Squeezed full of life – Prokofiev’s ‘ceaseless chain of contrasted incidents’

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In Act III of Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, the Prince has found his true-love, the last of three fantastic oranges, Princess Ninetta, and saved her with a refreshing drink. ‘At last, a real fairytale with tunes that we can hum’ sing the commentators, the ‘Lyrics’, in Tom Stoppard’s translation of Prokofiev’s libretto. Except that […]

Parsifal’s Act Two

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Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Parsifal, Act II: Prelude… ‘Parsifal! – Weile!’… (Parsifal, stay!) Parsifal, first performed in 1882, was Wagner’s last opera, or music drama, as he called his stage works. There is evidence to suggest he knew it would be his last statement on themes that had obsessed him throughout his life – the conflicts […]

To the future which might sustain the (orchestral) past

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Writer Bob Gale was visiting his family home in Missouri. In the basement he found an old High School Yearbook photo of his father. The discovery set Gale wondering: would he and his father have been friends if they’d gone to school together? With that, Gale came up with the idea of a teenager travelling […]

“…profound score…convoluted plot” – Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”

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Simon Boccanegra contains some of Verdi’s finest music from any period of his career. It’s undoubtedly a masterpiece. But it has problems – ‘…profound score but convoluted plot’, said Anthony Tommasini in an April 2016 New York Times review of a production at the Met. We can’t ignore those problems really; a theatre audience is […]

Raiders of the Lost Ark – The Return of the Great Adventure

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In 1981, when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, I remember the American personnel of the military base near Alice Springs where I then lived, raving about this new film – ‘just when things can’t get any stickier for the hero, they [the film-makers] make things worse. It’s like those serials we used to […]

Liszt’s Hamlet

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Continuing my series of program notes: Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Hamlet, S104/R421 After travelling the world for 25 years as a piano virtuoso, the Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt settled in Weimar in 1848 and became Weimar’s ‘kapellmeister-in-extraordinairy’. Conducting was among his duties, but there, as a composer, he established the ‘symphonic poem’, his unique contribution to […]

Brunnhilde’s Immolation Scene

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Continuing my series of program notes: Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Götterdämmerung: ‘Starke scheite…’ (Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene) ‘Let great logs be brought to the bank and heaped in a mighty pile. Let the flames…consume the noble corpse of this first of all men.’ So sings Brünnhilde in the spectacular end not only to Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, but his […]

Love-death and Isolde’s Transfiguration

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Continuing my series of program notes: Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod It is ironic that Tristan und Isolde was written while Wagner took a break from what would become his epic 15-hour masterpiece, The Ring of the Nibelung. Tristan, first staged in 1865, is itself a pinnacle of music history. In […]

Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy

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Franz Waxman (1906-1967) after Georges Bizet (1838-1875) Carmen Fantaisie  ‘Fannie Hurst’s MOST DYNAMIC CHAPTERS SURGE TO Glowing LIFE!’ So said the trailer for the 1946 Warner Bros. movie adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s novel Humoresque. The ‘most vibrant LOVE STORY EVER TOLD’ (to quote again from the trailer), it was meant to dramatize the three-way tug […]