“Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March”: Klaus Tennstedt and the LPO, Live in 1988

The final act of Götterdämmerung (“Twilight of the Gods”), the last of the four operas that make up Wagner’s Ring Cycle, is about annihilation and renewal. The gods are brought down by their desire for absolute power. As Todd Sullivan writes in his program notes, The whole world of the gods crumbles in Act III of Götterdämmerung. The long-awaited hero, Siegfried (the misbegotten son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, twin offspring of the god Wotan), …

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The Queen of the Night: Opera’s Most Deranged Mother?

This weekend as you celebrate Mother’s Day, count your blessings that you aren’t in the predicament faced by Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. In one of the opera’s most recognizable arias, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen“ (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”), Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night, flies into a fit of vengeful rage. Placing a knife in her daughter’s hand, the Queen of the Night tells Pamina …

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Remembering Soprano Heather Harper

The British operatic soprano Heather Harper passed away on Monday at the age of 88. Born in Belfast, Harper came to international attention when she stepped in at ten days notice for the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral in 1962. (Galina Vishnevskaya, for whom the part was written, was denied permission by Soviet authorities on the grounds that Britten’s work was too “political.”) Harper went on to perform …

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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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