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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John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic”: Three Excerpts

In a 1987 interview with Edward Strickland, John Adams discussed myth and archetype in relation to his new (at the time) opera, Nixon in China: …My Nixon is not the historical Richard Nixon, he is every President. I take him to be an archetype of an American head of state- maybe not even necessarily a head of state, just any emotionally undeveloped man who finds himself in a position of tremendous power. It’s …

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Mozart and the Tragic Key of G Minor

Mozart wrote 41 numbered symphonies. Of these, only two are rooted in a minor key- in both cases G minor. The first is the exuberant, fiery Symphony No. 25, which we heard last week. The second and more famous is the “Great” G minor Symphony No. 40.  Last Friday’s post inspired me to consider the uniquely tragic significance of G minor throughout Mozart’s music. This is the key to which Mozart turns in the second …

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A Vivaldi Snapshot

Let’s finish the week with a brief but alluring musical snapshot. This is the beautiful second movement (Andante) from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in F Major, RV 136, completed around 1730. It’s an excerpt from Vivaldi: Arie ritrovate, a 2008 album I featured in last Friday’s post. Violinist Stefano Montanari joins the Ravenna-based baroque orchestra, Accademia Bizantina, led by Ottavio Dantone. I love the way this music draws us in with a sense of majestic, flowing, inevitability. Its roving bass line …

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Picking up the Pieces of Vivaldi’s “Scanderbeg”

Rewind to the evening of June 22, 1718… Today marks the 300th anniversary of the re-opening of Florence’s Teatro della Pergola (pictured above). Still in use today, Italy’s oldest opera house saw the Italian premieres of most of Mozart’s operas,  Donizetti’s Parisina and Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, Verdi’s Macbeth, and Mascagni’s I Rantzau. Before opening to the public in 1718, the building was used as a court theater of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. The Teatro …

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Britten’s “Peter Grimes”: The Individual Against the Crowd

Benjamin Britten’s 1945 tragic opera, Peter Grimes, is a dark story of isolation and alienation- the solitary social outcast set against the collective insanity and “mob rule” of the crowd. For the composer, a homosexual, staunch pacifist, and conscientious objector during the Second World War, it was a subject very close to my heart — the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual. The …

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