WWFM Sunday Opera with Michael Kownacky

Sundays at 3 pm

Enjoy world-class productions from the world of opera featuring the great singers past and present performing in the world's great opera houses.

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Wagner’s warrior women are storming this week’s Sunday Opera (6/16 3:00 p.m.) with the production of “Die Walkure” from London’s Royal Opera House.  Several members of the company of “Das Rheingold” are returning here, with John Lundgren once again appearing as Wotan.  Lise Davidsen appears here as Ortlinde and Sarah Connolly is Fricka.  Joining them are Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, Emily Magee as Sieglinde, Ain Anger as Hunding, and Nina Stemme as Brunnhilde.  

Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” begins on The Sunday Opera this week (6/9 3:00 p.m.) – Well, three out of four!  This week is “Das Rheingold” featuring a stellar cast including Johannes Martin Kranzle as Alberich, Lauren Fagan as Woglinde, Christina Bok as Wellgunde, and Andela Simkin as Flosshilde.  Wotan is John Lundgren, Fricka is Sara Connolly, and Freia is Lise Davidsen.  

We begin our series of operas from the WFMT radio network with a season from London’s Royal Opera House on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/2 3:00 p.m.) with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Fallstaff.”  Bryn Terfel leads this stellar cast as Sir John, and joining him are Marie McLaughlin and Ana Maria Martinez as the formidable “wives” Meg Page and Alice Ford.  Helping them to thwart Falstaff is Marie-Nicole Lemiuex as Mistress Quickly.  The young lovers, Nanetta and Fenton, are Anna Prohaska and Frederic Antoun, and the jealous Ford is sung by Simon Keenlyside.  

The Princeton Festival returns to The Classical Network this Sunday (5/26 at 3 pm) with a production of Puccini's romantic masterpiece Madama Butterfly. Soprano Yulio Lysenko will sing Cio-Cio San and Lt. B.F. Pinkerton will be sung by tenor Matthew White. Other cast members including mezzo-soprano Janara Kellerman as Suzuki, tenor anthony Webb as Goro the marriage broker, baritone Paul La Rose as Consul Sharpless and bass Wei Wu will be the Bonze.

Tune in for a live broadcast of Boheme Opera NJ's 30th Anniversary Reunion Concert this Sunday (5/19) at 3 pm on WWFM's Sunday Opera, live from the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ.

We’ll be enjoying another forgotten opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/12 3:00 p.m.) as we look at one of twenty pieces by Austrian composer Wilhelm Kienzl, “Der Evangelimann.”  Premiering in March of 1892, it has become his most famous opera although it never reached the financial success of his “Don Quixote.”  The story, which was adapted into a silent film in 1924, is by Kienzl and looks at the life of a school teacher named Johannes who is falsely accused of setting a fire in the local monastery by his jealous brother, who has fallen in love with and has been rebuked by Johannes’ love, Martha.  

There are many versions of the Faust legend, and we’ll sample one on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/5 3:00 p.m.) from Ferruccio Busoni for which he also wrote the libretto.  Unfinished at the time of his death, it was completed by Busoni’s pupil Philipp Jarnach and then again in 1982 by Anthony Beaumont from recently discovered sketches by Busoni.  This Faust is more about love than he is power or wealth, and after an off-stage seduction of Gretchen, he suggests to Mefistofeles that her soldier brother should be killed.  He also seduces and runs away with a duchess whom he abandons, but she eventually returns as a homeless beggar with their dead child, and with a final act of good, Faust brings the baby back to life as a young man as he descends into hell.  

It’s always interesting to see how different composers treat the same source material, and we’ll see an example of this on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/28 3:00 p.m.) with a recording of Alfredo Catalani’s “Dejanice” which premiered in 1883.   The libretto by Angelo Zanardini based on a novel by Victor Hugo, “Angelo, the Tyrant of Padua” as is Amilcare Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda.”  Here, it’s set in Ancient Greece with Dejanice who was once a patrician but is now a high-class prostitute who is in love with a Tuscan adventurer named Admeto who is, in turn, in love with Argelia against her father’s wishes.  As in all good operas, a love triangle can only end in tragedy for someone.  

It’s a showcase of the work of Pavel Haas on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/21 3:00 p.m.) as we look at his only opera, written in 1936, “Sarlatan.”  Haas was one of the Czech-Jewish composers to be used by the Nazis as part of their propaganda display at Terezin (Theresienstadt concentration camp) for the Red Cross.  Haas was killed on October 17, 1944 at the age of 45 when he drew attention to himself, saving conductor Karel Ancerl when they were sent to Auschwitz immediately after the Red Cross’ visit.

A Basque opera?  We’ll have one on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/14 3:00 p.m.) as we turn to Jesus Guridi’s “Amaya.”  Guridi (1886 – 1961) played an important role as a Spanish / Basque composer who wrote operas and zarzuelas as well as orchestral, piano, choral, and organ works.  “Amaya” deals with several conflicts on which hangs the future of the Basque people in the 8th century.  Christianity is threatening the old religion, the Moors are invading Spain, and Amaya has to choose between the love of a Christian invader and that of a long-time Basque admirer.  She does, with tragic consequences.  

We’ll be celebrating another forgotten opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/7 3:00 p.m.) as we look at the Hermann Goetz treatment of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” entitled “Widerspenstigen Zahmung.”  Goetz spent the early part of his short life as a pianist, conductor, and music critic, only concentrating on composing as the effects of the tuberculosis that would kill him at age 35 increased, so it’s doubly sad that this delightful opera has all but disappeared.  

Somehow, Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo had a son, and he’s the central figure in this week’s Sunday Opera (3/31 3:00 p.m.) in Nancy Van De Vate’s “Nemo Beyond Vulcania.”  With a libretto by Van De Vate and Alan Cortes, the story uses Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” as a starting point where Nemo’s grown son is torn between his loyalty to his father’s ideals of living in a world of men to do good works or to share his life with a woman.  The cast includes Zoltan Korda, Marek Oldbrzmek, Adriana Hlavsova, Andrea Kotulanova, Jiri Klecker, and Tomas Badura.  Toshiuki Shimada conducts the Ars Brunensis Chorus and the Moravian Philharmonic.  

We’re going to the United Kingdom for this week’s Sunday Opera (3/24 3:00 p.m.) with two operas about plucky young ladies.  First will be Ireland’s Michael William Balfe’s charming “Bohemian Girl” which deals with a stolen child raised by gypsies who falls in love with an exiled Polish nobleman, and it all comes out right in the third act.   The cast includes Nora Thomas, Patrick Power, Jonathan Summers, Bernadette Cullen, and John del Carlo with Richard Bonynge leading the Irish Radio and Television Philharmonic Choir and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.  

We’ll turn to a classic recording of a much loved opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/17 3:00 p.m.) and a 1958 recording of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West” featuring a stellar cast that truly doesn’t get enough air play today.  Minnie, the “girl” of the title, is Renata Tebaldi, Mario Del Monaco is the bandit-in-disguise Dick Johnson (a.k.a. Ramerez) with whom she falls in love much to the consternation of Sherriff Jack Rance sung by Cornell MacNeil, and she saves Ramerez’s life by cheating at poker to “win” him. 

We’re journeying to Paris for two vastly different works on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/10 3:00 p.m.).  First, we’ll go back to the tenth century as portrayed in an often overlooked opera by Gaetano Donizetti, “Ugo Conte di Parigi.”  Based loosely on the life of Hugo the Great, the opera is yet another story of misplace love, vengeance gone wrong, guilt, and repentance, all the things that make for a good opera libretto!  

Many operas have been based on popular plays, and the comedy on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/3 3:00 p.m.) is an excellent example of when this works to perfection.  The opera is “La Vedova Scaltra” or “The Cunning Widow” by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari with a libretto by Mario Ghisalberti which is based on a play of the same name by Carlo Goldoni.  The fourth of five operas based on Goldoni plays by Wolf-Ferrari, the story centers on a wealthy widow who is wooed by suitors from four different countries (Great Britain, France, Spain, and Italy) and the complications that ensue.  

You think that you have relationship issues?  Well, we’re going to be looking at some complicated connections on this week’s Sunday opera (2/24 3:00 p.m.), and then, we’ll have a bit of careless abandon!  We’ll begin with Laurent Petitgirard’s operatic version of “Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man.”  With a book based loosely on the play by Bernard Pomerance by Eric Nonn, the story centers on the life of an extremely deformed man who craves kind human interaction and to live like a “normal man.”  The cast includes Nathalie Stutzmann, Nicolas Rivenq, Robert Breault, and Marie Devellereau with the French Opera Chorus and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo with the composer conducting.  

“Hamlet” with a happy ending?  Well, sort of… and we’ll hear it on this week’s Sunday Opera (2/17 3:00 p.m.) with Ambroise Thomas’ 1868 operatic version of Shakespeare’s play.  The libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, authors of numerous adaptations and opera texts, had the arduous task of shaving down the massive play to mixed reviews – where some critics believe their final product is a concise representation of Shakespeare, others feel that the lack of secondary characters like the gravediggers and the “smoothing” of Shakespeare’s coarse language lessens its impact.

We’re heading to the Cornish coast of England for this week’s Sunday Opera (2/10 3:00 p.m.) and Dame Ethel Smyth’s “The Wreckers.”  Set in an unnamed village in the mid-18th century where the people make their living not through fishing but by scavenging from the ships that are wrecked on their treacherous coastline, the story deals with two moral dilemmas: stopping the carnage of ships and sailors enabled by the village and acting on a forbidden love for another man’s wife.  

We’ll be traveling into the world of fantasy for this week’s Sunday opera (2/3 3:00 p.m.) with delightful works from Sweden and Germany by two self-taught composers.  We’ll begin with “Duke Magnus and the Mermaid,” an 1867 opera by Ivar Hallstrom whose composing credits are relatively few but important because of his use of Swedish folk music.  

You're invited to a birthday party on this week's Sunday Opera (1/27 3:00 p.m.) as we celebrate number 263 for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  As part of the celebrations that began on Friday, we'll be presenting four hours of his music with the centerpiece being an excellent live 1962 performance of "Le nozzi di Figaro" from Glyndebourne.  Heinze Blankenburg is our cunning Figaro and his charming Susanna, Mirella Freni.  

Siegfried Wagner’s opera, “Die Heilige Linde,” a 1927 rarity, is the featured work on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/20 3:00 p.m.).  His fourteenth of seventeen operas (if you don’t count “Das Liebesoper” for which there is only a libretto), the work seems to follow in the footsteps of the two men who had the most influence in his life, his teacher, Engelbert Humperdinck and his father, and even though it was completed in 1927, there’s no record of it being performed until 2001.  

Venetian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is the featured composer on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/13 3:00 p.m.) as we look at two of his works.  The first is his only example of verismo opera in “The Jewels of the Madonna” which is about the willful Maliella who is loved by two men: her adoptive brother, the gentle blacksmith Gennaro and the blackguard leader of the local Camorristi, Rafael who only wants her because she’s a virgin.  Our cast includes Pauline Tinsley, Peter Glossop, Malcolm King, Andre Turp, and Valerie Cockx.  They’re joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Alberto Erede.  

An afternoon of wonderful melodies will be showcased on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/6 3:00 p.m) when host Michael Kownacky brings you two works by Franz Lehar.  We’ll begin with “Das Land des Lachlens” (“The Land of Smiles”), a romantic operetta which features the very popular song “Das ist mein ganzes herz” (“You Are My Heart’s Delight”).  

For many, New Year's celebrations include partying and good music.  Well, on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/30 3:00 p.m.), we’ll be supplying a musical soiree with Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” from a recording made in 1960 featuring Waldemar Kmentt as Eisenstein, Hilde Gueden as his wife Rosalinde, Erika Koth as the flighty Adele.  

Christmas comes to the Sunday Opera this week (12/23 3:00 p.m.) when Michael Kownacky is presenting two contemporary works based on beloved Christmas stories.  First, we’ll visit George Bailey in Bedford Falls for Jake Heggie’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  With a libretto by Gene Sheer, we’ll follow Clara (Talise Trevigne) as she tries to finally earn her wings by helping Geoge (William Burden) see is true worth.  This tale of redemption also features Andrea Carroll as Mary, Rod Gilfrey as Mr. Gower and Mr. Potter, Joshua Hopkins as Harry, and Anthony Dean Griffey as Uncle Billy.  Patrick Summers leads the Houston Grand Opera Chorus and Orchestra in this recording made in 2017.  

The heroic folk-legend of Swiss patriot William Tell is this week’s Sunday Opera (12/2 3:00 p.m.) from Opera Southwest.  Gioacchino Rossini’s opera, with a libretto by Etienne de Jouy and Hippolyte-Louis-Florent Bis which was based on the play by Friedrich Schiller, features the love story of Arnold and Mathilde told against the Swiss fight for freedom, led by Tell, from the Austrians who have been in power for one-hundred years. 

Ancient Babylon is the setting for this week’s Sunday Opera from OperaDelaware (12/2 3:00 p.m.) with Gioachiono Rossini’s last Italian opera, “Semiramide” featuring a libretto by Gaetano Rossi based on Voltaire's tragedy “Semiramis,” which in turn was based on the legend of Semiramis of Assyria.  Nicknamed by some as “’Tancredi’ revisited,” the story deals with the power-struggle of Queen Semiramide who was one of the people responsible for the death of her predecessor.  

Just in time for the holidays, we’ll be spending an afternoon with Edgar Allan Poe on this week’s Sunday  Opera (11/25 3:00 p.m.).  We’ll begin with two versions of Poe’s novella “The Fall of the House of Usher” from the San Francisco Opera.  This supernatural tale deals with the final days of the Usher family after the premature burial of Madeline.  The first version is Gordon Getty’s “Usher House” which will be followed by Claude Debussy’s fragments of “La Chute de la Maison Usher” which were completed by Robert Orledge.  

An opera based on an 18th century Chinese work called the “pinnacle of Chinese fiction” by Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang is this week’s Sunday Opera (11/18 3:00 p.m.).  “The Dream of the Red Chamber” is a huge work that features some forty main characters and over four-hundred secondary characters.  In this San Francisco Opera version, the focus has been fine-tuned by librettist David Henry Hwang.  

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