A Vivaldi Snapshot

Let’s finish the week with a brief but alluring musical snapshot. This is the beautiful second movement (Andante) from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in F Major, RV 136, completed around 1730. It’s an excerpt from Vivaldi: Arie ritrovate, a 2008 album I featured in last Friday’s post. Violinist Stefano Montanari joins the Ravenna-based baroque orchestra, Accademia Bizantina, led by Ottavio Dantone. I love the way this music draws us in with a sense of majestic, flowing, inevitability. Its roving bass line …

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Picking up the Pieces of Vivaldi’s “Scanderbeg”

Rewind to the evening of June 22, 1718… Today marks the 300th anniversary of the re-opening of Florence’s Teatro della Pergola (pictured above). Still in use today, Italy’s oldest opera house saw the Italian premieres of most of Mozart’s operas,  Donizetti’s Parisina and Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, Verdi’s Macbeth, and Mascagni’s I Rantzau. Before opening to the public in 1718, the building was used as a court theater of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. The Teatro …

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Britten’s “Peter Grimes”: The Individual Against the Crowd

Benjamin Britten’s 1945 tragic opera, Peter Grimes, is a dark story of isolation and alienation- the solitary social outcast set against the collective insanity and “mob rule” of the crowd. For the composer, a homosexual, staunch pacifist, and conscientious objector during the Second World War, it was a subject very close to my heart — the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual. The …

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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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