Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” Prelude to Act I: A Shifting Kaleidoscope of Color

Richard Wagner’s 1850 opera, Lohengrin, is based on medieval German legend. The fairy tale story involves the distressed Elsa (unfairly accused of murdering her brother, the rightful heir to the kingdom) and Lohengrin, a disguised Knight of the Holy Grail who comes to her aid on a boat drawn by a swan. Wagner’s Prelude to the first act of Lohengrin is a dreamlike kaleidoscope of orchestral color. It begins in the highest register of the …

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Norman Bailey Sings Wagner

Norman Bailey, the internationally renowned British operatic bass-baritone, passed away on September 15 at the age of 88. Bailey made his debut in 1959 at the Vienna Chamber Opera, performing the role of Tobias Mill in Rossini’s one-act opera, La cambiale di matrimonio. His association with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre (later the English National Opera) beginning in 1967, launched a major career. He was particularly associated with the operas of Wagner, including the title role …

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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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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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Wagner’s “Die Walküre”: Five Key Excerpts

Die Walküre (“The Valkyrie”) is the second of four operas that make up Wagner’s Ring cycle. The story, based on Norse mythology, involves the Volsung twins Sieglinde and Siegmund, who are separated at childhood. When they meet and fall in love, the gods are angry and demand that Siegmund must die. Wotan’s daughter Brünnhilde faces the retribution of the gods after valiantly saving Sieglinde and the couple’s unborn child, Siegfried. Prelude to …

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Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”: Prelude and Liebestod

Culturally and aesthetically, Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde was a game changer. From the moment the opera premiered at Munich’s National Theatre on June 10, 1865 (155 years ago this week), it elicited fervent and wildly conflicting reactions. Friedrich Nietzsche described “a lasting sense of ecstasy,” and proclaimed the work to be “the real opus metaphysicum of all art…[inspiring] insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death…it is overpowering in its …

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The Artistry of Eileen Farrell: Five Essential Recordings

Thursday marks the centennial of the birth of the legendary American soprano, Eileen Farrell (1920-2002). Hailed as possessing “one of the largest and most radiant operatic voices of the 20th century,” Farrell was a remarkably versatile artist. In a career spanning nearly 60 years, she was equally at home in the world of opera, jazz, and popular music. She hated categories, and in an interview during the final years of her life, …

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