Puccini’s Butterfly: Opera’s Most Tragic Mother?

Opera is full of deranged mothers. Consider The Queen of the Night from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. In this fiery aria (one of the most famous, and virtuosic in all of opera) she pays a terrifying visit to her daughter, Pamina. The vengeful Queen of the Night gives Pamina a dagger and vows to disown her if she fails to assassinate Sarastro. Or consider Bellini’s Norma who contemplates murdering her two children in their …

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A Brief Look Back at James Levine’s Tenure at the Met

Last week, the Metropolitan Opera announced that James Levine will be stepping down as music director after four decades and 2,551 performances. Levine, who is 72, has been battling Parkinson’s Disease along with other ailments. Levine, who became music director of the Met in 1976, has been credited with raising the level of the company. In this interview he reflects on some of his achievements. Recently, Alex Ross summed up Levine’s tenure …

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Hindemith’s “Flying Dutchman” Parody

If you’re a longtime Listeners’ Club reader, you know that I’m often playing opera this time of year. This month I’ve been staying busy with Virginia Opera’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.  The Flying Dutchman is the work of a young, 26-year-old Wagner. In many ways, it anticipates the more mature, leitmotif-laden Wagner operas which would follow. Wagner ultimately broke down the traditional “stop and start” recitative-aria structure that had previously been the structural …

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Beware the Ides of March: Musical Reflections on Julius Caesar

Beware the ides of March. -William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Tomorrow marks the “Ides of March,” the date when Julius Caesar was assassinated on the floor of the Roman Senate in 44 B.C. Dramatized by Shakespeare in 1599, Caesar’s stabbing coincided with Rome’s irreversible evolution from Republic to Empire. Let’s listen to two pieces which were inspired by the life and legend of Julius Caesar: Handel’s Julius Caesar Julius Caesar, George Frideric Handel’s 1724 …

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The 2016 Classical Grammys

Here is an overview of the 2016 Grammy Awards in the classical categories, announced earlier this week. The list is dominated by twentieth century music, both familiar and obscure. Several of the albums are live concert recordings. Best Orchestral Performance This is Andris Nelsons’ inaugural recording as Music Director of the Boston Symphony. The album includes Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 (a work we discussed in this past Listeners’ Club post) and the haunting Passacaglia from Shostakovich’s opera, Lady …

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Nixon in China for Presidents’ Day

When you think of Presidents’ Day, what names first come to mind? …Washington? …Lincoln? Probably not Richard Nixon. But in John Adams’ 1987 opera Nixon in China, the 37th president becomes a mythic figure of Shakespearian proportion. The three act opera’s plot centers around Nixon’s historic 1972 diplomatic visit to China. In an interview with Edward Strickland shortly after Nixon in China‘s Houston premiere, John Adams said, …My Nixon is not the historical Richard …

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Happy Birthday, Plácido Domingo

A belated happy birthday to Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo who turned 75 yesterday. In recent years, Domingo has remained active. As his voice has aged, he has successfully transitioned into baritone roles. Additionally, he has branched out into conducting. He currently serves as general director of the Los Angeles Opera, a position he held previously with the Washington National Opera. He has released numerous popular albums. In this clip from the late 1980s, you can see …

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