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Herbert von Karajan

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

April 3

Sad news: A Berlin Philharmonic legend has died

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThe orchestra has announced the death of concertmaster Thomas Brandis, a member of the orchestra throughout the Karajan glory years, from 1962 to 1983. He was recrruited from Hamburg at the age of 26. Thomas, who died on March 30, was 81. He was last seen at the Philharmonie at the opening concert of the orchestra’s incoming music director, Kirill Petrenko. Among other teaching posts, he was visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He founded and led the Brandis Quartet for 25 years.

On An Overgrown Path

April 20

Sound is god - but only in the concert hall

Vedanta teaches that sound is god - Nāda Brahma - and in the past Western classical music has had a long and distinguished connection with the hi-fi industry. In the 1970s Herbert von Karajan and also Miles Davis promoted the Acoustic Research loudspeaker brand - see advertisement below - and the great EMI and HMV record labels had their roots in the Gramophone Company which manufactured both record players and records. The high-end audio industry continues today, championed by magazines such as Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. But there is now a massive disconnect between classical music and recorded sound quality. When did you last see an audio brand mentioned in a music blog post or tweet? Coming to that when did you last see recorded sound quality, as opposed to performance quality, mentioned in an album review? In the frantic search for that elusive mass market the classical music industry has actively encouraged recorded sound to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator of easily streamed low-resolution file formats. In fact there is now an inverted snobbery about recorded sound quality; as an example any reference to the different and arguably superior sound quality of vinyl is glibly dismissed as bad science. Yet the same musicians and journalists who worship at the altar of low-resolution recorded sound advocate spending hundreds of millions of pounds on new concert halls which deliver - yes you guessed it - high-end sound. If you fed someone on a continuous diet of fast food, would you expect them to appreciate haute cuisine when you finally persuaded them to visit a Michelin-starred restaurant? It is not surprising that classical music is having problems attracting low-res conditioned new audiences to the latest sonically ravishing concert halls. No review samples used. But I do listen on Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus speakers and read Stereophile, and one of my early systems used Acoustic Research AR-7 speakers. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Royal Opera House

March 28

Puccini's Madama Butterfly musical highlight: ‘Un bel dì vedremo’

Ermonela Jaho and Elizabeth de Shong in Madama Butterfly © ROH 2017. Photograph by Bill Cooper ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ (One fine day) is an aria from Giacomo Puccini ’s 1904 opera Madama Butterfly , sung by the title character, Cio-Cio-San. It has become one of the best-known movements from the opera, with audiences entranced not only by its beautiful melody but also by its heartbreaking encapsulation of the tragedy at the opera’s heart. Where and when does it take place? ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ takes place in Act II of Madama Butterfly. In the first act, the 15-year-old Japanese geisha Cio-Cio-San marries the American naval officer Lieutenant Pinkerton while he visits Nagasaki. Pinkerton views their marriage as just a way to have a good time, but for Cio-Cio-San it is a deeply serious act – so much so that she converts to Christianity, offending her family who disown her. By ‘Un bel dì vedremo’, three years have passed since the wedding. Pinkerton left shortly after the marriage and has not returned. Cio-Cio-San lives in his house with their young son, and her maid Suzuki. Their money is running out and everyone urges Cio-Cio-San to forget Pinkerton and make a new marriage. But she firmly believes that he will return, and in ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ imagines that happy day. Meanwhile, Suzuki weeps. What do the words mean? Read our line-by-line translation of librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica ’s original Italian text, created in 2003 by Royal Opera House surtitler Kenneth Chalmers: ‘Un bel dì vedromo’ Un bel dì vedremo levarsi un fil di fumo sull’estremo confin del mare. E poi la nave appare poi la nave bianca entra nel porto, romba il suo saluto. Vedi? È venuto! Io non gli scendo incontro. Io no. Mi metto là sul ciglio del colle e aspetto, e aspetto gran tempo e non mi pesa la lunga attesa. E uscito dalla folla cittadina un uom, un picciol punto s’avvia per la collina. Chi sarà? chi sarà? E come sarà giunto Che dirà? che dirà? Chiamerà ‘Butterfly!’ dalla lontana. Io senza dar risposta me ne starò nascosta, un po’ per celia e un po’ per non morir al primo incontro, ed egli alquanto in pena chiamerà, chiamerà: ‘Piccina mogliettina, olezzo di verbena!’ i nomi che mi dava al suo venire. Tutto questo avverrà, te lo prometto. Tienti la tua paura, io con sicura fede l’aspetto. One fine day we’ll see a thread of smoke out on the horizon, and then the ship will appear. The white ship will sail into port. It will fire its cannon Can you see? He’s back! I don’t go down to meet him. I stand on the brow of the hill, and wait And the long wait means nothing. Out of the bustling town comes a man, a tiny dot, heading for the hill Who can it be? And when he arrives, what will he say? He’ll call ‘Butterfly!’ from afar. I’ll say nothing, but stay hidden. Partly to tease, and partly so as not to die when we first meet again. He’ll be a little overcome, and call, ‘Little wife, verbena blossom!’ The names he used to call me when he was here. This will all come true, I promise you. Keep your fear to yourself. With a faith that can’t be shaken I'm waiting for him. See the full score on IMSLP here (from p.230). What makes the music so memorable? In this wonderful aria Puccini exploits music’s power to represent several different mental states at once: he vividly depicts Cio-Cio-San’s strength, while also telling us with heartbreaking certainty of her inevitable tragedy. Cio-Cio-San sounds vulnerable in her opening phrase, but it demands great vocal control from the soprano. The opening melody’s rhythmic simplicity and its shimmering orchestral accompaniment create the sense of a lovingly savoured dream – although one tinged with melancholy in the predominantly minor harmony. This theme returns with appalling power at two later points in the aria: first as Cio-Cio-San sings the word ‘morir’ (die), accompanied by the full orchestra playing ‘tutta forza’ (with all force). Almost before we can recover it returns again, again fortissimo, Cio-Cio-San this time rising to her highest note in the aria on the word ‘aspetto’ (I wait). The orchestra’s strong close firmly evokes Cio-Cio-San’s certain hope – while twisting the knife in our hearts. Madama Butterfly’s other musical highlights Where to start? Madama Butterfly is one of the most famous works in the opera canon, for good reason. Puccini returns to numerous melodies throughout the opera, giving the work both musical unity and dramatic inevitability; for example, the primary melody from ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ returns with powerful force when Butterfly sees Pinkerton’s ship sail into Nagasaki harbour. The famous Humming Chorus that follows shortly after is a remarkable, wordless evocation of Cio-Cio-San’s invincible patience as she waits, futilely, for Pinkerton to come to her. Their great Act I duet ‘Viene la sera’ (Night is falling), as well as being one of Puccini’s longest and most beautifully written, is crucial in establishing the basis of Butterfly’s love. Equally important is her relationship with her family, terrifyingly captured in the wedding ceremony, with music drawing on authentic Japanese melodies . Classic recordings Over the past decades there has been no shortage of great sopranos who bring their voices and their souls to this role, finding different ways to interpret Butterfly’s vulnerability and strength. Classic recordings include Victoria de los Angeles ’s at the Royal Opera House with Rudolf Kempe in 1957 ; Renata Scotto ’s with John Barbirolli in 1966 ; or Renata Tebaldi ’s with Tullio Serafin in 1958 . Mirella Freni appears on two iconic recordings, with Luciano Pavarotti and Herbert von Karajan in 1974 , and in the famous filmed version from the same year, again with Karajan and this time opposite Plácido Domingo . Of recent years the most famous audio recording must be Angela Gheorghiu ’s with Jonas Kaufmann and Antonio Pappano from 2009. The many DVD recordings include Anthony Minghella ’s wonderful production for English National Opera , filmed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York , in 2009 with Patricia Racette and Patrick Summers . More to discover Cio-Cio-San is perhaps the primary example of the noble, self-sacrificing heroine who is such a familiar figure in opera’s history. There are several in the Puccini canon, who all have wonderful key arias: Mimì from La bohème with ‘Mi chiamano Mimì’; the fiery Tosca and her ‘Vissi d’arte’; Suor Angelica ’s ‘Senza mamma’; Liù from Turandot with ‘Tu che di gel sei cinta’. It’s a thread that runs through 19th-century Italian opera, with just a handful of the many wonderful roles including Verdi ’s Violetta from La traviata and Gilda from Rigoletto , Bellini ’s Norma , Donizetti ’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Rossini ’s Elena from La donna del lago . But Butterfly is very much a work from the turn of the 20th century, with the near contemporaneous Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy in many ways a close cousin, particularly in its use of harmony. Madama Butterfly runs until 25 April 2017. Tickets are sold out, but 49 tickets for each performance will be released the week before as part of Friday Rush . The production is broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 30 March 2017. Find your nearest cinema. The production is a co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona , and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Aud Jebsen, Spindrift Al Swaidi and The Maestro’s Circle .

Herbert von Karajan
(1908 – 1989)

Herbert von Karajan (5 April 1908 - 16 July 1989) was an Austrian orchestra and opera conductor. To the wider world he was perhaps most famously associated with the Berlin Philharmonic of which he was principal conductor for 35 years. Although he was not without criticism, he is generally considered to have been one of the greatest conductors of all time, and he was a dominant figure in European classical music from the 1960s until his death. Part of the reason for this was the large number of recordings he made and their prominence during his lifetime. By one estimate he was the top-selling classical music recording artist of all time, having sold an estimated 200 million records.

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