Mercoledi Musicale

I first heard Jacques Offenbach’s La Périchole back on a Met Saturday afternoon broadcast in 1957. Loosely based on Micaela Villegas, (La Perricholi) a historical character well known in Peru, it concerns La Périchole and Piquillo, two impoverished Peruvian street-singers too poor to afford a marriage license. The lecherous viceroy, Don Andrès de Ribeira wishes to make La Périchole his mistress but inadvertently arranges for the two lovers to get married. The music is amongst Offenbach’s most charming and lacks the satirical bite of many of his works. I was enchanted by both the music and the performances of Cyril Richard (Mary Martin’s Captain Hook) as the Viceroy and the inimitable character tenor Alessio De Paolis as a demented Old Prisoner. I remember when a hightlights recording was issued with the same cast that I most upset to discover that it was only available to members of the Metropolitan Opera Record Club and was well beyond my weekly allowance.

Though I never did get that Met recording I was eventually to get have two recordings of the complete operetta and a few excerpt discs in my library. Amongst those excerpts were two by the Russian operetta star Claudia Novikova recorded back in 1937. I had not realized that there was such a thing as Moscow Operetta State Academic Theatre and that La Périchole was a great favourite during the Stalninist period (!), particularly if Novikova was singing.

In Act 1 Périchole has left Piquillo and she has been wined and dined by the Viceroy who wishes her to join his wife’s house hold as a lady-in-waiting and his own as his mistress. However to do the former and become the later she must be married. So they get anyone they find who just happens to be Piquillo who has been drowning his broken heart in wine. They both arrived at the ceremony tipsy and Périchole tells us all about the great diner she’s just had.

Novikova was known for her laugh and here she uses it (perhaps too) liberally. I find the laugh most infectious and at no point does it interfere with the vocal line.

I have fond memories of listening to that recording at my last dinner with my darling Ryan. He, Uncle Pervy, and myself – though not quite as tipsy as Périchole – end up laughing ourselves silly as we listen to it.

But Novikov wasn’t a one trick pony – she had rock stolid technique and the ability to convey character in just a phrase or two. In Act III Périchole declares her love for Piquillo even if he “isn’t all that good looking or riche” and when Novikov declares it any Piquillo would be a fool not to believe her.

The word for June 15th is:
Laugh /laf/: [1. verb 2. noun]
1. To make the spontaneous sounds and movements of the face and body that are the instinctive expressions of lively amusement and sometimes also of contempt or derision.
2. An act of laughing
Old English hlæhhan, hliehhan, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch and German lachen,

Mercoledi Musicale

In 1967 Benjamin Britten arranged the Royal Anthem* for the opening of the Snape Maltings arts complex. It is unusual in that the first verse, the one we are all familiar with, begins in the hushed tones of a prayer. It than builds to a three-fold cry of “Long May She Reign”. It has always been my favourite arrangement and in light of the festivities that have begun to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee I thought I would made it this week’s Musicale choice.

If the Britten arrangement is unusual this version of it is equally unusual.

In June of 2020 The Vox Medicalis Choir in Bucharest was to participate in the Queen’s Birthday Celebration at the British Embassy. Because of COVID it wasn’t to happen but none the less the Choir decided to pay their respects by making this video. Though the recording of Britten conducting it at the opening is quite splendid I found this version very touching.

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen!

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour,
Long may she reign!
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen!

Traditional; earliest known version by John Bull (1562–1628)

* Here in Canada our national anthem is Oh Canada** and God Save the Queen is recognized as the Royal Anthem. The governor general and provincial lieutenant governors are accorded the “Viceregal Salute”, comprising the first three lines of “God Save the Queen”, followed by the first and last lines of “O Canada”.

.** My good friend and copy editor Pierre discovered two errors in today’s post. I corrected one but I’ll just leave this one and think of it as a Freudian slip.

The word for June 1st is:
Reign /rān/: [1. noun 2. verb]
1.1 The period during which a sovereign rules.
1.2 The period during which someone or something is predominant or preeminent.
2.1 To hold royal office; rule as king or queen.
2.2 To be predominate.
Middle English: from Old French reignier ‘to reign’, reigne ‘kingdom’, from Latin regnum, related to rex, reg- ‘king’.

Mercoledi Musicale

Many glowing tributes to my beloved Teresa Berganza over the past week have included clips from performances and albums and all of them spotlit the warmth and sheer beauty of her voice. However I found this simple unaccompanied medieval canticle to the Virgin Mary says everything to me about why I fell in love with her and her artistry.

The court of Alfonso X el Sabio (the Wise) was a centre of learning, science, and the arts in 13th century Castile. Alfonso encouraged Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars at his court and commissioned translations into Castilian of books in Arabic and Hebrew. He set the foundations for the development of Spanish sciences, literature, and philosophy. Amongst the codices on astronomy, Mediterranean history, and chronicles of Iberia, the Cantigas de Santa Maria (Canticles of Saint Mary) stands out as a singular achievement. This vast collection of 420 lyric poems in the Galician-Portuguese language is the largest collection of vernacular monophonic (solo) songs to survive from the Middle Ages.

Each song contains a reference to the Virgin Mary – many recount her miracles, some like Cantiga 10: Rosa das rosas (Rose of roses) sing her praises and others are prayers for her intercession. Cantiga 100: Santa Maria is a prayer asking for her guidance and protection. The album cover shown here is Narciso Yepes, the renowned guitarist, however Teresa Berganza recorded it a capella as part of a compilation album with him.

The word for May 18th is:
Canticle /ˈkan(t)ək(ə)l/: [noun]
A song, hymn, or chant, often with a biblical text, forming a regular part of Christian worship.
Middle English: from Latin canticulum ‘little song’, diminutive of canticum, from canere ‘sing’.

Mercoledi Musicale

At dinner the other evening we were listening to a programme from Montreal that features music from the 40s-60s and they were playing one of my favourite songs: I’ll be seeing you. Written by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal in 1938 it has had many covers over the years. I didn’t recognize the voice and was surprised when the DJ said it was Liberace. I had forgotten, if indeed I ever knew, that it was his theme song and it ended most of his shows.

There was a time when the name Liberace was immediately recognized – he was Mr. Showmanship. His television show in the 1950s was one of the most widely watched in North America. I remember that in our family opinions of him varied widely: my Aunt Vic thought he was the cat’s meow and my mother snorted that he was a “fop”! His Las Vegas and touring shows were extravagant, flamboyant, high quality entertainment; and they were sellouts world wide. And they weren’t just about him. He featured some remarkable acts – which allowed for the 8 or 10 costume changes he indulged in. For many years the Toronto-based Famous People Players were featured in his shows

As with many of the entertainers I grew up with his name is now only a curiosity to most people beyond my generation. But I suppose that is to be expect because frankly I don’t recognize half of today’s “celebrities”. Sic transit etc.

The word for May 10th is:
Favourite /ˈfāv(ə)rət/: [1. adjective 2. noun 3. verb]
1. Preferred before all others of the same kind.
2.1 A person or thing that is especially popular or particularly well liked by someone.
2.2 The competitor thought most likely to win a game or contest, especially by people betting on the outcome.
2.3 A record of the address of a website or other data made to enable quick access; a bookmark.
3. To record the address of (a website or other data) to enable quick access in future.
Late 16th century (as a noun): from obsolete French favorit, from Italian favorito, past participle of favorire ‘to favor’, from Latin favor

Mercoledi Musicale

I was reading a review of a recent concert featuring the soprano Diana Damrau and the writer was taken by a charming little piece that she had included in her truly eclectic programme. Unfortunately Damrau hasn’t recorded it but several other performers has including this version by Amy Justman with composer Brad Ross at the piano.

The word for April 27th is:
Waltz /wôlts/: [1. noun 2. verb]
1. A dance in triple time performed by a couple, who as a pair turn rhythmically around and around as they progress around the dance floor.
2. To dance a waltz.
Late 18th century: from German Walzer, from walzen ‘revolve’.

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