Τετάρτη, 25 Απριλίου 2012

Opera Quiz No. 4

Question No. 4:

Where was "Dido and Aeneas" according to records performed for the very first time?

a. Girl's school
b. College
c. Church
d. Pub

Answer to Quiz No. 3:

Should we believe Leporello's list of his master's conquests, then the number is 2063. And the 1003 in Spain. During the opera, however, the Playboy hero fails to achieve his goal: Something always comes in between, he always gets disturbed. It's no wonder then that in the end - totally out of his wits - he even gets it going with a marble statue...
Congratulations to Ludwig van for giving the correct answer!

Τρίτη, 24 Απριλίου 2012

Music for my Funeral

Long time no write, I guess. But there is an explanation. Things in my life have been somewhat strange as of late. It is a combination of the general sociopolitical and financial position the state is in and my own personal problems, both professional and familial. I guess there isn’t a point in my discussing the first part of the above mentioned combination; anyone slightly informed understands what I mean. As for the second, well I am not entirely certain I should disclose everything that has been going on in my life. So I will only mention the one thing that stands out: Last month my grandmother died.
Before you all start sending your sincere condolences, let me just say that it was a good thing for everyone involved. At the age of 93, after having survived a couple of World Wars, the devastating effects of a divided Germany, the repercussions of being a single raising mom in the 60’s and getting a most unpleasant form of cancer during the last two years, her death was a salvation. And, luckily too, a very humane death: no hospitals, no sterile environment, no loneliness – although, everyone is alone when the time comes. Anyway, she’s gone and this passing has gotten me into thinking about things; musical things. Well, it was my mother’s question as well, the “What should we play at her funeral?” kind of thing. Coincidentally, yesterday, I discovered an article about funereal music. Apparently one can study this and make a profession out of it in Germany and there is even a 6 CD Box Set with the all time classics people choose for their funerals. Go figure…
I will admit this problem has often bothered me. I do not think about my death often, but I do have some preferences, which I am not going to analyze here, because I know for a fact that people will start debating my decisions about it. To be perfectly honest with you, I do not care what you think about Death and dying. I am at peace with the fact that it exists and have imagined the perfect way to go, but again, it’s not something I am going to discuss right now. What I will discuss is the music I would like to have at my funeral, when the time comes.
I suppose you all think that I am too young to be contemplating such morbid matters. However, there is no time like the present to take care of business and that includes organizing your passing into the ever after. At least, I believe this to be true. So here is my list of funeral “musts”. Note that the pieces do not have to performed in this particular order and despite the artists I mention for some of them, should I ever become as rich as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and therefore be able to have this list be actually performed by actual people, then I would demand the best for this last concert – and some of the people I mention in my choices are either dead or too old now to perform, so one understands where they will be when my time comes…

  1. Richard Strauss: Vier letzte Lieder
It is the obvious choice for someone like me who adores Richard Strauss’ music. They are his “last” songs, as is implied in the title and they are about death anyway. But they’re so much more than that. They are a touch of divinity through music, and even though I am not a totally religious person, every time I hear them I can feel God’s breath running down my spine. Perfection! A dear old professor friend from Germany, who is an even greater Richard Strauss aficionado once asked me which of the four is my favorite. At the time I said that I couldn’t possibly choose one over the other. This still stands, but if I had to choose today, my affection would favor – only by a very slight margin – the “last” one: Im Abendrot. I do expect all four of them at the funeral though! The other problem arising with these songs is whose performance I’d rather have. I love Jessye Norman’s rendition – the woman was born to sing Strauss – but I also love Anja Harteros’. Because I am probably going to use Anja in other songs in this list, I suppose I have to go with Jessye.

  1. Richard Strauss: Zueignung
This is not a song about Death, at least I do not perceive it as one. But it is a song of thanks. Thanking the people who loved you and those who hated you; thanking the world for existing and God for creating it. In this case I am quite adamant: I only want Anja Harteros’ rendition. I have had the privilege of hearing – and seeing – her perform it twice so far in my life. And both times she brought tears to my eyes, simply by being so honest in her performance of the song. Because it is also a song about honesty. And though I may not be the most honest person in the world, I do admire this characteristic in other people and I do strive to emulate them in this.

  1. Richard Strauss: Morgen
The Strauss list is – seemingly – unending. I promise, not everything about this list is going to be Richard Strauss… This song should probably be performed at the very end of the whole thing, because it is a song of consolation: “And tomorrow the sun will shine again” are the words and they are beautiful. I would love the Diana Damrau version here, again because I have the fondest of memories from a Liederabend she gave. She sang this as an encore, in a July night that was tormented by a summer storm. She was 6 months pregnant and this was the culmination of the entire evening. She sang and when she finished, the entire Prinzregententheater stood perfectly still for a whole minute. No applause, no coughs, no movement, nothing. Only stillness. And in that one minute one could see her expression of gratitude and one could feel the grandest of emotions pouring forth from everyone present that night. Yet another moment of divine magic… “Und Morgen wird die Sonne wiederscheinen…”

  1. Richard Strauss: Die Zeit ist ein sonderbar Ding from Der Rosenkavalier
This is an aria about Death, even though it actually sings of the passing of Time. And it is a brilliant piece musically and poetically. I cannot begin to describe the feelings it evokes in me every time I hear it. So I will not even attempt it. Considering that probably the best Feldmarschallin ever was Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, I will be perfectly satisfied with it.

  1. Richard Strauss: Hab’s mir gelobt from Der Rosenkavalier
Obviously if I could have the entire opera be performed at the funeral, I would really die a happy death. But that is slightly impossible, so this is the second thing I want from this particular work. Again this is not a terzetto about Death. Rather it is an ensemble about Love. But it is a piece so mesmerizingly beautiful, that I cannot leave it out of this list, despite the thematic inconsistency. My father is not a von Karajan fan and neither am I, but his recording of the opera with Schwarzkopf (the first one, not the one with Baltsa – for some reason that recording simply feels off) is the best, so I’ll go with that.

  1. Richard Strauss: Es gibt ein Reich from Ariadne auf Naxos
Now this is a song about Death and the afterlife. Hofmannstahl nails the descriptions about the land on the other side and Strauss’ music is so evocative (what a beautiful word, by the way), it sends goose bumps down my spine. There is one Ariadne and one only and she goes by the name of Jessye Norman, obviously… And that ends my choices from this masters’ genius (I hope).

  1. Richard Wagner: Siegfried’s Funeral March from Götterdämmerung
I never thought I’d be adding Wagner to my list, but I guess the adage “never say never” stands true again. It is an obvious choice, considering that the piece itself is a funeral march. And I suppose that a lot of people choose it for their funerals as well, so I don’t see a reason to go against the trend with this one. Why? Well, honestly, it is a haunting piece, pompous yes, but at the same time very inspired. And the first time I heard it, I did feel so moved I started crying (me, Wagner and crying is a non event, or so I thought…) Considering that I do not know which recording is the best, I will simply leave it to the discretion of the DJ (haha) to find out.

  1. Richard Wagner: In fernem Land from Lohengrin
Again not a piece about Death – and there is also the hero’s discovery in it, which is not really suitable for a funeral of someone not called Lohengrin. But it speaks of the Holy Grail and of knights and good deeds and all things medieval; the music is also beautiful, so it makes the cut. I like Jonas Kaufmann’s version, it’s also the one I heard in Munich, so why not?

  1. Richard Wagner: Mein lieber Schwan from Lohengrin
The reason why this aria also makes the list is the whole “Leb wohl” thing in the end. It is a song about lovers’ parting – ok, a rather violent parting. I will also admit that the music makes me feel something, I don’t know what. And if the previous aria is to be performed, then one has to play this as well… Again the Kaufmann version is quite adequate. And that should close the Wagner section of the program. No Isolde’s Liebestod for anyone wondering!

  1. G. F. Handel: Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo
Time to go baroque for a while with a not so obvious choice. The obvious Handel choice will follow, rest assured. This aria is a masterpiece and it moves me to tears. It speaks of tears and crying, so it’s only reasonable that it does. It is dramatic, but not melodramatic – ok, it is a bit melodramatic… Nonetheless, it was, is and will be one of my most beloved pieces by the lovely Handel and so I need it in the funeral. As for whose version I prefer: well I will go with Rosemary Joshua’s version, found on the DVD from the Bavarian State Opera production. Very simple, very moving, very delicate.

  1. G. F. Handel: Verdi prati from Alcina
I would love to have the entire Alcina for the funeral, but this too is impossible. So, instead of choosing one of Alcina’s grand arias, I will choose Ruggiero’s concise and heartfelt Verdi prati, because it fits. It speaks of beauty lost and of Nature and I love it. Do me the ultimate favor and have Vesselina Kasarova’s live rendition from Munich play at the funeral, because I have truly fond – and painful – memories from that particular production…

  1. G. F. Handel: Ombra mai fu from Serse
Now comes the obvious choice for any funeral. It is not without a sense of humor that I want this piece to be performed, considering that the aria is essentially a love aria to the shade of a tree and not the least bit morbid… That’s Handel for you! As long as Kasarova doesn’t record this aria until my passing, the obvious choice would be Cecilia Bartoli’s from the Sacrificium second disc. She sings it perfectly, I have to admit.

  1. G. F. Handel: Angels, ever bright and fair from Theodora
Instead of choosing He was despised from Messiah, because that is an aria about Christ and I am not that sacrilegious, I will go with the equivalent from another dearly beloved oratorio by this composer. An aria of hope and faith, with perfect words to carry my soul to the heavens – or below, who knows (devilish smirk)? There is only one Theodora as far as I am concerned (at least, for now) and it is the late Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson. I would appreciate her version a great deal.

  1. G. F. Handel: Cara speme from Giulio Cesare
I cannot part from this world, without this aria. It is an aria about hope and maturing. With the simplest of methods and with a seriously small accompaniment, it achieves the greatest of effects. I would love to have Theodora Baka’s version, not found on any CD, but perhaps the EPT people have it on video, considering that they taped the production in 2008 from Thessaloniki. She was mesmerizingly beautiful (and I am glad I had the chance to tell her that).

  1. G. F. Handel: Io gia sento from Amadigi
Because I am not a man, it makes far more sense for me to choose Melissa’s suicide aria, instead of Bajazet’s. Also, I feel more for Melissa, than I feel for Bajazet. Not that Bajazet’s suicide aria is any less important or great, definitively not! But Melissa is, well, Melissa. And she also compensates for the fact that I cannot add any of Alcina’s arias to this list. So she is in. I am aware of only two recordings of this aria, one by Della Jones (is it?) and the other by Simone Kermes. I prefer the first one. Curiously enough, YouTube doesn't have this particular piece from this particular opera. I guess it's not as famous. Shame on them... They don't know what they're missing out here!      

  1. G. F. Handel: Overture from The Music for the Royal Fireworks
I don’t know if it is prohibited for non royal individuals to play in public occasions music that was originally performed for a King, but since orchestras around the world perform the whole piece often, I suppose it’s allowed. I only want the Overture because it is grand and majestic. Again I have no preferences as to which recording should be used, although I do like the one from the Frauenkirche in Dresden they performed in 2009. I think it was at that years’ Adventskonzert. And with this, I believe I am done with my selections from Handel’s immortal pieces, realizing that I leave so much out, but unfortunately this is no Handel marathon…

  1. J. S. Bach: The one they use in The English Patient
Good God, I do not remember which piece it is! I do know that it is Bach (not the one that Hannah plays and Kip comes at their first meeting at the convent) and it is a piano rework. The original is slightly different I think. I want the original of course, although the soundtrack version is also very esoteric and marvelous. I am truly ashamed I do not remember how it is called! Shame on me! But then again I am not the Bach encyclopedia in the family, my father is…

  1. Miklós Rózsa: Legend and Epilogue from El Cid
My funeral would not be complete without this grand piece of music. I revere Rózsa’s music deeply. The man had a knack for composing incredible film scores. This particular piece is pretty much the sum of the entire score he composed for the film – one of my all time favorites…  Dynamic, uplifting, pompous, melodic, Mediterranean… And if one were to combine it with the absolute final image of the film itself, well then, I’d be eternally grateful!

  1. Nino Rota: La Strada Suite
Do I need to comment on this particular choice? No, I do not believe I do.

  1. Dennis McCarthy: Passage Terminated from Star Trek: Deep Space 9
Since I am in the soundtrack section of the funeral, I have to add two Star Trek pieces. Let me first say that in the course of the decades that Star Trek has existed (and will continue to exist) some exceptionally great music has been composed by some truly important composers of our times. So the first piece comes from DS9 – the series I adore most of the franchise – and is from the very first episode The Emissary. It is a spiritual piece believe it or not and very well composed.

  1. Jay Chattaway: Orchestral Suite from The Inner Light from Star Trek: The Next Generation
Now this is the second Star Trek piece in the program. It is a heartbreaking piece, especially if one knows the background of the episode where it was performed. Despite all the drama of the episode, the music actually is very optimistic and even uplifting at points and I feel that it would fit perfectly in the whole performance. There are a number of other soundtracks, both from film and television that I would like to have, but that would really make the whole thing really really long, so I’m afraid that Xena: The Warrior Princess, Stardust, Babylon 5, X-Men, Braveheart, The Last of the Mohicans, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings and so many others will have to be left out… Too bad!

  1. Henry Mancini: You and Me from Victor/Victoria
Off to the musicals, before returning to more classical things. This little duet – perfectly sung in the movie by Julie Andrews and Robert Preston – is gorgeous! It is light headed, easy to remember and fun. And it extols the importance of friendship, be it only friendship or something more…

  1. Henry Mancini: Crazy World from Victor/Victoria
This song – and I do prefer the movie version over the theatrical version – sums up my beliefs about this world. Therefore it has to be heard. Melancholy, brilliant, unexpectedly clever; in every sense it is a masterpiece.

  1. Harvey Fierstein: I am what I am from La Cage aux Folles
Ah, yet another little gem from the musical chest. Now, admittedly, this is a song the GLBTT community idolizes. But one does not have to belong to the GLBTT community to enjoy the sparkiness and honesty of this song. I love it and I want to hear it one last time before I depart this world or any other… And that also closes up the really short selection from the world of musicals.

  1. Giuseppe Verdi: Addio del passato from La Traviata
I do not intend to become a “traviata”, no way (although, again, who knows?) But this aria is quite suitable for a funeral I think. It speaks of departing and remembering, it is a kind of prayer for the lost soul and it is brilliantly set to music. I prefer Anja Harteros’ version over all the others I have heard so far – and, believe me, I have heard a lot.

  1. Jules Massenet: Adieu notre petite table from Manon
When I heard this little aria for the first time – it was on DVD – I wept my guts out! The brilliancy of this piece, the words, the music, Dessay’s performance were out of this world. So, this is another must for me – Dessay’s version obviously – because it is suitable for a funeral. The departed says goodbye to all the little things; things that construct an everyday life with someone else. And I couldn’t, even if I wanted to, come up with a better parting gift for those objects I have associated my existence in this world.

  1. Charles Gounod: Où suis-je; Ô ma lyre immortelle from Sapho
This is another suicide aria I have no idea – still – what it says, after so many years of being acquainted with it. I just know that the music is gripping and powerful and I would very much love to have it on the program. I want the Vesselina Kasarova version, because it was she who introduced me to this aria, in a very dramatic fashion during a live performance in Athens. I’ve been indebted to her ever since for bringing this piece to my attention.

  1. Gioacchino Rossini: Sinfonia from Guglielmo Tell
Since Rossini’s music is very funny, even when it is dramatic, and since I have to have a Rossini in my funeral, I refrain from opting for an aria, because I wouldn’t know which one to choose. I love them all equally, as I love Rossini’s music as a whole. So, my ingenious idea that should make people smile when hearing it is to perform the infamous Sinfonia from this opera. It is a hilarious idea, I know, but that makes it all the most suitable for a funeral. There has to be something surreal about it…

  1. Alanis Morissette: Not as We
On a more modern note, I would choose this brilliant piece by Alanis Morissette. I found it through a TV show, I think it was House M.D. but I am not certain, it could have been something different. It is a perfect song for a funeral, just listen to the lyrics! And it is also a very beautiful melody, with relatively simple orchestration, something I really like.

  1. Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah
No, I do not want Cohen’s rendition, but the late Jeff Buckley’s one, because he was born to sing it (and then he died…). The unplugged long version of the song please, not anything electric and cut.

  1. Κώστας Γιαννίδης: Έτσι είν’ η ζωή
I stumbled upon Kostas Giannidis’ music totally by accident during a stay in Athens and I fell in love with his music. He really is worth your while, especially if you are into operetta and what we in Greece call “light” song. This song is about life and how it really is. And it is beautiful.

  1. Λένα Πλάτωνος: Ρόζα Ροζαλία ή το Ροζ Χρώμα from Εδώ Λιλιπούπολη
I grew up with this song, just like the previous generation before me. The whole Lilipoupoli program was a masterpiece, but this particular song – one of the few love songs in the whole thing – is so beautiful, it makes me weep. If I didn’t think that the list was already too long, I would choose many more songs from this cycle like Κύλα Γιαουρτοπόταμε ή το Άσπρο Χρώμα, Τώρα που πας κι εσύ στην Λιλιπούπολη, Μια βραδυά στο Πόρτο Λίλι and Αντίο Λιλιπούπολη.

  1. Μάνος Χατζιδάκις: Ο Ηθοποιός
I may never become a professional actress, but I think that the little I have acted on the stage so far, allows for this song to be heard in my funeral. It is an almost violent piece, so brilliantly performed by Dimitris Horn that rips my heart out.

  1. Henry Purcell: Fairest Isle from King Arthur
My funeral would be incomplete without Purcell’s music. And this lovely little aria, which has nothing to do with Death and desolation, has to be a part of it. I love Barbara Bonney and she has sung this aria beautifully, so I would be satisfied with her rendition.

  1. Irish Traditional: She Moved Thro’ the Fair
When I first heard this song on Ann Murray’s CD The Last Rose of Summer I was totally unprepared for it. I was moved to tears by it and its’ haunting melody, as well as the poetry involved in this song still ring in my head. Obviously I want the Ann Murray version and no other – I’ve heard quite a few, both instrumental and vocal, and none reach Murray’s perfection.

  1. W. A. Mozart: Deh, per questo from La clemenza di Tito
I have reached No. 36 and this is the first Mozart in the list. I don’t want to be misunderstood, I love Mozart and his Requiem is one of the grandest pieces ever written. However I do not believe that I will ever be worthy of this music, even in my death, so I will satisfy myself with something different. Sesto’s aria from Tito is also an aria of parting, and despite the fact that Sesto doesn’t die in the end of the opera, this aria nevertheless means something to me. If at all possible I want the Kasarova – Harnoncourt version from Salzburg, because it is the best rendition in my humble opinion.

  1. Claudio Monteverdi: Prologo from Il Ritorno d’ Ulisse in Patria
This Prologue from this lovely opera by my good friend Claudio Monteverdi is actually the sum of the reality of human existence. It speaks of the conditions and powers that affect the human life. It is transcendent as a piece of music. And since I cannot have the Combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda because it is definitely not funeral music, I go for this. Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s version is quite good and I am a fan of his, so it is welcome.

  1. Antonio Vivaldi: Abbia respiro il cor from La Silvia
Despite this being an aria with very local themes – the poem speaks of the city and surroundings of Lazio – it has something very funereal about it. It’s the breath-like movement of the melody in the voice line that makes it appropriate. Sonia Prina sings it perfectly well on her recording of Vivaldi arias and she is one of my favorite singers too. Also with this choice I make a small homage to the “Red Priest”, one of my all time favorite composers of the baroque and one who is slowly, but surly regaining his position in the history books of music.

  1. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade “The Story of the Calendar Prince”
Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic poem, inspired by the brilliant stories found in the Arabian Nights – a collection of fairy tales I hold very dear – is one of those pieces that make me dream of lands far and unknown and of adventures yet to experienced. Therefore I find this choice quite suitable for a funeral, considering that Death and the afterlife is just that: an adventure. Even though I would love to have the entire Sheherazade be performed, it is with a heavy heart that I have to choose the second part only. However this second part is my favorite of the four, so my heavy heart is somewhat uplifted…

  1. Igor Stravinsky: Infernal Dance of all Kashchei’s Subjects – Lullaby – Kashchei’s Death – Disappearance of the Palace and Dissolution of Kashchei’s enchantments from The Firebird
This particular ballet is my absolute favorite from this genre. It even tops Swan Lake for me. There is something in this particular story that draws me very intensely to it. And I absolutely adore the final part where the whole thing finally reaches its culmination. Stravinsky’s music is evocative of the Inferno in one point and of Paradise in the next. And so this final part of the ballet is also the last choice in this rather long and morbid list…

Wow! Forty entries! I didn’t think they would amass to so many! If one were to perform them in one night, it would probably result in the length of a Wagnerian opera. To think that I have left out pieces and pieces; from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture to arias from all kinds of operas and oratoria… If I were to add those in the list, the audience would accompany me to the afterlife, because it would take a lifetime to listen to them all! I don’t care. Those who love me will be very happy to sit through the whole thing. And those who don’t, won’t come to the funeral in the first place, so I don’t give a d**n.
Now, I am perfectly aware that this list is only provisional and it might change in the course of the years until the inevitable arrives. I simply felt the urge to write it down because it tells something about me: that, no matter what happens in my life, when it happens, Music will always be there to form the soundtrack of that life. And this soundtrack is something I want to leave behind, for generations to come, even if I leave nothing else.

P.S.: I am not dying… Yet!