Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mercoledi Musicale

Several years ago as I was returning from Bologna to Roma on the train I listened to a podcast that I had downloaded a year or two before.  I'm sure that most of us have those on our iPods, iPhones or whatever we listen to music on these days - those things we always meant to listen to but never got around to it.  It had been posted by Charlie Handelman on his podcast  Handelmania - a incredible series of over a hundred podcasts uploaded between March 2006 and November 2010.  Charlie produced a remarkably eclectic potpourri of things operatic - live broadcasts, old 78s, pirated recordings, private tapes - ranging from the earliest days of recorded sound to the most recent performers: his last podcast was arias by Piotr Biczala, a Slavic tenor who had just appeared with some success on the scene in New York.

Most of  Charlie's programmes were built around themes - a favourite singer on their birthday, a memorable performance from the past, a vocal type or national operatic style or a particular aria, duet or ensemble.  In the case of the podcast on the train it was devoted to one duet from an opera that has never been part of the standard rep but has recently gained a niche in European opera houses.  Erik Korngold's Die Tote Stadt had its double-premiere in December of 1920 and became a world-wide success in all the major opera houses.  It disappeared from German and Austrian houses with the advent of Nazism and after its initial success did not reappear elsewhere with any frequency.  Its rather purple prose libretto (the work of the composer's father the renowned Viennese music critic Julius Korngold) doesn't work in its favour and the lush score is not to everyone's taste but two pieces became popular as the work itself faded from sight: the baritone aria Tanzlied des Pierrots and the duet Mariettas Lied.  

Charlie Handelman's programme centred around eleven versions of this lovely melody in its original form for soprano and tenor.  But it is also a favourite as a soprano solo in recital and one of the loveliest version is by the late Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar.  I saw this greatly underrated singer three time on stage - as Euridice in Orfeo with Shirley Verrett at Covent Garden, in a ghastly production of Mitradate, Re di Ponto at the Salzburg Festival and in concert in Toronto.  It was at the later that I committed one of my numerous faux pas when approaching a celebrity for an autograph.  A very gracious smiling Lorengar was signing my program as I gushed:  I saw you in that dreadful Mitradate last summer!  No I mean it was dreadful not you!  You were wonderful! It was the production that was dreadful! Unfortunately I kept putting the emphasis on the word "dreadful". Fortunately my friend Alan was there to push me aside and do his normal charming shtick, leaving a rather perplexed soprano wondering why this mad man had called her dreadful! 

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.

Joy, that near to me remains,
Come to me, my true love.
Night sinks into the grove
You are my light and day.
Anxiously beats heart on heart
Hope itself soars heavenward.

How true, a sad song.
The song of true love,
that must die.

I know the song.
I heard it often in younger,
in better days.
It has yet another verse--
Do I know it still?

Though sorrow becomes dark,
Come to me, my true love.
Lean (to me) your pale face
Death will not separate us.
If you must leave me one day,
Believe, there is an afterlife.
Original text by Julius Korngold under the pseudonym Paul Schott
English ranslation by Lisa Lockhart (

In the context of the opera itself it is sung by the music hall entertainer Marietta to Paul - who is obsessed with his dead wife Marie, who Marietta resembles.  There are several versions on YouTube and one of the best dates from a gala at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1986.   By then soprano Karen Armstrong's voice was beginning to show signs of wear but Marietta had been one of "her" roles and she shows why.  One wonders how Siegfried Jerusalem was able to resist her charms.

A quick google to find out what Charlie Handelman is doing these days reveals that he has revived the podcasts in November of 2011 and has added a web version in the past few months.   And he continues to delve into his treasure chest of rare and wonderful items from the past - the first thing I heard from the new iTunes podcast was excerpts from an 1929 Aida that he had transcribed from 78s.  He tells us that this was the first opera recording he ever heard and that he had lugged them home from the lending library in Flatbush.  He rather amusing remarks that "If not for this recording, I would have been a normal human being."

I've now discovered over a hundred more items to download and listen to on the bus in the mornings.  Thank you Charlie.

October 17 - 1814: London Beer Flood occurs in London, killing nine.

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anyone listened to my music would think I needed medical's from 40's thru 70's..then chanting, irish music, bag pipes, lady blacksmith mombasa, and the heavy..

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