Béatrice et Bénédict: Berlioz’s Neglected Comedy

Béatrice et Bénédict, Hector Berlioz’s two act opéra comique adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, isn’t exactly a staple of the modern opera repertoire. It gets occasional performances, but is commonly overshadowed by more famous Shakespeare-based operas: Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, Otello, and Falstaff, and Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  But Béatrice et Bénédict was a smash hit when it premiered at the the Theater der Stadt in the German spa town of Baden-Baden on August 9, 1862. Berlioz referred to the …

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Remembering Tenor Jon Vickers

  The Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, who brought “a colossal voice and raw dramatic intensity” to some of opera’s most powerful roles, passed away on Friday following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88. After studying at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Vickers rose to prominence in the late 1950s and early 60s with appearances at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera. His recordings suggest that he had …

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Old American Songs

Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs are full of ghosts. The collection of folk melodies Copland arranged in the early 1950s, at the request of Benjamin Britten, evokes memories of, and nostalgia for, the distant past. It’s easy to get a similar feeling taking in the small slices of rural American landscape visible in brief glimpses from a moving car…an old dilapidated barn, a picturesque village church, the leafy solitude of an obscure roadside cemetery… The …

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The Salley Gardens

Benjamin Britten’s 1943 setting of the Irish folk song, The Salley Gardens seems to float in midair with a surreal, hypnotic beauty. An undercurrent of continuous eighth notes runs throughout the song, suggesting a static, dreamlike atmosphere…a sense of motion within timelessness. In the opening, haunting three-note fragments seem to be searching for a way forward. Listen to the way this piano line returns with interjections throughout the song. Also listen for the sudden …

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Friday Afternoons with Benjamin Britten

  Last Friday, children across the world came together to sing. Friday Afternoons, a global project designed to promote singing in schools, began in 2011 as part of celebrations of the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth. Last year, 67,000 students around the world participated in the live-streamed event, organized by Aldenburgh Music. In the early 1930s, Benjamin Britten wrote a collection of twelve songs called Friday Afternoons for students at the Clive House School in Prestatyn …

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Music Inspired by Shakespeare

Historians believe that today marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare. Throughout history, Shakespeare’s plays have been a rich source of inspiration for composers. A few months ago we heard Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet tone poem. Now let’s celebrate with some more music inspired by the Bard of Avon: Play, music! And you, brides and bridegrooms all,With measure heap’d in joy, to the measures fall. -As You Like It The man that …

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Four Sea Interludes

Today is the 100th birthday of twentieth century English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). Let’s celebrate by listening to Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from the opera, Peter Grimes. Played during scene changes, these interludes express the drama of the opera’s unsettling story. As you listen, consider the mood that Britten evokes and pay attention to the orchestration. You can read the synopsis of the entire opera here. Here is a recording of a live 1990 performance …

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