voices in this 1999 BBC Music Magazine recording.
This Saturday, May 15th, at 1:00 p.m. be sure to listen to a rebroadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s October 8, 2016 performance of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme sing the title roles. Also featured are Ekaterina Gubanova (Brangäne), Evgeny Nikitin (Kurwenal), and René Pape (King Marke). Sir Simon Rattle conducts.
Please join us next Thursday evening, May 20th, for Carl Maria von Weber’s Euryanthe, hosted by the late Al Ruocchio (d. 2007). Count Lysiart (Tom Krause) makes a bet with Count Adolar (Nicolai Gedda) that he can seduce Euryanthe (Jessye Norman), with whom Adolar is in love. Eglantine (Rita Hunter) tells Lysiart, who falsely proclaims Euryanthe’s supposed infidelity. Adolar tries to kill Euryanthe but she’s rescued by King Louis VI (Siegfried Vogel), who’s convinced of her innocence. Marek Janowski conducts this 1974 EMI recording.
The Thursday Night Opera House is heard every Thursday evening at 7 o’clock in the Eastern time zone on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina. We’re streamed online at http://www.theclassicalstation.org, and you can also listen on WCPE’s Android or iPhone apps.
Robert Chapman, Host of the Thursday Opera House
May 6, 2021 – Bedrich Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride”
Guten Abend and welcome to the Thursday Night Opera House. I’m Bob Chapman and tonight I’m doing something a bit different: playing the first great Czech opera in a German translation. In English it’s known as The Bartered Bride, and in the original Czech it’s Prodaná Nevěsta. But we’re going to hear Die verkaufte Braut, the version of Bedřich Smetana’s SMEH-tuh-nah) operatic masterpiece I first became acquainted with many years ago when I was singing in Germany. As a bonus, we’ll hear several excerpts sung in the original language. And I promise that eventually I’ll play Prodaná Nevěsta.
Smetana, the son of a Bohemian brewmaster, showed an early talent for the piano but was discouraged by his father, an amateur musician himself, from pursuing an artistic career. Known for his interpretations of Chopin, young Bedřich harbored ambitions as a composer. After the financial failure of his first recital tour, he sought the advice of Franz Liszt, who helped him establish a piano school, and for a time it was successful. Finally, in 1856, he was offered the musical directorship of the Gothenburg Philharmonic, in southern Sweden, where he remained for five years.
It was in Sweden that Smetana began his compositional career in earnest, showing Liszt’s influence in the choice of historical subjects for tone poems. It was not until his return to Bohemia that his historical subjects began to be nationalistic and patriotic. During his youth, the language of education and culture in his homeland had been German; it required a conscious shift in orientation for Smetana to devote himself to the emergent Czech culture. His sympathies had always been with national independence, and once he became involved, he gave himself to it heart and soul.
In the first stirrings of Czech opera, the language barrier had to be breached. Operas were customarily performed in German or Italian, though there had been some attempts earlier in the century to launch operas with Czech texts. Smetana went beyond language to make his music sound Czech as well, mining a rich vein of folklore, less for its actual material than for its feeling and inspiration. Like his great compatriot Antonín Dvořák, Smetana was able to invent melodies that sounded like folk tunes.
While waiting for the production of his first opera, Branibořiv Čechách (The Brandenburgers in Bohemia), Smetana tried a more direct path to public affection by writing a comedy, The Bartered Bride. There are popular dances in it—a polka, a furiant—and instead of heroic figures from history, ordinary people. The work enjoyed great success after a tentative initial reception in Prague; the composer, however, was frustrated, since he esteemed his serious works more highly and sought recognition for them.
Like Mascagni and Leoncavallo after him, Smetana had cause to lament being considered a one-opera man. His next stage work was the quasi-historical Dalibor, a sort of Czech Fidelio with an unhappy ending. Smetana realized, however, that the public really wanted more comedy, so he wrote three—Dvě Vdovy ( (Two Widows), Hubička (The Kiss), and Tajemství (The Secret)—before moving on to another historical epic, Libuše, in 1881 and a final folk comedy, Čertova Stěna (The Devil’s Wall), the year after.
The Bartered Bride is set to a libretto by Karel Sabina and was composed between 1863 and 1866. It was first performed at the Provisional Theater in Prague on May 30, 1866 in a two-act format with spoken dialogue. Set in a country village and with realistic characters, it tells the story of how, after a late surprise revelation, true love prevails over the combined efforts of ambitious parents and a scheming marriage broker. The opera was not immediately successful and was revised and extended in the following four years. In its final version, premiered in 1870, it gained rapid popularity and eventually became a worldwide success.
Next Thursday, May 13th, be sure to join me for a pair of operettas by Sir Arthur Sullivan: H.M.S. Pinafore and The Rose of Persia.
Robert Chapman, Host of the Thursday Night Opera House
April 22, 2021 – Sigmund Romberg’s The Student Prince & Meredith Willson’s The Music Man
On this week’s Thursday Night Opera House I’m pleased to present a pair of American musical theater works that feature operatic voices in principal roles: Sigmund Romberg’s 1924 operetta The Student Prince and Meredith Willson’s 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man.
The Student Prince was a musical adaptation of Wilhelm Meyer-Förster’s 1901 stage play Old Heidelberg. It opened on December 2, 1924 at Jolson’s 59th Street Theatre in New York City. In 1954, MGM released a filmed adaptation. Actor/singer Mario Lanza was originally cast to portray Prince Karl Franz but either withdrew or was fired. Since he’d already recorded the prince’s songs, as part of the settlement they were used while actor Edmund Purdom mouthed the words.
Prince Karl Franz (David Rendall) is heir to the (fictitious) German kingdom of Karlsberg. He’s grown up fatherless, under gloomy military conditions of castle life. He’s been educated by tutors, in particular the kindly Doctor Engel (Norman Bailey), who has taught him the songs of his alma mater, the venerable University of Heidelberg. Karl Franz has been promised in marriage, since childhood, to Princess Margaret (Diana Montague), but he has never met her. His grandfather, King Ferdinand, sends him to the University incognito, to live as an ordinary student, and improve his social skills. Karl Franz sets off under the watchful eye of Doctor Engel.
At Heidelberg, he takes a room at the rustic Inn of Three Gold Apples. The innkeeper’s beautiful niece Kathie (Marilyn Hill Smith) waits tables in the beer-garden. The inn is very popular with the students, who come there to drink and sing. The prince quickly falls in love with Kathie, who returns his affection. But he’s a royal heir and she’s a commoner. Karl Franz shares the camaraderie of student life, with nights of enthusiastic drinking and singing.
By the end of the term, Karl Franz and Kathie are deeply in love. But then Karl Franz receives a surprise visit from Princess Margaret and her mother, who tell him that the king is ill and wants him to return to Karlsberg to become officially engaged to Margaret. After they leave, Karl Franz and Kathie consider eloping to Paris. But Doctor Engel reminds the prince of his duty to his kingdom. The prince reluctantly agrees to obey his grandfather’s command and promises Kathie that he’ll soon return.
Two years pass, with Karl Franz unable to return to Heidelberg. His grandfather has died and he’s now King. Margaret has also had a secret relationship with another man, Captain Tarnitz (Steven Page). But as King, Karl Franz must honor the engagement to Margaret. She knows that he’s long pined for an old love, and she’s heard rumors that in Heidelberg he fell in love with a tavernkeeper’s niece. Karl Franz is persuaded to visit Heidelberg for a brief reunion with his old friends, and he hopes to see Kathie again.
Margaret goes to Heidelberg first, and secretly visits Kathie. The princess persuades the waitress that for the good of the kingdom, she must break off with Karl Franz. They agree that she’ll tell Karl Franz she’s in love with another man and is going to marry him. Karl Franz will then finally be free to accept Margaret. Karl Franz arrives, meets his old friends and visits Kathie. True to her promise, she tells him of her fictitious new love and plans to marry. Without further delay, Karl Franz resolves to marry Margaret knowing that Kathie will always be his true love.
John Owens Edwards conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Ambrosian Chorus in this 1989 Excelsior recording, CD number EXCC-2-2285.
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Meredith Willson was inspired to write and compose The Music Man by his own boyhood in Mason City, Iowa, which he described in his 1948 memoir And There I Stood With My Piccolo. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to interest television and film producers in the project, he turned to Franklin Lacey to help him edit and simplify the libretto, a process he later described in But He Doesn’t Know the Territory. The Broadway production opened on December 19, 1957 at the Majestic Theatre, where it played for three years before transferring to The Broadway Theatre.
Harold Hill (Timothy Noble) has developed a reputation among travelling salesmen and none of it good. In order to sell his band instruments and uniforms, he promises to form a local student band. After he gets paid, he skedaddles and the town has no band. His target this time is River City, Iowa. To focus attention on the need for a boys’ band he attacks the town’s new pool hall as a sign of depravity creeping into the community. His argument is convincing, but it turns out the pool hall is owned by Mayor Shinn, who orders the school board to check out Hill’s credentials.
When they approach him, he turns them into a barber-shop quartet and disappears. An old friend has warned “the professor” about Marian Paroo (Kathleen Brett), the town librarian and music teacher. Harold’s advances are met with a brick wall. Later at the Fourth of July celebration he takes advantage of a disrupting prank to move in and sell his band idea. Marian’s research pays off, but she withholds the evidence when she discovers Harold is helping her brother, Winthrop (James Thomas Hodges), to cure his speech impediment, Except for the Mayor, the town is now under Harold’s spell. The band instruments arrive but it takes a little longer for the uniforms and instruction books.
Meeting Marian at the footbridge, she confesses to Harold that she’s known he was a fake since the third day he was in town. Now it’s Harold who’s off balance. The uniforms arrive but so does anvil salesman Charlie Cowell (Lewis Dahle von Schlanbusch), Harold’s arch enemy. Marian tries to prevent Charlie from getting to the Mayor but is unsuccessful. Harold still has time to run but he can’t, since he’s now hooked on Marian.
The angry town, hearing that he’s a fake, drags Harold to the ice cream social where everyone’s gathered. The talk is ugly, but Marian speaks out in his defense. The band arrives in assorted, unaltered, uniforms. Harold is handed a baton. “Think, men, think” is his command. At the drop of his arm comes the “Minuet in G” as it’s never been “played” before. But each struggling note is music to each parent’s ears. Harold has his band at last—and a truly loving librarian besides.
Erich Kunzel conducts the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers in this 1991 Telarch recording, CD 80276.
In the 1962 film, Shirley Jones (as Marion “the Librarian” Paroo) sings “Till There Was You” (she’s joined by Robert Preston as “Professor” Harold Hill): https://youtu.be/JLDsLeVxOaU
As a bonus, we’ll hear excerpts from several original Broadway cast albums from 1946 and 1947.
Be sure to tune in this Saturday, April 24th, at 1:00 p.m. for the November 26, 2013 performance of Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow). The cast features Anne Schwanewilms (Empress), Christine Goerke (Dyer’s Wife), Ildikó Komlósi (Nurse), Torsten Kerl (Emperor), Johan Reuter (Barak), and Richard Paul Fink (Messenger). Vladimir Jurowski conducts.
Please join me next Thursday, April 29th, for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Così fan Tutte, starring Karita Mattila (Fiordiligi), Thomas Allen (Guglielmo), Anne Sofie von Otter (Dorabella), Francisco Araiza (Ferrando), Elzbieta Szmytka (Despina), and José van Dam (Don Alfonso). Sir Neville Marriner conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in this 1989 Philips recording.
Robert Chapman, Host of the Thursday Night Opera House
April 8, 2021 – George Frideric Handel’s Agrippina
George Frideric Handel’s Agrippina, a portrayal of lust and power set in first century Rome, was premiered on December 26, 1709 in Venice at the Teatro San Giovanni Crisostomo. It was Handel’s second (and last) opera to be composed during his time in Italy. Composed for the 1709–10 Venice Carnival season, the opera tells the story of Agrippina, the mother of Nero, as she plots the downfall of the Roman Emperor Claudius and the installation of her son as emperor. Agrippina‘s libretto is by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani (c.1652-1710) and is generally considered one of the best Handel ever had because of its historical accuracy historically to the events on which it’s based, but because it contains sensitive insights into human nature.
Agrippina (mezzo-soprano Della Jones), wife of the Roman emperor Claudius (bass Alastair Miles), gets word that her husband has been killed at sea. She seizes the opportunity to advance her son Nero (countertenor Derek Lee Ragin) to the throne. After advising Nero on how to become popular with the Roman public, Agrippina starts manipulating the people around her. First, she promises two different men — Pallante (baritone George Mosley) and Narcissus (countertenor Jonathan Peter Kenny) — that she’ll marry them, as long as they throw their political support to Nero. But just as Nero is about to crown himself emperor, a troublesome messenger shows up, reporting that Claudius wasn’t killed after all.
A soldier named Ottone (countertenor Michael Chance) tells the harrowing story, adding that Claudius promised to name him the next emperor in exchange for saving his life. Ottone tells Agrippina he’d be happy to forget about that promise, if only he can have the woman he loves, Poppea (soprano Donna Brown) — who happens to be Claudius’s mistress. Agrippina lies to everyone, stirs up their jealousy, and urges them all to take revenge. When Claudius returns, she thwarts his attempted lovemaking with Poppea.
Pallante and Narcissus form an alliance. In a public ceremony, Claudius celebrates his return from battle. Ottone steps forward to claim his promised reward, but Claudius unexpectedly denounces him as a traitor. One by one, Ottone’s friends turn their backs on him, leaving him alone and bewildered. Only Poppea takes pity on Ottone. She’s long suspected that Agrippina is behind all this, and when she finds out she’s right, she decides to get even. Meanwhile, Agrippina plots with Pallante to murder Ottone and Narcissus — and with Narcissus to murder Ottone and Pallante! She tells Claudius that Ottone wants revenge for his loss of the throne and urges him to anoint Nero as his successor. Claudius is preoccupied with resuming his assignation with Poppea, so he absentmindedly agrees.
One by one, Poppea invites Ottone, Nero and Claudius into her room, while telling each man to hide and eavesdrop before the other comes in. Ottone swears eternal fidelity to Poppea; Claudius turns the tables on Agrippina, accusing her of treachery; and Agrippina provokes Claudius by revealing that Poppea has been fooling around with Ottone. Only Narcissus and Pallante somehow manage to keep themselves out of trouble.
Claudius suddenly announces that Nero won’t be the next emperor after all. Instead, he decides to make Ottone his successor, and let Nero marry Poppea. Nero even declares that having a new wife, but no empire, is a double punishment. So, Claudius changes his mind. He says Poppea will marry Ottone instead of Nero, and Nero will become emperor. Finally, everyone seems satisfied. It seems the internal battles are over, and Rome is once again in stable hands — at least for now.
John Eliot Gardiner conducts the English Baroque Soloists in this 1992 recording.
French soprano Véronique Gens (as Agrippina) sings “Ogni vento,” a delightful song of joy over having just extracted a hurried promise from husband Emperor Claudius to pass on the laurel crown to her son, Nero. Jean-Claude Malgoire conducts Le Grande Ecurie and the Chambre du Roy: https://youtu.be/P4XeX3rgU9U.
This Saturday afternoon, April 10th, at 1:00 Eastern, be sure to join us for the October 2, 2017 Metropolitan Opera performance of Puccini’s La Bohème. It features Angel Blue (Mimi), Dmytro Popov (Rodolfo), Brigitte Kele (Musetta), Lucas Meachem (Marcello), Duncan Rock (Schaunard), and David Soar (Colline). Alexander Soddy conducts.
Join the late Al Ruocchio next Thursday, April 15th, for an encore broadcast of Georges Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers), about the friendship of two Ceylonese fishermen and their mutual love of a priestess. John Aler (Nadir), Gino Quilico (Zurga), and Barbara Hendricks) star. Michel Plasson conducts the Chorus and Orchestra of French Radio and Television in this 1990 EMI recording.
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April 1, 2021 – Richard Wagner’s Parsifal
Richard Wagner’s final opera, Parsifal, is featured on this Maundy Thursday’s expanded edition of the WCPE Opera House. The vessel that was used to serve the wine at Jesus Christ’s Last Supper has been one of the supposed subjects of Holy Grail literature in Christian mythology. The quest for the Holy Grail makes up an important segment of the Arthurian cycle, combining Christian lore with a Celtic myth of a cauldron endowed with special powers. The early Grail romances centered on Percival, who—in the hands of Wagner—evolved into Parsifal. Parsifal was described by Wagner as a Bühnenweihfestspiel (stage consecration festival play).
Many years earlier, the vessel of the Holy Grail was given into the keeping of Titurel (bass John Tomlinson) and his Christian knights, as was the Sacred Spear that pierced the side of Jesus during His crucifixion. These relics have been guarded in a fortified castle at Montsalvat, a beacon of Christianity in Islamic Spain. Nearby lives the evil sorcerer Klingsor (bass Günter von Kannen) and the beautiful enchantress Kundry (soprano Waltraud Meier), enemies of the knights. When Titurel grew old, he handed over the Kingdom of the Grail to his son Amfortas (bass-baritone José Van Dam), who—determined to kill Klingsor—entered his enemy’s magic garden. There, he fell prey to Kundry’s charms and lost the Sacred Spear to Klingsor. Badly wounded by the spear, Amfortas continues to suffer: only the touch of the Sacred Spear will close the gash it made.
A prophecy from the sanctuary of the Grail has told Amfortas that only a “holy fool,” unaware of sin, will be able to resist Kundry and regain the Sacred Spear. The story deals with the fulfillment of this prophecy as a guileless youth, Parsifal (tenor Siegfried Jerusalem), is brought to the venerable knight Gurnemanz (bass Matthias Hölle), charged with killing a holy swan. When it becomes clear that the boy is innocent of the crime, and entirely ignorant of the world, he is selected to rescue the Sacred Spear. He triumphs, heals Amfortas, and is anointed King of the Grail by Gurnemanz. As Amfortas and the knights kneel to Parsifal, he baptizes Kundry, who finds at last the redemption of peaceful death.
Daniel Barenboim conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the German State Opera Chorus of Berlin in this 1990 Teldec recording, CD number 74448.
From the Act III finale, here’s Siegfried Jerusalem (Parsifal) and Kurt Moll (Gurnemanz): http://youtu.be/DwdYZWFrBBM.
Be sure to tune in this Saturday, April 3rd, at 1:00 p.m. for the February 8, 2014 performance of Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka, with Renée Fleming in the title role. Heard in other principal roles are Emily Magee (Foreign Princess), Dolora Zajick (Ježibaba), Piotr Beczala (Prince), and John Relyea (Water Gnome). Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts.
Please join me next Thursday, April 8th, for George Frideric Handel’s Agrippina, starring Della Jones as the wife of the Roman emperor Claudius (Alastair Miles). Also heard are Derek Lee Ragin as Agrippina’s son Nero, George Mosley (Pallante), Jonathan Peter Kenny (Narcissus), Michael Chance (Ottone), and Donna Brown (Poppea). John Eliot Gardiner conducts the English Baroque Orchestra in this 1992 Philips recording.
March 25, 2021 – Spring Membership Drive
My wonderful producer Elizabeth Elliot joins me on this Thursday evening’s special edition of the WCPE Opera House. We’ll play arias, choruses and ensembles from the station’s vast library of opera recordings, including our thank-you gifts (see below), while asking for your new or ongoing financial support. During the Spring Membership Drive, we have a couple of wonderful gifts we’ll be happy to send you as our thanks for your fulfilled pledge:
- For $120, Wien. German tenor Jonas Kaufmann pays tribute to Vienna, the birthplace of waltz and operetta, with this delightful offering of songs by Franz Lehár, Emmerich Kálmán, Jaromír Weinberger, Johann Strauss Jr., and many others. Ádám Fischer leads the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. (1 CD)
- For $180, Verdi’s La Traviata. German soprano Diana Damrau is commanding in the role of Violetta Valéry along with Francesco Demuro as her lover Alfredo Germont and Ludovic Tézier as his father Giorgio. Francesco Ivan Ciampa conducts the Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus. (1 DVD).
Jonas Kaufmann and Rachel Willis Sørenson sing the lovely waltzing duet “Lippen Schweigen” from Franz Lehár’s Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow): https://youtu.be/E-7g-QY3bnc.
You can call in your pledge at 919-556-5178 or 800-556-5178; you can send your check to The Classical Station, P.O. Box 828, Wake Forest, NC 27588; or you can contribute online at our secure website: http://www.theclassicalstation.org.
This Saturday, March 27th, at 1:00 p.m., please join us for a rebroadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s March 10, 2012 performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Gerald Finley sings the title role and Bryn Terfel is Leporello. Heard in other principal roles are Marina Rebeka (Donna Anna), Matthew Polenzani (Don Ottavio), Ellie Dehn (Donna Elvira), Shenyang (Masetto), Isabel Leonard (Zerlina), and James Morris (Commendatore). Andrew Davis conducts.
Join me next Thursday, April 1st, for Richard Wagner’s Parsifal starring Siegfried Jerusalem in the title role, José Van Dam (Amfortas), Matthias Hölle (Gurnemanz), Johanna Meier (Kundry), Günther von Kannen (Klingsor), and John Tomlinson (Titurel). Daniel Barenboim conducts this 1990 Teldec recording.
The Thursday Night Opera House is heard every Thursday evening at 7 o’clock in the Eastern time zone on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina. We’re streamed online world-wide at http://www.theclassicalstation.org, and you can listen on WCPE’s Android or iPhone apps.
Robert Chapman, Host of the WCPE Opera House
March 18, 2021 – Robert Ward’s The Crucible
A politically charged period in American history is set to music in The Crucible, Robert Ward’s Pulitzer Prize–winning opera, on this week’s Thursday Night Opera House. This encore performance is hosted by the late Al Ruocchio (1937-2007). Like the 1953 Arthur Miller play on which it’s based, the opera is an allegory for the so-called Red Scare of the late 1940s and 1950s, when fear of Communism in America was fanned by public accusations of disloyalty by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, among others. Commissioned by the New York City Opera, The Crucible premiered on October 26, 1961, several years after McCarthy’s rise and fall, and won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for music.
Mr. Ward, who died at age 95 on April 4, 2013 at his home in Durham, North Carolina, was an unapologetic traditionalist, writing lyrical, melodic and accessible scores that pushed against the mid-twentieth century’s prevailing atonal tide. Many of his compositions—he wrote seven other operas, as well as orchestral, choral and chamber works—bore a distinctly American stamp, suffused with the influence of folk songs and jazz. In 1967, he became the president of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem (now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts), and was later its chancellor. Mr. Ward spent a decade teaching composition at the Juilliard School, and another decade as a professor at Duke University.
The Crucible is set in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. Abigail Williams (soprano Patricia Brooks) admits to her uncle, the Reverend Samuel Parris (tenor Norman Kelley), that she and Betty Parris (mezzo-soprano Joyce Ebert) went dancing in the woods with Tituba (contralto Gloria Wynder), Reverend Parris’s black slave from Barbados. When Betty and the Putnam girl fall ill, people claim it’s witchcraft and call Reverend John Hale (bass John Macurdy). Hale frightens Abigail into saying that Tituba was making a pact with the Devil. When questioned, Tituba admits to conversing with the Devil and implicates Sarah Good (soprano Naomi Farr).
John Proctor’s (baritone Chester Ludgin) wife, Elizabeth (mezzo-soprano Frances Bible), tells him that people are being executed for witchcraft on the testimony of Abigail and her friends. She asks Proctor to expose Abigail as a fraud, but he fears that his affair with Abigail will open him to revenge. Reverend Hale finds a voodoo doll in Elizabeth’s house, which he takes as evidence that she is a witch. Proctor demands that the servant Mary Warren (soprano Nancy Faster) explain that she framed Elizabeth, but she fears Abigail.
Proctor confronts Abigail, but she still loves him and refuses to free Elizabeth from jail. In court, Giles Corey (tenor Maurice Stern) accuses Thomas Putnam (baritone Paul Ukena) of branding people as witches so he can grab their land. When Corey refuses to support his accusations by naming people who heard Putnam’s plan–and cannot produce any evidence–he’s arrested on a contempt-of-court charge. Proctor accuses Abigail and the girls of fraud, producing Mary as a witness, and Abigail denies the charge. Proctor admits having an affair with Abigail, but Elizabeth is brought in and denies it. Rev. Hale believes Proctor, but the girls throw fits and claim he is the Devil.
Proctor has been imprisoned. Abigail asks him to flee with her, but he refuses. Reverend Hale begs Judge Danforth (tenor Jack DeLon) to delay the hangings, but he won’t do so–even when Reverend Parris reports that Abigail has fled with his money. After a tearful reunion with Elizabeth, Proctor agrees to confess. However, he refuses to implicate others in his confession or to sign a written confession, so Danforth condemns him.
Emerson Buckley conducts the New York City Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this 1989 Albany Records recording, CD number Troy 0250262.
From a 2010 University of Tennessee/Knoxville Opera co-production, Corrine Stevens (Elizabeth Proctor) and Jesse Stock (John Proctor) are heard at the beginning of Act II: http://youtu.be/S82I7tO0nAw.
Be sure to join Rob Kennedy and me next Thursday, March 25th, for our Spring Membership Drive. In addition to arias, choruses and ensembles from the station’s extensive collection, we’ll play selections from our two thank-you gifts: Jonas Kaufmann’s CD Wien, a collection of songs associated with Vienna, and a DVD of Verdi’s La Traviata featuring Diana Damrau and Nicolas Testé. Pledge by phone (800-556-5178) or online.
The Thursday Night Opera House is heard every Thursday evening at 7 o’clock in the Eastern time zone on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina, and we’re streamed online at http://www.theclassicalstation.org.
Robert Chapman, Host of the Thursday Night Opera House
March 11, 2021 – Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida
On this week’s Thursday Night Opera House we’ll hear a recent studio recording of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. First heard on Christmas Eve 1871 in the Egyptian capital city of Cairo, Verdi had six months to work on the score once the contract was signed, but it took him only four to complete it. Camille du Locle drafted a complete libretto in French, but Verdi insisted that the opera be in Italian, so he hired Antonio Ghislanzoni to translate the text. Du Locle’s libretto was based on a story written by August Mariette, a French Egyptologist. Mariette had suggested to the Khedive of Egypt that his story would make a great opera to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal, but by the time Verdi acquired the synopsis in the spring of 1870, the Canal had already been open for several months.Aida (soprano Anja Harteros), an Ethiopian slave to Amneris (soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk), daughter of the Pharaoh, is emotionally torn by her love for the general Radamès (tenor Jonas Kaufmann) when he’s named commander of an Egyptian campaign against Ethiopia. Amneris is also in love with Radamès and tricks Aida into revealing her true feelings. The victorious Radamès returns in triumph and is rewarded with Amneris’s hand. Disguised among the prisoners is Aida’s father Amonasro (baritone Ludovic Tézier), the Ethiopian king. He persuades his daughter to wheedle out of Radamès the route of the next military campaign against his country. Radamès’s inadvertent betrayal is overheard and Ramfis (bass Erwin Schrott) and the priests condemn him to be buried alive. In love with her country’s enemy to the end, Aida joins Radamès in the tomb.
Sir Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the National Academy of Saint Cecilia in this 2015 Warner Classics recording.
From the February 2015 recording session, German soprano Anja Harteros sings Aida’s act III aria “O Patria Mia”: https://youtu.be/V7dt_c4HNl4.
This Saturday, March 13th, at 1:00 p.m., be sure to join us for the January 10, 2018 Metropolitan Opera performance of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Ildar Abdrazakov sings the title role and is partnered by Nadine Sierra (Susanna). Heard in other principal roles are Marius Kwiecin (Count Almaviva), Ailyn Pérez (Countess), Isabel Leonard (Cherubino), Maurizio Muraro (Dr. Bartolo), and Katarina Leoson (Marcellina). Harry Bicket conducts.
Please join us next Thursday, March 18th, for an encore broadcast of Robert Ward’s The Crucible, hosted by the late Al Ruocchio. Set in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts during the witchcraft trials, it features Patricia Brooks (Abigail Williams), Norman Kelley (Rev. Samuel Parris), Joyce Ebert (Betty Parris), Gloria Wynder (Tituba), John Macurdy (Rev. John Hale, Naomi Farr (Sarah Good), Chester Ludgin (John Proctor), Frances Bible (Elizabeth Proctor), Nancy Faster (Mary Warren), Maurice Stern (Giles Corey), Paul Ukena (Thomas Putnam), and Jack DeLon (Judge Danforth). Emerson Buckley conducts the New York City Orchestra and Chorus in this 1989 recording.
The Thursday Night Opera House is heard every Thursday evening at 7 o’clock in the Eastern time zone on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina. We’re streamed online at http://www.theclassicalstation.org, or you can listen on our Android or iPhone apps.
February 25, 2021 – Claude Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisane
This week the Thursday Night Opera House with Bob Chapman features Claude Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande. The opera is the story of the half brother of a prince who falls in love with his sister-in-law, a mysterious young woman who was discovered in a forest, about to commit an unthinkable act. Join host Bob Chapman for a presentation of Claude Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande, tonight at 7pm ET.
February 11, 2021 – Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story & On the Town
This week’s Thursday Night Opera House presents a pair of Broadway musicals with mostly operatic casts: West Side Story and On the Town. Set in the 1950s, West Side Story is an updated version of the Romeo and Juliet story in which teenage street gangs battle for control of the New York City neighborhood they uneasily share. The situation becomes complicated when a gang member falls in love with a rival’s sister. On the Town is the story of three American sailors during World War II and their amorous adventures on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City.
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and set in the urban slums of New York, the show used, as its modern equivalents for the Montagues and Capulets the juvenile gangs of local whites (the Jets) and immigrant Puerto Ricans (the Sharks).
With a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story opened in New York’s Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957.
The Jets, boastful and contemptuous of the immigrants, call on Tony (José Carreras), who used to be their leader but now has a regular job and is on his way to adulthood, to help their new leader Riff (Kurt Ollmann) and the gang in a challenge to the Sharks. Riff reminds Tony of his old allegiance and of how menacing are the newcomers. Tony reluctantly agrees reluctantly but soon becomes excited with the thrill of potential combat. Meanwhile, in a bridal shop Anita (Tatiana Troyanos), the sweetheart of the Shark’s leader, Bernado (Richard Harrell), is converting Maria’s communion dress into a gown for the dance that evening. Maria (Kiri Te Kanawa) is Bernardo’s sister. He has brought her from Puerto Rico hoping that she will marry his best friend, Chino. At the dance Riff challenges Bernado and the groups agree to do battle. Tony and Maria have seen each other and fall in love, instantly and become oblivious to the menace that is building up around them. Most of the Puerto Ricans are nervously elated over the coming conflict but they are confident and determined to assimilate into the American way despite the homesickness that some of them feel.
What could have been just a game of muscle flexing turns to tragedy when Bernado provokes a knife-fight that results in Riff being killed. Bernado is murdered in turn by the avenging Tony, who flees to the home of Maria. Her love for Tony overcomes her hatred for her brother’s killer. Tony promises to take her away and in a dream ballet sequence the battle is re-enacted. Anita taunts Maria for remaining faithful to Tony but nonetheless agrees to deliver Maria’s message for Tony to the Jets. Unfortunately, Anita is driven to claim that Chino has shot and killed Maria. Angry and wild with grief, Tony goes after Chino, but Chino coolly shoots him just as Tony discovers that Maria is not dead after all. Somewhat ashamed, the Jets and the Sharks between them remove Tony’s body as Maria follows them.
Leonard Bernstein conducts an unnamed orchestra and chorus in this 1984 DG recording, CD 415255.
From the original 1957 Broadway cast album, Reri Grist sings “Somewhere”: https://youtu.be/80-DtChQ39U.
With brash, spectacular, and slightly bittersweet abandon, On the Town is a tale about seizing the day and living life to its fullest. With a soaring score by Leonard Bernstein and humorous, highly intelligent lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, On the Town features the seductively upbeat “I Can Cook, Too”, the melancholically beautiful ballad “Lonely Town”, and that most iconic of tunes, “New York, New York.” The show opened at the Adelphi Theater on December 28, 1944.
The show follows the adventures of three sailors on leave for just 24 hours in New York before heading off to battle in World War II. Goofy ladies’ man Ozzie (David Garrison) is looking for a date – -maybe seven or eight – and studious innocent Chip (Kurt Ollmann), guidebook in hand, has several days’ worth of tourist attractions to check off his list. But when idealistic Gabey (Thomas Hampson) falls for the photograph of lovely Miss Turnstiles, a subway beauty queen, they all join in an ambitious scavenger hunt around the city to locate this dream girl — and, on the way, find all of the romance, adventure, and New York atmosphere for which they could wish. Joined by Claire (Frederica Von Stade), a sophisticated anthropologist with a red-hot heart, and Hildy (Tyne Daley), a sweetly aggressive cab driver on the lam, the sailors careen through museums and nightclubs, Carnegie Hall and Coney Island, before Gabey and Ivy (Marie McLaughlin) are finally united — just in the knick of time.
Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Voices in this 1993 DG recording.
On Saturday, February 13th, at 1:00 p.m., be sure to listen to the April 28, 2018 Metropolitan Opera matinee broadcast of Jules Massenet’s Cendrillon with Joyce DiDonato as Cinderella, Alice Coote in the “trouser” role of Prince Charming, Laurent Naouri (Pandolfe), Stephanie Blythe (Madame de la Haltière), and Kathleen Kim (Fairy Godmother). Bertrand de Billy conducts.
Be sure to join the late Al Ruocchio next Thursday evening, February 18th, for an encore broadcast of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, with Maria Callas in the title role, Franco Corelli as Pollione, Christa Ludwig as Adalgisa, and Nicola Zaccaria as Oroveso. Tullio Serafin conducts this 1960 recording.
The Thursday Night Opera House is heard at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina. We’re also streamed online, and you can listen as well on WCPE’s Android or iPhone apps.
Robert Chapman, Host of the Thursday Night Opera House
February 4, 2021 – Gioachino Rossini’s Otello
On this week’s Thursday Night Opera House we feature Gioachino Rossini’s Otello, an 1816 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play Othello. José Carreras sings the title role and Frederica von Stade is Desdemona. Heard in other principal roles in this bel canto masterpiece are Gianfranco Pastine (Iago), Salvatore Fisichella (Rodrigo), Nucci Condo (Emilia), and Samuel Ramey (Elmiro). Jesús López Cobos conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus in this 1978 Philips Classics recording.
The Thursday Night Opera House is heard at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on TheClassicalStation.org, on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina, and via streaming apps on your smart phone, tablet, or other smart device.
Robert Chapman, Host of the Thursday Night Opera House
January 28, 2021 – Mozart et al.’s Der Stein der Weisen & Der wohltätige Derwisch
This pair of fairy tale operas was ommissioned in 1790 (along with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Magic Flute) for Vienna’s Theater auf der Wieden. Der Stein der Weisen (The Philosopher’s Stone) was a collaborative effort by Mozart, Johann Baptist Henneberg, Benedikt Schack (the first Tamino), Franz Xaver Gerl (the first Sarastro), and impresario Emanuel Schikaneder (the first Papageno).
The Philosopher’s Stone begins in an Arcadian land where the priest Sadik (baritone Chris Pedro Trakas) leads a ceremony to the guardian spirit, Astromonte (tenor Kurt Streit). Sadik’s two foster children, the lovers Nadir (tenor Paul Austin Kelly) and Nadine (soprano Judith Lovat) soon appear with their rustic friends, Lubano (bass Kevin Deas) and Lubanara (soprano Jane Giering de Haan), a newly-wed couple. The audacious and untamed Lubanara persuaded Lubano to bring her to the sacred ceremony, as she dreams of riding in Astomonte’s flying machines. Lubano warns her of the dangers of displeasing Astromonte and the terrible subterranean spirit Eutifronte (bass Alan Ewing). Sadik metes out a mild punishment to them and warns of terrible consequences if there are future incidents. Astromonte’s Genie (soprano Sharon Baker) arrives in a cloud chariot and presents a cage that contains a magic bird, which will identify the most virtuous and innocent maiden by its song, and Astromonte will then take her with him. In subsequent comic scenes Lubano locks up his wife; she invokes Eutifronte, and the demon comes and frees her; when the husband protests, Eutifronte takes Lubanara into the abyss. Lubano discovers antlers on his head, the sign of cuckoldry, and he is chased by hunters. The bird remains silent until Nadine holds it. Astromonte descends in his chariot and accepts the sacred offerings. As he is about to leave, he hears the bird singing and sees Nadine. He takes them both in his chariot and departs. All implore Astromonte to return Nadine, and Lubano cries out for his Lubanara. They decide to set sail to the magic island to find Nadine.
Martin Perlman conducts Boston Baroque in this 1999 Telarc recording.
From the second act finale of Der Stein der Weisen, here’s Piotr Micinski (Lubano) and Renate Arends (Lubanara) in the “Meow” duet: http://youtu.be/llo7zr1PnZ8.
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Der wohltätige Derwisch (The Beneficent Dervish) was the second of the three fairy tale operas Schikaneder commissioned that season. First performed in March 1791, exactly midway between The Philosopher’s Stone and The Magic Flute, it appears to have been a group effort by the same composers—except Mozart. There are nonetheless some important ideas evolving in The Beneficent Dervish that appear to have influenced The Magic Flute. The bass role has evolved from the evil god of The Philosopher’s Stone to the wise dervish, a character who is much closer to Sarastro. We also see here the origin of Papageno’s magic bells in Mandolino’s fool’s cap.
In The Beneficent Dervish, the Turkish Prince Sofrano (tenor John Aler) has been impoverished since the death of his father, King Almandor. As the opera opens, he is about to leave for the Kingdom of Basora, where he hopes to win the heart of the beautiful Princess Zenomide (soprano Sharon Baker). He says farewell to his friend and mentor, an old and wise Dervish (bass Alan Ewing), who gives Sofrano the key to a treasure box, which his father left in a monument. He warns Sofrano to beware of Zenomide: she has a cold heart and her father is an evil sheik. The Dervish reveals himself to be King Almandor and vows to help his son through his magical powers. The Dervish watches as the fisherman Mandolino (bass Kevin Deas) is beaten by his wife, Mandolina (mezzo-soprano Deanne Meek), for flirting with a peasant girl, who is in fact a malicious fairy, who has poisoned him. To save himself, Mandolino must drink from a golden goblet, which is guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, but he need not fear the dragon, since it eats only women.
Martin Perlman conducts Boston Baroque in this 2002 Telarc recording.
This Saturday, January 30 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, be sure to join The Classical Station for the December 11, 2011 Metropolitan Opera performance of Charles Gounod’s Faust. Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role, Marina Poplavskaya is Marguerite, and René Pape is Méphistophélès. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts.
Join me next Thursday, February 4th, for Gioachino Rossini’s Otello, an 1816 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play Othello. José Carreras sings the title role and Frederica von Stade is Desdemona. Heard in other principal roles in this bel canto masterpiece are Gianfranco Pastine (Iago), Salvatore Fisichella (Rodrigo), Nucci Condo (Emilia), and Samuel Ramey (Elmiro). Jesús López Cobos conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus in this 1978 Philips Classics recording.
The Thursday Night Opera House is heard at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina. We’re also streamed online, and you can listen as well on WCPE’s Android or iPhone apps.
Robert Chapman, Host of the Thursday Night Opera House
January 21, 2021 – Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann
On this week’s Thursday Night Opera House please join us for an encore broadcast, hosted by the late Al Ruocchio, of Jacques Offenbach’s last stage work (and only true opera): Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann). Born Jacob Offenbach in Cologne, Germany in 1819, his father took him to Paris in 1833, where he was enrolled at the Conservatory. After becoming one of Europe’s finest cellists, Offenbach began composing operettas for important theaters like the Bouffes-Parisiens. A string of hits–Orphée aux enfers (1858), La belle Hélène (1864), Barbe-bleue (1866), La vie parisienne (1866), and La Périchole (1868)–soon followed.Offenbach was working on Les Contes d’Hoffmann when he died on October 5, 1880. A fascinating and at times disturbing work, it tells three inter-connected stories in which Hoffmann is thwarted in love by his evil genius. Ideally, the four villains should be sung by the same man, and the four heroines by the same woman, as they are aspects of the same person. The work, existing in piano score only, was orchestrated by Ernest Guiraud, who also made a few additions. Hoffmann was premiered in Paris on February 10, 1881.
The opera opens in Luther’s beer cellar in Nürnberg, Germany, where students await the end of a performance of Don Giovanni, starring Stella (soprano Edita Gruberova), amorously pursued by the poet Hoffmann (tenor Plácido Domingo) and also by the sinister Counselor Lindorf (baritone Andreas Schmidt). To pass the time, Hoffmann tells the story of his three great loves, in all he is aided by his young friend Nicklausse (mezzo-soprano Claudia Eder)–who’s later revealed to be the embodiment of the Muse of Poetry. In Paris, Hoffmann is sold a magical pair of glasses by Coppélius (bass-baritone Gabriel Bacquier) and falls in love with Olympia (Gruberova), the “daughter” of the inventor Spalanzani (tenor Gérard Friedman). She turns out to be a mechanical doll, which Coppélius destroys when he discovers that Spalanzani has double-crossed him.
In Venice, Hoffmann is having an affair with the courtesan Giulietta (Gruberova), who–at the urging of the magician Dapertutto (bass Justino Diaz)–steals his reflection. Hoffmann kills Giulietta’s former lover Schlémil (bass Richard Van Allan) in a duel and flees for his life, having witnessed Giulietta leaving with another man. In Munich, Hoffmann has fallen in love with the singer Antonia (Gruberova). Her father Crespel (bass Harald Stamm) has forbidden her to sing, without telling her the reason: she is consumptive as was her dead mother, also a great singer. The evil quack Dr. Miracle (bass-baritone James Morris) brings to life the portrait of her mother and urges her to sing ever more ecstatically. The strain is too much and she dies in Hoffmann’s arms. Back in the beer cellar, it becomes apparent that all three of Hoffmann’s lovers are aspects of the diva Stella. Hoffmann is now totally drunk, and a triumphant Lindorf escorts Stella away. The opera ends with Nicklausse urging Hoffmann to return to poetry.
Seiji Ozawa conducts the ORTF Chorus and Orchestra in this 1990 Deutsche Grammophon recording.
From a 2000 production, Natalie Dessay sings Olympia’s aria, “Les oiseaux dans la charmille”: http://youtu.be/LwfGFgWRfd4.
Be sure to tune in to The Classical Station this Saturday, January 23rd, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern for the Metropolitan Opera’s January 27, 1961 performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Leontyne Price is Leonora, Franco Corelli is Manrico, Mario Sereni is Count Di Luna, Irene Dallis is Azucena, and William Wilderman is Ferrando. Fausto Cleva conducts.
Next Thursday, January 28th, please join me for a pair of pastiche operas inspired by Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). First performed in 1790 and 1791, Der Stein der Weisen (The Philosopher’s Stone) and Der Wohltätige Derwisch (The Beneficient Dervish) include music by Mozart, Johann Baptist Hennebert, Benedikt Schack, Franz Xaver Gerl, and Emanuel Schickaneder. Martin Perlman conducts Boston Baroque in these 1999 and 2002 Telarc recordings.
The Thursday Night Opera House is heard every Thursday evening at 7:00pm Eastern on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina, online at http://www.theclassicalstation.org, and on our streaming apps.
Robert Chapman, Host of the Thursday Night Opera House