Discovery, May 8, 2010 - 2pm
May 8, 2010 - 8pm
May 9, 2010 - 3pm
May 10, 2010 - 8pm
Single tickets $27-$55 (senior and student discounts available)
Performances at: Wells Fargo Center for the Arts
50 Mark West Springs Rd. Santa Rosa, CA 95403
MOZART:Overture to Don Giovanni, K.527
Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, who began calling himself Wolfgango Amadeo about 1770 and Wolfgang Amadè in 1777, was born in Salzburg, Austria, on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna, Austria, on December 5, 1791. He composed his opera Don Giovanni to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte during the summer and early fall of 1787 for performance in Prague, where it was produced under the composer’s direction on October 29 that year. The overture was the last part of the opera to be composed: it was apparently written on the night of October 27-28. The overture is scored for two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. Duration is about 7 minutes.
Mozart’s first great opera buffa, The Marriage of Figaro, was a sensation when it was produced in Prague. While visiting, Mozart discovered a population that could talk of nothing but Figaro. The opera’s tunes were whistled on every street corner. So when he was invited to compose a new opera specifically for Prague, he naturally attempted to recreate insofar as possible the formula that had worked so well for Figaro: the same librettist, an almost identical cast, the same mixture of the comic and the serious that had made Figaro such a vivid theatrical experience.
Librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte selected a theme found in various guises throughout western literature, the story of Don Juan, the inveterate seeker of sensory pleasures. His version shows the amorous Don finally receiving his comeuppance via the supernatural apparition of the statue of an elderly military man, the Commendatore, whom Don Giovanni had killed in a duel when the Commendatore was attempting to avenge the Don’s seduction of his daughter.
Mozart completed the overture early on October 28, 1787, the morning of the dress rehearsal. The first performance on October 29 was a brilliant success. Since Mozart always conceived his operas as a closed musical universe (with the last act finale in the same key as the overture), the first music heard in the performance is vitally important in the overall musical structure. The overture to Don Giovanni begins with a powerful opening in D minor, the same music returns near the end of the opera when the Commendatore’s statue demands that Don Giovanni repent his misspent life. Though the rest of the overture is a sunny D-major Allegro, we can never quite forget the shudder that the opening music brings, and it naturally affects the way we hear the remainder of the opera. (In the opera house, the overture ends without a final cadence; instead, it modulates to lead directly to the rise of the curtain on Leporello’s nocturnal grumbling. For concert performance, a few final chords in D bring the overture to a suitable conclusion before the modulation.)
Suite from Swan Lake, Op. 20a
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Kamsko‑Votkinsk, Vyatka province, Russia, on May 7, 1840, and died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893. He composed Swan Lake between August 1875 and April 22, 1876; it was first performed at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow on February 20 (new style, March 4), 1877. The suite runs about 31 minutes.
With his richly endowed lyrical gift, his masterful orchestration, and his ability to produce inventive rhythms in dance forms, Tchaikovsky was perfectly endowed to be a ballet composer. Oddly enough, his first major ballet, Swan Lake was unfavorably received, partly at least because of a poor performance and heavy cuts. Indeed, Tchaikovsky died believing himself to be an utter failure as a composer for the ballet, since none of his major ballets—Swan Lake(1877), Sleeping Beauty (1889) and The Nutcracker (1892) were regarded as a success by the public in their original productions. How surprised he would be to learn that Swan Lakeis the cornerstone of the classical ballet repertory, and The Nutcracker is performed so often every Christmas that it is primarily responsible for keeping ballet companies solvent!
The ballet told an extensive story in four acts about a young prince, Siegfried, who is expected to marry, but who is not interested in any of the princesses presented to him as a potential bride. But while hunting near a lake, he sees a flock of swans that land and turn into beautiful maidens; they have been enchanted by an evil wizard named Rotbart. The leader of the swans is the Princess Odette, who explains that only a marriage vow contracted in the face of death can break the spell that forces her to be a swan during the day.
Siegfried urges her to attend his betrothal ball the next night so that he can choose her as his bride. Baron Rotbart arrives at the ball with a woman who looks exactly like Odette, but dressed in black; she is actually Odile, “the black swan,” intended to mislead the prince in his choice. After he selects Odile, a vision of Odette, as a white swan, appears, and Siegfried realizes he has been tricked. Odette returns to the lake and her companions, and when Siegfried pursues her there to beg forgiveness, she dies in his arms. (In some modern productions, the tragic ending is changed, allowing Siegfried to slay Rotbart and recover Odette as his bride.)
Tchaikovsky’s score for this dramatic story is melodious, harmonically rich, and brilliantly scored, at a single stroke elevating ballet music from a hodge-podge of rum-ti-tum tinkling accompaniments dictated at the ballet-master’s insistence to a score that unfolds in dramatic fashion, building to a powerful climax. The suite from the ballet does not attempt to follow the story in detail, but includes some of the favorite waltzes and specialty dances, but it also includes the elaborate dance of the swans that heralds their arrival in Act 2 and closes with the powerful final scene from the end of Act 4.
WEILL:The Seven Deadly Sins (Ballet in Song) for Soprano, Male Vocal Quartet and Orchestra
Kurt Weill was born in Dessau, Germany, on March 2, 1900, and died in New York on April 3, 1950. He composed The Seven Deadly Sins (later given the fuller name The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petits Bourgeois, apparently at the suggestion of Brecht’s wife, Helene Weigel) in Paris in 1933 in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, completing the score on May 4 that year. The ballet was produced with designs by Caspar Neher and choreography by George Balanchine at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris on June 7, 1933; Maurice Abravanel conducted. For a staged performance, the score calls for a soprano representing Anna I and a dancer as Anna II, plus a male vocal quartet representing Anna’s family; the instrumentation calls for two flutes (both doubling piccolo), oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, tuba, banjo/guitar, timpani, two percussionists (triangle, cymbals, bass drum, three tom-toms), harp, piano, and strings. Duration is about 39 minutes.
During the late ‘20s, Kurt Weill passed from being a little-known composer of music in the avant-garde to a world famous composer of music for the theater, most of it written during a short-lived but immensely successful collaboration with dramatist Bertolt Brecht (though the credit that has long been given solely to Brecht really needs to be shared with a series of collaborators, most of them women, whose work Brecht used without giving them credit, a situation documented in John Fuegi’s 1995 Brecht & Co.). The most popular of these works was The Threepenny Opera, one of the most successful theatrical productions of the entire century.
In the years following the production of The Threepenny Opera, in 1928, the situation for all artists of advanced tendencies in Germany became more and more difficult—particularly if they were, like Brecht, of leftist political leanings, or if they were, like Weill, Jewish. He had once, out of curiosity, attended a Nazi mass meeting in Augsburg at which he heard Hitler single out himself, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Mann as prime examples of the “alien influences” rampant in Germany, and he feared that he might be recognized in the crowd and murdered on the spot. But he hung on in Germany as long as he could, until the Reichstag Fire (set by the Nazis in order to allow Hitler, then Chancellor in a democratically elected government, to declare a state of emergency and take dictatorial control) made it clear that his native country was becoming far too dangerous.
Finally, when a friend warned him that he was in imminent danger of arrest by the Gestapo, Weill escaped from Germany with Lotte Lenya on March 21, 1933, taking an automobile to the French border, then leaving it behind and crossing on foot so as to avoid unwanted attention from the German border guards, and making his way thence to Paris, where there was a growing number of German emigrés, many of whom knew and admired his work. The preceding December he had been to Paris to hear the first performances there of his Mahagonny Songspiel and Der Jasager, both of which had created a tremendous enthusiasm. Thus, when he arrived as an outcast, he had a ready audience both from the French cultural elite and the many German expatriates in Paris who had decided to leave Hitler’s Germany themselves. His friend Maurice Abravanel was already there, too, conducting with a new dance company, Les Ballets, and it was through this happy connection that Weill got his first commission outside of Germany.
It was a time of general confusion, doubt and uncertainty. His collaboration with Brecht had broken up, as had his marriage with Lenya (they had been living separately waiting for a divorce to be final); but apparently he felt the urge to assist his recent partners at this time, and he wrote to Brecht proposing a new collaboration on the ballet project, and, having made sure that Lenya got out of Germany when he left, he also determined that there should be a role for her in the new piece. Perhaps his decision to invite Brecht to take part came simply from the realization that his reputation in Paris was based entirely on their collaboration, difficult as their working relationship had been.
The plan was to create a ballet on the “Seven Deadly Sins” structured as a Medieval morality play. Brecht was not enthusiastic at first; he distrusted any art form that did not use his own medium, words. But when Weill was amenable to having singers take part in the new piece, he agreed to take part. Brecht disliked ballet, but proposed a variant—a work that would be both danced and sung. He conceived the story of a certain Anna, who would be represented in two aspects of her personality by a singer—“Anna I”—and a dancer—“Anna II,” who are actually two aspects of the same person. During March and April they laid out the general structure of the work as a critique of the evils of capitalism under the title of “The Seven Deadly Sins.” The result was a ballet with song, or a sort of mimed cantata.
The Annas come from a never-never-land called Louisiana (Brecht was much given to surreal uses of American locations that he had not visited.) The story, as such, traces the ways in which Anna I (who sings and who is “practical”) and her alter ego Anna II (the “beautiful” sister, who dances), set out from Louisiana to seek their fortune. The journey takes them to seven cities in seven years, and in each they earn some part of their contribution to the “little house” that their family is building on the banks of the Mississippi. The progress also illustrates the ways in which (according to Brecht) the “The Seven Deadly Sins” lead ultimately to success—particularly when these sins are discreetly veiled (as the family explicitly warns Anna II on the subject of avarice). Aside from the prologue and epilogue, each scene depicts one of the seven sins in the following order: Sloth, Pride, Anger, Gluttony, Lust, Avarice, Envy. For the songs, Brecht and Weill stayed close to the successes of the past, but most critics find in the ballet music a softer, newer Weill, a composer who is not nearly so interested in politics as Brecht and far more interested in the individual people whom he portrays.
Brecht himself made light of the piece after the premiere, which was, in any case, only a modest success at the time, though Kurt Weill scholar Kim Kowalke has called it “the crowning masterpiece of [Weill’s] European career.” A performance in London was not much more successful, and one in Denmark before the King was actually stopped by royal command when the King decided that this was not the kind of work that royalty should see! Not until the 1950s did the work begin to achieve further performances, and then often in a transposed version of the songs, designed so that they would fit Lenya’s vocal condition at that time. Finally in 1968 Evelyn Lear sang the original version—the first time it had been given since 1936—in a program under the direction of Colin Davis at one of London’s Prom concerts. From that time, the score has gradually made its way back into performance in the form in which Weill first conceived it.