Day 60 – Falla: El Amor Brujo + Berlioz: Les Nuits Dete (CD 60)

Right out of the chute, I can tell that the first composition is an opera. I didn’t know that ahead of time. But a woman is serenading me within the first two seconds of the first movement.

Today’s album offers two compositions, one from Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) called El Amor Brujo and one from Louis-Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) called Les Nuits Dete.

Even though the album lists these compositions in that order (de Falla first and Berlioz second), they are actually in reverse order on the CD.

So, when I pushed “Play” on my iTunes (is it still called that?) app, I thought was hearing de Falla when I was actually hearing Berlioz.

I will list these works in the order in which the album lists them:

From its entry on Wikipedia,

El amor brujo (Love, the Magician, literally, Spell-bound Love or The Bewitched Love, sometimes translated as Wedded by Witchcraft) is a ballet composed in 1914–15 by Manuel de Falla to a libretto by Gregorio Martínez Sierra. In 1916, Falla arranged a rendition of the work for sextet and small orchestra and the following year he made a concert version, also for small orchestra. Later, he fashioned a piano suite from it and finally, a second ballet version (1925) that features expanded orchestration, elimination of the narration, small cuts and plot changes, and a different order to the numbers.

The work is distinctively Andalusian in character with the songs in the Andalusian Spanish dialectal modality. The music contains moments of remarkable beauty and originality; it includes the celebrated “Danza ritual del fuego” (Ritual Fire Dance), “Canción del fuego fatuo” (Song of Wildfire, or Song Of The Will-o’-the-Wisp), and the “Danza del terror” (Dance of Terror).

This composition was recorded on March 2, 1963. I don’t know where. The book that comes with the CD box set doesn’t specify. de Falla was 38-39 when he completed this work.

From its entry on Wikipedia,

Les nuits d’été (Summer Nights), Op. 7, is a song cycle by the French composer Hector Berlioz. It is a setting of six poems by Théophile Gautier. The cycle, completed in 1841, was originally for soloist and piano accompaniment. Berlioz orchestrated one of the songs in 1843, and did the same for the other five in 1856. The cycle was neglected for many years, but during the 20th century it became, and has remained, one of the composer’s most popular works. The full orchestral version is more frequently performed in concert and on record than the piano original. The theme of the work is the progress of love, from youthful innocence to loss and finally renewal.

Berlioz and the poet Théophile Gautier were neighbours and friends. Gautier wrote, “Berlioz represents the romantic musical idea … unexpected effects in sound, tumultuous and Shakespearean depth of passion.” It is possible that Berlioz read Gautier’s collection La comédie de la mort (The Comedy of Death) before its publication in 1838. Gautier had no objection to his friend’s setting six poems from that volume, and Berlioz began in March 1840. The title Nuits d’été was Berlioz’s invention, and it is not clear why he chose it: the first song is specifically set in spring rather than summer. The writer Annagret Fauser suggests that Berlioz may have been influenced by the preface to a collection of short stories by his friend Joseph Méry, Les nuits de Londres, in which the author writes of summer nights in which he and his friends sat outside until dawn telling stories. In a 1989 study of Berlioz, D. Kern Holoman suggests that the title is an allusion to Shakespeare, whose works Berlioz loved.

This was recorded on March 4, 1963. I don’t know where. Berlioz was 38 when this piece was completed.

From her entry on Wikipedia,

Mary Violet Leontyne Price (born February 10, 1927) is an American soprano who was the first African American soprano to receive international acclaim. From 1961 she began a long association with the Metropolitan Opera, where she was the first African American to be a leading performer. She regularly appeared at the world’s major opera houses, the Royal Opera House, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and La Scala, the latter of which she was also the first African American to sing a leading role. She was particularly renowned for her performances of the title role in Verdi’s Aida.

Born in Laurel, Mississippi, Price attended Central State University and then Juilliard, where she had her operatic debut as Mistress Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff. Having heard the performance, Virgil Thomson engaged her in Four Saints in Three Acts and she then toured—starring alongside her husband William Warfield—in a successful revival of Gerswhin’s Porgy and Bess. Numerous concert performances followed, such as a recital at the Library of Congress with composer Samuel Barber on piano. Her 1955 performance in a televised performance of Puccini’s Tosca and appearances at the San Francisco Opera as Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites and Aida brought her to international attention. She then performed at the world’s major opera houses with Aida, before a successful debut at the Metropolitan Opera (Met) in 1961 as Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore. Continuing her career there, she starred in a multitude of operas for 20 years, securing her place among the leading performers of her time. One of these works was Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, which she starred in for its world premiere. She made her farewell opera performance at the Met in 1985 in Aida.

A lirico spinto (Italian for “pushed lyric”) soprano, her musical interpretations were subtle but often overshadowed her acting. She was noted for her roles in operas by Mozart and Puccini as well as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Poppea in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. However, the “middle period” operas of Verdi remain her greatest triumph: Aida, the Leonoras of Il trovatore and La forza del destino, and Amelia in Un ballo in maschera. Her performances in these works, as well as Mozart and Puccini’s operas survive in her many recordings.

After her retirement from opera, she continued to appear in recitals and orchestral concerts until 1997. After that, she came out of retirement to sing at special events, including a memorial concert for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Carnegie Hall in 2001. Among her many honors and awards are the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964) and 19 Grammy Awards.

Now that’s fascinating! I had no idea she existed, let alone was that accomplished. Awesome!

I also discovered a term I hadn’t known before: Lirico Spinto. From its entry on Wikipedia,

A spinto soprano (also lirico-spinto, spinto lyric soprano or “pushed lyric”) is a type of operatic soprano voice that has the limpidity and easy high notes of a lyric soprano, yet can be “pushed” on to achieve dramatic climaxes without strain. This type of voice may possess a somewhat darker timbre, too, than the average lyric soprano. It generally uses squillo to “slice” through the sound of a full orchestra, rather than singing over the orchestra like a true dramatic soprano.

Doubly awesome!

Ms. Price was 36 when she recorded de Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été – and, presumably, de Falla’s El amor brujo as well.

Her voice is stunning. Really pleasant to listen to. Unique, even. I don’t think I’ve heard a soprano with this timbre before. I’m glad I discovered this recording!

The Subjective Stuff

Recording quality: 5 (both)
Overall musicianship: 5 ( both)
CD booklet notes: 2
CD “album cover” information: 5 (a very nice tribute to Maestro Reiner)
How does this make me feel: 4 (both)

Despite the fact that I’m not necessarily an opera kinda guy, I found myself drawn to these two compositions, mostly because of the talent of Ms. Price. (I hear a tenor in one of Berlioz’s movements. But I don’t see a listing for who it might have been.)

Also, even though I’m not necessarily a regional music kinda guy, I found myself drawn to the Spanish-tinged composition by de Falla, mostly because it was so well recorded and played with a lyrical, magical quality. Also, because of Ms. Price.

I would definitely listen to both of these performances again. I found them to be exciting and compelling.

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