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Wiki With Me: The The Cumnor Affair (Phillip Cashian, 2008)

Did you know about the infamous “Cashian Affair?” Essentially, it was the illicit love between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, made more complicated by his wife Amy Cumnor (or Amy Robsart. You can now read about it at the new Wikipedia entry, solely written by me!

In the words of its creator Phillip Cushia,

“I wanted to write an opera where the audience is constantly on the edge of their seats wanting to know what’s going to happen next. The Cumnor Affair is my first opera although I had the idea for the story about 10 years ago. After reading Iain Pears An Instance of the Fingerpost I thought he’d be the perfect librettist for an Elizabethan murder mystery and was thrilled when he agreed to write the words.”

Tête à Tête

Enjoy reading ~ John V.

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Wiki With Me: Felix Mendelssohn’s “Oedipus at Colonus” (1894)

A new work to me, the ten-scene opera entitled “Oedipus at Colonus” (Op.93) follows the Greek tragedy written by Sophocles during the 1st century, included in his “Three Thebian Plays.” Recently, in 2010 the work had its contemporary revival and its now recorded for future generations.

For some context, the work was a commission by Frederick William IV of Prussia in order to encourage Berlin audiences to pay more attention to the classical works of Greek theatre, particularly tragedy. Featuring two soloists, a double male chorus, and an orchestra of 15 instruments, the opera is a captivating and highly sophisticated look at the horrors that befell Oedipus at the end of his life. To summarize, Oedipus (Rex) is a figure doomed to fate and try as he might, he ends up killing his father and marrying his mother unknowingly. At the knowledge of this, he claws his own eyes out while his mother hangs herself in despair and shame.

The opera received its first (private) performance at the Neues Palais in Potsdam, Germany on November 1st, 1845. Nine days later, the work received its first public performance in Stuttgart. According to knowledge of the work, it was relatively popular during Mendelssohn’s time and even received performance within and outside Germany. However, for audiences outside Germany the work may not be familiar if known at all.

If you’d like to learn more, I have linked some academic sources for you to read:

  1. Jason Duane Geary (2004): “Ancient voices: Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Sophocles’s “Antigone” and “Oedipus at Colonus.”
  2. Maria Teresa Arfini (2015): “Around Antigone: The Iconography and Music in the German Revival of the Classical Tragedy.”
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Wiki With Me: Franz von Suppé’s “Boccaccio”

[The following text was written for the publication Opera Wire]

Boccaccio, oder Der Prinz von Palermo (Boccaccio, or the Prince of Palermo) was one of the most influential operettas written by Austrian composer Franz von Suppè (1819-1895). Although rarely mentioned in the history of opera, von Suppè’s light operas (or operettas) were performed the world round and could be said to be the influence that Gilbert and Sullivan would pull from in the second-half of the 19th century, their name a lasting face to the style of operetta. Despite the operetta element, the work took musical influence from the Italian opera style, in other words bel canto.

The libretto was made by Camillo Walzel and Richard Genée, and was modeled after a similar play by several French playwrights at the time. The story loosely revolves around the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), best known for his work the Decameron, a compilation of 100 stories ranging in themes but all dealing with sides of the human experience. The plot revolves around the public backlash against Boccaccio and his love for the Duke’s daughter Fiammetta.

Begun in the fall of 1878, the work was published the year and had its premiere on February 1st of 1879 at the Carl Theatre in Vienna (destroyed by a bomb in 1943). Following its premiere in 1879, the opera went on a world tour. In 1880, the work came to New York, although not yet the Metropolitan Opera House, and soon after during the 1880s going to six different countries including Italy, France, England, Amazonas, and even Australia. By this time, the work had been performed well over 115 times and von Suppe’s name was known everywhere, most of all in his home of Vienna. During the 20th century, the work would also receive its fair share of international attention, the work making its Broadway debut in 1905. In 1931, the work finally received the Metropolitan Opera stage, being performed ten times during its time. following its performance it has not returned nor secured a spot in the canonized repertoire of opera. In the 1930s, the work would return home after having taken a world tour and from 1930 to 1952 be performed at the Wiener Staatsoper featuring the acclaimed Moravian soprano Maria Jeritza. The work would travel between Germany, France, and Italy for the remainder of the 20th century, and quickly fall off the map upon the drawing of the 21st century. However, during the 2015/2016 season of the Theater für Niedersachsen in Hildesheim, the work was revived under the direction of Spanish director Guillermo Amaya. 

The decline of the work’s popularity is in part due to the excessive modification of von Suppe’s original work, being reworked as early as 1885. By the 1930s, however, the work was undergoing significant change as its operetta element (text and singing) was being changed to include sung recitative instead. Music was also cut and roles recast for different voice parts, leading to general mayhem. That modified version was the one presented by the Metropolitan Opera. During the late 1900s, the opera was “modernized” by directors but the work would never again reach the same level of popularity as it did at the turn of the 20th century. 

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Wiki With Me: Reinhard Gebhardt

Within the fabric of music history, many people fall through. Many, MANY people are ignored who perhaps have interesting stories to share and novel lives and experiences that deserve to be recorded and known. One such individual, prompted by my learning of one of his piano pieces, is the composer, teacher, and performer Dr. Reinhard Gebhardt. Outside of select Etude publications (a newspaper at the time), nothing is known about him. Yet, he was a prolific performer and pedagogue who contributed to the pedagogical scene in Paris, Texas during his time. Read about him at the new Wikipedia page! More information will be added as I find more information about this fascinating and ignored musical individual!

None of his music is recorded and we will never really know what he or his music was meant to sound like outside of his published sheet music.

(A short post for today, sorry about that!)

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Wiki With Me: Antonio Bononcini’s “Sesostri re di Egitto” (1716)

[Picture: First page of the libretto of Sesostri re di Egitto]

Within the world of Baroque opera, there are far too many operas to be cognisant of them all, let alone a handful of them. Nevertheless, because I’m fascinated by unknown and lesser-known operatic works, Wikipedia is a wonderful venue for low-commitment research. Therefore, venture with me as we discover the opera “Sesostri re di Egitto” by Baroque composer Antonio Maria Bononcini (1677-1726).

Who Was Bononcini?

Born in Moderna, Italy, Antonio is the little-known brother of much more known Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747), composer and cellist (among other things). He’s most widely known for his impressive catalogue of operatic compositions but particularly his opera “Xerxes” (1694). This was modeled of earlier Italian versions (Francesco Cavalli’s Il Xerses, 1655), and included the aria “Ombra Mai Fu,” although the opera would be later adapted and the aria transformed by G.F. Handel. But back to his brother!

Having been born to a musical family, his father Giovanni Maria Bononcini a violinist and composer by trade. In his youth, Antonio studied with Giovanni Paolo Colonna (1637-1695), Italian composer and organist, praised for his sacred music and stellar ability to navigate between classical sophistication and the baroque stylized sensibility. He started his musical career in the orchestra of Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, although he’d begin to compose his first works in the late 17th century (around the 1690s). Interesting is that he would go onto write 12 cello sonatas, a historical event given the fact that only one other composer had written solo material for the instrument, the famed cellist Domenico Gabrielli having written quite a few works.

In 1700, he moved to Vienna with his brother and played at several venues before settling into service with Emperor Joseph I. He was even acquaintanced with George Telemann, a contemporary of J.S. Bach and criminally undervalued. In 1705, he became Kapellmeister (Chapel Choir Master) for Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, although returning to Italy in the early 1710s with his brother to become the maestro di cappella (Italian version) of Moderna. He lived a small bit in Rome but moved back in 1716 where he set up shop as a cellist and composer with the Molza Theater. It was during this time when he would write a good amount of his operatic works.

He’d go onto get married and have five children (four sons and one daughter), although none would continue the bloodline of musicians.

Now The Opera!

Premiered on February 2, 1716 at the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan, Bononcini’s opera tells the story of the fictious king of Egypt named Sesostris who is alleged to have explored Europe. Modern research notes that this mythical king is most likely Senusret III, a very real individual and the fifth Pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty of Egypt. The libretto, in the old Italian language, was written by two individuals,  Apostolo Zeno, a journalist turned poet, and Pietro Pariati, a well-known poet and librettist who created other works such as Orfeo ed Euridice (set by J. J. Fux in 1715)

The opera is in three acts and is modeled after the melodramma, in the 17th-century this term was synonymous with opera (it’s not the English over-the-top thing until the 19th-century). Featuring seven parts and a seven-instrument orchestra, the work could be considered a chamber work by today’s standards, although not a wise choice. Interesting still is its dedicated person, Prince Eugene of Savoy and Piedmont (a highly successful military commander of the Hapsburg Dynasty). He was known for his patronage of the musical and intellectual arts, aiding persons such as J. J. Rousseau and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

I hope you found this post interesting. Until next time!