#morninglistening to #FrancoisCouperin’s #Apotheosis w/@gli_incogniti on @harmoniamundi / @piasclassicsusa
#classicalmusic #classicalmusiccollection #classicalcdcollection #EarlyMusic #baroquemusic #choralmusic #historicalinstruments #historicallyinformedperformance #HIP #frenchmusic
Only downside: Garbage verbose liner notes in the French style
#morninglistening to #FrancoisCouperin’s #Apotheosis w/@gli_incogniti on @harmoniamundi / @piasclassicsusa
Carmen is the opera that virtually everybody knows a bit of, even if they don’t actually know they know it. Great, often instantly recognisable tunes spill liberally out of Bizet’s masterpiece – the fiery Overture, Carmen’s slinky ‘Habanera’, her dashing ‘Gypsy Song’, Escamillo’s testosterone-fuelled ‘Toréador’ – resurfacing pell-mell in various manifestations of popular culture (not least the old Sunpat peanut butter ads), and inspiring a range of adaptations, such as Hammerstein’s brilliant musical Carmen Jones.
Carmen is, however, much more than just a string of pretty melodies. The heroine’s confrontational sexual independence was thought scandalous, indeed revolutionary in its period (1875), and can still provoke and shock contemporary audiences. Her gory demise (knifed in the heart by Don José, a jilted lover) prompted Friedrich Nietzsche to dub the opera ‘vicious, painful, tragic, fatalistic’. Nietzsche, with typical acuity, also praised the music’s Gallic refinement, admiring how it addressed the listener ‘lightly, flexibly, courteously’, and judging the work as a whole ‘perfect’. Audiences worldwide continue to agree with Nietzsche’s verdict.
What to try next…
Puccini: Madam Butterfly
Carmen is stabbed to death by a jealous lover. Puccini’s Butterfly, by contrast, turns a sword upon herself when Pinkerton, her faithless American ‘husband’, returns to Nagasaki with the real Mrs Pinkerton to claim the son he fathered on a naval posting three years previously. Butterfly’s heartbroken suicide elicited from Puccini a peroration of passionate intensity, every bit the equal of Bizet’s dramatic dénouement. Madam Butterfly vies with Carmen as the greatest of all crowd-pleasing popular operas, and in its sharp criticism of rapacious American imperialism, retains an all-too-obvious contemporary relevance.
Renata Scotto, Rome Opera Orchestra/
Sir John Barbirolli
EMI 567 8852
Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Like Butterfly, Lucia loves in vain, and dies for it. This time, it is family factionalism and feuding in Lowland Scotland that destroy her aspirations to marry Edgardo, her brother’s sworn enemy. Donizetti’s tonal palette is leaner and darker than that of either Bizet or Puccini, but appropriate to Sir Walter Scott’s murky tale of thwarted passion. The Act II sextet, for instance, is an astonishingly powerful articulation of the warring emotions of the central characters. Lucia kills the husband forced on her, is unhinged mentally, and sings the harrowing ‘Mad Scene’, a locus classicus of 19th-century prima donna suffering.
Maria Callas, Philharmonia/Tullio Serafin
EMI 556 2842
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
Dido dies not so much of thwarted love as of simple abandonment. When Aeneas, temporarily her lover, quits Carthage without her, her world implodes and, leaving it, she sings the deeply affecting lament ‘When I am laid in earth’. ‘Death is now a welcome guest,’ she muses darkly, and she means it – she is as utterly devoid of hope as Don José in Carmen. Earlier the score is peppered with variety, including an echo chorus, a thunderstorm, a comic scene with sailors, and jaunty dance episodes. Purcell packs it all into just an hour, making this a pocket masterpiece.
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907110
Druidic priestess Norma is a dying diva with a difference, one of few in operatic history to voluntarily embrace her personal date with destiny. Emotionally ravaged in a classic love-triangle situation, she threatens to kill her two children by Pollione, the occupying Roman proconsul. She finally mounts a blazing sacrificial pyre with him, to the astonishment of all present. The plot is gruesome, but Bellini’s music is of alluring lyric purity, the epitome of the Italian bel canto tradition. ‘Casta Diva’ is Norma’s calling card, an aria of mesmerising beauty (it subsequently featured in an episode of
The Simpsons), and the closing duet with Pollione is throat-catchingly poignant.
Maria Callas, Orchestra del Teatro alla
Scala di Milano/Tullio Serafin
EMI 566 4282
Verdi: La traviata
Disease strikes prima donnas frequently, providing a suitably lachrymose conclusion to many a tangled libretto. Of all the great operatic tear-jerkers, none is more reliably effective than La traviata – the story of the tragic courtesan who ill-advisedly falls in love above her social station – is guaranteed to have a fair proportion of any audience grappling for its hankies. Especially when wedded, as it is, to Verdi’s achingly lyrical music, from the yearning poignancy of the already doom-laden orchestral prelude to the shattering moment when she reads a letter of reconciliation from her lover, belatedly received on her deathbed as she expires from consumption.
Ileana Cotrubas, Bavarian State Opera Orchestra/Carlos Kleiber
DG 477 7115
Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice
Here’s a rarity – an operatic heroine who is dead at the outset, comes back to life, expires a second time, then is miraculously resurrected at the work’s conclusion. Not a real-life scenario, naturally, but one drawn from the realms of myth. Orfeo sings the opera’s most famous number (the ravishing ‘Che farò senza Euridice’), melting the god Amor’s heart and definitively restoring Euridice to the realms of the living. In seeking to purge opera of elements unnecessary to the dramatic action, Gluck wrote (as conductor John Eliot Gardiner
puts it) ‘music of extraordinary purity, directness and concision’.
Veronica Cangemi, Freiberg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi HMC901742-43
For more details on Bizet and his development of Carmen, read the January issue of BBC Music Magazine, where he is our Composer of the Month.
This article appeared in the October 2007 issue of BBC Music Magazine.
This year’s Aldeburgh Festival has been curated by Artists in Residence violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, conductor John Wilson and flautist Claire Chase, and will take place from 8 to 24 June. Its focus this year will be on Britten, America and the centenary of Bernstein.
The opening weekend features the world premiere of a new orchestration by Colin Matthews of Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo with tenor Robert Murray, as well as Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, of which Bernstein conducted the American premiere in 1946 and then included it again in his last concert. The weekend will also feature individuals connected to the two composers, including Aaron Copland, whose ballet Billy the Kid will be performed. Conductor John Wilson will be leading his orchestra in both popular and less well-known Broadway hits by Bernstein including excerpts from West Side Story, On the Town, Candide, Peter Pan, Wonderful Town, Trouble in Tahiti and 1600 Pennyslvania Avenue.
Sir Bryn Terfel will make his Aldeburgh Festival debut on the final day, performing in a recital with pianist Malcolm Martineau in a programme of works by Schubert, Copland and Britten.
The 2018 festival will include 15 world premieres, six Aldeburgh Festival commissions, five European premieres and five UK premieres. One of these such works is the new opera, To See the Invisible by Emily Howard, the 2017 recipient of the British Composer Award in the Orchestral category. The opera is based on a short story by American sci-fi writer Robert Silverberg and follows the story of an authoritarian regime in which human interaction is prohibited.
Eight concerts from the festival will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3, including the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s new work for two pianos, Emily Howard’s new opera To See the Invisible, and the world premiere of Philip Cashian’s new piano concerto The Book of Ingenious Devices performed by Huw Watkins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Priority booking for the Aldeburgh festival opens tomorrow, with general booking on 14 February.
Irish National Opera (INO) opens its debut 2018 season tonight at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, with performances from leading Irish singers including Orla Boylan, Claudia Boyle and Sharon Carty, accompanied by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra.
They will present seven operas this year, five of which are new productions. Artistic Director Fergus Sheil is focusing on a mix of classical operas and contemporary works. The season will tour across 13 venues in Ireland and London’s Barbican Centre, and Sheil hopes to build new audiences in Ireland and beyond. The company is born out of a renewed commitment to opera from the Irish Arts Council, who has dramatically increased their funding of this area of music.
The opening production is Thomas Adès’s chamber opera Powder Her Face, in collaboration with Northern Ireland Opera. Following this will be the INO’s first major production – Patrick Mason’s new staging of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Summer will see performances at the Galway International Arts Festival of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, and later in the year the company will take a revival of Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh’s The Second Violinist to London. The season will also feature Tom Credd’s new work, The Tales of Hoffman, Bartók’s Bluebeard Castle and Verdi’s Aida. Long-term plans include a production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Dublin, where it was last staged in 1913.
‘This is a fantastic opportunity for us to create something new,’ says Sheil. ‘We have the chance to make a bold statement to the public in Ireland about our world-class artists and bring as many of them as possible to the broadest audiences.’
Fergus Sheil works with opera companies and orchestras across Ireland and the UK as a conductor and creative producer. He established Wide Open Opera in 2012, following the closure of Opera Ireland, and remains their Artistic Director.
He has plans to work with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the Irish Baroque Orchestra and Crash Ensemble, and the company will likely create its own orchestra for some productions.
This week's free download is Henry Purcell's Curtain Tune from Timon of Athens, performed by Norweigan violinist Bjarte Eike with his period-performance group Barokksolistene. The disc it appears on, The Alehouse Sessions, features improvisations on music from the English 17th-century tavern, and received four stars for performance and five for recording in the January issue of BBC Music Magazine.
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Rolling Stone magazine published their Readers Poll: The 10 Greatest Double Albums of All Time. The top 5 were: 5. Led Zeppelin –
Physical Graffiti, 4.
Bruce Springsteen – The River, 3. The Rolling Stones –
Exile On Main Street, 2. Pink Floyd –
The Wall, and winning the poll was The Beatles –
The White Album.