Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger” Overture: Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

Tomorrow marks the 205th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner (1813-1883). In celebration, let’s listen to a classic recording of the Overture to Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. Die Meistersinger is one of Wagner’s later works, completed after Tristan and Isolde and between operas of the Ring Cycle. It’s something of an outlier in Wagner’s output- a comic love story in which no one dies and there are no …

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Five Excerpts from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”

Recently, I’ve been playing Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Virginia Opera. The dark plot of the tragic opera in three acts, first performed in Naples in 1835, lends itself to spectacular musical drama. The title character is coerced into an arranged marriage, although she loves another man. On her wedding night, she fatally stabs her husband and descends into insanity. All of this mayhem is set amid some of the most beautiful and memorable melodies …

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Mozart’s “Così fan Tutte” Overture Springs to Life

You know that I immerse myself in music, so to speak—that I think about it all day long—that I like experimenting—studying—reflecting. – Mozart in a letter to his father, Leopold dated July 31, 1778 In the nineteenth century, a myth developed surrounding Mozart’s compositional process. The popular romantic notion suggested that Mozart’s compositions were conceived instantly and effortlessly, arriving in the composer’s mind in completed form. In 1815, twenty-four years after the …

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Five Excerpts from Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”

The premiere of the first version of Giuseppe Verdi’s three act opera, Simon Boccanegra, took place in Venice on this date (March 12) in 1857. At this first performance, the dark, historical drama, once described by the composer as “too sad and desolate,” was a flop. Verdi returned to the work over twenty years later with an 1881 revision that was more successful. This is the version that is most often heard today. It contains some …

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Walking in the Footsteps of Mahler with Three Historic Recordings

Today, we meet Mahler. More accurately, we take a walk in the composer’s footsteps, indirectly, through the historic recordings of two of his closest protégés, soprano Anna von Mildenburg and conductor Bruno Walter. One brief fragment from 1904 is the only existing document of the eminent Austrian Wagnerian soprano, Anna von Mildenburg (1872-1947), pictured above. At the age of 23, Mildenburg made her debut under Mahler’s baton at the Hamburg State Opera, singing the role …

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New Release: Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” in Strasbourg

Sixteen vocal soloists, three choirs, and perhaps the largest orchestra ever conceived for opera… These are the requirements for Les Troyens (“The Trojans”), Hector Berlioz’ massive 1858 French grand opera in five acts. Berlioz himself adapted the libretto from Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. He didn’t live to see the opera performed in its entirety. But he considered it to be his crowning achievement, writing in 1861, I am sure that I have written a great …

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Tchaikovsky, From Elation to Despair

Over the weekend, I found myself returning to Friday’s post to listen to Ja vas lyublyu, the famous aria from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s opera, The Queen of Spades. It occurred to me that the aria’s progression from soaring passion to gloomy despair is echoed throughout many of Tchaikovsky’s works. In many cases, this dichotomy of elation and despair relates to a reoccurring theme of doomed love. Besides The Queen of Spades, a dark, haunting tragedy based loosely on …

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