Monthly Archives: March 2011

the child and the dwarf

Video trailer of a very interesting double-bill from the Bavarian State Opera, Munich – Maurice Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilèges (which Portland Opera will be performing with the composer’s other one-acter, L’heure espagnole, next month) and Alexander Zemlinksy’s Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), written in 1922 and premiered in Cologne under the baton of Otto Klemperer.


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rigoletto blues

“Ch’hai di nuovo, buffon?”

Rigoletto–the first Verdi opera I ever heard–received its premiere 160 years ago today at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice.

After looking around for suitable audio or video clips from the opera to post, I decided to go to my YouTube vault for this 1941 Panoram Soundies of the Delta Rhythm Boys singing the Act 3 quartet.

I’ve heard this piece performed hundreds of time over the years, but as far as I’m concerned, these guys knock it outta the park!

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People who know me know that I love looking for connections between seemingly unrelated things or events. Even though a lot of what I find is interesting mainly as trivia, I manage to stumble across fun stuff like this from time to time:

  1. Giuseppe Verdi’s third opera, Nabucco, premiered at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on March 9, 1842. Two years later, on March 9, 1844, the composer’s fifth opera, Ernani, premiered at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice.
  2. On October 24, 1960, the Metropolitan Opera launched its season with a new production of Nabucco. The cast for that performance included Cornell MacNeil, Leonie Rysanek, Rosalind Elias, and Cesare Siepi, and the conductor was Thomas Schippers, who was born on March 9, 1930.
  3. In late 1962 and early 1963, Schippers lead a series of seven performances of Ernani at the Met. His Elvira during that run was Leontyne Price, who had recently added the role to her repertoire.  (The two of them would later team up for a studio recording of the opera, issued on the RCA label in 1967.)
  4. Price and Schippers would both become closely identified with the music of American composer Samuel Barber, whose birthday we celebrate on–you guessed it–March 9.

Beyond a superficial geographical link, I haven’t figured out a very good way of tying Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra–which Price and Schippers debuted at the Met in September, 1966–back to Nabucco.

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joyeux anniversaire, monsieur ravel!

Today is Maurice Ravel’s birthday, which seemed as good a reason as any to post a few video clips of some favorite pieces.  Enjoy!

String Quartet in F major: Assez vif – Très rythmé (1902-03)

L’heure espagnole – Finale (1907-09)

Gaspard de la Nuit: Scarbo (1909)

Deux mélodies hébraïques: “Kaddisch” (1914)

Piano Trio: Final (1914)

Piano Concerto in G major: Adagio assai (1929-31)

Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1932-33)

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“right and final”

In preparation for next month’s production of L’heure espagnole and L’enfant et les sortilèges with the Portland Opera Studio Artists, I’ve been going through A Ravel Reader, Arbie Orenstein’s marvelous collection of correspondence, articles, and interviews. I’m just enough of a creative process geek to find all of this stuff endlessly fascinating anyway, but with Ravel there’s an added bonus because his music often half conceals what it half reveals. I’ll be posting random quotes from the book between now and the first week of April, when the two shows open; many of these will relate to the operas, while others will–I hope–provide a more general background to Ravel’s compositional art.

To start, here’s Elliot Carter, writing about Ravel in 1937:

Maurice Ravel was an exponent of that careful, precise workmanship, elegance, and grace he so admired in the music of Mozart, of whom he was not an unworthy descendant. The type seems to grow rarer as this troubled century progresses. His work, however, was a monument to the dignity and precision that even now all worthy musicians should strive for and that French music has at its best always captured. Combined with an extraordinary sense of style and infallible ear was a refinement of taste and a unique inspiration that made every work he wrote right and final in its own category. All his life he shunned cheapness and facility, yet his style and manner of orchestration have already left their mark on all music, from the simplest jazz to the most elaborate works of Stravinsky. His music will always be a great glory to the art he practiced so long and so well.

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