Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote In Jules Massenet’s Opera La Cendrillon At the Met, 2018

Cheshire-born Alice Coote and Kansan Joyce DiDonato, both lyric mezzos, play Prince Charming and Cinderella in The Met’s production of Massenet’s whimsical opera.

DiDonato Coote Cendrillon

Actor/director Fiona Shaw’s production of La Cendrillon makes its Glynbourne Festival debut in August, 2019, conducted by John Wilson with Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese in the title role. (Later on in the year De Niese will be starring, with Kelsey Grammer, in the first West End staging of Man of La Mancha in fifty-three years, produced by the man who was the first to bring me to climax when I was 18.)

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

Three years after Man of La Mancha was a big, big 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.

Rêver un impossible rêve
Porter le chagrin des départs
Brûler d’une possible fièvre
Partir où personne ne part
Aimer jusqu’à la déchirure
Aimer, même trop, même mal,
Tenter, sans force et sans armure,
D’atteindre l’inaccessible étoile
Telle est ma quête,
Suivre l’étoile
Peu m’importent mes chances
Peu m’importe le temps
Ou ma désespérance
Et puis lutter toujours
Sans questions ni repos
Se damner
Pour l’or d’un mot d’amour
Je ne sais si je serai ce héros
Mais mon coeur serait tranquille
Et les villes s’éclabousseraient de bleu
Parce qu’un malheureux
Brûle encore, bien qu’ayant tout brûlé
Brûle encore, même trop, même mal
Pour atteindre à s’en écarteler
Pour atteindre l’inaccessible étoile.

Jacques Brel Joan Diener La Lancha.png

Reading about ML’s revival of Man of La Mancha at the London Palladium next year brought back fond memories of the music, especially Joan Diener’s songs. Here’s my favorite one that just tears my heart out, courtesy of lyricist Joe Darion and Hindemith-trained composer Mitch Leigh:

What Do You Want of Me?

Pourquoi Fait-il Toutes Ces Choses?

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

The 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.

Schwarzkopf Last Songs Strauss

My bonny John is going to be living in this ravishing music when he conducts 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, Gateshead, who rose to be the king’s Master of the Musicians and was buried in Westminster. From his comic opera Rosina (1782).

Wiliam Shield.jpg

“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 version. 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.

Monty Python and Invasion of the Charioteers, Conducted by John Wilson at the 2013 BBC Proms Of Course

Nice going Leopold, you really shot your wad (7:33). But what an overblown piece of music, worthy of its parodic use by Monty Python (“Knightsbridge” and “Dambusters” being other pieces of grand music parodied by the Pythons).

John Wilson Rosza 4.jpg

Don’t get me wrong, I adore most of Miklos Rosza. But it seems to be so typical of the JWO to end their show —Hollywood Rhapsody they called it—with another barn blaster. Still, you get to hear the Grand Organ.

Actually I’d like to have heard the other pieces on the program, particularly David Raksin’s quietly nuanced “Laura”. I did manage to find a clip of the JWO doing their rendition of Bernard Herrmann’s aria from the fictional opera “Salammbo” in Citizen Kane that introduced the incredible Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva (she hits that high D) to western audiences. So that’s good.