SOLID BRASS AT THE OPERA
In an era when "faithfulness to the original" is considered by many to be the only acceptable approach to musical performance, a recording of arrangements for brass instruments of opera music probably will seem blasphemous to the stalwarts of authenticity. Historically, however, arrangements or transcriptions of the masterworks of classical music have played an important role in the life of our culture, and have been accepted as a legitimate source of musical enjoyment and artistic expression. For instance, many piano arrangements or "paraphrases" were made of symphonies as well as operas, and were well-appreciated by composers the likes of Beethoven, Wagner and Liszt. In fact, soon after the deaths of Beethoven and Schubert, when these towering composers were not known to the musical world at large, it was Liszt in his capacity as one of the first touring virtuosi, who prepared transcriptions of Schubert lieder and Beethoven symphonies as a means of introducing these pieces to a wider public. Wind versions of operas also were widely enjoyed, and even Mozart himself attempted to arrange his opera, Die Entfiihrung aus dem Serail for winds before another arranger could make money from it. No such version from Mozart's hand is extant, but it would seem that he regarded the medium as both enjoyable and potentially profitable (at least for the arranger!). Well into the 19th century, many communities did not have their own symphony orchestras and opera companies, but these arrangements helped to bring some of the world's greatest music to receptive audiences through small wind concerts and soirees.
In the spirit of a slightly less austere musical era than our own, then, we offer a program of favorite opera selections arranged for the simple purpose of providing musical pleasure and exploring the limitless coloristic and expressive possibilities of a superb 10piece brass ensemble.
The action of Wagner's Lohengrin takes place in the tenth century. It is a complex love story between Lohengrin, a knight of the Holy Grail, and Elsa, daughter of the late Duke of Brabant. Elsa is accused of murdering her brother, and Lohengrin comes to her defense. The couple eventually marries and the "Procession to the Cathedral" is the prelude to the famous wedding march. In "The Entrance of the King", the theater is darkened and we hear the morning calls being sounded from the watch towers. As day breaks, fanfares herald the approach of the troops led by various noblemen, climaxed by the arrival of King Henry.
Verdi 's Rigoletto, composed in 1851, is widely regarded as one of the pinnacles of Italian grand opera and a turning point in the composer's stylistic development, with music and the dramatic elements of plot and character for the first time perfectly integrated into a completely unified whole. Composed in less than 40 days, the opera is based on Victor Hugo's 1831 play, Le Roi s'Amuse and depicts the tragedy that the hunchbacked jester Rigoletto brings down upon himself and his dishonored daughter, Gilda, in his foiled attempt to wreak vengeance upon the lecherous and callous Duke of Mantua. The suite begins with the ominous prelude which portends the disastrous events to come. The famous Quartet, "Bella figlia dell' amore" ("Fair daughter of love") combines with simple yet masterful polyphony the simultaneous emotions of four characters: the lustful Duke, the flirtatious wench, Maddalena, the wounded and rejected Gilda, and the outraged, vengeful Rigoletto. "Caro Nome" ("Dear Name") is the virtuoso coloratura aria sung in Act II by Gilda while dreaming of her suitor, the disguised Duke. "La Donna e Mobile" ("Woman is Fickle") is the rakish Duke's cynical aria on the character of women, in which ironically, he accuses them of the very trait which is the hallmark of his own personality: infidelity.
The Don Giovanni Suite heard on this recording actually is based upon one of the wind band arrangements that enjoyed considerable popularity around Mozart's time. The drama of Don Juan's libertine exploits and ultimate punishment is encapsulated in this brief four-movement selection consisting of the overture, two arias by the Don' s reluctant manservant, Leporello, and "La ci darem la mano" ("Let us join hands"), a duet in which the Don makes his amorous appeal to the not entirely unwilling Zerlina.
George Bizet's Carmen has variously been called the perfect opera, and a bold departure from 19th century operatic conventions toward dramatic realism. Its famous melodies and engrossing story of a young officer's consuming and self-destructive love for a gypsy temptress have made it one of the most beloved and frequently-performed of all operas. Bizet himself arranged selections from Carmen into suites for orchestra, and it is upon this version that the brass arrangements are based.
The suite, Purcell Opera Selections is comprised of six instrumental works, the first three extracted from Henry Purcell's King Arthur (1691), while the last three are from his Fairy Queen (1692).
The story of Mozart's Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), with its Masonic overtones, encompasses the possibilities of human existence, with its allegorical presentation of love triumphant in the transcendent struggle from darkness to light. The opera's fairy tale characters are portrayed in this arrangement by various instruments: the Queen of the Night's coquettish three ladies in waiting by two trumpets and horn; the earthy bird-catcher Papageno by the trombone and tuba; the powerful and spiritually exalted Sarastro by the bass trombone; and the enraged Queen of the Night swearing her vengeance via the trumpet and horn. This magnificent opera proved to be one of the last fruits of Mozart's creative genius; he died only ten weeks after its premiere in 1791.