Hindemith’s “Flying Dutchman” Parody

If you’re a longtime Listeners’ Club reader, you know that I’m often playing opera this time of year. This month I’ve been staying busy with Virginia Opera’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.  The Flying Dutchman is the work of a young, 26-year-old Wagner. In many ways, it anticipates the more mature, leitmotif-laden Wagner operas which would follow. Wagner ultimately broke down the traditional “stop and start” recitative-aria structure that had previously been the structural …

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Thoughts on John Williams’ New Star Wars Score

I haven’t yet had the chance to see the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, or to fully experience its richly symphonic score in the theater. A film score is designed to serve its movie. The music comes to life as part of a greater whole, a Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”), to use Wagner’s term. Still, I haven’t been able to resist listening to excerpts from the score which, recently, have been floating around in an …

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Christmas at Wanamaker’s

In celebration of the official start of the holiday season, let’s swing by the grand old former Wanamaker’s department store (now Macy’s) in the heart of Philadelphia. The store is home to the largest fully functioning pipe organ in the world, with 28,604 pipes, 463 ranks, and six manuals. Originally built for the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair, the instrument found a home in Wanamaker’s seven-story Grand Court in 1909. It took thirteen railroad cars …

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Tannhäuser at the Vatican

To finish out the week, here is a particularly exciting performance of Wagner’s Overture to the 1845 opera, Tannhäuser. The clip comes from a special 2005 concert at the Vatican in the presence of Pope Benedict. Christian Thielemann is conducting the Munich Philharmonic. Tannhäuser is based on two German legends, one involving a singing contest at medieval Wartburg Castle, which sits on a rocky outcrop 1,350 feet above the town of Eisenach. The Overture opens …

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Remembering Tenor Jon Vickers

  The Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, who brought “a colossal voice and raw dramatic intensity” to some of opera’s most powerful roles, passed away on Friday following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88. After studying at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Vickers rose to prominence in the late 1950s and early 60s with appearances at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera. His recordings suggest that he had …

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1965 Clip: Solti Conducts Wagner

The young Sir Georg Solti’s interpretive power is on display in this electrifying performance of Siegfried’s Funeral March from Richard Wagner’s opera, Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods). The excerpt was apparently taken from a 1965 recording session with the Vienna Philharmonic. There’s a raw passion and edge-of-your-seat intensity in this playing that we rarely hear today. I grew up listening to many of Sir Georg Solti’s excellent recordings with the Chicago Symphony. Solti’s performance of Beethoven’s …

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Siegfried Idyll: Wagner’s Musical Love Letter

(above: Richard Wagner’s villa at Tribschen, near Lucerne, Switzerland.) On Christmas morning, 1870 Cosima Wagner, the wife of Richard Wagner and daughter of Franz Liszt, awoke to the sound of music: “As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming: music was sounding, and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered …

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