Remembering Teresa Berganza

Teresa Berganza, the legendary Spanish mezzo-soprano, passed away in Madrid on May 13. She was 89. Berganza was especially celebrated for roles in the operas of Rossini and Mozart, as well as the title role in Bizet’s Carmen. (The conductor, Herbert von Karajan, declared her to be “the Carmen of the century.”) She joined Plácido Domingo in a highly acclaimed 1977 Edinburgh Festival production of the opera, conducted by Claudio Abbado. Berganza recalled later that “Carmen …

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Rossini’s “La Cenerentola”: Two Enchanting Excerpts from the Final Act

Gioachino Rossini’s touching 1817 comic opera, La Cenerentola, retells the popular Cinderella fairy tale with a few wrinkles: The glass slipper is replaced with a bracelet, the wicked stepmother is, instead, a stepfather named Don Magnifico, the Fairy Godmother is replaced by the philosopher, Alidoro, and there is no magic pumpkin. Questo e un nodo avviluppato One of the opera’s most dramatic moments occurs in the second (and final) act when the Prince (Don …

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Paganini Meets Rossini: “I Palpiti”

If the Top 40 popular song charts had existed in the early nineteenth century, they would have been dominated by the melodies of opera composers such as Gioachino Rossini. Today, popular music is distributed through recordings. In the nineteenth century, music distribution came in the form of arrangements and adaptations. Rock star virtuosos such as Niccolò Paganini and Franz Liszt drew on these melodies in the form of paraphrases. Paganini’s Variations on I …

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Rossini’s William Tell Overture: Toscanini and the NBC Symphony

Guillaume Tell, which premiered in 1829, was the last of Gioachino Rossini’s 39 operas. Its four acts tell the story of the revolutionary folk hero William Tell who, with the expert use of his bow and arrow, launched the struggle for Swiss independence from Austria. Donizetti once proclaimed that the opera’s second act was so sublime that it had been composed not by Rossini but by God. The complete opera is rarely performed now. …

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New Release: Rossini’s “Semiramide,” Sir Mark Elder and Opera Rara

“Rossini’s music is primarily rhythmic,” says British conductor Sir Mark Elder. “It bubbles. Even in the saddest music, there is a sense of bubbling going along underneath.” According to Elder, control of the tempo is more important than the tempo, itself. It is a sense of collective precision that keeps the audience “leaning forward.”  Sir Mark Elder and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment put these concepts to work in a new studio recording of Rossini’s Semiramide. Based …

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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 attributed to the English composer and organ-builder John Bull in 1619. Here are ten of the most …

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Remembering Sir Neville Marriner

Every great conductor started out as an accomplished instrumentalist. Look at the biography of Sir Neville Marriner, who passed away yesterday at the age of 92, and you’ll be reminded of this truism. In the 1950s, Marriner performed as a violinist in two celebrated orchestras: the Philharmonia and the London Symphony. For 13 years, he served as second violinist of the Martin String Quartet. He first picked up a baton around age 40. …

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