Painter, musician, bibliophile...
In this brief introduction Johnson takes us from the opening e-flat of the Das Rheingold to the consuming flames of Götterdämmerung. Discussions of staging, orchestration, plot development, mythic elements and more are interspersed with musical excerpts.
Wagner designed the tetralogy to begin with the Vorabend, (a "preliminary evening") in which Das Rheingold is perfomed, followed by the succession of the operas Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. Johnson makes an admirable presentation of each part of the cycle without excessive digression.
Of course, countless volumes have been devoted to the discussion of meaning, leitmotif, scoring, and all things Wagnerian, should one want to look deeper. But for a brief discussion of Ring essentials, look no further.
These operas share a somewhat daunting reputation. Even opera fans have been known to quaver before Valhalla! But don't be one of them. Listen to this book, then jump right in. Some of the most beautiful music ever written awaits you.
If you had crossed Bizet's path in 1875, the year "Carmen" was first staged, you would have met with a plump, bespectacled Frenchman who was forever nibbling sweet delicacies. But while you might overlook this unassuming person, you could not have ignored his music.
From early childhood, Bizet possessed prodigious talent. In the Conservatoire at nine, and winning every prize going, he worked his magic on a variety of instruments. At the age of 19, he won the Prix de Rome. With innate musical taste, judgment, and imagination, he stands above his contemporaries.
As this program points out, Bizet was no "one trick pony." He'd written most of his work before anyone had heard of "Carmen," and some of this sadly neglected work deserves rediscovery and appreciation, such as his opera "The Pearl Fishers."
Harold Schonberg wrote, "Carmen is an opera of passion, power, and truth, infinitely superior to the carefully arranged, prettily served canapés of Gounod and Massenet. They were skilled professionals. Bizet was a genius."
Tchaikovsky and Brahms were fans of "Carmen," too. Wagner, having heard it, said of Bizet, "At last, for a change, someone with ideas in his head!"
All this makes it the more stunning that this perennial favorite did not meet with immediate success. "Carmen" was called "immoral," and accused of being (even worse) "Wagnerian."
In this excellent program, David Timson brings the spectacle of "Carmen" vividly to life, with reference to many important excerpts, the fast and furious scene changes demanded by the complex action, and so much more.
If you're fortunate enough to be going to see the opera or just want to understand it better while you listen at home, you can't go wrong with this exploration of "Carmen essentials."
This was the first opera I heard (at the age of nine) and it left me forever in love with opera itself. My French wasn't under firm control, and I couldn't really understand everything that was happening, but that music! I have never forgotten it. Such is the power of Bizet.
If "Der fliegende Holländer" is Wagner 101, "Tristan und Isolde" is a graduate course.
Travel, magic, mystery, turmoil, torment, deception, love, desire, denial, consummation, and death: all these elements and more are present in this opera. And as author Christopher Cook rightly says, the work which was "never intended to be a romantic love story" also "refuses to conform to any single meaning."
The author presents his intriguing insights with contributions from additional narrators and musical excerpts. He discusses the details of Wagner's initial inspiration, including his tempetuous affair with Mathilde Wesendonck.
Wagner said he embarked on the work because "never in my life having enjoyed the true happiness of love," he would create this opera as "a memorial to this loveliest of all dreams, from which, from first to last, love shall for once find utter repletion."
The music of "Tristan und Isolde" was nothing less than revolutionary with its (now-famous) "Tristan chord," and the prolonged unfinished cadences and harmonic suspensions which reflect the interior drama of the characters. From the first notes to the final "Mild und leise wie er lächelt," Wagner presented innovations that did nothing less than change the course of western music forever. With our modern ears, all too used to movie soundtracks and dramatic effects, we might not realize just how provocative these musical effects were in Wagner's day.
Friedrich Nietzsche was moved to write that the opera expressed "the insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death." Clara Schumann called it "the most repugnant thing I've ever seen or heard."
One thing is certain: it is not an opera which provokes indifference. And for all that it contributed to the development of music, it's worth at least one listen, if not one hundred. May you find magic in it.