Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sunday Classics: Storms that set three great operatic scenes in motion (aka: Musical storms, part 3)


Presumably you can tell from the umbrellas that there's a storm a-brewing -- well, actually, a-happening. Act III of Kátya Kabanová at St. Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Theater, December 2010.

Vienna Philharmonic, Charles Mackerras, cond. Decca, recorded December 1976

Prague National Theater Orchestra, Jaroslav Krombholc, cond. Supraphon, recorded 1959 [audio link]
[Note: Suddenly I'm having trouble with this clip. It seems to play OK onsite via the audio link. Or not -- sigh, don't ask me.]

"Storms are punishment, sent to us
to make us realize the power of the Almighty!"

-- the merchant Dikoj, in Act III of Janáček's Kátya Kabanová

by Ken

No, we're not going to get to Kátya Kabanová until next week. As I've had to keep explaining, most recently in Friday night's preview, the musical materials for our series on musical storms keep pushing back and insisting on being handled their way. So next week we're going to finish up -- I'm pretty sure! (I think) -- with two storms that are crucial parts of the musico-dramatic structure of their operas, and tonight we'll take our time focusing on three storms that open, and set the musical and dramatic wheels in motion for, three great operatic scenes.

I've had to be ruthless here, because there's so much to say about -- and of course hear in -- these scenes that we could easily spend weeks on each of them. So I'm going to try to rule out all digressions from the three short excerpts, with two exceptions:

(1) I've reproduced the fullest possible version of the stage directions I could find, at least in the two cases where there are extensive stage directions, not because I think stage directors and designers should be obligated to faithfully reproduce them (I don't, not at all), but because they seem to me to teem with information and indications about what mattered to the composers and librettists -- one and the same person in the case of Wagner, of course -- and how they wanted to stimulate and steer their audiences' perceptions.

I have to say that as long and intimately as I've consorted with these scenes, there was a fair amount of detail here that I've never taken in. And certainly much more detail than audiences could be expected to absorb in the few minutes it takes for these act-openers to whiz by. Which is a reminder of how fastidiously musico-dramatic craftsmen at the highest levels imagine their creations. I'd like to think that this is one opportunity to give these musical scene-setters the rightful attention they can't get from theatrical spectators.

(2) This is kind of a corollary to the above: For all three of our scene-setting storms we're going to hear the music that most closely preceded them. As a matter of fact, in the case of Puccini's La Bohème, I stumbled across a large fact I had somehow never known: that the composer and his librettists, Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, apparently originally imagined an opera in five rather than four acts, with a middle act that Puccini never set.

The commentator from whom I learned this points out some factual references in what we know as Acts III and IV that refer back to facts from the never-set act, things that have never seemed to me to require explanation, but doesn't bother to note the most obvious reason the composer chose to jettison it: that the transformation from Act II to Act III as they were composed is one of the great dramatic coups in the theatrical literature. I think we'll get some sense of that transformation by butting the end of Act II up against the start of Act III.

(Okay, I've cheated. There will be another digression at the end, left over from work I had already done by the time I called a halt.)



Preview: Tonight's musical selections should give you a good idea of Sunday's subject (January 13)
The thunderstorm movement from Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and Otello's "Esultate" from Verdi's Otello
Stormy weather, part 1 (January 15)
Verdi's Otello, Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, and Berlioz's Les Troyens, plus Lena Horne singing "Stormy Weather"
Preview: Given the resources at his disposal, Vivaldi's musical storms may be the most remarkable of all (January 27)
The three storm movements from Vivaldi's Four Seasons
With the full symphony orchestra you can create a heckuva storm (aka: Musical storms, part 2) (January 29)
Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (again), Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite, Johann Strauss II's Amid Thunder and Lightning polka, Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony, Grieg's Peer Gynt incidental music, Britten's Peter Grimes, and Rossini's Barber of Seville
Preview: En route to more of our musical storms, we encounter perhaps the most eerily wonderful music I know (February 3)
The Preludes to Acts I and II of Wagner's Siegfried
Storms that set three great operatic scenes in motion (aka: Musical storms, part 3) (February 5)
The openings of Wagner's Die Walküre Act I and Siegfried Act III and of Act III of Puccini's La Bohème
Preview: En route to our final operatic storms, we hear two famous tenor tunes sung by a very famous tenor (February 24)
"La donna è mobile," the Quartet, and the Storm Scene from Act III of Rigoletto
Musical storms, part 4: We come to our raging storms from Janáček's Kátya Kabanová and Verdi's Rigoletto (February 26)
The storms from Act III of both operas, with a close-up look at how Verdi created the Rigoletto one -- plus the whole of Act III

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At 8:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Stormy weather seems like it's raining all the time since my man and I aren't together."


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