Remembering Julius Rudel

Conductor Julius Rudel passed away yesterday at the age of 93. He will be remembered most for his 22-year leadership of New York City Opera, beginning in 1957. Sadly, the once innovative company, known as the “People’s Opera,” filed for bankruptcy last October. During Julius Rudel’s tenure, the opera gave 19 world premieres and vigorously promoted American works. This 1966 clip of Placido Domingo singing Senor del person from Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo will give you a sense of …

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Virtual Wagner: Worth the Price of Admission?

A firestorm of controversy has erupted surrounding plans by the Hartford Wagner Festival to perform Wagner’s Ring Cycle with a digital “virtual orchestra.” The festival’s founder, Charles M. Goldstein, has entered sampled sounds of orchestral instruments into a musical software program, which will be played using 24 speakers in the pit. The sounds were provided by a company called the Vienna Symphonic Library. The first opera of the cycle, Das Rheingold, is scheduled for August. In 2004 …

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Rossini’s Semiramide Overture

“Fun” may be the best way to describe a Rossini opera overture. Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) was a master of long, expectation-building crescendos, sparkling, virtuosic woodwind solos and musical jokes, which included sudden, loud, out of place chords. These operas would have been considered popular entertainment-drama mixed with sports, in the form of the vocal acrobatics of the singers. Recently, I ran across this exciting 1990 Metropolitan Opera performance of Rossini’s Semiramide Overture. As you …

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Merry Mount at Carnegie

Last Wednesday the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra presented an outstanding concert performance of Howard Hanson’s opera, Merry Mount at Carnegie Hall as part of the Spring For Music festival. In a previous post I provided some background on Hanson and the opera, which had not been heard in New York since its Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1934. If you missed the performance and the live radio broadcast, you can listen to it here. Read reviews of the performance …

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Music Inspired by Shakespeare

Historians believe that today marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare. Throughout history, Shakespeare’s plays have been a rich source of inspiration for composers. A few months ago we heard Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet tone poem. Now let’s celebrate with some more music inspired by the Bard of Avon: Play, music! And you, brides and bridegrooms all,With measure heap’d in joy, to the measures fall. -As You Like It The man that …

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Rienzi in Dresden

Last year, conductor Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden gave this electrifying performance of Wagner’s Rienzi Overture. Take a moment and listen:   I love the way this overture grows out of a single trumpet call. The music slowly awakens, searching for a direction forward. Then, suddenly it opens up into one of Wagner’s most noble and majestic melodies (1:19). Premiering in Dresden in 1842, Rienzi was Wagner’s first big hit as an opera composer. Seeds of …

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“Vissi d’arte” from Tosca

Through the expressive power of music, opera conveys the deepest and most complex human emotions. It allows us to enter the psyche of characters and experience the drama on a gut level. Opera, with its far flung story lines and sung libretto, can’t be approached literally, as if you’re watching a movie or a play. It has to be experienced as metaphor…a story unfolding through music. Vissi d’arte (“I Lived for Art”) is one of …

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