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New Release: Handel’s Rarely-Heard “Ottone”

Ottone, Handel’s 1723 tragic opera, tells the story of a bloody Roman coup and the marriage of the German emperor Otto II with the Byzantine princess Theophanu around the year 1000 AD. It was one of the composer’s most successful hits, coming at a time when Italian opera was wildly popular in London. Handel assembled a superstar […]

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“Francesca da Rimini”: Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Opera

On Wednesday, we heard Tchaikovsky’s thrilling 1876 orchestral tone poem, Francesca da Rimini. The composer was fascinated with the story from Dante’s Inferno, and first considered turning it into an opera. When that project failed to materialize, Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modest, persuaded him that the subject was ripe for a dramatic tone poem. Sergei Rachmaninov’s opera, Francesca da Rimini, set […]

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Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier."
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaTaken during the rehearsal on October 6, 2009 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

“Der Rosenkavalier,” Renée Fleming, and the Passing of Time

Time is a strange thing. While one is living one’s life away, it is absolutely nothing. Then, suddenly, one is aware of nothing else. It is all around us – inside us, even! It shifts in our faces, swirls in the mirror, flows in my temples. It courses between you and me – silent, as in […]

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The Power of Six Notes: Exploring the “Dresden Amen”

On Friday, we listened to a few excerpts from Wagner’s epic final opera, Parsifal. Today, let’s return to one of Parsifal‘s most powerful and persistently recurring leitmotifs: the majestic, ascending six-note motive known as the “Dresden Amen.” This liturgical chord sequence was written by Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741-1801) for use in Dresden’s court chapel some time in the late […]

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Wagner’s Parsifal: The “Good Friday Spell”

Heroic sacrifice, compassion, healing, and rebirth…these are central themes of Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal. Unfolding over nearly five hours, Parsifal was conceived as a solemn mystical experience- a Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”) blending Christian and Buddhist symbolism and Schopenhauerian philosophy. The story, based on a 13th-century epic verse by German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, depicts the Arthurian knight Parsifal’s quest for the Holy […]

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Puccini’s Turandot: Five Key Moments

In Wednesday’s post, we heard a few examples of Puccini’s flirtations with impressionism. Puccini’s final opera, Turandot is filled with colorful orchestration and adventurous harmony which evokes the exotic atmosphere of the mythic story: Princess Turandot, determined to never marry, takes revenge on her suitors through a series of riddles. Failure to answer correctly results in the suitor’s execution. Here […]

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Puccini the Impressionist

Longtime readers of The Listeners’ Club may recall that this is the time of year when the Richmond Symphony often travels throughout the state as the pit orchestra for Virginia Opera. This year, we’ve been playing Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. With lush, soaringly romantic melodies, Puccini’s operas are some of the most rewarding to play, from the perspective of a string […]

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The 2017 Classical Grammys

Here is an overview of last weekend’s 2017 Grammy Awards in the classical categories. From opera to chamber music, the list features a heavy dose of American contemporary music: Best Orchestral Performance This is the second installment in a series of live-concert Shostakovich recordings by Music Director Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony on the […]

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10 Musical Adaptations of “God Save the Queen”

On Monday, Britain celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Sapphire Jubilee, marking her 65 years on the throne. At 90, Her Majesty is the world’s longest-reigning monarch. The milestone reminded me of the nearly 140 composers who have created musical adaptations of God Save the Queen, an ancient melody that may have originated in plainchant long before it was […]

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Frigid Purcell and Lully: Two Chilly Scenes from Baroque Opera

Henry Purcell’s 1691 semi-opera, King Arthur, contains a shivering musical depiction of winter chill. The aria, What Power Art Thou comes from the fantastical “Frost Scene” in Act 3 in which Cupid awakens the “Cold Genius” (the Spirit of Winter) who, frozen stiff, would prefer to just go back to bed: What power art thou, who from below Hast […]

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