Perhaps some Opera Today readers may wonder why a book on Sir Edward Elgar merits reviewing on this particular site. The composer never came near to completing an opera. In…
Chances are the world of opera bouffe is somewhat foreign to most listeners. Many may know one or two operettas by Offenbach – La Perichole, perhaps, or La belle Helene and a large number of melodies from various of his works collected for the ballet Gaite parisienne. But this extensive body of works from the last quarter of the nineteenth-century is infrequently performed, and, apart from the occasional aria heard on an inventively programmed recital, the repertory today is heard about more than it is heard. The names Audran or Lecoq are largely unknown, despite their having been very popular in this country at the end of the nineteenth century. (Maurice Grau brought many French productions to New York during the 1870s and 1880s, and the operettas, sung in French, were quite popular. Productions in the original language allowed the retention of the racy dialogue and numerous double entendres – most of which would have been unacceptable in English — so typical of these works.)
Like many of the nearly forgotten composers of his era, Henri Rabaud (1873-1949) had his day in the sun. A pupil of Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire, and later its director, Rabaud wrote eight operas, the most successful of which was Marouf, Savetier du Caire, which premiered in 1914 at the Opera-Comique in Paris and soon became a world wide hit. But today a mention of Rabaud’s name will likely draw a blank stare, even from well versed opera aficionados.
I had never heard of the Italian composer Domenico Alaleona (1891-1928) when a recording of his opera Mirra arrived in the mail. Baker’s gives him a respectable 22 lines, but says “his importance lies in his theoretical writings,” not this opera or various collections of songs, instrumental works, and a Requiem. If you’ve ever come across the term “dodecaphony,” well, Alaleona coined it (in Italian, of course).
As part of their “Gemini–the EMI Treasures” series, EMI has re-released recordings of some of Olivier Messiaen’s greatest hits: the Turangalila-Symphonie (1946 – 48), Quatour pour la fin du temp (1940 – 41), and Le Merle Noir (1951, for flute and piano). This two-disc release features the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, with Tristan Murail playing ondes martenot and Peter Donohoe on solo piano in the 1986 recording of Turangalila-Symphonie. Quatour pour la fin du temps was recorded in 1968 by Erich Gruenberg (violin), Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), William Pleeth (cello), and Michel Beroff (piano); Le Merle Noir was taken from a 1971 Abbey Road session with flutist Karlheinz Zoller accompanied by Aloys Kontarsky. These performances in their various manifestations on earlier albums have consistently received rave reviews, and with good reason. The performances are exceptional in their interpretation and the recordings have been beautifully remastered.
Between the 1930s and the 1950s, Hollywood composers pumped out tens of thousands of scores for what we now call “classical Hollywood films.” These films often contained an hour or more of music, but few viewers would have realized this. Certainly, many of these scores included themes that became very well known–Casablanca and Gone with the Wind come immediately to mind; however, much of the music was played quietly and inconspicuously. In classical Hollywood films, music is subservient to the narrative, and generally played two main roles. First, it served the film’s central narrative by heightening the emotional content of important scenes (e.g., ominous music when characters approach an abandoned castle) and revealing characters’ hidden feelings (e.g., love music while two characters are fighting). Second, music gave the film a greater sense of continuity by smoothing over cuts and moving slower scenes along.