Tuesday 11 March 2014

The Magic Flute - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

I have always been extremely fond of Mozart's last opera, The Magic Flute, first performed on 30 September 1791, just 3 months before his premature death on 5 December.  My fondness remains even though the entire subject is somewhat taboo and the language is German, which is completely incomprehensible to me.  It is the music which appeals so greatly, but recently I have found time to study the libretto and write up a fairly detailed synopsis of the story.  I like it so much it might well be worth learning German.

My earliest memories of the work span way back to my childhood when father used to play his 78 rpm gramophone recordings, so a lot of the melodies must have become implanted from a very early age.  Indeed when I was three I was taken to see the opera in Liverpool and as I recall I was terrified of the large serpent on stage attacking Prince Tamino, right at the start  of Act 1, with more than 2 hours to endure to the end.  I think was given a humbug sweet to suck to keep my mind elsewhere but when The Queen of The Night appeared to the sound of loud thunderclaps. also in Act 1,  I promptly swallowed it and it got stuck in my throat.  A few hefty pats on the back dislodged it and I was marched back to my seat with Mother to resume my treat.  Some treat for a three year old!  Other later memories come to mind fondly when Mother used to appear in our bedroom each morning uttering her magic words, "Wake Up! Get Up and Shut Up! . . . . . and then proceeding to murder the Queen of The Night's famous aria. "A vengeful Hell doth pulse within my heart!"  Boy did it sound awful!! We all laughed every time and even Father was amused, even allowing for her musical heresy.

Well, I have found a fantastic version on line of two wonderful arias, sung by my favourite character, The Queen of The Night.  The first aria is from Act 1 when she appears dramatically on stage after a mountain is suddenly split into two to the sound of violent thunder.  She then sings, "O tremble not, fear not, my son!".  She then walks off stage in a very authoritative manner. This version is played by the very charismatic Diana Damrau who must be one of the greatest Queen of The Night virtuosos ever.  Her vocal acrobatics are just wonderful and she is such a good actress too. I have the entire version on DVD, courtesy of my daughter who bought it as a birthday present:

The next aria is the very famous one from Act 2 - the one which my mother attempted but succeeded every time to sound like a dying duck in a thunderstorm.  This aria is sung when she appears to her daughter, Pamina for the first time in the opera.  She thrusts a dagger into Pamina's hand and orders her to murder the high priest Sarastro and to return to her his power, held in The Circle Of The Sun, handed over by her father on his deathbed to the priesthood instead of giving it to her.  She is furious and insists if her daughter does not obey her then she is no daughter of her's and will be disowned.

Nice lady!! "Methinks the lady doth protest too much!!"

Just listen to this, along with some pretty good acting before she lets rip with the aria, "A vengeful Hell doth pulse within my heart!"  Of course it helps a lot if one understands German.

Shakespeare had it right, "Hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn" lol

If you are visiting Marguerite - how about that dress for the Mardi Gras!! It would go down a storm there!

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Allegri Miserere

Following several hearings on radio I have just ordered a CD of the world famous and much loved Miserere composed by Gregorio Allegri, circa 1630.  This masterpiece is so moving - it is based on Psalm 51 and was composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII.  This Pope was so taken with it and he was so powerful that he forbade any performances outside The Sistine Chapel and threatened excommunication from the Catholic Church for those who violated his command. This decree remained unchallenged for 150 years during which time only the rich and powerful were permitted to enjoy it.  Sadly, the world was denied hearing this glorious piece of music - that is until a certain very young and highly talented musician appeared who startled Rome and the world with his genius. Can you guess who?

According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), the fourteen-year-old Mozart was visiting Rome, when he first heard this piece during the Wednesday service. Later that day, he was so impressed he wrote down the 12 minute masterpiece entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that Friday to make minor corrections. The news of this feat spread quickly throughout Rome and reached the ears of the Vatican. Mozart was summoned to attend an audience with the Pope himself, Pope Clement XIV who turned out a much more forgiving successor, for instead of excommunicating the boy, the Pope showered praises on him for his musical abilities.   Some time during Mozart's travels, he met the British historian Dr Charles Burney, who obtained a copy of the memorized piece and took it to London, where it was published in 1771, and the ban was lifted.

I have found a BBC programme about this fascinating subject so I am posting the entire thing which lasts about 30 minutes - I found this so interesting and it concludes with a rare performance of how the piece might have sounded just as Allegri wrote it because, yes, we are now allowed into the Vatican archives and the original score has been found - and performed. Modern day versions are much more complex.  Note the high top C sung by the soprano several times, just hanging in the air above the harmony. Wonderful.

I know there are not many readers but for those that do - Enjoy

Thursday 13 February 2014

Bizet Symphony In C

One of my favourite symphonies is by Georges Bizet, perhaps most famous for his Opera, Carmen.

I have always loved this symphony and my interest was rekindled recently when I came across this version, conducted by Avi Ostowski from Poland, conducting a very lively Bilkent Symphony Orchestra.

I am posting just the last movement but the other three can easily be found near it on You Tube.

I am fascinated watching this as I listen because of the sheer speed of the piece requiring pin point accuracy in timing and unison - just look at the first violins in action and I was also interested in how they managing to turn the sheet music pages so quickly and flawlessly.

Also the conductor manages easily to extract the last ounce of expression and pace from his orchestra - superb in every way.

I have an LP record somewhere which I intend to run through my Audio Program on my computer to make a CD version, along with quite a lot of other favourites.  It keeps the lad occupied and out of trouble lol.

Enjoy - it is really special.

Monday 23 December 2013

O Holy Night

For Christmas 2013 I am inspired to post my absolute favourite carol, "O Holy Night" which to me is head and shoulders above the rest . . . . .  so haunting and melodic and moving.

And what more can we ask than these great tenors to sing it for us, probably two of the greatest tenors ever to grace the earth - Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.

Enjoy, and like me no doubt you will be greatly moved and I promise it will give you goose bumps.

Here it is "O Holy Night".

But to get the English words here is another version with Charlotte Church and Placido Domingo.

Omg - I've found another version by non other than Luciano Pavarotti. Gosh! Wonderful! Sorry, to listen is a must.

Omg again!!! I've found yet another version by a wonderful mezzo soprano - Denyce Graves - she is wonderful and I've fallen in love with her and want to marry her!! She has such a beautiful voice and sings the carol in English - this is the LAST version I am posting, honest! But at least you now know the carol by now. Her voice though is so powerful - enough to shatter any chandelier or wineglass. Oh dear I am in such a dilemma because I have found yet another version I like even better by Rennee Fleming - soprano - and yea I've fallen in love with her too LOL.
Renée Fleming [Soprano] - O Holy Night on MUZU.TV.

Monday 2 December 2013

Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott

I have intended posting this very moving and glorious aria for a while but always considered it rather sombre. Since my dear wife, Maria, passed away 7 months ago I have been in a sombre mood very often, where letting go of emotions continues to play a large part in my life, with poetry and music.  So here it is:

"Erbarme Dich, Meinn Gott" is a very beautiful aria for alto voice from J. S. Bach's St Matthew Passion.  It might have been sung originally by a Counter-Tenor - I don't think they did anything too drastic because there are several male counter tenors today who manage to sing it without castration but that takes a lot of traning. Translated, Ermame Dich, Meinn Gott simply means "Have Mercy, My God".  This piece of music is one of my all time favourites and a masterpiece.  A violin introduces the piece and the melody just hangs so beautifully in the air until the soloist takes over.

I found two wonderful versions which I am posting:

Firstly by the Hungarian Mezzo-Soprano Julia Hamari and is wonderful.

The second version is much older and is sung in English by an American contralto, Eula Beal.
And a real treat for us, the violin soloist is a young Yehudi Menuin, one of the greatest violinists ever to grace our planet, and now playing in the finest orchestra in Heaven.  Eula.Beal is up there with him with her wonderful voice.

Can you hear the crackles from the old record? It is old but still absolutely beautiful. Yehudi Menuin was born in New York City, 22 April 1916 and died in Berlin 12 March 1999. Eula Beal was born in California 15 January 1919 and died in Napa, California 29 July 2008.

I like both versions in different ways.

For those interested I have found a counter-tenor version by Michael Chance, but I don't like the violinist at all and I am sorry to say that when he starts singing I have to suppress a laugh - er, sorry.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Dearest Whitney

It isn't often I am moved so much by a popular song but Whitney Houston singing "I look to You" really stirs my heart, particularly since her sad and sudden passing not long ago.  We all know Whitney's big hits and this was perhaps a lesser one in it's day but I think it is one of her very finest.

Hope you enjoy it as I do.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Freddie Star Floors Muhammad Ali

"Float like a butterfly!
Sting like a bee!
There's no way on Earth
Yer gonna get me!
'cause I'm the greatest!"

Well that may have been the case  because no-one ever did get Ali, formerly known as the great Cassius Clay, arguably the greatest boxer the world has ever produced. Our Henry Cooper nearly caught him with his well known lethal left hook which floored him in a world title fight. But Ali survived every attempt . . . . . until . . . . . until.

Our Freddie Star who is much more cunning!! Just watch this clip from a Michael Parkinson interview - one of my favorites.

See what I mean? LOL


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