Baroque to Broadway

Baroque to Broadway is an agreeable offering at the third in the new concert series at the Whirlow Spirituality Centre’s Chapel of the Holy Spirit this coming Friday (30th of June).

It features soprano Chloe Saywell, whom you may have encountered with Opera on Location among other things and has a particular partiality for English art song – reflected in the concert!

With her are trumpet/ flugelhorn player Matthew Redfearn, now freelance after 12 years as director of music at Ecclesall Parish Church; and pianist Stephanie Pitts, in the past a busy repetiteur and occasional recital accompanist, now Head of Music at Sheffield University.

Proceedings begin with two arias from Handel’s cantata Apollo and Daphne, Ardi adori – in which she tells Apollo that he desires, adores and beseeches her in vain; and Come in ciel – when she tells him, as Neptune calms the stormy ocean waves, so he should restrain his love.

Thomas Morley (strictly, pre-Baroque) follows with two songs, Thyrsis and Milla and the more familiar It was a Lover and his Lass – “hey, ding, a ding, a ding!”

We move considerably forward in time to Cecilia McDowall (b1951) for a trumpet/ piano piece, A Choir of Angels, although you could say, stay back at the same time! “The Baroque brilliance of A Choir of Angels,” is publisher Boosey & Hawkes’ description of it.

Two frequently encountered Mozart songs are then heard, most regularly, Das Veilchen – The Violet (actually, it concerns a rose!), and Der Zauberer – The Magician.

After which, we move forward permanently to the 20th century, initially to hear three of Gerald Finzi‘s Five Bagatelles for clarinet and piano played as transcriptions on the flugelhorn: Prelude, Forlana and Fughetta – No’s 1, 4 and 5.

Two songs by Roger Quilter, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal and Love’s Philosophy, precede a rather lovely, lesser-known song by John Ireland, If There Were Dreams To Sell, before moving right up to date with Chris Noble: Spring Song in Winter.

Yes, it is the Platform 4 composer! and we remain in the present for Redfearn: If Only, a piece by Matthew Redfearn himself and indulges in composing when he has the time, before three pieces by Leonard Bernstein, all for trumpet and piano:

Rondo for Lifey – Lifey being the name of Judy Holiday’s dog; Lucky To Be Me, an instrumental version of the song in composer’s musical On the Town; and Red, White and Blues, a heavily blues-influenced piece.

Little needs to be said about the two final items, Jerome Kern’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Cole Porter’s Night and Day, except all three musicians come together for the latter.

 

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Anxieties and Desires

Bradfield Festival of Music gets underway on the 23rd of June and once again celebrated names will be appearing at the historic church of St Nicholas.

Particularly attractive is the concert on the 29th of June when one of the country’s foremost piano accompanists Audrey Hyland is in residence with Songsmiths, an itinerant group, or pool of well thought of singers she formed in 2012.

With her at Bradfield will be Elizabeth Watts, a soprano who needs no introduction to Sheffield audiences; Nicky Spence, one of the country’s brightest young tenor talents; and Christopher Ainslie, a South African-born countertenor rapidly making a name for himself.

Songsmiths is not dissimilar to Graham Johnson’s highly successful Songmakers’ Almanac, created some 35 years earlier to explore neglected piano-accompanied song repertoire, often with themed programmes and also featured the spoken word.

The aim of the newer group is, to quote: “to connect songs in varied languages and styles to unite the world of song through a common theme, story and emotional journey.”

In the process, neglected parts of the song repertoire are also tapped, as happens at the Bradfield concert. On the other hand, a number of items are familiar among the 23 scheduled for an exploration of Secrets and Obsessions.

Although there is no mention of the spoken word, it should perhaps not be ruled out. It was fairly prominent in the group’s excellent White Camelia – The Story of a Courtesan at last year’s Buxton Festival, but with fewer songs.

Widely eclectic and stylistically diverse, a detailed description of each song being performed in Secrets and Obsessions would border on tedium so here they are with minimal comment.

Trust Her Not, a jolly duet by Michael Balfe to a Longfellow text; Purcell/ Tippett: Sweeter than Roses; Schubert: Gretchen am Spinnrade (Goethe’s ‘Faust’); Carl Loewe: his setting of Ach neige, du Schmerzenreiche, another ‘Gretchen’ text from Faust; Frank Bridge: Come to me in my dreams, a setting of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Longing’; Britten: Midnight on the Great Western (from Winter Words); Die Nacht, a Richard Strauss gem! Brahms: Da Unten im Tale, a German folk song duet; Schumann: Zweilicht (from Liederkreis Op 39); Hugo Wolf: Du denkst mit einem Fädchen (from the Italian Songbook); Britten: As it is, plenty (from On this Island).

At which point there is an interval, before carrying on with:

Heimliche Aufforderung, one of the four well-known songs, Op 27, Richard Strauss wrote as a wedding present to his wife; Mendelssohn: Hüt du dich, a popular text from ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn’; Britten: Lost is my quiet, a duet after Purcell; Japanese – anyone’s guess what this is! not so, Heiss mich nicht redden, also known as Mignon 1 and one of Hugo Wolf’s ‘Mignon’ settings from Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meister’; Kennst du das Land? the best known Mignon ‘song’ heard in Wolf’s setting of it; Reynaldo Hahn: Néère (from Études Latines); Granados: El majo discreto (from Tonadillas in an Old Style); Schubert: Der Doppelgänger (from Schwanengesang); Rodrigo: Adela (from Twelve Spanish Songs); Butterworth’s Is my team ploughing? (from A Shropshire Lad); and some Tom Lehrer: the anarchic Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.

 

Hail, Macbeth! – Mark 1!

You may well have encountered Verdi’s Macbeth, one of three opera in this year’s Buxton Festival, as it has been staged with increasing frequency since around the mid-1950s, but not in its original version premiered in Florence in 1847.

What you see and hear is the 1865 French version for Paris, translated into Italian!

The irony is that whereas Verdi’s first thoughts on his operatic re-working of Shakespeare’s play met with conspicuous success all over Italy, plus places like Vienna and Madrid, his French adaptation failed to stir even the pigeons on the Boulevard des Capucines!

It fared little better back in Italy as Verdi’s definitive version soon after and began drifting into obscurity.

What might be called ‘pure’ productions of the 1865 version since the opera began re-emerging in the mid-20th century have tended to be the exception rather than the rule.

Rarely, if ever seen is the act three ballet, while many productions are prone to borrowing from the 1847 original.

The most regularly lifted item is Macbeth’s short-ish aria at the end of the opera when, fatally wounded, he curses the prophecies of hell before expiring on stage – in the revision he is killed off-stage by Macduff with no curses heard.

Verdi engaged in a fairly hefty revision of the opera for Paris, nowhere more so than in the fourth and final act, which he revised from beginning to end, re-writing the whole of the big choral scene with which it opens

Although not as drastic, there are three other instances where the changes can be described as major, including the obligatory ballet scene for any opera staged in France at the time.

You do not hear Lady Macbeth’s celebrated La luce langue at the beginning of act two but the aria it replaced in 1865, a much more florid affair with some wicked coloratura.

Similarly, instead of the Macbeth/ Lady Macbeth duet that closed act three in Paris, Macbeth is heard in an aria after recovering from his second encounter with the witches resolving to pursue a further murderous path.

Revised version or original, the opera tends to be looked down on as inferior set against Verdi’s last two Shakespearean masterpieces, Otello and Falstaff. Greater works, yes, but that does not render Macbeth as second-rate by comparison.

It needs remembering that exactly 40 years elapsed between Macbeth in 1847 and Otello with, including revisions, 26 other operas separating them over which the composer was able to develop and refine his craft – you could almost say out of recognition!

It has been criticised for its fidelity to Shakespeare. In fact, it is as faithful as Boito’s librettos for Otello and Falstaff, it’s just that they are more polished. There are, though, the same imaginative cuts and compression of happenings in the play.

Verdi thought the world of Shakespeare and went to great pains to preserve the essence of ‘the Bard’ in his operas.

He didn’t just randomly turn the Three Witches into a chorus in Macbeth, he gave them three-part music to sing and divided them into three groups, each group singing as one and uttering ‘I’ not ‘we’.

This tragedy is one of the greatest creations of man… If we can’t make something great out of it let us at least try to do something out of the ordinary,” Verdi wrote to his librettist Piave.

It was enough to drive one crazy!” grumbled the first Lady Macbeth, the eminent soprano Marianna Barbieri-Nini in response to the amount time the composer spent coaching her on how to tackle the sleepwalking scene.

It was out the ordinary in its day (1847) with Verdi breaking new ground to portray dramatic reality and, approached on its own merits, original or revised version, Macbeth is a much better opera than it is often credited as being.

Buxton Festival’s staging of the original version in a production by Elijah Moshinsky, no less, and is conducted by festival artistic director Stephen Barlow with two of his favourite singers as the Macbeths, Stephen Gadd and Kate Ladner.

It receives five performances over the festival’s duration and is sung in Italian with English side-titles.

See Two Tyrants and a May Queen called Albert @ www.bernardleemusic.com for thoughts on the other two Buxton operas.

 

Two Tyrants and a May Queen called Albert!

Two tyrants and a ‘May Queen’ called Albert figure in three operas being staged at this year’s Buxton Festival, which has undergone a slight name change: Buxton International Festival, 7th to the 23rd of July.

All three are comparative rarities on the opera stage. In frequency terms, on a scale working down to zero, they are Britten’s Albert Herring, Mozart’s Lucio Silla and Verdi’s Macbeth.

Hold on, you exclaim! The Verdi opera is regularly encountered!

Not this one! – see Hail, Macbeth! – Mark 1! @ www.bernardleemusic.com

Although the Mozart and Britten operas have been gaining performance currency in recent years, especially the latter, there is little danger of either trickle developing into a deluge!

Penned by the 16-year-old Mozart, Lucio Silla is an opera seria with a veritable procession of florid, virtuoso arias and lasts a heck of a long time in its entirety. The premiere in 1772 apparently lasted around seven hours, although it was swelled with non-Mozart ballet scenes!

When it is performed, it is invariably cut. Buxton Festival’s outing, a co-production with the renowned English Concert, will probably run upwards of three hours with an interval.

So what is usually reckoned as Mozart’s ‘coming of age opera’ all about? Well you may ask!

Silla rules ancient Rome as a dictator and is in love with Giunia. He spends most of his time working out to force her to marry him. Giunia is betrothed to the banished senator Cecilio and they mostly pine for each other while venting hate for Silla.

Silla’s sister, Celia, shares a reciprocal love with Cecilio’s friend and ally Cinna who resolves to assassinate Silla. When he confesses his intended plan at the end, Silla’s response is to offer Cinna the hand of Celia in marriage after reconciling Giunia and Cecilio.

Confused? It is!

After spending more than seven-eighths of the proceedings in tyrant-mode, Silla miraculously transforms into a good guy without warning and abdicates in the process!

Tenor Joshua Ellicott takes the title role in what looks a strongly cast Buxton production which gets four performances during the festival and is sung in Italian with English side titles.

Except for Ben Thapa (another tenor) in a small role, everyone else is a soprano: respectively, Rebecca Bottone and Fflur Wyn as Giunia and Celia, with Madeleine Pierard and Karolína Plicková in ‘trouser’ parts, Cecilio and Cinna – an alleged castrato at the opera’s premiere!

The more densely cast Albert Herring has a number of well-known names in its ranks, including Yvonne Howard, Heather Shipp (who has a recital in the festival), Mary Hegarty and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, a fine tenor how seemingly plying his trade in character parts.

Because village elders cannot find a suitable May Queen, they decide to have a May King. The greengrocer’s timid son Albert Herring (Bradley Smith) is declared entirely fitting, although not exactly ecstatic when told.

At the crowning, his lemonade is laced with rum. Asked to make a speech, he is tongue-tied, drains his lemonade glass, followed by a fit of hiccups and manages to get out ‘hip, hip, hurrah!’

Later, fed up with being under his mother’s thumb and a figure of ridicule, he takes his ‘monarch’s’ prize money and vanishes into the night.

Returning next day during a search for him, he thanks the fuming elders for financing his drunken night out, and tells Mrs Herring where to get off!

Completed a century after Macbeth, in 1947, Eric Crozier’s libretto was based on a Maupassant novella transplanted in England and is in keeping with of one Britten’s trademark character themes, that of society’s reaction to an odd person out.

Unlike Peter Grimes, Owen Wingrave and others, though, this examination is from a humorous and generally cheerful standpoint, lengthy laments for the missing Albert aside!