Author: sebarton (page 1 of 3)

When Love Goes Wrong….Composers and Librettists Go “Yay!”

We would like to remind those who will be alone on Valentine’s Day that the Music Library will be open from 9 am to 10 pm, and our audiovisual stacks offer a wide array of reminders that the course of true love does not run particularly smoothly. For the Taylor Swiftian who just knows that if you’re nice and helpful enough, your beloved is bound to leave hir current stormy relationship and start dating you, La Gioconda offers a warning (also a reminder that Les Miserables is far from the only bizarre Victor Hugo plot rendered into popular musical entertainment.)  Take it from Lucia di Lammermoor‘s Arturo: if she doesn’t want to be with you, she really doesn’t want to be with you!

Found your perfect mate? Sure nothing can go wrong? Otello and his bride might have something to say about that. Elsa from Lohengrin would probably advise you to be happy with what you have and not ask too many questions, while Judith from Bluebeard’s Castle might modify that recommendation and suggest you ask the questions before you and your intended are isolated together in a gloomy stronghold. Does s/he have controlling, overbearing relatives? Does s/he have a problem with drinking, drugs, gambling or infidelity?  Does s/he just have problems, full stop?  And if you doubt the need for a pre-nup, consider the fate of Elisabetta in Don Carlo: don’t let your prospective father-in-law substitute himself for your bridegroom at the last minute.

If you and your Ms. or Mr. Right are thinking of having kids, Peter and Gertrud from Hänsel und Gretel would urge you to find competent and reliable child care.  Asking Kostelnička Buryjovka or Azucena from Il Trovatore, for example, would be a bad idea. Make sure your babysitter clearly understands and follows all instructionsBandits, pirates, enemy soldiers and other wanderers are everywhere, just waiting to seize your precious little bundle and raise him or her as one of their own.  (And if you must split up, you’ll probably want a better custody plan than the one in Medea.)

If, on the other hand, your beloved just wants somebody who isn’t you (and you don’t feel comfortable stabbing, betraying or poisoning them) why not be like two of the greatest characters in all opera and graciously let them go?  The beautiful music you get to sing, and the respect from other characters in the opera, might make the whole thing worth it!  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sarah Barton

Sullivan, Unparalleled Musico

Hardened operetta fans have good reason to feel lucky this Friday the 13th: it is the 169th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Sullivan, whose music put wings on the House of Lords, enchantment in the Vicar’s teapot, and wind in the sails of the Pinafore.  Those who love W.S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan and the fourteen operas they wrote together remain as passionate as they were a century ago, as a glance at Savoynet or the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive will tell you.

Giuseppe and Marco Palmieri. Digital ID: 1610539. New York Public Library

Giuseppe and Marco Palmieri
The Gondoliers
Image courtesy NYPL

Savoy scholarship has recently flowered: the past two years alone have seen The Cambridge Companion to Gilbert and Sullivan, Carolyn Williams’ landmark Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody, Regina B. Oost’s Gilbert and Sullivan: Class and the Savoy Tradition 1875-1896 (a thorough examination of the commodification in, of, and around the operas) and The Japan of Pure Invention, in which Josephine Lee considers the racial implications of The Mikado‘s production history.

Sullivan himself always longed to be appreciated for his serious compositions.  If you wish to explore his depth and range, the Loeb’s record stacks offer recordings of his grand opera Ivanhoe and his cantata The Golden Legend.  Among the Victorians, this setting of Longfellow’s poem of true love, evil and redemption was second in popularity only to Handel’s Messiah.  For more Sullivan without Gilbert, try The Beauty Stone or The Emerald Isle or The Contrabandista.  Or sample his wildly popular parlor songs, including his setting of Kipling’s Boer War appeal “The Absent-Minded Beggar” and the inevitable “Lost Chord.”

If only Sullivan’s entire legacy had had as faithful a guardian and as staunch a promoter as his work with Gilbert did.  For over a hundred years the family-run D’Oyly Carte Opera Company staged the Savoy operas in accordance, as nearly as possible, with Gilbert’s directions, providing an enduring link with the original productions.   Performance styles may have evolved a little: we invite you to compare, say, the 1928 Yeomen of the Guard with the 1958 and 1964 versions, and then hear a non-D’Oyly Carte interpretation, like the 1993 recording with Bryn Terfel and Thomas Allen.  The 1966 taping of The Mikado offers a chance to see John Reed, Kenneth Sandford, and other D’Oyly Carte stars in their prime.  Sadly, rising costs and the Arts Council’s infamous denial of funding caused the D’Oyly Carte to close in 1982, and  it is hard to hold the LP of the company’s final concert without a sigh and a tear in the eye.

If you need a fix right now and cannot make it to the library to hear our G & S discography, Naxos Music Library offers subscribers a variety of goodies while the Internet Archive’s treasure trove (which includes the notorious Groucho Marx Mikado) is available to all.  I cannot let the occasion pass without mentioning With Words and Music, a bizarre but entertaining B movie about a bookie who mounts a comeback for a washed-up troupe of Savoyards.  You imagine a team of desperate screenwriters, robbed of their rest in some dingy, labyrinthine studio basement, cranking out the script at 4 am after discovering a mutual love of melodious topsy-turvydom.  Interesting recordings and sheet music (scroll down for all the Sullivan: they have him under “Arthur” and “Arthur S.” and just “Sullivan” and everything) are free to all at the Library of Congress, as well.   Sullivan did his duty; I have done mine.  Go ye and do yours!

-Sarah Barton

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