Conductor John Wilson Among the Women of Glyndebourne’s Massenet’s Cendrillon, 2019

The intermission talk with director Fiona Dunn, my beloved John Wilson, mezzo Kate Lindsey, and soprano Danielle de Niese. The “topic of debate”: What should Prince Charming look like in the 21st century?

John Wilson Glyndebourne TalkI’m only here for the shoes.

My bonny John: “I think having Prince Charming as Massenet stipulated, it fits beautifully within the whole kind of sonic picture of the whole thing. It’s not a piece that you could say fits on one musical plane, it’s got lots of colors. It’s one of the most colorful pieces he ever wrote… When I said I was doing this piece to people, they would say, Oh yeah, that’s a nice light sort of sweet little piece. It’s not a sweet little piece, it’s a big piece, there’s always another layer to get to and there’s always more detail to explore, always more depth every time. It’s not lightweight…”

Jacques Brel Sings “La Quete” from Man of La Mancha, 1968

Three years after Man of La Mancha was a major hit on Broadway, Belgian music legend Jacques Brel licensed the staging rights, adapted the book, translated the lyrics, directed the production, and starred as Don Quixote with the original Dulcinea herself, Joan Diener.

Telle est ma quête
Suivre l’étoile
Peu m’importent mes chances
Peu m’importe le temps

Man of La Mancha

Reading about the revival of Man of La Mancha at the London Palladium brings back fond memories of the music, especially Joan Diener’s songs. Here’s one that just tears your heart out (English lyrics by Joe Darion; music by Hindemith-trained Mitch Leigh; French lyrics by Jacques Brel):

 

Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss—Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Soprano; George Szell Conducting the Cleveland Orchestra

The Four Last Songs are “Frühling” (Spring), “September”, “Beim Schlafengehen” (When Falling Asleep) and “Im Abendrot”(At Sunset). All of the songs but “Frühling” deal with death and all were written shortly before Strauss himself died. They are suffused with a sense of calm, acceptance, and completeness. The settings are for a solo soprano voice given soaring melodies against a full orchestra, and all four songs have prominent horn parts. The combination of a beautiful vocal line with supportive horn accompaniment references Strauss’s own life: His wife Pauline de Ahna was a famous soprano and his father Franz Strauss a professional horn player.

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My beloved John Wilson lived in this ravishing music when he conducted the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra late in March 2019, in a program that includes Korngold and the Emperor Waltz.

Joan Sutherland Sings a Song by Composer William Shield, Local Swalwell Lad Made Good

Dame Joan was the one who got me interested in classical singing, if not doing it myself then listening to and appreciating it. This really tasty ditty comes from the pen of William Shield of Swalwell (which is right next door to the neighborhood of Low Fell), Gateshead, who rose to be the king’s Master of the Musicians and was buried in Westminster. From his comic opera Rosina (1782). The New Symphony Orchestra of London, Richard Bonynge conducting.

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Two “Summertimes” from The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, One Conducted by John Wilson, 2018

…The other conducted by John Mauceri in 2006 with the Nashville Symphony & Chorus, in a production based (in part) on the original score markings of composer George Gershwin:

“For those who are familiar with the score, the very opening will seem slower. It is clear from Gershwin’s metronome markings and from the articulations in the orchestral parts that he intended the opening to be moderately fast (marked ‘Risoluto e Ben Marcato’ in the composer’s hand), exposing its inner syncopation and then accelerating. ‘Summertime’ is faster than we are accustomed. It is not a sad song, after all, and ‘A Woman is a Sometime Thing’ is slower. In fact, these two ‘lullabies’ by the mother and the father of their nameless child, are at the same metronome marking. In other words, Gershwin wanted to link the daddy and the mommy to each other by the speed of their music, even if their words and styles are quite (humorously) different.” On Porgy & Bess ©John Mauceri

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Anthony Tommasini in his New York Times review of the English National Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess described my bonny as the “excellent John Wilson, who led a performance that had sweep, shape and vitality, as well as rarer qualities: precision and restraint”. Here’s our John from this past summer rehearsing “Summertime“. Performances of ENO’s Porgy and Bess run to 17 November.

Lea Salonga Sings “In One Indescribable Instant” from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend by Rachel Bloom, Jack Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger

Why yes, I am a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan, and thank you for asking.

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Season 1, episode 18, 2016. Lea Salonga, as heroine Rebecca Bunch’s object of romantic desire Josh Chan’s singing-star aunt, sings a lovely but so over the top Disney Princess Song. This is before all hell breaks loose in seasons 2 and 3.

“Chanson de Maxence” from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort by Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand, Sung by Anne Sofie von Otter

Je l’ai cherchée partout j’ai fait le tour du monde
De Venise à Java de Manille à Angkor
De Jeanne à Victoria de Vénus en Joconde
Je ne l’ai pas trouvée et je la cherche encore

Je ne connais rien de lui et pourtant je le vois
J’ai inventé son nom j’ai entendu sa voix
J’ai dessiné son corps et j’ai peint son visage
Son portrait et l’amour ne font plus qu’une image

Cleansing my aural memory of John Wilson’s recording of Legrand’s “Chanson de Maxence” (in English clumsily rendered as “You Must Believe in Spring” or some such) in his awful 2000 album, Orchestral Jazz, with Anne Sofie van Otter‘s 2010 version (Brad Mehldau, pianist). Bonny John conducts his eponymous orchestra in an arrangement by Richard Rodney Bennett, who had absolutely no feel for this song. With such a strong melody (reminiscent of Fauré) and strong lyrics, all it needs is a strong emotive singer and a backup piano. I note with some distress that John himself did some other arrangements in this album, particularly for “Miss Otis Regrets”. With no lyrics! What the hell good is such a hilarious song without the words???

Anne Sofie von Otter

John and The JWO are okay, but just okay. I suppose when he was 28 my bonny’s loftiest ambition was to be the next Sidney Torch.