Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quote of the day: Tom Bergeron interviewing Melissa who was dumped by The Bachelor:
"So, what was The Bachelor like—like high school but with better lighting?"


I think that maybe they’ve reprogrammed the computer that makes up the comment non-spam verification words. About a month ago I started noticing a shift from meaningless jumbles of vowels and consonants to groupings that are either actual words, close to actual words, or that are structured like actual words.. In the former categories were subpar, dedhead, and fukz; in the latter category was yesterday’s enicaria

Enicaria crassifolia & enicaria boveana are species of food plants.


Richard Slade (Richard the Tenor) tagged me for 15 Albums. My life since age seven has included ever-increasing amounts of symphonic and operatic music--particularly after I began designing operas, beginning with John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and most recently with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea.

I started collecting around age eight and currently have about 32 feet of LPs and 28 feet of CDs. The open reel tapes are probably a dead issue but there are quite a few cassettes, mostly devoted to live performances taken off the radio. My taste is very eclectic, so the 15 I pick will probably be all over the place.

1.Puccini: La Boheme. This is the one that started it all, a gift from parents who had no interest in opera but realized where my tastes were going. This set was a quick throw-together job done when an RCA Victor classical division manager realized that a dream cast and conductor were available in New York all at the same time. It’s still considered one of the finest Bohemes of the well over 100 recordings made of it: Sir Thomas Beecham conducting
Victoria de los Angeles, Jussi Bjorling, Robert Merrill, and Lucine Amara.

2. Wagner: The Ring of the Nibelung. The four music dramas that make up the Ring, recorded at the Wagner Festival at Bayreuth. I own and love the first studio-made Ring conducted by Solti, but this one is live and crackles with a theatrical quality under Karl Bohm’s briskly dramatic conducting. The only recording I own, live or studio, that captures the true size, splendor and visceral impact of Birgit Nilsson’s voice. There’s also an incendiary first act of Die Walkure with Leonie Rysanek and James King overwhelmingly passionate as Siegmund and Sieglinde.

3: Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks & Concerto #2 for Two Wind Choirs and Strings. In 1968, Charles MacKerras engaged the finest wind, brass and timpani players from London’s many orchestras to record the original scoring (26 oboes, 14 bassoons, 4 contrabassoons, 2 serpents, 9 trumpets, 9 horns, 3 timpani and 6 side drums) of the complete Royal Fireworks. It’s the most splendid noise imaginable—the first entrance of the horns is like an electric shock. I’ve almost worn the recording out and have despaired of it ever having been re-released on CD. This isn’t “polite” Handel, but grand Imperial-scale music making.

4: Songs of Scandinavia, Birgit Nilsson, soprano. A rare chance to hear Nilsson sing in her native language and song repertory. It’s joyous music-making. For years, whenever I was exhausted or depressed, I’d put this on and my spirits would soar. The tireless Nilsson recorded these songs during breaks in recording sessions for Wagner’s Ring.

5: Bizet: Carmen. In the five or so years after WWII, EMI recorded the core French opera repertory at the Opera-Comique with native French singers and conductor Andre Cluytens. They captured the French style in its last flowering before French opera was absorbed into the international style by singers with no idea how to pronounce the language. Even more valuable, this is Bizet’s original Carmen with the spoken dialog between numbers instead of the recitatives composed by Giraud that make the opera sound like a Mendelssohn oratorio. Solange Michel is a fatalistic Carmen who goes to her death not kicking and screaming but with an enormous stoic strength. Authentic and wonderful.

6: Janacek: Jenufa. Gabriela Benackova and the colossal
Leonie Rysanek, live with the Opera Orchestra of New York. Jenufa is Leos Janacek’s intensely moving story of a foster mother so devoted to her stepdaughter that she murders the girl’s illegitimate baby rather than see her disgraced in their small Moravian town.

7: Verdi: La Traviata. Pierre Monteux conducting Rosanna Carteri, Cesare Valletti and Leonard Warren in a consistently elegant performance of Verdi’s most intimate and personal drama.

8: Anthology of Spanish Song: Victoria de los Angeles. Early in her career, EMI realized what a versatile and intelligent performer they had under contract and began systematically recording representative selections from 1300 years of Spanish vocal music with the great soprano. From the Muslim and Sephardic songs of al Andalus to those of Granados and de Falla in the 20th century, there must be at least 12 albums in all, great music gorgeously performed.

9: The Long Road Home:
John Fogerty. My favorite rocker. Along with anything by Sting.

10: Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten. The great 1955 recording from the Vienna State Opera that began the revival of this superb work after WWII. Leonie Rysanek, who owned the role of the Empress for three decades, heads the cast. Karl Bohm had worked closely with Strauss for many years and conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra authoritatively.

11: Strauss: Elektra. Recorded at the 1964 Salzburg Festival with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. The role of Elektra is perhaps the most terrifying challenge for a dramatic soprano in the repertory. A close friend says it’s the only role with which a singer can get an ovation just for being able to remain standing at the curtain calls. Astrid Varnay moves from strength to strength, pouring out tone and hitting the exposed high notes thrillingly. With Martha Modl is eerily demented as Klytamnestra. Also, any performance by Varnay in any of her roles but particularly as Ortrud, Brunnhilde, and Senta.

12: Dvorak: Complete symphonies. The London Symphony conducted by Istvan Kertesz. Something in Czech romantic era music speaks directly to me and this set presents the nine Dvorak symphonies in admirable performances.

13: Joan Baez in Concert. I loved her when I first heard her and fell in love all over again several years ago when she toured with the Indigo Girls. One of the great voices.

14: Smetana: Ma Vlast. The famed 1954 recording by Vaclav Talich--"the Czech Toscanini"--conducting the Czech Philharmonic. Ma Vlast consists of six tone poems telling the story of Bohemia’s history and legends, describing its forests, meadows and the river that flows through its heart, The Moldau.

15: Sondheim: Pacific Overtures. Cast of
the original Broadway production under the musical direction of Sondheim’s close collaborator Paul Gemignani. My favorite Sondheim musical of all, this recording also serves as a wonderful reminder of the production of it that I designed, one of the best design experiences of my career.

Annie? Damn you.
I love Strauss! Thank you for the tip for a good recording of "Frau"
I love so many of these pieces. My hubby and I have a huge collection also. I very rarely listen to anything other classical music these days. Hope you and fritz are well :-)
I read Nilsson's memoirs "La Nilsson" last year and they are quite delightful. I know familiarity with die Frau is the mark of a real Strauss connaisseur but it was an effort for me. Solti was my favorite Wagner conductor although the Thielemann Parsifal is quite breath-taking, especially the tempi which seem so right. Please post a photo of your collection sometime (audio porn).
I am a fan of your blog.
I guess I am not a very good gay man. I am not big fan of Opera or Symphonic music.
I played Symphonic music growing up & I have seen more Opera than most civilians. So, I know something about them, but I am just not moved. I am a rock n' roller for sure, but my music collection has lots of pop, R&B, bluegrass... very eclectic tastes.
The Ps on my Ipod include Prince, the Pretenders, the Police, Dolly Parton, Bernadette Peters, Pet Shop Boys...
My favorite was Dialogue Of The Carmelites at the Met in 1976.
I do like 20th century Composers, mostly American:
Charles Ives, Samual Barber, Paul Bowles, Gershwin, Bernstein, Copeland & I love Sondheim.
I have done Funny Thing...Forum (twice), A Little Night Music & Side By Side By Sondheim & loved those experiences.
Pacific Ovetures is not my favorite, but I do love it & I have the Original Cast & The British Cast albums.
The Mackerras Handel album has been reissued by Testament; try MDT for a copy.

-Jim Devlin
Jim--THANKS! I have a copy ordered and coming in the mail now.
Check out Joan Baez's live unaccompanied version of Swing Low Sweet Chariot:
I guess spring has sprung in New Hampshire more so than Massachusetts. I'm still waiting for my crocuses - or maybe mine croaked!

Love your passion for classical music. I'm not as immersed into it as you but I do listen to WCRB every morning on my way to work. I love music that I can think to. You can't do that with rock - at least I can't. I too like Wagner and also Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Handel.

You remind me of my need to someday see a production of Pacific Overtures.

Last time I played the Böhm RING was about 3 years ago and I was annoyed by his speeds and some bumptious, aggressive orchestral work. Last month when I revisited it, I was astonished at what a fine recording it is, and indeed, how it preserves some idea of just how big Birgit Nilsson's voice was.

The remainder of the cast is first rate, even if Windgassen is better for Kraus or Solti and Hotter is better than just about any Wotan.

This from someone with 29 RINGS - soon to be 30, when the coming MET broadcasts are done.

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