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


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.

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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.

Lea Salonga Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.jpeg

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.

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“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.

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Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, 11 June 1962, Directed by Joe Hamilton and Written by Mike Nichols

This nine-minute medley sung by Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, called “History of Musical Comedy”, is a variety-show tour de force enough for the first six minutes; then at 6:00 it rises to high art in the most affecting soprano duet in the repertoire of American lyric theater.

Julie and Carol at Caarnegie Hall 2.jpeg

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Leopold! Leopold!

Here’s Stokowski, international maestro (and, like my beloved John Wilson, a Royal College of Music graduate) in my second favorite Deanna Durbin movie: 100 Men and a Girl. Directed by Henry Koster. Andre Previn‘s great-uncle Charles Previn, musical director, arranger, composer and conductor at Universal, won an Oscar for his score for 100 Men and a Girl. While at Universal, Previn accumulated over 225 films to his credit, including most of Deanna Durbin’s films.

Stokowski, Durbin

100 Men and a Girl is available in its entirety at my YT channel here

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The Music I Hear When I Gaze Upon Conductor John Wilson: “Glück das mir verblieb” from Erich Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, Sung by Beverly Sills

4 May, 2018—Everybody, go away. I’ve fallen in love with this man.

My Beloved John Wilson, 2013 Proms (1)

Glück, das mir verblieb,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb.
Abend sinkt im Hag
bist mir Licht und Tag.
Bange pochet Herz an Herz
Hoffnung schwingt sich himmelwärts.

Wie wahr, ein traurig Lied.
Das Lied vom treuen Lieb,
das sterben muss.

Ich kenne das Lied.
Ich hört es oft in jungen,
in schöneren Tagen.
Es hat noch eine Strophe—
weiß ich sie noch?

Naht auch Sorge trüb,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb.
Neig dein blaß Gesicht
Sterben trennt uns nicht.
Mußt du einmal von mir gehn,
glaub, es gibt ein Auferstehn.

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Antoni Mendezona Sings “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” from the Opera Noli Me Tangere

Music by Felipe de Leon, libretto by Guillermo Tolentino. Noli Me Tangere is based on Dr. Jose Rizal’s 1887 classic novel of the same name. It follows the story of Juan Crisóstomo Ibarra y Magsalin, who returns home to the Philippines after pursuing scholarly studies in Europe. He plans to open a school and marry his sweetheart, Maria Clara (where we get the name of the dress I’d love to make and wear again), but Padre Damaso, arch-enemy of the Ibarras, sets out to thwart Crisostomo’s plans, creating the dramatic—and very operatic—storyline of forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” is one of the great soprano mad scenes in opera.

Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa from Noli Me Tangere (Felipe De Leon)

From the 2011 University of the Philippines production. Info on Cebuana coloratura Mendezona can be found at her website here.

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Evelyn Mandac Sings Gustav Mahler’s 2nd “Resurrection” Symphony in C Minor with Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy Conducts, 1970

Mahler’s “Resurrection” was voted the fifth-greatest symphony of all time in a survey of conductors carried out by BBC Music Magazine. (Addendum 31 Jan 2019: I wonder if my beloved conductor John Wilson got to vote.)

evelynmandacAbove Cebuana New York-based soprano Evelyn Mandac (b 1945), who remains one of my role models (listen to her float over the fifth movement), the only Filipino singer ever to play the Met: Mahler’s entire glorious second symphony.

Although now lauded as monuments of vision and creativity, in their time Mahler’s symphonies were occasionally reviled but more often dismissed as a conductor’s egotistical indulgence. A critic of the time called his work “one hour or more of the most painful musical torture” (and that assault was directed toward his lovely pastoral Symphony no. 4!). As late as 1952, a detractor still moaned that “an hour of masochistic aural flagellation, with all of its elephantine forms, fatuous mysticism and screaming hysteria … adds up to a sublimely ridiculous minus-zero.”

The problem wasn’t so much a matter of grasping Mahler’s musical style. As the culmination of the long line of Viennese symphonists, his ideas were firmly rooted in the conservative structures of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner. Rather, the challenge lay in its emotional premises. As critic Herbert Reid later posited, “Mahler sensed the imminent upheavals that were to shatter the rationality and optimism that had driven Western civilization up to World War I. His symphonies are spiritual quests that reflect a wholly modern ambivalence of joy and pain, faith and doubt, transcendence and perdition. Mahler was way ahead of his time. Only by the 1960s did his private anxieties at last become our own.”

The Resurrection was Mahler’s favorite symphony, which he led on many auspicious occasions, and it had the longest gestation of any of his works. The opening was completed in 1888 as “Totenfeier” (“Funeral Rites”), a stormy symphonic poem to bear the hero of Mahler’s recently-completed First Symphony to his grave, amid torment over the meaning of his life. The middle movements awaited Mahler’s summer vacation of 1893 and reflected his fascination with the same medieval folk poetry which provided the texts for most of his songs.

The first movement is hugely dramatic; according to Mahler’s own program notes it aims to convey nothing less than a search for the meaning of life. The second, representing long-forgotten pleasure, is a gentle, old-fashioned dance of lilting grace, yet challenged by creeping shadows. The third is a grotesque and wickedly sarcastic waltz, shot through with anguished outcries. The fourth is a child’s song, naïve and wistfully introspective.

And then comes the vast finale, which depicts the full terror and glory of a pagan last judgment and resurrection. It begins with a huge crash and progresses through episodes of hushed expectancy, quivering tension, funeral dirges, hopeful fanfares and fevered misgiving, culminating in a triumphant apocalyptic chorale, one of the most glorious and powerful climaxes in all of music. Mahler adds to the awesome wonder with extraordinary instrumental effects, including offstage brass, a massive battery of percussion and ultimately the sheer visceral excitement of the potent sound produced by hundreds of singers and players. ~ Peter Gutmann, Classical Notes

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My First Music: “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” Cantata 51 by Johann Sebastian Bach

I was 17 and my voice was not going to get me to the Met, but I enjoyed singing to the tiny group that gathered on Friday afternoons in Room 204 of Northrup Auditorium at the U in Minneapolis. The month my boyfriend Jesse got out of the army (May 1972, just before he joined the Black Panthers) my teacher lent me an album of Teresa Stich-Randall and I picked out this number to do. It’s not a hard piece to learn but whoa, that breath control… That I managed to make it to the very end with some grace is due to Bach’s blessing to singers—all that forward motion impels you. But the effort was worth it. What a high!

Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach composed BWV 51 during a period when he composed church cantatas only irregularly, some of them to complete his earlier cycles. Both the soprano part, which covers two octaves and requires a high C, and the solo trumpet part, which at times trades melodic lines with the soprano on an equal basis, are extremely virtuosic. The cantata is one of only four sacred cantatas that Bach wrote for a solo soprano. The first aria, “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” (“Exult in God in every land”), is in da capo form, with extended coloraturas. The theme, with a beginning in a triad fanfare, is well suited to the trumpet. It is first developed in a ritornello of the orchestra and then constantly worked in the soprano part. At least, that’s what I remember.

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