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Richard Strauss

Saturday, May 27, 2017


Royal Opera House

April 28

10 of opera's greatest bass roles

Royal Opera HouseRené Papa as Méphistophélès in Faust, The Royal Opera © ROH/Catherine Ashmore, 2011 Opera’s lowest male voice type is used to explore the best and worst in human nature, from murderous villainy to benign wisdom. Here are some of our favourite examples of bass roles from more than two centuries of opera and what makes them so impressive: Zoroastro – Handel ’s Orlando Zoroastro – whom Handel’s anonymous librettist loosely modelled on the Persian sage Zoroaster – is the voice of reason in this opera of insanity and unruly passions. From his commanding opening aria ‘Lascia amor’ onwards, Zoroastro attempts to persuade the unstable hero Orlando to give up his unreciprocated passion for Angelica and return to deeds of valour. Being a wise magician, he eventually succeeds, and in Act III expresses his joy in one of the most jubilantly virtuoso arias in the bass repertory, ‘Sorge infausta’. Osmin – Mozart ’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail Inspired by Handel, Mozart created his own Zoroaster-inspired sage in Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte /The Magic Flute), whose arias ‘O Isis und Osiris’ and ‘In diesen heil’gen Hallen’ are among opera’s noblest. The bullying harem-keeper Osmin is altogether different: his blustering aria ‘Solche hergelauf’ne Laffen’ and drunken duet ‘Vivat Bacchus!’ (both using ‘Turkish’ percussion), his futile attempts to control the spirited character Blonde and his bravura Act III rondo ‘O, wie will ich triumphieren’ (which is a must-hear due to its use of one of the lowest notes in the bass register) make him one of opera’s greatest comic villains. Méphistophélès – Gounod ’s Faust Méphistophélès’s charm, wit, and chocolate-rich bass voice – shown to best advantage in such episodes as his demure Act I entrance, zestful Act II aria ‘Le veau d’or’ and dapper seduction of Marthe Schwertlein in the Act III quartet – give him a demonic appeal. His underlying viciousness comes to the fore in his sardonic Act IV serenade to Marguerite and in the terrifying Act V trio – but this doesn’t stop us feeling that in Faust the devil has the best tunes! Philip II – Verdi ’s Don Carlo Philip II’s evolution from authoritarian ruler to suffering husband makes him perhaps Don Carlo’s most interesting character. Until the end of Act III we are inclined to dislike Philip for his tyrannical behaviour towards his wife and son. However, in his aria ‘Ella giammai m’amò!’, with its haunting introduction for solo cello, Philip laments his loneliness and his loveless marriage with a dignity, sorrow and resignation that arouse our sympathies, and that the bass voice’s rich, dark timbre makes all the more poignant. Gurnemanz – Wagner ’s Parsifal Wagner uses the sonorous richness of the bass voice to convey the wisdom and benign nature of the veteran Grail Knight Gurnemanz. This part requires tremendous stamina – Gurnemanz is on stage for the whole of the two-hour Act I and 90-minute Act III, and has several lengthy monologues. But the beauty of his music, particularly the sublime ‘Good Friday’ monologue, makes the effort more than worthwhile. Baron Ochs – Richard Strauss ’s Der Rosenkavalier Strauss pulls off a near-impossible feat in his first great comedy, and creates a character who is as appealing as he is comically repellent. Ochs’s loutish entrance in Act I, boorish behaviour towards Sophie in Act II and sleazy seduction scene in Act III make us thoroughly glad when he gets his comeuppance. And yet, his warm bass voice, exuberance and the lilt of his favourite waltz in Act II give him a certain charm. Bluebeard – Bartók ’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle Bartók offers an unconventional reading of the Bluebeard story, presenting Bluebeard not as a murdering psychopath, but as a fiercely private man, who appears to love his new wife Judith but hesitates to reveal his secrets to her. Bluebeard’s mysterious vocal style – predominantly plain declamation, but with passages of tender lyricism, particularly in the heartrending final scene – makes him one of opera’s most fascinating enigmas. It is up to each singer of the role to decide how villainous, or how noble, he might be. Boris Ismailov – Shostakovich ’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk There’s no doubting the villainy of Boris Ismailov, who scolds his daughter-in-law Katerina in growling tirades, dreams of seducing her to the sounds of a sleazy waltz, brutally attacks her lover Sergey and terrifyingly returns after his death to haunt Katerina. And yet, one can’t wholly despise Boris Ismailov. As John Tomlinson , one of the role’s greatest interpreters, has remarked: ‘Boris… is completely unredeemable…  but there’s something admirable about the sheer energy of the guy’. Claggart – Britten ’s Billy Budd Claggart is another great bass villain – the low, hollow sound of his voice make his mixture of brutality and Machiavellian cunning particularly terrifying. He’s not one-dimensionally evil though: his great Act I monologue ‘O beauty, handsomeness, goodness’ – which Britten’s librettist E.M. Forster considered the most ‘important piece of writing’ in the libretto – conveys emotional confusion and loneliness as well as a nihilistic compulsion to destroy what is good. Moses – Schoenberg ’s Moses und Aron Schoenberg movingly portrays Moses’s inarticulacy by writing his part entirely in growling, halting Sprechstimme (half-song, half-speech), while casting his articulate but untrustworthy brother Aron as a mellifluous lyric tenor. But the dramatic intensity and psychological complexity of Moses’s part more than compensates for its limited melodic content, particularly in the final soliloquy, which ends with the heart-breaking words ‘O Wort, du Wort, das mir fehlt!’ (O Word, you Word that I lack!). Don Carlo runs 12–29 May 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with Norwegian National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, New York and is sponsored by Coutts with generous philanthropic support from Ian and Tina Taylor and The Taylor Family Foundation, Aud Jebsen, Simon and Virginia Robertson, the Patrons of Covent Garden , The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Cover awards .

ArtsJournal: music

May 14

Watch Renée Fleming Take Her Final Bow In 'Der Rosenkavalier'

"The standing ovation shook the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoon, with confetti made from ripped-up programs cascading down from the theater’s highest balcony as a bouquet of pink roses was tossed to the stage. Renée Fleming, the star soprano, had just bid farewell to one of her signature roles — the Marschallin in Richard Strauss’s 'Der Rosenkavalier.'"






Classical iconoclast

April 12

Three Choirs Festival, Worcester 2017

Members booking has now started for the Three Choirs Festival, this year inn Worcester, in the heart of "Elgar Country". The first Cathedral concert on Saturday 22nd July will begin with Elgar (Great is the Lord),  and there will be, as always, the Dream of Gerontius (Roderick Williams) but its highlight, conducted by Peter Nardone, should be Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time, written in wartime, confronting  violence, in the belief that good can vanquish evil.  Benjamin Britten will be on the programme too (Four Sea Interludes) : not a composer normally connected with the Three Choirs, but included because the Festival reaches out to all.  Fundamentally, the Three Choirs Festival is Christian Communion, though you certainly don't have to be Christian to be welcome,  and this year's themes deal with issues of faith and hope in troubled times. Thus Mendelssohn St Paul on the evening of Sunday 23rd July, where the forces of the magnificent Three Choirs Festival Chorus will be heard in full, magnificent glory, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Geraint Bowen.  In the days of the early Church, the faithful were oppressed. But Paul switched from persecutor to convert, remaining firm in his mission, even unto martyrdom.  Bach's influence runs powerfully through this oratorio. There are wonderful chorales, ideally suited to the Chorus, and strong, dramatic parts for the soloists, all built on an austere bedrock that connects to the concept of a radical new faith whose adherents were prepared to die for what they believed in.  Even more rough-hewn and almost savage, Janáček's Glagolitic Mass on Wednesday 26th July. In early Czech tradition, thousands of worshippers would gather together to sing in communal affirmation. Janáček, an atheist,  who played organ in churches, aimed for something quite unorthodox. Thus his use of an old Slavonic dialect, rather than Latin.  His passion for the outdoors inspires the piece. "My cathedral ", he said, was “the enormous grandeur of mountains beyond which stretched the open sky…...the scent of moist forests my incense”. I've written extensively about the Glagolitic Mass and its composer, please see HERE and HERE.    This evening's concert will also feature Torsten Rasch A Welsh Night and Richard Strauss Metamorphosen.  "An English Farewell" for the final night of the season on 29th July, a superb programme with Gerald Finzi's Die Natalis with Ed Lyon, whom I should really like to hear in this piece as  he's very impressive.  Dies Natalis is transcendental, mystical and ecstatic by turns : utterly unique, and one of the quirkiest masterpieces in English music. Again, it's a piece I've written a lot about over the last 20 years. Please see HERE and HERE for example.  Lots more on Finzi on this site, too.  Dies Natalis addresses the miracle of birth, but Herbert Howells' Hymnus Paradisi addresses the horror that is death, particularly the death of a child.  Heard together, Dies Natalis and Hymnus Paradisi should be quite an experience.  One a star  turn for a soloist, the other a star  turn for choirs.  Please read HERE what I've written about Hymnus Paradisi in the past.  Also on the programme, Raloh Vaughan Williams's Serenande to Music, which will give sixteen singers a chance to shine.  The Philharmionia will be conducted by Peter Nardone. But the Three Choirs festival is much more than  big Cathedral concerts.  Part of its appeal lies in the friendly, community atmosphere, where people come together for smaller-scale concerts, talks, events, excursions and meals. Literally, breaking bread and sharing in the spirit.   Choral Evensong every evening,  organ recitals (including Saint-Saëns Symphony no 3), early and Tudor music, premieres of new work, Shakespeare plays, a visit from the Choir of King's College Cambridge, and this year an unusual afternoon of Tudor Symphonies (with Andrew Carwood and the Cardinall's Musick).  .Visit the Three Choirs Festival website for more. 

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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