Opera Daily 🎶 — A composer that made everyone feel like his music was written (specifically) for them
This week's Opera Daily features Soprano Renée Fleming and Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing "Morgen" by Richard Strauss
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Music is full of collaboration between composers and musicians, musicians with each other, or composers with directors.
I recently came across the quote below, and it made me think deeply about what the outcome of that collaboration looks like for a singer today:
New opera needs music that allows singers to be artists. We need to be able to sit in the music and forget it and perform. If we’re counting through every show you aren’t giving us music that allows us to be musicians.
I’ve talked about my struggle with contemporary opera before. Still, the quote above made me revisit what that collaboration can look like when it yields something beautiful — a piece of music that is unquestionably singable for an artist.
While the Classical and Romantic periods are filled with composers that understood the female voice intuitively, German composer Richard Strauss’s
devotion to the voice as an instrument is undeniable.
Ask any soprano, and you will be hard pressed to find one that does not feel like every Strauss song and opera was written specifically for them. And while vocally demanding, Strauss’s music is very natural to sing— there’s something about the melody and the vowels and where they are placed. He knew what he was doing.
Kiri Te Kanawa said it best, though, “When I perform Strauss, it is as if the music fits me like a glove. My voice seems to lie in a happy area in this music, which is lyrical and passionate at the same time.”
Today we are listening to “Morgen!”, a song by Richard Strauss.
This song was composed alongside another set of songs (“Four Last Songs”) Strauss wrote in 1894 as a wedding gift for his wife Pauline, the year of his death. Strauss didn’t intend his “Four Last Songs” as a last statement (the title wasn’t his since he did not know they would be the last) but they are clearly songs of farewell.
When I listen to “Morgen!”, it feels as if the whole world has stopped.
And it reminds me that tomorrow, the sun will indeed shine again.
And tomorrow the sun will shine again
And on the way that I will go
the sun will again unite us lucky ones
amidst this sun-breathing earth.
To the beach, wide and blue like the waves
we will descend still and slowly
silently we will look in each other's eyes
And the quiet hush of happiness will fall upon us
“Morgen!”, Song by Richard Strauss
🎧 Listening Example: (4 minute listen): Soprano Renée Fleming singing "Morgen!"— a song by Richard Strauss, Christian Benda, conductor, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Prague Smetana Hall
🎧 Listening Example: (4 minute listen): Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing “Morgen!”— a song by Richard Strauss, Wolfgang Sawallish at the piano, 1974
Thank you for reading (and listening),
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured Luciano Pavarotti singing “Ingemisco” from Verdi’s Requiem—you can listen and read here.
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When I was new to opera it was Done Giovanni that captured me - the mix of comedy and pathos was compelling, a form rarely seen in other works. Later it was La Boheme - Puccini's utter mastery of the way people interact & his gift for putting that in the music is why IMO his work remains in the Standard Repertory. Later I came to appreciate Strauss and especially Der Rosenkavalier. The Final Trio and conclusion of Act 3 may be the best music ever composed for the opera stage. How Strauss gets into the music the feelings of all three women, himself being a man, is one of the mysteries of art. And what music!! Then he spends his last days writing lieder that are to the 20th century what Schubert and Schumann are to the 19th century (perhaps only Britten or Rorem approach him). I've three recordings of the Four Last Songs with additional selections from his songs for voice and orchestra (Felicity Lott, Heather Harper, and Elizabeth Schwartzkopf). I treasure them.
I dare say most singers were terrified of ELEKTRA and SALOME...