Remembering Christa Ludwig

Christa Ludwig, the German dramatic mezzo-soprano, has passed away. She was 93. Ludwig was one of the most significant and distinguished singers of the twentieth century “with a voice of exquisite richness and, when needed—breathtaking amplitude.” (Ted Libbey, NPR) She made her debut in Frankfurt at the age of 18, shortly after the Second World War. Her celebrated roles included Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Kundry in Wagner’s Parsifal, Leonora in Beethoven’s …

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Weber’s “Oberon”: The Romantic Orchestra Springs to Life

Oberon, the final opera of Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), was premiered at London’s Covent Garden on this date in 1826. The three act opera, set in English with spoken dialogue, was described as “one of the most remarkable combinations of fantasy and technical skill in modern music.” Based on a thirteenth century French epic poem by Huon of Bordeaux, it tells the story of Oberon, the Elf King, who has argued with …

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Remembering James Levine

James Levine, the American conductor and pianist, has passed away from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. He was 77. Levine served as music director of the Metropolitan Opera for 40 years from 1976 to 2016. He is widely credited with raising the artistic level and profile of that company. He was also music director of the Ravinia Festival (1973–1993) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (2004–2011). Levine’s personal and professional reputation will be …

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“Possente Spirto” from Monteverdi’s “Orfeo,” Scherzi Musicali

Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo was created in 1607 at the dawn of opera. It remains the earliest work in that rich genre to be performed regularly. Set in five acts, it is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus, who descends into Hades in an unsuccessful attempt to bring his dead bride, Eurydice, back to the living world. The aria, Possente spirto, e formidabil nume (“Mighty spirit and formidable god”), comes from the opera’s third act. Orfeo …

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“Là Ci Darem La Mano” from “Don Giovanni”: Mozart’s Most Seductive Duet

Don Giovanni (or Don Juan) is one of literature’s most infamous seducers. In Mozart’s two act 1787 opera—a sublime blend of comedy, melodrama, and supernatural elements— the character takes on a new and intriguing complexity. As the cultural historian, James H. Johnson writes in his essay, Sincerity and Seduction in Don Giovanni, Mozart and the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, “deliberately employ a tone of sincerity that keeps to the surface in conveying Giovanni’s …

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Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors”: The First Television Opera

On Christmas Eve, 1951, opera moved into the television era. On this evening, the premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors was broadcast live from NBC’s studio 8H in Rockefeller Center. The NBC Opera Theatre performance was seen by an estimated five million viewers across the country. Set in one act, it was the first opera to be composed specifically for television. Menotti was inspired by The Adoration of the Magi, a …

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“The Promise Of Living”: Copland’s Hymn of Thanksgiving

The Promise of Living forms the first act finale of Aaron Copland’s opera, The Tender Land. Conceived for the NBC Television Opera Workshop but ultimately rejected by the network’s producers, The Tender Land was premiered by New York City Opera on April 1, 1954. Dramatically, it occupies the same hazy, surreal space we encounter in Copland’s ballet, Appalachian Spring. Set in the rural American heartland during the Great Depression, the plot centers around the coming of age of Laurie …

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