Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sunday Classics Preview: More on our Mozart overtures, as we prepare to focus on Abduction from the Seraglio and Don Giovanni


Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto sings Leporello's curtain-raising "Notte e giorno faticar" from Don Giovanni (you'll find a translation of the aria text below) at the Met in 2000. The clip continues into the hell that breaks loose then, interrupting Leporello's whinings -- Donna Anna (Renée Fleming) pursuing a mystery intruder she doesn't yet know is Don Giovanni (Bryn Terfel), then her father the Commendatore (Sergei Koptchak) taking up the pursuit, challenging the intruder to a duel, which the Don tries every which way to avoid, but the old man won't let him go and winds up getting killed. This is the whirlwind of activity I so studiously avoided in our audio clips below. Oh well.

by Ken

We're still concerned with what's wrong with three of the four Mozart overtures we heard last night. What we're going to do tonight is get the curtain up on all four operas. In the process, in order to get us moving toward tomorrow's business (this is supposed to be a preview, after all), I'm going to own up that the two pieces we're interested in this week are last night's A and B.

When the curtain rises on A and B, we meet a character alone, musing on his circumstances as he awaits further developments, though the developments they're awaiting are pretty different, and what actually happens is even more different.

[A] MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), K. 384: Overture and "Hier soll ich dich sehen"
BELMONTE: Here then am I to see you,
Constanze -- you, my happiness?
Let Heaven make it happen!
Give me my peace back!
I suffered sorrows,
o Love, all too many of them.
Grant me now in their place joys
and bring me toward the goal.

Fritz Wunderlich (t), Belmonte; Bavarian State Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1965

Kurt Streit (t), Belmonte; Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Weil, cond. Sony, recorded Apr. 2-10, 1991

For an opera that seems to want to be a simple "rescue" comedy, Abduction throws up endless obstacles to its performers, making a really all-around first-rate performance a virtual impossibility. The conductor's task in making all this music "play" both musically and dramatically is almost unimaginably difficult, which is why I'm in something like awe of the jobs done in these recordings by Eugen Jochum and Bruno Weil. The Jochum Abduction also has the stupendous plus of Fritz Wunderlich's Belmonte, the last role he recorded before his tragically untimely death in 1966. (We heard Wunderlich recently singing songs from Schumann's Dichterliebe (Poet's Love), and before that singing Nicolai's "Hark, the lark" setting from The Merry Wives of Windsor in our piece on musical larks.

There's a real danger that Belmonte shrinks into a mooning whiner, in which case the opera dies, kaput. Amazingly, the American tenor Kurt Streit holds his own against the ferocious competition of Wunderlich. If you put the DG and Sony recordings together, you'd have . . . well, not quite complete coverage, because you would still need a first-class Osmin. I warned you this wasn't easy.

MOZART: Don Giovanni, K. 527: Overture and "Notte e giorno faticar"
LEPORELLO: Toiling night and day,
Working for someone who can't be satisfied.
Putting up with rain and wind,
Eating badly and sleeping badly.
I want to play the gentleman,
And I don't want to be a servant anymore.
Ah, what a dear gallant man!
He wants to be inside with a beauty
And I play sentinel!

But it seems to me . . . someone's coming;
I don't want to be seen.

Fernando Corena (bs), Leporello; Vienna Philharmonic, Josef Krips, cond. Decca, recorded June 1955

José van Dam (bs-b), Leporello; Paris Opera Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded June 22-July 6, 1978

Don Giovanni makes extreme performance demands too, especially whey you consider the number of principal roles, each of which can have a strong positive or negative impact on a performance at certain points. But it still seems to me more forgiving of imperfections than Abduction. These, though, are overall my No. 1 and No. 2 favorite recordings. (By the way, I have a couple of extra copies of the widely underappreciated Maazel/Sony recording, which I bought when I saw them at such an insultingly low price that I couldn't just leave them there. At some point these are apt to become prizes or premiums or something.)

You'll notice that our two Don Giovanni performances don't end identically. That's because I've done the editing out of the rest of the CD track myself, and done it slightly differently. Leporello's musings don't come to a full stop. They are, instead, interrupted by developments of a most dramatic character -- not the developments he was awaiting, but then, with his master, he's learned not to be too surprised by anything that develops. It would be fair to say that all hell breaks loose, but in the first version, I cut off before you can really hear the musical build-up -- it seemed ungracious to tease you. However, in the second, we continue almost to the entrance of the first agitated voice.

(I would love to have allowed the track run to its conclusion. It's amazing how much happens in those next few minutes. But all of that would be (mostly) extraneous to our immediate purposes, and then there would be the problem of providing texts. Rest assured that at some point we will come back to this scene.)


Since we're not doing anything more with these works just now, we can afford to leave them mysterious. The goal for tonight, as noted above, is just to get the curtain up in each case. This is not to say that there might not be another trick introduced here, possibly even unrelated to last night's trick(s). Of course people who've hung around here before shouldn't need the warning; they're used to tricks. But for the benefit of always-welcome newcomers, I thought I'd say something.




You already know we're going to be concerned with Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio and Don Giovanni, with explanatory detours through Gilbert and Sullivan's Gondoliers (the king, "in the wonder-working days of old,/When hearts were twice as good as gold,/And twenty times as mellow," of whom the Grand Inquisitor recalls: "Good temper triumphed in his face,/And in his heart he found a place/For all the erring human race/And every wretched fellow") and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Anna Leonowens whistling a happy tune in The King and I.


I was going to leave this for tomorrow, but really only some of this object lesson taught by the Grand Inquisitor, Don Alhambra del Bolero -- the part about the king who "in his heart found a place for all the erring human race, and every wretched fellow" -- is pertinent to our subject, and it occurred to me that this is what a preview ought to be for.

We can't go too deeply here into the plot of The Gondoliers. At this point in Act II we're in the island kingdom of Barataria, where the Grand Inquisitor has arranged for the young men brought up to believe that they are brothers Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri, jolly and steadfastly egalitarian Venetian gondoliers, to rule jointly until it can be sorted out which is the secretly-stolen-away-in-infancy heir to the throne. The poor Inquisitor has frequently to deal with the obstacle of the boys' unfortunate egalitarianism.

Act II, "There lived a king, as I've been told"

There lived a king, as I've been told,
In the wonder-working days of old,
When hearts were twice as good as gold,
And twenty times as mellow.
Good temper triumphed in his face,
And in his heart he found a place
For all the erring human race
And every wretched fellow.
When he had Rhenish wine to drink
It made him very sad to think
That some, at junket or at jink,
Must be content with toddy.
With toddy, must be content with toddy.
He wished all men as rich as he
(And he was rich as rich could be),
So to the top of every tree
Promoted everybody.
Now, that's the kind of king for me.
He wished all men as rich as he,
So to the top of every tree
Promoted everybody!
Lord chancellors were cheap as sprats,
And bishops in their shovel hats
Were plentiful as tabby cats--
In point of fact, too many.
Ambassadors cropped up like hay,
Prime ministers and such as they
Grew like asparagus in May,
And dukes were three a penny.
On every side field marshals gleamed,
Small beer were lords-lieutenant deemed,
With admirals the ocean teemed
All round his wide dominions.
All round his wide dominions.
And party leaders you might meet
In twos and threes in every street
Maintaining, with no little heat,
Their various opinions.
Now that's a sight you couldn't beat--
Two party leaders in each street
Maintaining, with no little heat,
Their various opinions.
That king, although no one denies
His heart was of abnormal size,
Yet he'd have acted otherwise
If he had been acuter.
The end is easily foretold,
When every blessed thing you hold
Is made of silver, or of gold,
You long for simple pewter.
When you have nothing else to wear
But cloth of gold and satins rare,
For cloth of gold you cease to care--
Up goes the price of shoddy.
Up goes the price of shoddy.
In short, whoever you may be,
To this conclusion you'll agree,
When every one is somebodee,
Then no one's anybody!
Now that's as plain as plain can be,
To this conclusion we agree--
When every one is somebodee,
Then no one's anybody!

Kenneth Sandford (b), Don Alhambra; Thomas Round (t), Marco Palmieri; Alan Styler (b), Giuseppe Palmieri; New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded c1960

Owen Brannigan (bs), Don Alhambra del Bolero; Richard Lewis (t), Marco Palmieri; John Cameron (b), Giuseppe Palmieri; Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded c1957


Here's the plan for tomorrow. I'm going to add updates to both last night's and tonight's posts with full credits for the unidentified musical selections by the time the Sunday Classics post goes up (10am PT, 1pm ET). At the same time I'll try to clear up the remaining mysteries.)
update for SATURDAY


First, here are the missing credits for today's raised-curtain versions of Overtures C and D.

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Overture and Act I opening trio, "La mia Dorabella capace non è"
[in German] Rudolf Schock (t), Ferrando; Horst Günter (b), Guglielmo; Walter Berry (bs-b), Don Alfonso; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. Broadcast performance, February 1957

HAYDN: L'Incontro improvviso (The Unexpected Encounter): Overture and opening ensemble, "Che bevanda, che liquore" ("What beverages! What spirits!")
Benjamin Luxon (b), the Calender; James Hooper (bs), Jonathan Prescott (bs), and Nicolas Scarpinati (bs), subaltern dervishes; Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, Antal Dorati, cond. Philips/Decca, recorded June 1979)

I trust I don't have to explain that what was "wrong" with our Mozart Overture D is that it's not by Mozart but by Haydn, his L'Incontro improvviso (The Unexpected Encounter) of 1775, sort of his counterpart to Mozart's Abduction (written some seven years later) as a Turkish-themed opera with an abduction plot.

Not that there's anything wrong with being by Haydn -- it's only wrong for a "Mozart overture," as I claimed it to be. While I don't expect that Haydn's operas will ever break into the international repertory in a big way, they're hardly without interest, and I was delighted when Decca reissued the eight operas recorded by Philips (in association with Radio Suisse Romande and the European Broadcasting Union) in 1976-80 in an inexpensive 20-CD box -- though without printed texts, of course, and these are pieces for which music-lovers are unlikely to have or have ready access to printed librettos, except for those of us who have the LPs. (Of course it does mean that I can't get rid of the LPs!)

And I trust you already noticed what was wrong with Overtures A and B as presented Friday night: They came to full stops, thanks to concert endings not present in the actual operatic versions. As we heard yesterday, both of these overtures lead without pause into opening arias. (Even here, though, there was a slight difference between A and B. Mozart himself wrote a concert ending for the Don Giovanni Overture. The Abduction Overture has a concert ending by Johann André.

By process of elimination, the overture with which there was nothing whatever wrong Friday night was C, that for Così fan tutte, which we heard from my favorite recording of the opera, in which the usually wonderful Eugen Jochum got the best work imaginable from a spotty-looking cast, which included both of Germany's ranking baritone superhams, Hermann Prey (as Guglielmo) and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (as Don Alfonso). I've been going on about this performance for so long that I was actually nervous when I acquired the CD edition. But not to worry, it sounds better than ever.

Now I may have introduced a note of confusion with the expanded version of C above, in that the opening trio as heard here is in German rather than the original trio. The choice of performance nevertheless seemed utterly logical, being an earlier Bavarian Radio broadcast conducted by none other than Eugen Jochum! And I think the roots of the glorious 1962 recording are clearly evident. Of course for the DG recording Jochum had the services of the Berlin Philharmonic, and while that wasn't necessarily the enormous advantage that it might seem, since the Berlin Phil -- unlike, say, the Vienna Phil -- is not an opera orchestra, and can't have played Così much if ever, Jochum had the knack of drawing its characteristic best out of whatever orchestra he happened to be conducting.


The current list is here.

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At 6:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree regarding 'Così Fan Tutte Eugen' conducted by Jochum on DG (but would not Frank Fricsay be better - he is the absolute Master of the DG 50's Mozart opera recording!)
Would you know or have the original cover of the CFT on the original DG vinal record? I can not find it anywhere...
If you have it please send digital image to
- that would be a lovely gesture and I would very much appreciate it!


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