High Note

Delusion and defiance reign in Anna Bolena

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

It's safe to say that Henry VIII was a tyrant. He was a big fan of capital punishment (especially with the wives), and he wasn't what one would call monogamous. The point is—the king who founded an entire religion simply to legitimize his many divorces was bad news.

Amidst all of the court intrigue and beheadings sat Anna Bolena. Before her execution she became the second queen consort of Henry and gave birth to a future queen: Elizabeth I. However, her inability to produce a male heir is ultimately what lost her favor with her husband and led to her ultimate demise.

Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti, a master of the late bel canto style captured a popular version of the queen's final days in his opera Anna Bolena, which was presented by the Kennedy Center this year.

The punishing title role of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” was brilliantly played by Sondra Radvanosky. The opera reminded me that you don’t need symbolism or political message to create a memorable musical experience.

With traditional staging, opulent period costumes and stark sets which took advantage of the chiaroscuro created by the lights and shadows let the audience focus completely on the singing of soprano Sondra Radvanosky. Vocally stunning, she sang elegantly sad aria with lustrous warmth and aching vulnerability.

The last scene (at least for me) was the high point of Ms. Radvanosky’s performance as the distraught British queen of Henry VIII. Having been falsely condemned for betraying her husband, Anna drifts in and out of sanity.

Anna is restored to horrific reality, curses the “wicked couple,” the king and his new queen, and stalks off to her execution, insisting implausibly that she is not seeking divine retribution but going to her grave with mercy on her lips.

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Carmen Ileana Román writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

History repeats itself

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

As I pen this last column of the year and I think about the recent assault on Christmas I thought it would be interesting to look back to how the Christmas celebrations came about in this great Republic of ours.

The celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all.

Under America’s new constitution Christmas was declared a federal holiday in 1870.

The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high (sound familiar) and gang rioting like what was seen in Michigan recently occurred during the Christmas season.

In 1828, the New York City council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.

Before the Civil War (1861-1865) the North and South were divided on the issue of Christmas, as well as on the question of slavery. Many Northerners saw futility in the celebration of Christmas. But in the South, Christmas was an important part of the social season.

In the years after the Civil War, Christmas traditions spread across the country. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, America eagerly decorated trees, caroled, baked, and shopped for Christmas. Since that time, materialism, media advertising, and mass marketing has made Christmas what it is today.

The traditions that we enjoy today were invented by blending together customs from many different European countries into what is considered by many to be a national holiday.

I have included some traditional music of the season performed by the Vienna Boys Choir, Placido Domingo and the immortal Luciano Pavarotti. As you listen to this selection I want to wish you all peace, health, love and a very Merry Christmas.

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Carmen Ileana Román writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

Stars and Stripes Forever, the Sousa Legacy

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

In this very important month that celebrates Veteran’s Day and has a monumentally important presidential election I thought it would be interesting to rediscover some of the most patriotic marches of the late romantic period of John Philip Sousa.

Sousa was born in Washington, DC in November 1854 to a Portuguese father and a mother of Bavarian decent. He started his music education at the age of six. Found to have absolute pitch and harmony when he reached the age of 13, his father a trombonist in the Marine Band enlisted his son in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice.

Several years after his apprenticeship, Sousa joined a theatrical orchestra where he learned to conduct. He returned to the United States Marine Band as its head in 1880 and remained as its conductor par excellence until 1892. He led “the President’s Own” band under five presidents, and played at two Inaugural Balls.

After he left the Marine Band, Sousa organized his own band. The Sousa Band toured from 1892-1931 performing in numerous concerts. In 1900, his band represented the United States at the Paris Exposition. Believe it or not the Sousa Band marched through the streets of Paris, one of only eight parades in which they appeared in over forty years of performances.

Sousa wrote 136 marches beginning in 1917 and continuing to do so until his death. Some of his most popular and notable are “Semper Fidelis,” the Official March of the United States Marine Corps; “Stars and Stripes Forever,” National March of the United States; and “The Washington Post,” written for the Marine post established during the war of 1812.

Sousa also wrote a few operettas in his younger days. The music is light and cheerful with melodic strains that leave the audience humming long after the performance. His most renowned work is “El Capitan” which makes fun of false heroes.

Along with his music Sousa showed talent for writing. He wrote three novels and numerous articles but it is his band music which he is known for.

His music is nationalistic and rousing. In a time when to be patriotic seems like a bad word I want to offer my readers a chance to hear and feel the pride that this music evokes, but don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself.

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Carmen Ileana Román writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

The enchantment brought about by the music of Rogers and Hammerstein

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

This is a very unusual column because unlike the others I write marginally about music. I take the liberty to dedicate my column to three remarkable women that I had the privilege to know when I attended the University of Madrid.

The sleuthing skills of the native Chicago classmate brought about this long overdue reunion in New York City last weekend. As the native New Yorker I was relegated the duty of planning our itinerary. Besides doing the typical sightseeing of Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Fifth Avenue etc., I chose a Carnegie Hall concert with the New York Pops playing a repertoire of the music of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. Their music is not only beautiful but in my opinion represents the clean, principled simplicity and naiveté of the early 1950s and 1960s that my classmates and me all lived and experienced.

The post war era was a time of national growth and pride. Inconceivable technological advancements, communication advancements, ease of travel, greater discretional income, inflation and 2 misunderstood wars (Korea and Vietnam) motivated excesses and the fast erosion of the values and principles which once were thought to be unshakable. This period is also reflected in the musicals of the era which begin to question and contain thought-provoking plots.

As our reunion unfolded, each woman identified with the common affiliation that had brought us together during our studies. Stories of youthful trips and fun were recanted, along with memories of persons who left an indelible mark on all of us. As the weekend progressed it became obvious that the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s coldly dismembered values, principles, and aspirations of a dream filled world that we all identified with in those early works of the dynamic duo of Rogers and Hammerstein.

I fondly remember the tear filled parting during our studies abroad, as we talked of the purpose and happiness we would seek in the world, but there was no perfection, order or fairy tale awaiting us. The world we expected, and were groomed for, had a short life. The world as we knew it dramatically changed before our eyes. Yet, yesterday, strangers of a half a century, joined in support of one another, and current families.

Once as young women groomed and released from one world as pure white doves, into a sky that would allow us to reach heights of self realization and satisfaction. An event, a reunion, 43 years later brought us together, but the uncertainties of distant time and varying life experiences, saw each woman, face and find herself in the eyes of those they had left behind a lifetime ago.

Now a bit aged, these doves, came together with unbridled and open acceptance and nurture that each received from the other, that gave recognition to the fact that, though experiences had been difficult, acceptance and appreciation brought warmth, understanding, and for that magical moment in time, the spirit of youth soared like a phoenix through the embattled casings of age. Just like the musicals of Roger and Hammerstein we had weathered the storms of life and emerged stronger with the spirit and resolve of our new found friendship to make sense of our next chapter with the happy ending of the “formula musicals.”

For your listening pleasure I have included some of my favorite selections from The King and I, South Pacific and Cinderella.

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Carmen Ileana Román writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

Murder, seduction and eternal damnations

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

Don Giovanni epitomizes what has sometimes been called the madness of sex. Don Giovanni (Don Juan), the infamous womanizer, makes one conquest after another supposedly seducing 1,003 women in Spain alone.

Over the course of a scandalously sinful day, his misadventures come back to literally haunt him, when the ghost of Donna Anna’s father, the Commendatore, (whom Giovanni killed) makes his appearance. He offers Giovanni one last chance to repent for his improprieties, but Giovanni will not change his ways, so he is condemned to hell for all eternity.

Don Giovanni came into being on the eve of the French Revolution and was itself a revolution in many respects. Don Giovanni in the time of its composition, the turbulent late eighteenth century, has enthralled artists and thinkers since its premiere in 1787. Inspired by the Baroque work of the Spanish monk Tirso de Molina’s El Burlador de Sevilla.

It is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. This was the second collaboration between Mozart and Da Ponte following their success with The Marriage of Figaro. Da Ponte described Don Giovanni in the cast of characters as “an extremely licentious young nobleman.” In the mayhem of rape and murder that constitutes the opera’s opening scene, it can almost pass unnoticed that Leporello calls his master a “libertine.” In Mozart’s day, it was associated with another licentious nobleman: Donatien Alphonse François, the Marquis de Sade.

Mozart’s music is incomparable in the skill with which Mozart displays all the varied moods and situations arising out of the story of the legendary rake Don Juan. Every character stands out in the musical picture. There is scarcely a feeling known to humanity which is not expressed in some of the situations or characters. The profound expression of melancholy, the variety of its situations, the beauty of its accompaniment, or the grandeur of its heightening and protracted scene of terror Don Giovanni stands heads above in dramatic eminence.

One of the greatest operas every written, Don Giovanni simply does not age. If you’ve never seen it, discover the glory of a piece that has been thrilling audiences while simultaneously shocking them for over 225 years. This month the Washington National Opera will be performing it. But don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself in the following clips that I have included.

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Carmen Ileana Román writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

The world of depravity and murder

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

Rigoletto, a masterpiece of Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi, is one of the most performed of all operas. It was a hit at its opening in Venice in 1851 and has remained an enduring favorite. The Italian libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave was based on the play Le roi samuse by Victor Hugo that depicts one of the many womanizing episodes of King Francis I of France.

Rigolettos popularity rests on Verdis gift for melody. Each one of the three acts is packed with memorable tunes. The most famous, La donna mobile, is one of the best known arias of all time. But there are a dozen other unforgettable numbers such as the love song Caro Nome.

The story deals with an egocentric politician, an innocent young girl and a fathers curse. Rigoletto takes us on an emotional journey that is at the core of the operatic experience.

The plot is dark and tragic. Rigoletto is the poisonous-tongued hunchback who is the court jester of the licentious Duke of Mantua. He delights in egging on the Duke to torment his courtiers and seduce their women. In Act I, he takes it too far and is cursed by the aged Monterone, whose daughter has been one of the Dukes conquests. Rigoletto secretly hides his beautiful daughter Gilda, away at his home in the city. When the Duke finds and seduces Gilda, Rigoletto arranges to have him murdered, but the vengeance goes horribly wrong and falls on him instead. The curse comes to fruition when Gilda likewise falls in love with the Duke and eventually sacrifices her life to save him from the assassins hired by her father.

With the exception of Gilda, each character in the opera is repugnant, ranging from the amoral Duke to the scheming courtiers and the hired assassin Sparafucile, whose introduction to Rigoletto in Act I is a fabulously dark and inventive trio between bass, baritone and cello. Even Gildas easily bribed maid/servant contributes to the tragedy.

The triumph of the opera is that the music makes us live the lives of its characters - good, bad and ugly - and stays in our heads long after weve left the opera house. But dont take my word for it, judge for yourself. I have included two clips of my favorite tenor Vittorio Grigollo in the role of the Duke. Enjoy!

Carmen Ileana Romn writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

Zarzuela

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With the economic troubles that Spain is now experiencing I thought that I would reflect on some of the cultural wealth that it has imparted to the world with its music.

The zarzuela is specifically a Spanish form of musical theater reserved for a privileged few in areas of large Latin and Hispanic population. It is a Lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, the latter incorporating operatic and popular song, as well as dance, frequently using rhythms and traditions of Spains rich musical heritage, with plots that often feature popular comic types you might have met in the Madrid of yesteryear.

The zarzuela as genre was innovative because it gave a dramatic function to the musical numbers, which was integrated into the theme of the work. Dances and choruses were incorporated as well as solo and ensemble numbers, all with orchestral accompaniments.

Zarzuela went through various transformations over succeeding decades, taking on attributes of other European music-theatre forms: Italian grand and comic opera, French opera-comique, and operetta.

In 18th-century Spain of the Bourbon, Italian artistic style dominated in the arts, including Italian opera. Zarzuela, though still written to Spanish texts, changed to accommodate the Italian vogue. During the reign of King Charles III, political problems provoked a series of revolts against his Italian ministers which were echoed in theatrical presentations of the zarzuela.

In the 1850s and 1860s a group of patriotic writers and composers led by Francisco Barbieri and Joaqun Gaztambide revived the zarzuela form by incorporating Spanish dance and folk rhythms into a formula that had proved successful for French composers like Offenback and Lecocq. The elements of the work continued to be the same: sung solos and choruses, spiced with spoken scenes, and comedic songs, ensembles and dances. Costume dramas and regional variations abounded, and the librettos were rich in Spanish idioms and popular jargon. The zarzuela of the day included various regionalisms and popular slang of the Madrid castizo.

La Verbena de la Paloma premiered in 1894. A verbena is a street fair (much like St. Anthonys Street Fair in New York Citys Little Italy), usually held in a working class Madrid neighborhood to honor a certain saint. In this case, the honoree is La Virgen de la Paloma or Our Lady of the Dove. The Verbena de la Paloma is widely regarded as perhaps the most perfect of all short zarzuelas.

I would like to explain the importance of the Mantn de la China which is so central to the story of La Verbena. Silk shawls with fringes, made in China were available by the first decade of the nineteenth century. Ones with embroidery and fringes were available in Europe and the Americas by 1820. These were called China shawls and in Spain mantones de Manila because they were shipped to Spain from China via the port of Manila. The importance of these shawls in fashionable womens wardrobes declined between 1865 and 1870. However, they became part of folk dress in a number of places and in Spain they became a part of the gypsy dress in Andalusia. Their use as part of the costume of the lead in Bizets opera Carmen contributed to the association of the shawls with Spain.

The following clips let you savor some of the glorious music of the Verbena de la Paloma with Carlos Marin of Il Divo fame.

Carmen Ileana Roman writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

Talent abounds in Maryland

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This past weekend I was pleasantly surprised to preview the Trinity Chamber Orchestra of Washington which had their last concert of the season in Bethesda. Under the expert direction of Dr. Richard Fazio the audience was treated to an interesting repertoire of Mozart, Haydn and Brahms.

That being said, it was the Argentine-born pianist Fabian Faccio who won the audiences admiration with his unerring sense for variety of tone. He offered both prodigious technique as well as imposing virtuosity that fully proved his understanding of balance between solo and orchestra.

Seldom have I heard Haydns Piano Concerto in D played with as much fervor as that which Mr. Faccio infused. One could almost see the music floating through his body. From the first note to the last, his music was full of energy and space. The stunning dynamism of the chord sequences, the expressive contrast of the melodic interludes posed no obstacle for him. Without a doubt, Mr. Faccio possesses the technical and interpretive skills to take on the difficulties of this work and transport his audience to the Classical period of the salon in Haydens Austria. He brings the listener to his world and that is what live performance is all about.

The beautiful movement from the Vivace to the pleasant Rondo was sonorous and musically engaging. It truly was an honor to have witnessed Mr. Faccios masterful interpretation shine.

Mr. Faccio is a virtuoso who knows his instrument perfectly well, it is a shame that this amazing pianist appeared like lightening over the Bethesda concert.

As the concert came to an end I marveled at the fact that an Argentine pianist and an American conductor tactfully reminded all of us present that it is the intuitive and completely honest approach which best resonates with an audience because it gives the artist and the works played true integrity.

I look forward to following this orchestra in their future presentations.

Carmen Ileana Romn writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

The Perfection of Nabucco

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

Nabucco is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi and Italian librettist Temistocle Solera, based on the Biblical story and the 1836 play by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue. It is Verdis third opera and the one which is considered to have permanently established his reputation as a composer.

Nabucco follows the plight of the Jews as they are assaulted, conquered, and subsequently exiled from their homeland by the Babylonian King Nabucco. The historical events are used as background for a romantic and political plot.

Washington National Operas presentation of Nabucco is spectacular. Thaddeus Strassberger, the shows director and set designer, presented the idea to show how this opera, might have come across to an audience at its 1842 premiere at La Scala. To underline the point, he presents it as a story-within-a-story, enacted before a 19th-century audience with a row of armed Austrian soldiers.

The sets were wonderfully lavish; reminding me of a Fragonard painting with their tones of blue background and honey colored lights.

The best known number from the opera is the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves," Va Pensiero which is regularly given an encore when performed. In 19th-century Italy it became a veritable anthem of Italian independence was absolutely magnificent. The voices of the chorus blended so beautifully especially during the final crescendo that one must imagine this is what paradise must be like. Although it was a bit confusing to some when the audience when we are moved behind the scenes, to see ballerinas practicing, stagehands moving sets, seamstresses sewing costumes, while the chorus sang in the background.

Singers of Verdis music are a rare breed but the cast assembled for this production was flawless. Italian baritone Franco Vassallo (Nabucco) delivered his role exceptionally well, but it was in this persons opinion that the Hungarian soprano Csilla Boross (Abigaille) who stole the show with her powerful voice. The mezzo-soprano Geraldine Chauvet (Fenena) had a consistent, even sound.

The eternal music of Verdi, the cast and the sumptuous costumes and sets made this one opera worth seeing, but dont take my word see for yourself. I have included two clips; the second is a clip from Italy in 2011 with conductor Riccardo Muti so you get the feeling of what occurred at the end of opera at the Kennedy Center when soprano Csilla Boross led the audience in an impromptu sing-a-long of the Va Pensiero chorus.

One does not have to be Italian to feel the patriotism of this song which brought some in the audience to tears when referring to the homeland. Perhaps this was a political statement by the National Opera in these strained and troubled political times of our country? Or maybe it was just an audience moved and overcome by the beauty of the music. Whatever it was, make sure you see the second clip to the very end.

Carmen Ileana Romn writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

The Historic Folklore of Prince Igor

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One usually doesnt think of Russia when one thinks of opera yet there have been a few Russian composers that have produced quite notable operas. One such composer is Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin (1833 1887). Borodin was a Russian romantic composer.

As a boy he was educated in the sciences and was given piano lessons. He pursued a career in chemistry. Music remained a secondary vocation for Borodin outside of his main career as a chemist and physician.

In 1868, Borodin became distracted from his work by his opera Prince Igor, which by some seems to be his most significant work and one of the most important historical Russian operas. It contains the Polovtsian Dances, often performed as a stand-alone concert work forming what is probably Borodin's best known composition.

'Prince Igor' is one of those operas that are not often performed because its parts are greater than its sum. Composed intermittently over 18 years, left unfinished and subsequently finished by Borodins surviving colleagues Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, this intriguing piece of Russian history resembles a splendid vintage folk adventure that complements the music, singers and dancers.

The libretto of the opera is basically a stylized, mlange of battles experienced by 12th-century Russians under siege by Oriental chieftains, coupled with court intrigue and romance. Prince Igor, his family and his court become flesh-and-blood photographic images. They become czarist ghosts stepping out from the turn-of-the-century newsreels, while Khan and his Polovstian warriors are as ancient and exotic as the story itself.

Borodin's score was used in 1953 in Broadway's "Kismet," perhaps most notably in the song, "Stranger in Paradise. In 1954, Borodin was posthumously awarded a Tony Award for this show.

Borodin's music is a feast for the ears full of romantic charm and enticing melodies, which envelope and transports the listener to the Russia of old, with its onion-domed churches, richly decorated icons, and Mongolian invasions. His music exudes an undeniable Russian flavor especially vigorous and strikingly passionate with its unusual exotic harmonies. But dont take my word for it, listen and judge for yourself.

Carmen Ileana Roman writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.