Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes posterThe accusation that opera is utterly unrealistic is hard to apply to Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) 1945 work ‘Peter Grimes’. Loosely based on a narrative poem by George Crabbe (1754-1832) it’s a tale of small-town gossip and prejudice and its devastating effect on the life of the social outcast Peter Grimes. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes”

Composer Profile: Frederic (Fryderyk) Chopin (1810-1849)

Chopin at 25 by his then fiancee Maria Wodzinska
Chopin at 25 by his then-fiancée Maria Wodzinska

The unquestionable musical genius of Frederic Chopin is perhaps most remarkable for the extreme narrowness of its focus: he composed almost exclusively for the piano, and none of his music fails to feature the instrument. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Frederic (Fryderyk) Chopin (1810-1849)”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ (1816)

the-barber-of-seville-video-coverThis was another opera that I really did watch in my pyjamas, one Sunday night before a recent public holiday, because I get really wild on the weekends. It’s basically the story of Rosina, the teenaged ward of Bartolo, a doctor prone to fits of rage who is effectively keeping Rosina under house arrest until she’s of an age that he can marry her for her dowry. And, probably, the sex.

Possibly on the basis that almost anything is likely to be a more attractive option than marrying Bartolo, Rosina falls for the poor student Lindoro, who is really the young Count Almaviva, who has disguised himself in order to test Rosina’s love by concealing his wealth. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ (1816)”

Composer Profile: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

swan lake image.jpg

Seldom in the history of classical music has a name been linked so thoroughly in people’s minds with a particular style of music than the way Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s name has been linked with ballet. Ask any layperson to name a ballet and the odds are fairly good that their answer will be one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous compositions – ‘Swan Lake’ (this link is to ‘The Dance of the Little Swans’, which is amazing) or ‘The Nutcracker’. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)”

Ballet on the Sofa: The Nutcracker

The_Nutcracker_(1993_film)_poster.jpgWith Christmas fast approaching I decided it was high time I watched the quintessential Christmas ballet: Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’, which was first performed in St. Petersburg in December 1892.

I elected to watch the 1993 Warner Brothers film version, and I rather suspect that this was a mistake. Continue reading “Ballet on the Sofa: The Nutcracker”

Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth

willow-treeThis short orchestral work was composed by George Butterworth (1885-1916) in 1913, and has become the best-known and most widely-performed of his small output. It’s a charming little work in the English Romantic tradition which is based on a number of folk songs, most notably a less-than-charming tale of a country lass who falls in love with a sailor, becomes pregnant and runs away to sea with him only to suffer a difficult labour. Dying, she asks her lover to throw her and the baby overboard, where they both perish. Continue reading “Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Verdi’s ‘Aida’ (1871)

A wet and windy Saturday morning provided the perfect excuse to curl up in front of an opera, and this time I decided to go with one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the great anti-Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), Aida.

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Triumphal March with acrobats. Because acrobats are cool.

Commissioned for the new opera house in Cairo in 1870, Aida was first performed in 1871. Set in Ancient Egypt against the background of ongoing military conflict between Egypt and the rival kingdom of Ethiopia, the story centres on the tragic romance between a captured Ethiopian princess, Aida, and the captain of the Egyptian guard, Radames. To be on the safe side I will at this point state that slavery, and specifically the enslavement of Black (Ethiopian) Africans, is central to the plot, and anyone who finds this distressing should probably avoid this opera and the rest of this post, which will include a plot summary. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Verdi’s ‘Aida’ (1871)”

Composer Profile: Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

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Richard Wagner, 1871

Quite possibly there has never been another composer in the history of classical music as controversial as Richard Wagner. He had a habit of running up debts, running out on debts, and running around with other men’s wives. And that’s before we even begin to talk about his music. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Richard Wagner (1813-1883)”

Ballet on the Sofa: The Firebird

Bright, brief, and action-packed, Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ was the perfect antidote to my underwhelming response to Wagner’s ‘Tristian and Isolde’. Stravinsky composed the score for Firebird in 1910, and the music is so appealing and enjoyable that it continues to be performed regularly even without the accompanying ballet as ‘The Firebird Suite’.

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The Firebird subduing Koschei’s minions.

The original ballet itself was choreographed by Michel Fokine. It is based on a Russian folk-tale of the mystical Firebird, who can be either a blessing or a curse to whoever owns her. Continue reading “Ballet on the Sofa: The Firebird”

Composer Profile: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

JohannesBrahms
Johannes Brahms

A recent concert in Whanganui featuring Brahms’ Piano Concerto Number 2 inspired me to find out more about ‘the last of the great Romantics’, a man most famous for his eponymous Lullaby. He was born in Hamburg, Germany, to a struggling (to the point of impoverishment) musician, Johann Jakob Brahms, and his much older wife, Johanna. Brahms’ talent was recognisable from an early age although his father refused to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Mozart and Mendelssohn by taking his child prodigy on tour. Instead, by the age of 13, Brahms was supplementing the family income with money earned by playing the piano in taverns, restaurants, and the like. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)”