The Marriage of Figaro’s Act II Finale: Mozart’s Dramatic “Tour de Force”

In his book, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Charles Rosen points out the amazing compositional feat that occurs at the end of the second act of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Citing its length (four acts) and “moral gravity,” Rosen considers The Marriage of Figaro to be Mozart’s first great “fusion” of opera buffe (or comic opera) with the dramatic weight and sophistication of opera seria: Mozart’s ability to define character by purely musical means, to write for each of the three sopranos (the Countess, …

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Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” Overture: Toscanini and the NBC Symphony

The legendary Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini was born on this date in 1867. Over the course of a career spanning nearly six decades, Toscanini served as music director of La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He presided over the premieres of works including Puccini’s La bohème, La fanciulla del West, and Turandot, and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and First Essay for Orchestra.  Between 1937 and 1954, …

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Remembering Sanford Sylvan

The renowned American baritone Sanford Sylvan passed away suddenly last week. He was 65. Sylvan’s career on the opera stage included premieres of works by John Adams, Philip Glass, Peter Maxwell Davies and Christopher Rouse. He was the first to perform the role of Chou En-lai in Nixon in China (1987) and Leon Klinghoffer in The Death of Klinghoffer (1991). In addition, he premiered Adams’ haunting setting of Walt Whitman’s poem, The Wound Dresser. He was an …

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Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” Prelude: Currents in E-Flat Major

Das Rheingold, the first opera in Richard Wagner’s mythic Ring Cycle, begins as a distant, barely-audible rumble in the dark, murky depths of the orchestra. Entering one by one in cool, overlapping sonic currents, eight horns announce the Ring‘s expansive, rising “nature” motive. It’s a gradual, primal awakening- 136 bars and over four minutes of pure, unending E-flat major. We’re forced to confront the power and majesty of the basic, fundamental elements of …

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Wagner’s “Die Walküre”: Magic Fire Music

At the end of the third and final act of Wagner’s Die Walküre, Wotan bids farewell to Brünnhilde, sending her into an enchanted sleep. Loge, the Norse god of fire, creates a protective circle of fire around the rock where she lies. Only the bravest of heroes will be able to penetrate the fire. At the opera’s 1870 premiere in Munich, the special effect of the flames terrified the audience. From the beginning of this …

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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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Wagnerian Brawn: “Siegfried’s Forging Song”

In celebration of Labor Day, here is one of opera’s greatest displays of heroic physical labor and brawn. It’s “Siegfried’s Forging Song,” which concludes the first act of Wagner’s Siegfried, the third music drama in the Ring Cycle. Disgusted with the dwarf Mime’s lack of progress in reforging the broken pieces of Nothung, the sword that will slay the dragon Fafner, Siegfried takes up the task himself. The music takes on a frightening, almost violent, …

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