Love, Death and Farewell

with the Grammy® Award-winning mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor

Saturday, March 18, 2023 7pm
St Mary Magdalen Church, Sanctuary
25 N Las Posas Rd, Camarillo, CA 93010

Sunday, March 19, 2023 3pm
First United Methodist Church of Ventura, Sanctuary
1338 E Santa Clara St, Ventura, CA 93003

$20 suggested donation at the door (no advanced tickets)

Program Notes

Richard Wagner
Siegfried Idyll

This enchanting tone poem was a surprise birthday present for Wagner’s wife, Cosima. She wrote in her diary that she was awoken on the morning of her birthday in 1870 by beautiful music filling their manor. At its conclusion, Wagner entered her bedroom with their five children and presented her with the score, entitled a Symphonic Birthday Greeting. She wrote that she was in tears, as was the whole household. Later that day the work was again performed by the same 13 musicians, this time on the staircase. Cosima wrote that she now understood why her husband had been so secretive in the weeks leading up to her birthday. The piece was later renamed Siegfried Idyll, after their one-year-old son. Intended to be private and personal, Siegfried Idyll was later rewritten for a larger orchestra for financial reasons and sold to a publisher. It has since become a favorite of orchestras and audiences around the world. 

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Vier Abschiedlieder (Four Songs of Farewell)

Among the various lists of real child prodigies in European classical music, we almost always see Erich Korngold’s name alongside those of Mozart and Mendelssohn and a handful of others. Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss were so impressed with young Erich’s “musical genius” that they told his father there was no point in enrolling him in a music conservatory, since at a young age he already knew everything a conservatory could teach him. By age 11, Korngold was already a celebrity in Vienna, both as a pianist and as a composer. In 1912, when he was 15, his Overture to a Play was performed by the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall. In 1934 he fled Austria and moved to Hollywood where he became a renowned film music composer, significantly influencing virtually all subsequent Hollywood film composers. His Vier Abschiedlieder are possibly farewell songs to his girlfriend, Luzi von Sonnenthal, whose parents (and his) kept the couple apart as much as possible. Despite their efforts, he married her four years later. The couple lived in Toluca Lake until his death in 1957.

Sergei Prokofiev
Montagues and Capulets, from Romeo and Juliet

This dance from Prokofiev’s ballet is perhaps one of his best-known compositions. He composed Romeo and Juliet, one of his eight ballets, upon returning to Moscow following several years of residency in America and France. The ballet originally had a 15-minute happy ending, because Prokofiev felt that “dead dancers can’t dance” (somehow Juliet comes back to life and the townspeople celebrate with a lively dance). Over the objections of literary aficionados and government officials (including Joseph Stalin), Prokofiev wrote a much shorter ending in which the ballet ends as Shakespeare wrote it after he decided that tragedy could well be expressed in dance—the ending we are familiar with today. (The happy ending has recently been revived by some orchestras and ballet companies.) After the international success of the ballet, Prokofiev wrote two orchestral suites based on the ballet’s music, the second of which includes The Montagues and the Capulets (also known as Dance of the Knights.) At first, we hear loud dissonances in the orchestra, depicting the animosity between the two families. This is followed by music for a masked ball where Romeo first meets Juliet. The music for this dance has become so popular that it has been used in video games, movies and television shows.

Leonard Bernstein
“Somewhere” (West Side Story)

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the Broadway musical West Side Story launched the career of lyricist Stephen Sondheim and continues to be Leonard Bernstein’s most popular composition. By the time of the Broadway debut of West Side Story in 1957, Bernstein was already an international celebrity, having conducted major orchestras around the world. Coincidentally, he was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic that same year. The song “Somewhere” is sung in Act Two by Tony and Maria after Maria learns that Tony has shot her brother.

Nino Rota
Love Theme (Romeo and Juliet)

Nino Rota’s musical score for Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film, Romeo and Juliet, was nominated for best original film score by the British Academy Film Awards and by the Golden Globe Awards. (Rota also won the Academy Award for the best original film score in 1974 for The Godfather, Part II.)  Henry Mancini recorded his own instrumental arrangement of the Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet, known also as “A Time for Us,” which topped the pop charts in the US for most of 1969. 

Pietro Mascagni
Intermezzo (Cavalleria rusticana)

This one-act opera by Mascagni is his best-known work, the Intermezzo from it being perhaps the best-known musical number from the opera. Often paired with Ruggerio Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana (“Rustic” or “Country chivalry”) is a story of love, seduction and betrayal. To provide a respite from the intense drama, Mascagni wrote an instrumental intermission near the middle of the opera, called an Intermezzo, or Interlude. This lovely piece has become so popular that it is frequently performed as a stand-alone work as part of the repertoire of orchestras around the world.

Joseph Cantaloube de Malaret
Selections from Chants d’Auvergne (Songs of Auvergne)

One of the earliest European ethnomusicologists, Joseph Cantaloube was also a composer and author. Born in the historic region of Auvergne, France, he became familiar with the folksongs of the ancient Occitània region, and in the 1920s, collected 27 folksongs, all in the Occitan language (langue d’oc in French). He organized them into five sets and arranged them for soprano voice and orchestra, or piano. “Pastourelle,” “Brezairola,” “Lo Fiolairé,” and “Baïlèro” are among the most frequently performed and recorded songs from his collection.

Leonard Bernstein
Finale (West Side Story)

In the closing minutes of the 1961 film, Tony has just died in Maria’s arms after having been shot by Chino, Maria’s arranged fiancé. With the Jets on one side and the Sharks on the other, Maria bends down and kisses Tony, now lying on his back. A moment later three of Tony’s friends in the Jets try to pick him up, but they almost drop him when two members of the Sharks rush forward to help. Together they carry Tony away. As the crowd departs, Maria is left alone as Bernstein’s music captures the sadness and tragedy of the final scene, with references to Tony’s and Maria’s song “Somewhere.”

Program Notes by Ted Lucas