Tullio Serafin and the Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus- La Traviata

Happy Boxing Day.  This was $2.  I got is because at the time I knew La Traviata was first on the schedule to be performed this year at The Houston Grand Opera.  I thought it my be a good idea to listen to a few highlights before seeing this work.  I also thought it would make for a good commentary as well after seeing it. As a side note, as I have been writing most of the posts for the second half of 2017 way ahead of schedule, I am writing this one on Christmas.

Hurricane Harvey left many things in town in disarray, and the Wortham Theater, home to the HGO was unfortunately not spared. Although props, stages, and costumes had been saved, the lower levels of the Theater flooded and repairs are not due to finish until the end of the season.  But being the ever so resourceful people we Houstonians are, the 2017-18 season moved to a make-shift venue, the HGO Resilience Theater at George R Brown Convention Center.  Don’t get me wrong.  I totally applaud the tremendous effort that went into finding a quick temporary solution and I am glad that the shows are going on as scheduled.  The seats, however, are pretty rough.  It is a bit uncomfortable to sit for 3+ hours.  I also thought there could be more signage as it took me a while to find the entrance to my event at the convention center.  Finally, there is not real clear area to enjoy a smoke whereas the Wortham Center had the lovely gazebo.  That being said, again, I applaud HGO for keeping the season alive. 

That brings us to this work, Verdi’s La Traviata or “The Fallen Women”.  Based on a novel by Andre Dumas, this opera tells the story of a French Courtesean who struggle with the pressure from her lover’s family as well as illness.  It was first performed in 1853.  Verdi at the time, was living with a woman out of wedlock which may have influenced some of the direction of the work. The first  audience was a bit less than positive (although I believe this was more a function of the singers rather than the work), but over time, this has grown to be one of the major and most popular works of opera.

As with many operas, I compared my thoughts with my buddy Scott, who used to sing in the chorus of the HGO.  He felt the story was lacking.  I thought contrary (although I did find it odd that after telling her boyfriends father that she was dying, the father says that she is young and can find a new boyfriend.  Did I stutter?  What part of me dying did you not understand?)Likewise, he enjoyed the ending where I felt it was a bit flat.  Overall, I really liked the production , which was done in a style of the period.  I should probably also mention that I also really enjoyed Handel’s Julius Caesar, which had a more contemporary staging and was my first opera with counter-tenors.

There are a good number of musical highlights, as noted on this album.  Perhaps the most popular song (or at least most recognizable) is “Libiamo” (The Drinking Song” which has been used on commercials and movies for some time. 

It is presented on this album along with other highlights from the Rome Opera House under the Italian conductor Tullio Serafin (1878-1968).  The lead role of Violetta is handled by Spanish soprano Victoria De Los Angeles (1923-2005).  The role of her lover Alfredo is done by tenor Carlo Del Monte.  Finally the role of Alfredo’s father is performed by baritone Mario Sereni.  Apparently, this has been a popular opera to record as well as there are quite a few recordings over time.  This one, by Angel Records appears to have come out in 1956.

As stated above, I did quite enjoy this opera and it probably helped that I listened to this album beforehand (which I also did enjoy).  I had a few ideas about the sample, but ultimatley went with “Imponete”, a duet from Act Two between Germont (Alfredo’s father) and Violetta.  In this moment, Germont is begging Violetta to leave his son alone as he worries that her standing as a courtesean will prevent any decent man from marrying his daughter. It was a pretty good part of the opera and made for a good part of this album.

Satisfactory.   Looking forward to more of the works this year from the HGO.

Werner Muller and his Orchestra- Germany

This was $2 and purchased with the slew of other German records in accordance with the upcoming Oktoberfest celebrations.  Well maybe not so upcoming now, but at the time of writing and purchasing, yes.

This is a very interesting album brought to you by those fine folks at London Records.  Mixed in recorded in phase 4 stereo, this album is a smorgasbord (yes I know this is a Swedish term) of German music.  from Wagner to Weill, from marches and polkas to schlager and night club ballads, this record has a piece of everything.  The exact kind of thing this blog encourages.  Conducted by Berlin born, Werner Muller (1920-1998), this was released in 1965.

Muller’s Space Age Pop page

For a sample, I was drawn to Wagner’s “Ride of The Valkyries”, partly due to the fact that I mentioned it in an earlier post this week, but mainly in tribute to Bugs Bunny as well as that beacon of tolerance, Elmer Fudd.

Good album.  Satisfactory.

Fritz Reiner- Die Walkure Act II

This was $2.50. I meant to tie it to the Ring Cycle I saw at the Houston Grand Opera.  Over the last four years, the HGO has put all four operas the consist of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.  I am not sure I totally picked up on the cycle aspect of this when I saw the first opera.  However, by the end, I was more clear to me.  It was a pretty big production for the HGO and my experiences at the operas  have been documented on this blog.

Well, despite the fourth, Gotterdammerung, being my favorite, the second, Die Valkure is perhaps the best known.  It tells the story of the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde who give birth to the hero of the cycle, Siegfried.  At the same time, it shows the exile of Brunnhilde, who is later rescued by Siegfried who also falls in love with her despite technically being his aunt.  This fact never seems to escape me.  Wagner wrote these operas in reverse order but so he would have written this third.

For not being an expert on Wagner or opera, where you might ask, is the basis for the claim that Die Walkure is the best known of the cycle?  I am basing this on the strength of “The Flight Of the Valkeries” perhaps the most famous piece not only of this cycle but in all of opera.  Most people either know this from Bugs Bunny or Apocayplse Now. I also did not put two and two together but it was also used quite cleverly in The Blues Brothers. Note both clips have profanity as well as a disregard for proper physics.

 

Well, here is this piece from 1936 and conducted by Fritz Reiner.  Reiner was a Hungarian Jew who moved to the US in 1922.  He would reach the height of his career as the conductor for the Chicago Symphony orchestra in the 1950’s/60’s. At the time of his death (1963 at age 74), he was preparing the Met’s version of Gotterdamerung.

Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962), who plays Brunnhulde, was a Norwegian opera singer who ranks among the best voices in the 20th century.  Her performance as Isolde in Tristan und Isolde has become the stuff of legend.

Lotte Lehman (1888-1976) also appears on this record in the role of Sieglinde which is considered among her defining roles. She left her native Germany in the 30’s to emigrate to the US due to the fact that her step-children were Jewish.

 

The role of Wotan was handled by Friderich Schorr, an Austrian-Hungarian bass-baritone of Jewish decent, who became the Wagnerian bass-baritone of his generation. I point out the Jewish back grounds of these performers as a testament to the human spirit as at the same time of this recording while the Nazis were on the rise and Hitler was pushing the works and ideals of Wagner, the three of  best Wagnerian performers at the time (and of the century for that matter) were of had Jewish ties. Flagstad, on the other hand was widely criticized for returning to occupied Norway during the war years.

This album is the second Act which is noted for its prelude, a monolgue by Wotan, and Brunnhilde’s announcement of Siegmund’s death.  For sample, I went with that prologue followed by Wotan speaking with Brunnhilde and instructing her to protect Siegmund.  This piece does reference “Ride” pretty heavily.

Pretty good album.  Since it was three years since I seen this, I forgot a lot of the aspects about this work.  Overall, satisfactory.

Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Pro Arte Orchestra- Gilbert & Sullivan- The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, and Patter Songs

This fine old collection was $5.  I bought it way, way right before I started writing this blog.  Yet, I still remember the cashier remarking how it reminded him of Raiders of The Lost Ark and the Indiana Jones franchise, as the minor character of Sallah, played by John Rhys- Davies, is fond of singing Gilbert & Sullivan numbers.  I found it a bit odd not only that the young tattooed clerk could connect this but could connect lines to HMS Pinafore.

On that note, a month back (or longer depending on when you read this), I attended The Houston Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of The Gondoliers.  I felt the production was quite good and very entertaining but as I went to the Sunday matinee, I was quite concerned that the audience was mostly over 85 and thought that perhaps appreciation for G&S was dying.  A friend of mine pointed out that Sunday matinees are mostly older crowds and the G&S are not going anywhere.

So then there is this record conducted by esteemed British conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967) who participated in his first G&S production at age 10.  He conducts the Pro Arte Orchestra with assorted soloists and the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus.  I am not sure when this came out other than after Sargent’s passing but it seems to be a collection earlier recorded works, most notably two of G&S’s most famous works, The Mikado and HMS Pinafore.

So to start off with samples, from the Mikado, I went with my favorite song from this piece (which is never on any of the albums I buy), “The Sun Whose Rays…”.  It is sung my Elise Morrison.  From the HMS Pinafore, I went with “I Am The Monarch Of The Sea…. When I Was A Lad”, sung by George Baker.

In terms of the patter songs, I wanted to use a number from “The Gondoliers” to tie it in to  the story above but I felt the album should have put different numbers.  There are a couple good patter songs that involve the Gondoliers and their wives which I felt could have been used on this.  Oh well, In their place, here is “In Enterprise Of Martial Kind”, sung by Geraint Evans with the chorus.

I really wanted to post “My Eyes Are Fully Open” from Ruddigore, but I felt this version was to tepid and slow.  And for the most part, that is my criticism of this collection.  The patter songs as well as G&S’s catalog really works when done in rapid fire.  All the songs really could have used a but more speed.  So meh.  Sorry.

Mirella Freni- Airias

This was $1.  Two opera albums in one month.  I got this recently but unsure what drove the purchase other than price. Probably the inclusion of the piece from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro which I saw at the HGO if not this season, then last season .  Pretty good production that was.  Set in a 1970’s villa in the country side.

Mirella Freni, born in Modena, Italy in 1935, is a operatic soprano who made her debut in 1955 in Carmen.  She has performed various works of Verdi, Puccini, and Mozart as well as performed on the biggest stages including the Royal Opera House and the Met.  She also starred in the 1975 film version of Madame Butterfly.  She is still alive today but ended her career in 2005.

This is a collection of some of the arias from some of the famous works: Puccini’s Tosca, Verdi’s La Traviata, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro among others.  .  This is technically, quite good.  Freni is a wonderful singer and deserves more of a write up than this but some where along the way this week, I lost my appetite for writing this post, no slant against the artist.  This one is on me.  Also does not help that my mouse is on the fritz.

So I went with the aria from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, “Un Bel di Vedremo” as this seems to be the big work she seems to be associated with. For today’s output, I am going top let the music speak for itself.

Technically difficulties and poor attitude aside, this is a pretty good little album. Satisfactory,

Radioteleviziunea Română Orchestra de Studio- Rascoala

I am not sure what drew me to buy a Romanian opera record when I bought this.  Maybe it was the cover.  Maybe I was on an Opera kick, probably still riding the high of finishing off the 2017 Opera season at the HGO.  Either way, I bought this for $2.40 with discount.

I think part of the thought process of buying this involved taking it to my pal Scott, who used to sing in the chorus for the HGO and getting his thoughts on the album.  However, since taking over Dan Electo’s Guitar Bar and working the booking, plus the fact that I no longer really drink anymore, our schedules are mostly apart and I hardly get a chance to see him anymore.  That being said. if you are in Houston and are looking for music, might I suggest Dan Electros.  I thought about it a bit and thus, would compare the place to my blog, except the music is good ( I make no such guarantees for the records on this blog) and much more timely . They book a real diverse lineup of music and musicians.  Also, they have open mic nights which I participate in time to time.

Link to Dan Electro’s Home Page

Anyway, back to this. From what I am guessing, this is an opera based on the Romanian Peasant Rebellion of 1907. The Rebellion, lambasted by inequalities between landowners and the serf-class, was brought on when a local overseer(or lessor) of a wealthy property which owned 75% of arable land cut back work for the peasants The thought of no work which meant now food sparked a rebellion that started in Moldavia and spread thru the country, destroying property and killing or wounding lessors.  The event led to the overthrow of the ruling conservative parties and a more liberal government.

The history of Peasant rebellions, though, is largely a one sided affair with notable victories generally falling early in history and largely in East Asia.  In this case, the new liberal government called up the army to suppress the peasants and suppress they did.  Although official government figures are 400 casualties, most historians agree the number was more like 11,000 with 10,000 more arrested.  The army for its part, suffered a loss of 10. The government enacted new laws to help the peasants but none of them really effected the landowners so I believe they were mostly useless.  According to the Romanian Wikipage on this, this revolt tarnished Romania’s world reputation as a quiet peaceful nation at the time, although I can’t imagine many people on this side of the globe losing sleep over it.  The rebellion was a subject though of Romanian’s during the inter-war years with books and pieces of art, most notably the book Rascoala (1932) by Livio Rebreanu and the painting, The Uprising,  on the cover of this album by Octav Bancila, which I believe was banned for a period.  It was a series of 12.  Bancila also spent notable time looking for evidence that dispute the government tally of peasant deaths. Finally, there is a statue in Budapest to commemorate the event.

I am not 100% sure what this is or when it was written.  I believe it was written by Gheorge Dumitrescu (1901-1985) , a writer who worked on various mediums.  I am not sure what year this was written, perhaps 1959?  I believe he adapted the opera from Rebreanu’s work.  This work is performed by what I believe is the Radio/ Television Orchestra with the Studio Choir under the conduction of Carol Litvin.  Featured performers include Valentin Loghin, Silvia Voinea, and Cornel Rusu.  Again, I bevel this came out in 1977. (FACT CHECK- 1-Dumitrescu was in fact a composer with much work to his credit  2- This indeed came out in 1959).

I could not find much else out about the work but I found the music extremely interesting both in composition and execution.  I believe these are excerpts from the larger work.  I believe that Scott would judge this to be a good record.  A lot of chorus on it so its got that going for it. For samples, I decided to go with “Tabloul 2-Revelion” which to me sounds like a rural song of peasants gathering.  I also went with the last number “Tabloul 6 -Pirjolul” which Google translates into Pirates.  I am not sure how this song relates to the works but there are a lot of shrieking lines and the drum rolls sound like guns and cannons.

Nice little pick up for the price and really good music.  Satisfactory.