Verdi – Un Ballo In Maschera

Sleeve Notes:

Had Marietta Piccolomini been available to sing the part of Cordelia, it is quite possible that the opera Verdi composed in 1857 for the San Carlo in Naples would have been King Lear. In that case, what eventually became known as Un Ballo in Maschera would have been missing from the composer’s catalog. However, the San Carlo management could not come to terms with Piccolomini, and the suggestion of a substitute prompted Verdi to the scornful response: “It is one of my customs to which I should adhere even if Malibran herself returned to the world not to have my singers imposed on me.”

Of the alternate subjects that presented themselves, Verdi’s preference eventually devolved upon the one Eugene Scribe had converted into a libretto titled Gustave III, ou Le Bal masque for Daniel Auber 25 years before. The whole of it passed from the repertory of the Paris Opera after a mere 41 performances, but according to custom the most favored part – the fatal bal masque itself – was retained for performance at mixed bills and galas. One of the more than 70 such occasions was January 14, 1858.

The random date may seem of no relation to the main theme of this discourse, but it is fatalistically relevant to both its subject and its object. The particular gala commanded the presence of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie. En route to the theater the royal party was set upon by Felice Orsini, an Italian revolutionary, and his followers. The bombs they exploded were meant for Napoleon, but in the carnage that killed several of his subordinates, the Emperor escaped with only shrapnel holes in his hat. Undaunted, he continued to the gala, accompanied by Eugenie in her bloodspattered garments. The part of the bill devoted to portions of Masaniello, William Tell and Mary Stuart – all, Vincent Godefroy reminds us in “Music Review,” dealing with “regicide or rebellion” – went on as scheduled. Understandably, the bal masque and its depiction of Gustav III’s assassination at the Stockholm Opera in March 1792 was curtailed.

The coincidence of operatic subject matter and its real-life counterpart on the same night may seem a once-in-a-lifetime rarity, but the Verdi files show that it was on this very day that he arrived in Naples bearing the score of his new work, of which the climax was an assassination at an opera performance. There already had been strong objections by what historians describe as the “Bourbon censors” to a prose résumé of the libretto. Verdi had acceded to some of them, including the elimination of either Sweden or Norway as locale, while the work was in progress. But the gravest decision of the censor had been kept from him by the San Carlo management for fear he might abandon the whole project.

When he was confronted by the changed circumstances – intensified, no doubt, by the news of Orsini’s “outrage” in Paris – Verdi’s anger was directed not only at the censor but also at those who had misled him about the true situation. This called for changes of such magnitude and detail that the libretto “acceptable” to the censor would have falsified, finally and completely, what was contained in the music. After months of court action between Verdi and the management—but directed, really, at the censor – a settlement was contrived. Verdi would return in the fall to stage Simon Boccanegra (in its first version) for the San Carlo, and the management would waive its rights to the new work. The premiere of Un Ballo in Maschera, as it was finally titled in paraphrase of Scribe’s subtitle, took place in the more hospitable surroundings of Rome on February 17, 1859.

If the “climate of the time” may be invoked to clarify the causes that made the original Ballo a classic example of dramatic ambiguity, with its Boston Puritans who live and die operatically, a Creole sorceress and French elegancies amid the austerity of the Massachusetts colonials, the same “climate” must not be excluded from the results that provided its vitality and have kept it, despite all., unconquerably alive. Principal among them was the appeal to Verdi of a subject which he described as “grandiose,” “vast” and even “magnificent.” Scribe’s treatment contained some features he deplored as “conventional” and “insufferable,” but it would be the task of the librettist (Somma) to minimize the worst and maximize the best.

Certainly it could not be argued that the central plot and its consequences were too remote or improbable to engage his emotions. Indeed, the murder of Gustav III was the closest thing to a contemporary historical subject Verdi had yet undertaken. As filtered through the mesh of librettoese, the philandering, tenor-singing Riccardo of Ballo begins as a first cousin, operatically, of the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto. But the political plot against him, complicated by the passion for revenge his amour evokes in one of his closest followers, provided a new element whose rebellious spirit was close kin to Verdi’s own feelings about monarchy and oppression.

The concurrence of the factual and the fictional has been amply documented in the eruption of Orsini’s plot against Napoleon III, readily calculated to make a nervous censor implacably hostile. But, in other ways too, life in mid-19th-century Europe was much more operatic than most of us can comprehend at this distance. The “secret door” by which Amelia enters Ulrica’s dwelling in Act I, Scene 2, may strike today’s apartment dwellers as typical melodrama, but the browser in Verdi literature cannot fail to note that a turning point in the fortunes of his hero, Cavour, is associated with a sub-rosa sympathizer whom he received by means of a secret passageway.

The easy acceptance of the incredible thus established, it is readily understandable that the crux of Ballo’s appeal to Verdi was the very element that strikes some cynics of today as trite : the infatuation of a king for the wife of his closest associate. What redeems it from triteness is the desperate endeavor of the woman in the case to honor the fidelity she feels she owes her husband, even to the point of finding a magical means of control-ling her emotions. Eventually, it is the unhappy Amelia to whom Verdi’s sympathies go in fullest measure when she is rejected by the man she has attempted not to deceive and becomes the unwitting cause of death for the man she has tried to love wisely, rather than well.

Thus, if the thunder of Ballo is the plot against the king and the impulse for revenge which makes Renato join forces with it, the blood of it is the same heart-pounding identity with human beings – especially female human beings – in distress which made Verdi partial to the dilemma of Violetta, the anguish of Aida and, most beset of all, Desdemona.

In the aggregate, these were values that had aroused Verdi’s musical adrenalin before and would – in some altered form -again. The question for us is : What was there about their occurrence in Ballo that brought his melodic secretions to the point of flow and meaning? To begin with, there was the atmosphere of the Swedish court at the end of the 18th century with its French derivations and its imitations of French customs that caused Verdi to refer to it as a “petit Versailles.” Then there were the gloomy dwelling of Ulrica and her under-world “connections,” the desolation of the campo abbominato which Amelia seeks out at midnight to find a cure for her unhappy condition and, by a relentless dictate of fate, the sinister plotting of the conspirators in which her fate and the fate of the two men in her life become hopelessly intertwined.

Together they account for the singular fact about Ballo: its duality. That is to say, for much of its length it is not one but two operas. Parallel to the strong dramatic line is another, lighter in tone, more ironic in character. Where the happenings are concerned with the court and its king, the mood is jaunty, the colors bright. Where they involve Amelia, Ulrica and the conspiracy, the mood is urgent, the palette somber. At first, they are played off against each other, for sound purposes of theatrical contrast. But as the action unfolds and the drama moves toward its inexorable climax, they become more closely related until, in the final scene, they are in progress concurrently.

IRVING KOL015IN from notes for the complete recording, LSC-6179

Verdi - Un Ballo In Maschera - another beautiful record cover from Cover Heaven

Label: RCA Red Seal SB 6778

1969 1960s Covers

Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian Serenaders – Serenade to Hawaii

Sleeve Notes:

“0 who can . . . wallow naked in December snow By thinking on fantastic summer’s heat?” (Shakespeare: King Richard II)

It may not be possible to feel warm in a British winter by merely thinking of some by-gone summer, but the music of Felix Mendelssohn and his orchestra on record is almost guaranteed to bring a vision of the sun to the most arctic climate. Hawaii! The very name conjures up a picture of waving palms, blue seas and sky and the surf creaming along the golden sand. Even the geography text-books fail to dispel the illusion and the atlas shows Hawaii as a string of islands, between twenty and thirty degrees north of the equator, set somewhere near the centre of the Pacific.

For many years the Hawaiians have been looked upon, quite rightly, as a gay, fun-loving people and music to them is an essential part of their life. Dancing and singing mean much to them and a, great deal of their traditional ceremonies use music as an integral ingredient. “Hula dancers” is a term used to describe young ladies swaying to the sound of dream music, but “hula” in itself means simply “to dance”. Hawaiian hula takes on an infinite variety of forms each described in its title; hula pahu, for example, is a drum dance in which the big drums dominate the rhythm. Felix Mendelssohn’s Sophisticated Hula represents a fusion of island rhythms and Western music. Three Hawaiian towns are saluted here; Hilo and Kalua are situated on the main island of Hawaii while Honolulu, the capital of the islands, is on Oahu.

Films about Hawaii invariably include scenes in which the lei plays a big part and the Felix Mendelssohn orchestra gives its impression of one such lei formed from sweet gardenias. Lei is a Hawaiian word meaning any garland or necklace, although it is a term which tends to be reserved for hoops of flowers nowadays. On a number of tracks extensive use is made of the Hawaiian guitar, a four-stringed instrument with a long neck which helps to give the music its distinctive colouration. The sweet harmonies and graceful, flowing melodies are pleasingly and accurately played by Felix Mendelssohn’s orchestra, for Felix has made a particular study of music from this corner of the world. Parting is such sweet sorrow, and, as the record comes to an end, we remember the traditional Hawaiian farewell “Liliha Lele’o”. There is no simple English translation for this touching phrase but one authority on Hawaii and its peoples has likened it to Horatio’s words at the death of Hamlet: “Good night Sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”.

The music of Hawaii is even more enchanting in Hawaii. Fly the B.O.A.C. Pacific Jet Bridge – Stopover en route in Honolulu at no extra fare. London – New York – San Francisco – Tokyo – Hong Kong by BOAC ROLLS-ROYCE 707 -Aristocrat of the Skies.

Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian Serenaders - Serenade to Hawaii - Cover Heaven beautiful record covers

Label: Encore! ENC 142

1963 1960s Covers

London Symphony Orchestra – Aida

Sleeve Notes:

In the spring of 1870, when Verdi received through the post from the French librettist Camille Du Locle the synopsis of an opera plot that was to become Aida, he was in his 57th year. The days when he produced an opera every few months were far behind. The pressures, financial and psychological, had eased, and for some time past he had written operas at intervals of three of four years: Un Ballo in Maschera was produced in 1859, La Forza del Destino in 1862, Don Carlo in 1867. Between compo-sitions Verdi was happy to return to the life of a farmer at Sant’Agata.

Managements continued to request new operas from him, and librettists to suggest subjects. He could afford to wait. Du Locle, joint librettist with Joseph Mery of Don Carlo, was anxious to collaborate again with Verdi and had put forward various ideas, including Froufrou by Meilhac and Halevy, Moliere’s Tartuffe and a play by the contemporary Spanish dramatist Lopez de Ayala. When he sent Verdi the Spanish play he enclosed a four-page synopsis of an Egyptian subject. It was this that aroused the composer’s interest. Rejecting the Spanish play, he praised the Egyptian synopsis and asked who had written it.

It was a question that has not yet received a complete answer. Du Locle’s immediate reply was that he himself had put it together from a story by the French Egyptologist, Auguste Mariette. Mariette, given the ennobling title of Bey by the Khedive of Egypt in recognition of his achievements, had presented his story to the Khedive with the suggestion that it could form the basis of a really splendid opera to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. The Khedive agreed, and through Mariette, Du Locle had been entrusted with the task of commissioning a famous composer to write the music.Verdi was the Khedive’s first choice, followed by Gounod and then Wagner.

When Verdi agreed to write the opera that became Aida, the Suez Canal had been open for several months. It might have been possible for the opera to have been written in time to inaugurate the new Cairo Opera House in November 1869, two weeks before the opening of the Canal, had Du Locle been less mysterious in an earlier approach to Verdi, when he had asked the composer if he would be willing to write an opera for a far-distant country. At that time Verdi had refused, and the Cairo Opera opened with Rigoletto. Now that he had agreed to set Mariette’s subject, a date for production was decided upon that gave him only six months to complete the opera. Du Locle drafted a complete libretto in French, but Verdi had decided the opera should be in Italian. Antonio Ghislanzoni, who some months earlier had worked on the revised Forza del Destino, was hired to translate the text into Italian verse.

Whoever may have had a hand in the libretto, the music emerged from Verdi alone – and in no more than four months. However, due to the Franco-Prussian war the shipping of the scenery from Paris to Cairo was delayed, and it was not until December 24, 1871, that Aida was given its first performance at the Cairo Opera House.

The opera was a triumph at its premiere and has remained immensely and deservedly popular ever since, though it has perhaps been somewhat misunderstood. It is generally thought of as a spectacular work, but despite the spectacle of its triumphal scene (Act II, Scene 2), which is admittedly the grandest scene in the whole of grand opera, Aida is intrinsically an intimate opera. It is an opera about individuals and their passions, not about nations and their military exploits. It also has a strong claim to be called Verdi’s most original work for the stage, combining as it does the vigor and melodic fecundity of the composer’s earlier period with something of the psychological penetration of the two masterpieces that were to follow – Otello and Falstaff – without in any way sounding like a transitional work.

It is little wonder that, in her centenary year, Aida should be at the height of her popularity with critics and public alike.

Charles Osborne
(from notes for the complete opere recording)

London Symphony Orchestra - Aida - Cover Heaven beautiful record covers

Label: RCA Red Seal RL 42090
Cover photo: Anthony Crickmay

1971 1970s Covers

Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian Serenaders – Pearls Of Hawaii

Sleeve Notes:

There can be few sounds more evocative of a place than the music of Hawaii. The soft, undulating melodies conjure up an image of the sun, the blue sea and the golden beaches. During his lifetime Felix Mendelssohn devoted his time to bringing those musical scenes to British audiences and the happy, carefree atmosphere of the Pacific Islands is captured again with the issue of these sixteen titles. To most people living in Britain, Hawaii seems like some make-believe dream world created by Hollywood and the picture-postcard manufacturers.

In fact, Hawaii is the largest of eight main islands comprising the Hawaiian Islands located near the centre of the Pacific Ocean. The picture of wonderful beaches, tropical flowers and hula dancers is a true one as far as it goes but there is more to the Hawaiian Islands than the immediate tourist appeal. Hawaii is proud of the fact that on August 21st, 1959, it became the 50th U.S. State, while on the island of Oahu, one of the group forming Hawaii, is located the American naval base of Pearl Harbour. Throughout the entire year the average temperature on the islands never drops below the lower seventies while surfboard riding, deep-sea fishing and swimming are some of the main pursuits of visitors. The visitors—the Hawaiians refer to newcomers as Malihinis, incidentally—are invariably captivated by the extreme friendliness of the people and the fabulous array of flowers (including the famous night-blooming cereus). At a luau, or Hawaiian feast, the visitor is likely to be offered poi, a paste made from the root of the taro plant, to say nothing of such exotic local fruits as pineapple, papaya, guava nectar, passion-fruit juice and papaya juice. Small wonder then that many of the Malihinis find the inducement so strong that they become Kamaainas, or old-timers!

Anyone who has ever visited Hawaii is likely to find that the music of Felix Mendelssohn will bring memories flooding back. Perhaps it will recall a particularly colourful Hukilau, or community fishing festival or possibly a trip to Honolulu’s Upside-Down Falls where a heavy rain dashes over cliffs and is blown upwards instead of falling downwards. Maybe My Isle of Golden Dreams will remind listeners of unspoiled Molokai, one of the smaller islands of the group where wild deer roam freely through pine-apple plantations. But even if Hawaii is only a fantasy world to you then we guarantee that the music of Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian Serenaders will bring sunshine and colour into your home.

Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian Serenaders

Label: Encore ENC 199

1961 1960s Covers

Duncan Lamont – Best of the Bossa Novas

A budget album packing a bossa nova punch. If you like the idea of smoooooth jazzy bossa nova sounds then listen to this album through the YouTube video below – you’ll be warmly rewarded!

Sleeve Notes:

‘If music be the food of love play on’ Music an emotional experience as opposed to an intellectual exercise — an idea expressed many years ago and never more valid than in the present day. The music of the Brazilians — the refreshing, stimulating rebirth of a naturally sensitive musical form—came as a ray of sunlight piercing through the ‘anaemia and confusion’ of the American musical scene.

Intellect had smothered emotion — the complexities of jazz were denying any rapport whatsoever between musician and audience and musician and fellow musician. It was not only a healthy sign but also inevitable that the bossa nova rhythm of the South Americans would sweep away the introspective concepts which were turning music into a mathematical problem.

In this album, we have tried to recreate some of the swing and sway of the bossa nova sound. Eight leading musicians, each an artist in his own right, each recognized for his own particular style and technique, have joined forces under a common banner — namely that of bossa nova. The sound, first instigated by the marriage of Stan Getz’ and Joao Gilberto’s music, is captured in its full honesty. Gentle improvisation leading out of a given melody is far removed from the mental acrobatics of much experimental jazz; the listener feels rather that he is invited to participate in and share a common emotion. Always the blend of controlled enthusiasm and natural flow induce a feeling of complete harmony and relaxation — a state of mind which few other forms of music can help to attain. Duncan Lamont’s arrangements are superb. Always simple, sometimes subtle, one can note particularly his version of ‘A Man and a woman’ which lends itself magnificently to the rhythm and is truly a masterpiece. Bossa nova will never die for it has become an integral part of our lives. Circumstances may change but the rhythm of the Brazilians will help sway time along and take one out of the noise and flurry of day to day living.


Duncan Lamont - Best of the Bossa Novas

Label: MFP 1357

1970 1970s Covers

Like Blue – André Previn David Rose

Sleeve Notes:

HOLLYWOOD, a land of fabulous success stories, can point to none more fabulous than that of Andre Previn. Young in years, a preponderance of experience has gained him recognition as one of America’s outstanding concert pianists, an established ding artist and one of the screen’s foremost musical composers and conductors at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he has been employed since 1945. He is currently musical director for two of M-G-M’s most important pictures — Bells Are Ringing and The Subterraneans, both produced by Arthur Freed.

Previn’s talent has been channelled into all facets of the musical world from arranger to composer-conductor and music director. In fourteen years, he has composed and scored thirty pictures. He has been nominated for an Academy Award five times, and won the Oscar for Gigi. In 1958, he also received the Screen Composers’ Association Award for his original ballet in Invitation To The Dance. Truly a year of achievement, he received the Berlin Film Festival Award for the best original score in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Bad Day At Black Rock, and the Downbeat Poll in two categories: Best Motion Picture Composer and Best Motion Picture Arranger in 1958. In 1959, Samuel Goldwyn chose Previn to score Porgy And Bess.

Previn’s composing encompasses both jazz and classical music. He has written piano solo works, chamber music and in 1958 completed his first symphony. He has also originated a great deal of material in the popular field. He began his recording career in 1945 and has many records to his credit. These run the gamut from jazz versions of Broadway shows, such as My Fair Lady, Pal Joey, etc., to the classics. In 1959, with David Rose, he won a Grammy Award for their recording of LIKE YOUNG. Previn has presented concerts, as pianist and conductor, in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and for seven years in succession with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in the Hollywood Bowl. He has appeared for recitals or presented chamber music in most of the major cities in the United States and Europe, and is famous for his jazz concerts throughout the United States.

Previn was born in Berlin, where his father was a piano teacher. The elder Previn discovered that his young son, at the age of four, had rare musical abilities. When he was six, Andre began to study music with his father extensively. In the 1930’s, just in time to miss the horror that followed, the family left Berlin. Andre’s older brother, Steve, had preceded the family to the United States, and taken a job in the motion picture studios of Hollywood. As a result, the rest of the Previns followed him there. The father resumed his teaching of the piano, and Andre was enrolled in Beverly Hills High School.

In May, 1950, he was inducted into the Armed Services. Two years later, upon being honourably discharged, he returned immediately to his film work, his recordings and his concert tours.

King-size in talent and heart is a brief but apt description of conductor-composer-arranger David Rose — one of the top-ranking music personalities in the world today. His name is synonymous with the finest in both classical and popular music presentation in the recording, film, radio, television and concert fields. His versatility and high standards in musical achievements have made him world-renowned.

In any given month, David Rose will compose and direct an outstanding score for an important screen musical, fly to some major city throughout the world to guest-conduct a famed symphony orchestra or compose and record a new and delightful musical number to bring pleasure to the public.

He started with M-G-M Records when it was organised in 1946. During this time, he has consistently been on the top list of record sellers for the company. His records are a must for the record collections of all music lovers. His popular compositions include Holiday For Strings, Our Waltz, Dance Of The Spanish Onion and One Love — now rated as standards.

On U.S. television, he has achieved recognition for his outstanding music direction of the Red Skelton Show, Fred Astaire Show, Bob Hope Show, Jack Benny Show, Dean Martin Show, Ziv-TV Productions and ” Bonanza “. Rose won an Emmy Award for his outstanding music direction of the Astaire Show. He also won the Grammy Award in 1959 for his recording of LIKE YOUNG which he did with Andre Previn. Also in 1959, he scored the UI motion picture, Operation Petticoat; and in 1960, M-G-M’s Please Don’t Eat The Daisies.

As a guest conductor, Rose has led symphony orchestras in major cities throughout the world. He has appeared with the Chicago, Milwaukee, Portland, San Francisco and Hollywood Bowl orchestras among many in America. He has also conducted orchestras in Copenhagen, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and other metropolitan centres. He has been honoured by the BBC by a special David Rose Tribute Show featuring many of his compositions.

Unlikely though it seems, Rose would have really preferred to have become a railway engineer. He has turned his early desire into a rather large hobby, having one of the most complete and detailed collections of miniature live steam engines. His miniature track encircles his one-acre Sherman Oaks estate. He has built or bought three engines, and has a complete shop for repairs and construction of parts.

Though born in London, he was brought to Chicago by his parents while still a small child. Rose’s musical talent at the piano brought him acclaim when in high school. His remarkable keyboard dexterity opened doors at NBC, Chicago. He became network pianist and arranger there. Then, he joined the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra. In 1938 he came to Hollywood and was associated with the Mutual Broadcasting System. He started to compose, conduct and write scores for motion pictures. During World War II, he served four years with the U.S. Air Force, and when honourably discharged he returned to Hollywood to resume his professional career.

Like Blue - André Previn David Rose

Label: MGM CS 6003

1960 1960s Covers

Alex Stordahl and His Orchestra – Magic Islands Revisited

Sleeve Notes:

New York born And Stordahl is one of the most distinguished musical personalities in motion pictures, television and radio.

Primarily self-taught, Mr. Stordahl went from Staten Island’s Port Richmond High School to a famous resort, where he joined Bert Block’s band. He remained with Block for three years.

Today, with close associations with some of America’s greatest musical names, Mr. Stordahl is one of the most accomplished and sought-after conductors in practically every medium of entertainment.

About The Music
This album is a musical visit (return visit, actually) to the Magic Islands.

We have tried, through spontaneously authentic and sensitive arrangements, the superb orchestral artistry of Axel Stordahl, and one of the most successful exploitations of High Fidelity to date, to bring the Magic Islands to you in all their lavish splendour.

Here is music that represents the enchantment of today’s Hawaii, while at the same time reflecting on a history rich in tribal tradition, the unprecedented courage of ancient warriors, and the Hawaiian’s natural instinct for harmony and rhythm.

In order that your musical “stay” in the Magic Islands is uninterrupted, and the delightful mood free of distractions, the talents of the Gene Rains Group – bright young natives of Oahu – beautifully bridge Mr. Stordahl’s beautiful interpretations.

We like to think we have, in so doing, created something more than an outstanding musical performance. We think you might find in “The Magic Islands Revisited” an almost tangible experience.

Alex Stordahl and His Orchestra - Magic Islands Revisited

Label: Ace of Hearts AH 134

1967 1960s Covers