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Richard Strauss

Friday, January 20, 2017


My Classical Notes

December 25

Netrebko Sings Strauss

My Classical NotesSoprano Anna Netrebko is a long term favorite singer of mine. It is not only because she has a fine voice, but also because of her humor, her stage presence and the diversity of her repertoire. On this CD she sings the amazing Last Four Songs by Richard Strauss. This recording features the following tracks: Strauss, R: Vier letzte Lieder, as performed by Anna Netrebko (soprano) Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 Orchestral support is provided by the Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim conducting. • Anna Netrebko, sings Richard Strauss’ sumptuous Four Last Songs, accompanied by the Staatskapelle Berlin and Daniel Barenboim. An irresistible, all-star combination. • Netrebko is a phenomenon. The world’s best-selling active soprano and quite simply, the undisputed superstar – “la prima donna assoluta” (New York Post) – of opera today. Known equally for her poise, her sensuality and her voice’s unmistakable color, Strauss’s elegiac Four Last Songs are an exquisite vehicle for her expressive gifts: Netrebko’s first recording of these gorgeous, iconic songs. • And Daniel Barenboim: conductor, pianist, humanitarian – perhaps the world’s most complete living musician. A venerated interpreter of Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner, in many ways the music of Richard Strauss represents the cross section of Barenboim’s musical background. In 1954, the then 11 year-old Barenboim was introduced to his idol, conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. It was Furtwängler who conducted the world premiere of Strauss’ Four Last Songs in 1949. • The Staatskapelle and Barenboim also perform ‘Ein Heldenleben’, one of the most vivid and popular tone poems by Strauss, who himself was Generalmusikdirektor of the Staatskapelle a century ago. Here is Anna Netrebko, singing the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss:

Royal Opera House

January 11

Girls being boys being girls: a short history of opera’s trouser roles

Matthew Rose as Baron Ochs and Alice Coote as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore The trouser (or breeches) role – a young male character sung by a woman – has been part of opera since its early days. And the role type has flourished since, in a variety of contexts. In the 18th century, the bulk of heroic male roles were written for soprano or alto castratos – but the trouser role was never just a ‘castrato substitute’: Handel ’s Radamisto and his heroic adolescent Sesto in Giulio Cesare are the most famous examples. Towards the end of the century, Mozart became probably the first composer to recognize the trouser role’s erotic potential, with Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro . His adolescent passion for Countess Almaviva is made all the more risqué by the fact that the lovesick page is sung by a woman, and Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte have additional fun when Cherubino dresses up as a serving maid. As castratos became a dying breed in the early 19th century, mezzo-sopranos increasingly took on Italian opera’s heroic lead male roles. Rossini wrote several principal breeches roles, including the title role of Tancredi and the soldier Arsace in Semiramide . Donizetti also created a few, although he tended to demote his trouser roles from heroes to sidekicks – as with Maffeo Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia , or Smeton in Anna Bolena . The tradition reached its culmination in 1830 with Bellini ’s Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi ; the virtuoso writing for mezzo-soprano perfectly expresses the hero’s youthful ardour and impetuosity. Over in France, 19th-century grand and comic opera alike saw an explosion of trouser roles: chiefly pages and lovesick adolescents. Although they were rarely in the first rank of dramatic importance, they were usually given beautiful arias, such as Ascanio’s ‘Mais qu’ai-je donc?’ in Berlioz ’s Benvenuto Cellini or Siébel’s ‘Faites-lui mes aveux’ in Gounod ’s Faust . The page-boy became such a popular character type that composers even added them to scenarios, as with the invented Stéphano in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette , with his lovely aria ‘Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?’. In French comic opera, a girl could even play the hero on occasion, as with the title role of Massenet ’s Chérubin , or Prince Charmant in Massenet’s Cendrillon (a nod to pantomime’s Principal Boy tradition ). In 19th-century German opera, trouser roles were usually limited to children and supernatural beings, such as Puck in Weber ’s Oberon . Two notable exceptions were the young warrior Adriano in Wagner ’s Rienzi , a virtuoso role modelled on Bellini’s Romeo, and the flamboyant Prince Orlofsky in Johann Strauss ’s Die Fledermaus . But the the trouser role really came into his own in Germany from 1890 to 1930, with a number of feisty boy characters including Humperdinck ’s Hänsel and the Schoolboy in Berg ’s Lulu . Meanwhile in the former Czechoslovakia Janáček created one of the most poignant breeches roles in his 1930 opera From the House of the Dead: the boy prisoner Aljeja, described by the composer as ‘such a tender, dear person’. But before this, in 1911, came Octavian in Richard Strauss ’s Der Rosenkavalier , perhaps the greatest trouser role of all. With this young nobleman, in love with an older woman, Strauss fully exploits the breeches role’s capacity to convey youth through the high female voice, and also its slightly risqué sensuality, particularly in the opening scene with Octavian and the Marschallin in bed. He playfully draws attention to the trouser role’s inherent artificiality by having Octavian dress up as a girl. And he provides one of the most satisfying portrayals of late-adolescent love through Octavian’s stunning duets with the Marschallin and Sophie, and the sublime trio for all three characters in Act III. Small wonder that in his next opera Strauss insisted on writing the ardent male Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos for mezzo-soprano. His breeches roles are a crowning glory of a distinguished tradition. Der Rosenkavalier runs until 24 January 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York , Teatro Regio, Turin , and Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires , and is given with generous philanthropic support from the Monument Trust, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Susan and John Singer, the Friends of Covent Garden and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .




Royal Opera House

January 1

Waltzing down the years: the powerful symbolism of Vienna's defining dance

Court Ball at the Hofburg by Wilhelm Gause, 1900 One of the most enduring images of Vienna is of a city that waltzes. Elegantly dressed couples whirl around the ballroom as an orchestra plays something by Strauss – Johann II , rather than Richard , of course. And on New Year’s Day morning, the celebratory concert by the Vienna Philharmonic from the Musikverein promotes the association even further, not least with that famous, obligatory encore of An der schönen blauen Donau (By the beautiful blue Danube). When Baron Ochs introduces a waltz in Act II of Der Rosenkavalier , it is through a popular song, which then pervades the musical atmosphere and continues into Act III. If we are in Vienna, then there must be waltzes! The waltz was associated with Vienna’s culture from the earliest stages of the dance’s evolution, through the public dance halls that opened there in the early 1800s, notably the Sperl in 1807. This identification of dance with city really took off with the musical rise and supremacy of the dance orchestras of Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss I , and the popular waltzes those composer-conductors wrote for them. When Johann Strauss I toured around the continent, that association was sealed internationally. The power of the waltz is a reflection of its seductive nature. In the early years of the 1800s it was considered by many an indecent dance. Not only was it exclusive of other dancers, just two rather than the more communal – and policeable – set of four or eight, but it required close physical contact. If the two partners don’t hold each other firmly, the force of the spinning throws them apart. Furthermore, it is highly advisable to look straight into your partner’s eyes all the time: that singular, fixed point of gaze helps counteract the dizzying effect of looking over their shoulder at the vertiginous impression of movement of the ballroom’s walls. By the early 20th century, the intimate, sexual element that had disturbed the prudishly conventional but excited the dancers in the early 1800s had become one of the waltz’s principal characteristics. When Baron Ochs starts his waltz song in Der Rosenkavalier, half-remembering the words, he adopts what in 1911 – the time of the opera’s premiere – was not just a familiar but a current musical form: the associations that the waltz had by then acquired chime with Ochs’s seductive intent. The nostalgia in the music in Der Rosenkavalier’s early years of performance came through Strauss’s weaving in of rococo references to the 18th century, not through his inclusion of the waltz – indeed, the anachronistic use of the waltz in a 1740s Viennese setting provoked criticism at the Dresden premiere. By the late 1920s, the symbolism of the Viennese waltz had changed forever. The Austro-Hungarian empire had fallen, and this seismic political shift released a shock-wave of nostalgia, not least in music and theatre. Entertainment presented a nostalgic and romanticized picture of a world destroyed. The Austrian capital Vienna, in decline itself, became a symbol of that wider fall of empire. When Richard Strauss wrote waltz music into Der Rosenkavalier, his audiences could still hear something of the contemporary in them. Only a couple of decades later, that same music had developed a different, retrospective quality at home and abroad. As Europe headed towards war again in 1939, the pre-World War I nostalgia associated with Vienna and waltzes grew even stronger. The associations of a waltz in Vienna in 1939 were very different from those for Richard Strauss in 1911 and the first Rosenkavalier audiences. Where the Viennese waltz had for Richard Strauss provided a musical bridge for his audiences to the world they knew, for the next generation the waltz had become a musical symbol of a world that had painfully vanished during their lifetimes. Today, more than a century after Der Rosenkavalier’s premiere, can we hear a Viennese waltz in any way other than as a romantic echo from a world we never knew? This is an edited extract from John Snelson’s article ‘Vienna in Waltz Time’, available to read in full in The Royal Opera’s programme book for Der Rosenkavalier. Der Rosenkavalier runs until 24 January 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York , Teatro Regio, Turin , and Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires , and is given with generous philanthropic support from the Monument Trust, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Susan and John Singer, the Friends of Covent Garden and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .



Royal Opera House

December 21

Der Rosenkavalier musical highlight: ‘Hab mir’s gelobt’

Andris Nelsons © 2016 Marco Borggreve. Photo by Marco Borggreve Composer Richard Strauss saw the trio ‘Hab mir’s gelobt’ as Der Rosenkavalier 's emotional highpoint. He loved this particular composition so much in fact, that it was sung at his funeral. The trio is sung by the love triangle at the opera’s heart: the Marschallin and Sophie, the sopranos, and Octavian, a young man played by a mezzo-soprano. Strauss was so enamoured with his composition that it was sung at his funeral – a performance which saw each of the three singers break down in tears with emotion. So what makes it tick, and so worthy of such adulation from its composer? Where does it take place in the opera? ‘Hab mir’s gelobt’ is sung towards the end of the opera, in Act III. Octavian’s successful plot to shame the womanizing Baron Ochs – and so save the young Sophie from a ghastly marriage – has caused considerable confusion. Octavian’s lover the Marschallin arrives, and persuades her cousin Ochs to give up his engagement. Sophie becomes aware of Octavian and the Marschallin’s relationship. She is distressed, and Octavian hesitates to choose between his old and his new love. The Marschallin realizes how much the young couple care for each other, and decides to release Octavian so he can marry Sophie. What do the lyrics mean? Each character initially expresses separate thoughts. The Marschallin recalls that she promised to give up Octavian when he fell in love with a younger woman, but regrets that it’s happened so fast; Octavian feels strangely remorseful and confused; Sophie is bewildered by the situation, and overcome by awe of the Marschallin. As the trio builds to its musical climax, the characters’ thoughts become more unified. Octavian and Sophie forget everything but their overwhelming love for each other, while the Marschallin hopes for their happiness and blesses their union. What makes the music so memorable? Strauss’s versatile writing for the soprano voice inspired him to wonderfully acute characterization in this trio. The Marschallin’s seamless lyrical phrases illustrate her nobility and thoughtfulness; Sophie’s soaring silvery voice reveals her innocent idealism; while Strauss conveys Octavian’s impetuosity and passion through quicker, shorter phrases, rising in pitch as his emotions intensify. Other memorable aspects of the trio include its beautiful melody – a noble reinterpretation of the comic waltz sung by Octavian earlier in Act III in his disguise as a maidservant – and the rich textures, soaring lines for Sophie and the Marschallin and sensual shift of key as the music reaches its climax. Finally, Strauss’s use of a host of motifs from earlier in the opera makes us feel that the characters have gained emotional wisdom through their experiences. Der Rosenkavalier’s other musical highlights Strauss adored the soprano voice, so it’s not surprising that some of the greatest highlights from the opera include Octavian and the Marschallin’s love duet in Act I, the Marschallin’s delicately-scored Act I monologue on the passing of time and Octavian and Sophie’s rapturous Act II love duet. However, there’s also plenty of good comic music, particularly Baron Ochs’s hedonistic monologue and rapid trio with the Marschallin and Octavian in Act I, and the farcical supper scene in Act III. And, this being Vienna, one shouldn’t forget Der Rosenkavalier’s glorious waltzes, above all Ochs’s ‘Mit mir’, which brings Act II to a brilliantly-scored, exuberant close. Classic recordings Der Rosenkavalier is Strauss’s most popular opera, so there’s a glut of excellent recordings. For an authentically Viennese experience, try Erich Kleiber ’s 1954 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic and the ardent Octavian of Sena Jurinac on Naxos. Other classic options include Herbert von Karajan ’s 1956 recording for EMI, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as a dignified, lyrical Marschallin and Otto Edelmann as a wonderfully sleazy Baron Ochs; or Georg Solti ’s 1968 Decca recording with a rather more passionate Marschallin from Régine Crespin , Helen Donath ’s exquisite Sophie and a cameo appearance from Luciano Pavarotti as the Italian Tenor. For a more contemporary take you can’t do better than Strauss expert Christian Thielemann ’s 2009 Decca recording with the perfect casting of Renée Fleming as the Marschallin, Sophie Koch as Octavian and Diana Damrau as Sophie. The wide range of DVD recordings includes John Schlesinger ’s Royal Opera production with the sublime Marschallin of Kiri Te Kanawa . More to discover Your best starting point is to sample some of Strauss’s other 14 operas. Ariadne auf Naxos shares Rosenkavalier’s mixture of comedy and profundity, but with a chamber orchestra scoring, and characters drawn from myth and commedia dell’arte. Arabella , set in 19th-century Vienna, contains some of Strauss’s loveliest duets. If you like your operas short and intense there’s much to enjoy in Salome and Elektra : emotionally charged interpretations of a biblical story and a Classical tragedy respectively. Other operatic treats include the sumptuous fairytale opera Die Frau ohne Schatten , and Strauss’s final sublime testimony to the power of music, Capriccio . Outside of opera, other wonderful Strauss works include a host of songs, several tone poems and the reflective Oboe Concerto . Looking further afield, Mozart ’s Le nozze di Figaro manifests much of the same wit and humanity as Der Rosenkavalier, while Wagner ’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg also tackles the theme of a charismatic older character who relinquishes the younger one they love, and contains a quintet equivalent to Rosenkavalier’s trio in beauty and intensity. There are also wonderful operas by Strauss’s lesser-known contemporaries: Humperdinck ’s beautiful Königskinder or Schreker ’s wild and passionate Die Gezeichneten to take but two examples. Der Rosenkavalier runs 19 December 2016–24 January 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York , and Teatro Regio, Turin , and is given with generous philanthropic support from The Monument Trust, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Susan and John Singer, the Friends of Covent Garden and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .

Royal Opera House

December 21

Watch: How to tackle an operatic masterpiece like Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier

In this clip, filmmaker Felipe Sanguinetti offers an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes on Robert Carsen 's new Royal Opera production of Richard Strauss 's Der Rosenkavalier , as well as revealing insights into the role of a director. ‘We are interpretative artists,’ says Canadian director Carsen, who has staged many works for The Royal Opera including Verdi 's Falstaff and Poulenc ’s Dialogues des Carmélites . ‘My job in telling this story is to tell it in the most effective and visually satisfying way, but also to help the actors to discover their roles.' Luckily, Hugo von Hofmannsthal 's libretto and Strauss's lush score are in the hands of master storytellers: the brand new production features two starry casts including American sopranos Renée Fleming and Rachel Willis-Sørensen , who share the lead role of the striking Marshallin. The film captures the performers' humour and energy during the rehearsal process, as well as revealing something of the opulence of the production's designs, created by American designer Paul Steinberg . ‘The rehearsals help me arrive at what the production should be,’ reveals Carsen. 'It does not feel to me that I am imposing our idea from the outside, I am trying to find from the inside what I think the work wants.' Der Rosenkavalier runs 19 December 2016–24 January 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York , Teatro Regio, Turin , and Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires , and is given with generous philanthropic support from The Monument Trust, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Susan and John Singer, the Friends of Covent Garden and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .

Richard Strauss
(1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and Metamorphosen. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.



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