Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

program notes: italian inflections

Saturday September 29, 2007
Sunday September 30, 2007

Rossini Overture from L’Italiana in Algeri

orchestration: 1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets; timpani; strings


orchestration: mezzo-soprano;1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets; timpani; strings

Mozart Aria “Parto, ma tu ben mio” from La clemenza di Tito

orchestration: mezzo-soprano; 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets; timpani; strings

Mozart null

orchestration: mezzo-soprano; 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets; timpani; strings

Rossini Aria “Una voca poco fa” from Il barbiere di Siviglia

orchestration: mezzo-soprano; 1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets; timpani; strings

Vasks Musica Dolorosa

orchestration: strings

Schubert Symphony No. 3 in D major

orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets; timpani; strings

Rossini dedicated most of his career to the creation of opera. By the time he was thirty-eight years old, he had been so successful in the genre that he was able to retire. Over the span of his short career, Rossini penned forty operas, ranging from zany opera buffas to more sophisticated serious operas. The two Rossini operas with excerpts featured on the program are from 1813 and 1816, when the composer was in his early twenties. L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) is an opera buffa that features some of Rossini’s finest work up to that point. It was the first of his operas to be produced in Germany and France. Since the project was undertaken in haste to fill a programming void, those in the know were concerned that Rossini’s setting of the Angelo Anelli libretto would closely echo a previous operatic version by Luigi Mosca, but Rossini delivered a clever and original score. He enhanced the character of Isabella and crafted complex, frenetic numbers that display his trademark affinity for crisp wordplay and interesting harmonies. The recitative and rondo, “Amici, in ogni evento…Pensa alla patria” (“My friends, whatever happens…Never be frightened”) is sung by Isabella in Act II. In this number, Isabella inspires courage in the Italian slaves as they attempt to break free from the master. She then proclaims her love for Lindoro, a young Italian slave, and her desire to leave the older Taddeo. *Il barbiere di Siviglia* (The Barber of Seville) was based on a play by Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais (adapted by Cesare Sterbini) that had previously been set by Giovanni Paisiello. The respected older composer’s setting of the libretto was so well-known, in fact, that the twenty-four-year-old Rossini had to go public with both praise for Paisiello and an explanation of how his setting would differ from the previous one. The production seemed at first to be plagued with difficulties: The man who commissioned the opera, impresario Duke Sforza-Caesarini, died just a two weeks before the opera’s opening night, and Paisiello’s supporters disrupted the first performances. To further distance himself from Paisiello’s work, Rossini chose to call his opera Almaviva, a reference to the main character. Rossini had to tolerate the complaints of Paisiello’s fans for only a few months, because the older composer died soon after the premiere of Almaviva. By August of 1816, the work was known by its more famous title: Il barbiere di Siviglia. The aria “Una voce poco fa” (“When a lover’s tender voice echoed”) is Rosina’s declaration that she will win the love of the count.

Italian opera companies did not pay young composers very well, certainly not as well as they paid their featured soloists. Rossini was prolific in order to make a living. Legend has it that Rossini wrote Il barbiere di Siviglia in just under two weeks; some accounts say nine days. Rossini’s great success in the genre is due to the confluence of two main factors: the demand of the public for Italian opera, and Rossini’s ability to meet this demand with a great quantity of works that pleased both the audience and the singers who performed in them.

Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus) is another case of quick composition. An early biographer of Mozart claims that the work was completed in less than three weeks, although that is almost certainly an exaggeration. Even if he composed the opera in double that amount of time, Mozart was still putting the finishing touches on the opera the night before it premiered, and it is likely that he allowed his student Süssmayr to write some of the secco recitatives since these speech-style phrases are quite plain musically. Mozart may not have realized it when he was writing, but he was running out of time in a much larger sense: La clemenza and Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) were Mozart’s final operas. The former was a commission from the impresario Domenico Guardasoni in Prague. The occasion for the commission was the coronation of Leopold II as he ascended the throne of Bohemia. Mozart was not Guardasoni’s first choice, however, because of the more Germanic style of his music. The impresario instead wanted the more Italianate taste exemplified by opera master Antonio Salieri. Both of the featured arias from this opera are sung by the character Sextus, or Sesto, a friend of the emperor Titus. Sesto is in love with Vitellia (daughter of the former emperor) and, in the beginning of the opera, must decide whether to kill Titus (at Vitellia’s request), or help his friend and the woman he loves find love together.

The libretto for La clemenza was written by the famous and prolific Pietro Metastasio. Mozart did not set all of Metastasio’s original libretto, however. Caterino Mazzola’s adaptation of the work reduced the libretto by nearly one-third. The net result of these changes is a lighter, more direct narrative, where the musical numbers come to the fore. Since La clemenza was written so close to Mozart’s passing, the opera found new life after his death when his wife Constanze arranged concert versions of the opera as part of a musical fundraiser.

Pēteris Vasks, a Latvian composer, wrote Musica Dolorosa in 1983. A work for string orchestra, Musica Dolorosa attempts, like opera and drama, to explore the conflict of elemental forces in human existence: love and hate, birth and death, consonance and dissonance. Vasks has discussed at length his reverence for the power of music to express spiritual concerns, finding that instrumental music provides a language that often transcends the written or sung word. The composer has found many ways to express the central struggles of human existence; Vasks’ work displays the influence of varied twentieth-century styles and composers, notably Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt. Both Górecki and Pärt have cultivated a clean, minimalist sound that draws upon sacred traditions. From these different influences, Vasks has crafted a distinctive synthesis of older, more established styles rather than emphasizing his own unique voice. It is his desire to illuminate the way for the soul’s journey and to express his Latvian heritage that so marks him as a composer.

The 19th century saw German Romanticism steadily grow in prominence and influence. Yet even though figures like Beethoven and Wagner dominated the imaginations of many young musicians, Italian opera still cast an intoxicating spell for many composers. Some, like Rossini, made opera the core of their oeuvre, while others wrote music inspired by it, subtly nodding to the genre. It is a well-known fact that Schubert wrote more than 600 songs in his short life. He is also known as a symphonist and composer of chamber music. We do not know him as an opera composer, even though he did write opera and stage works, and he was heavily influenced by opera throughout his life. His attempts at writing in the genre, however, did not lead to success and even caused him embarrassment in some cases. Many of his operas, including Schubert’s favorite, Alfonso und Estrella, were not staged during his lifetime. Some have blamed his failures on sub-standard librettos, while some have said that Schubert could not properly discern what would work well on stage.

At 18, Schubert experienced a prolific “miracle year.” He wrote four operas, two symphonies, and about 145 songs. His Symphony No. 3, written in this year, was composed in less than a month. Contemporaneous as it was with Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, Schubert’s Third is remarkably succinct. Like Beethoven, Schubert included some aspects of the slow introduction as an organically developed theme in the Allegro of the first movement. Something else Schubert’s Third Symphony has in common with Beethoven’s work is the presence of an Allegretto in the place of a slow movement. The slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh is a transcendent theme and variations, while Schubert’s scoring treads lightly, excluding trumpets and percussion and featuring a playful clarinet theme. The third movement avoids the conventions of the minuet and trio form, choosing instead to emphasize the third beat of each measure rather than the first, an alteration that would confuse dancers, should they try to perform the minuet. The influence of opera, specifically comic opera, can be heard clearly in the fourth movement. The quick and ephemeral themes go by so quickly, the listener must be reminded of the comically speedy drive of the themes in opera overtures. It is here, and in his art songs, that hints of opera found their way into Schubert’s music. He was able to use the influence of the large scale dramatic form to enhance both smaller vocal works and more expansive instrumental works.

- Christine Lee Gengaro, Ph.D.

tonight’s compositions in LACO’s history
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has performed Rossini’s Overture from L’Italiana in Algeri four times, first on June 9, 1983 with Gerard Schwarz conducting and most recently on December 4, 1994 with Jeffrey Kahane. Audiences across Europe will hear LACO play tonight’s Rossini arias when the orchestra takes them on tour with mezzo-soprano Vasselina Kasarova in March 2008. Musica Dolorosa by Pēteris Vasks will receive its LACO premiere tonight. Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 in D major has been a signature work for this orchestra through its seven performances during the past three decades. LACO first played this symphony under the direction of Sir Neville Marriner on April 29, 1978 and most recently with Jeffrey Kahane on the podium on September 3, 2002.

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