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.

Paul Moravec & Mark Campbell's "Light Shall Lift Us"

Here is the link to the video presentation of "Light Shall Lift Us: Opera Singers Unite in Song" 

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It’s another tale of tragic love and an innocent victim on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/12 3:00 p.m.) in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” and a production from the Rome Opera.   Village girl Luisa (Roberta Mantegna) is in love Carlo (Antonio Poli) whom she doesn’t know is actually Rodolfo, the son of the rather dubious Count Walter (Michele Pertusi).   With the help of Walter’s henchman aptly named Wurm (Nahuel di Pierro), Walter threaten’s Luisa’s father (Roberto Frontali) so that she’ll write a letter to Rodolfo to tell him that she deceived him and is going to marry Wurm.  Rudolfo is devastated by Luisa’s letter, and Wurm tries to convince him to marry Frederica (Daniela Barcellona), Walter’s niece, so that Walter can continue to control Rodolfo. 

Benjamin Britten’s 1945 opera about the end of the troubled life of the titular character, Peter Grimes, is this week’s Sunday Opera (12/5 3:00 p.m.) in a production from Madrid’s Teatro Real.   At the opera’s opening, Grimes (Allan Clayton) is being questioned at an inquest regarding the death of his apprentice at sea.   Even though Swallow (Clive Bayley), the town’s coroner, declares the death to be accidental, the townspeople believe Grimes is truly the cause.  Only Ellen Orford (Maria Bengtsson) and retired sea captain, Captain Balstrode (Christopher Purves) seem to want to give Grimes a second chance.   Ellen’s support changes when she notices bruises on Grimes’ second apprentice and realizes that Grimes has lost control of his temper.   Everything comes to a head when the townspeople rise up against Grimes, and as he and the new apprentice try to escape to the sea, the apprentice falls off a cliff and disappears into the sea below.  Grimes, who is teetering on the edge of sanity, is told by Balstrode to take his boat out to sea and scuttle it as Grimes’ death is his only escape.  

Bullfights in Vienna?  There will be on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/28 3:00 p.m.) when we’ll hear a production of Bizet’s “Carmen” from The Vienna State Opera. Initially, the opera was reviled and labeled obscene, but after Bizet’s sudden death at the age of 36 on the night of its 32nd performance, interest grew in the opera, and more of its initial critics came to see it as the masterpiece that Tchaikovsky declared it to be.  In this production, Carmen is performed by Anita Rachvelishvelli, Don Jose is Piortr Beczala, Escamillo is Erwin Schrott, and Micaela is Vera-Lotte Boecker.   Andres Orozco-Estrada conducts the Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra. 

A delightfully comic romp featuring a happy ending is featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/21 3:00 p.m.) in Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” in a production from the SNG Maribor Opera in Slovenia.   The Napoleonic War is raging in the Tyrol, but the young vivandiere (canteen girl) Marie (Petya Ivanova) is quite happy with her “fathers,” the 21st Regiment of the French Army stationed there.   They found the abandoned Marie on the battlefield, and all of the soldiers adopted her as their own.   Chief among them is Sergeant Sulpice (Jaki Jurgec) to whom Marie always turns when she has a problem, and one problem arises in the form of a local young man, Tonio (Martin Susnik), who has fallen in love with Marie after saving her when she almost fell while mountain climbing.   Enter the Marquise of Berkenfield (Irena Petkova) and her butler Hortensius (Dusan Topolovec) who have been waylaid by the fighting on their way home and ask Sulpice for protection.  Sulpice recognizes the Marquise’s name as that found on a letter with Marie, and the Marquise tells him that Marie must be her long-lost niece.  Unhappily, her fathers bid her farewell, and Marie heads off to become a lady.  

A story of madness borne of a struggle between passion and conflict is on offer on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/14 3:00 p.m.) in George Frideric Handel’s “Orlando” from London’s Haymarket Opera.   Orlando (Bejun Mehta) is a fierce warrior who has fallen in love with Angelica (Kimberly Jones), the Queen of Cathay (China).  However, Angelica is in love with Medoro (Emily Fons), an African prince, who loves her in return.   This love is further complicated by the shepherdess Dorinda (Erica Schuller) who has been sheltering Angelica in her cottage but has also saved the wounded Medoro and nursed him back to health.  Unfortunately, as Angelica and Medoro fell in love, Dorinda also fell in love with Medoro.   When Orlando learns that Angelica does not love him, his internal conflict between his passionate side and his warrior side drives him insane.   This is observed by Zoroastro (David Govertsen), a wizard who pledges to heal Orlando and make all right.   

"La Boheme” is the featured opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/7 3:00 p.m.), twice!   Our first Boheme comes to us from LA Opera and features Marina Costa-Jackson and Samir Pirgu as Puccini’s star-crossed Lovers, Mimi and the poet Rodolfo.  They’re joined by Erica Petrocelli as Musetta, Kihun Yoon as the painter Marcello, Nicholas Brownlee as the philosopher Colline, and Michaelk J. Hawk as the musician Schaunard with James Conlon leading the LA Opera Chorus and Orchestra.   Our second “Boheme” is one written concurrently with Puccini’s, but one that was sadly eclipsed by it.  Leoncavallo’s story is perhaps a bit truer to the novel by Henri Murger and focuses mostly on the relationship between Musetta and Marcello and begins with a riotous scene in the Café Momus.   

The spirits of the airwaves are taking over this week’s Sunday Opera (10/31 3:00 p.m.) for an afternoon of witches, ghosts, and all manner of things that go bump in the night for Halloween.   As part of our Fall Membership campaign, David Osenberg will be joining us for a live program featuring some of our favorite spooky operatic moments from a variety of works.   It wouldn’t be a true “trick-or-treat” afternoon if we told you everything, but we can tell you that Michael Kownacky will be capping off the afternoon with Gordon Getty’s "The Canterville Ghost." 

LA Opera is taking us to sea on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/24 3:00 p.m.) with their recent production of Benjamin Britten’s 1951 opera “Billy Budd.”   Based on the novel by Herman Melville, the story centers on the naïve and innocent sailor who, after being transferred to a new ship, becomes the obsession of the Master-at-arms, John Claggart, who is accidentally killed by Billy when Claggart pushes him too far.  This results in the hanging of the young Budd who is loved by the crew and, for whom they would mutiny, but Billy, true to his good nature, resignedly goes to his fate and is hanged for the death of Claggart. 

Let’s talk about an operatic hero who does very little during the course of the opera other than be an extremely nice person.   That’s Tito (Emperor Titus) in this week’s Sunday Opera (10/17 3:00 p.m.) in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” from LA Opera.   Tito (Russell Thomas) is the Roman Emperor who has chosen Berenice, the daughter of a rival, to be his wife.  This angers Vitellia (Quanqun Yu) who, as the daughter of the former emperor, feels she should be next in line.  She convinces Sesto (Elizabeth DeShong), a young patrician in love with her, to plot Tito’s assassination.   Meanwhile, Tito has turned his attentions from Berenice to Servilia (Janai Brugger), Sesto’s sister.  

Join us for a trip to Normandy and the Rouen Opera House for this week’s Sunday Opera (10/10 3:00 p.m.) and their production of Claude Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande.”   Based on a play by Maurice Maeterlinck, the symbolic story focuses on the doomed love of the title characters.  Melisande (Adele Charvet) is found by Golaud (Nicolas Courjal), one of two grandsons of King Arkel (Jean Teitgen), by a spring in the forest looking at what is apparently her crown in the water.  She offers no information to Golaud, but he falls in love with and marries her anyway.   When Golaud brings her home, Melisande meets his brother, Pelleas (Huw Montague Rendall), with whom she is immediately taken, but the two form a Platonic relationship which will eventually cause Golaud to become so jealous that he will kill both Pelleas and Melisande.  

We’re finishing our brief visit to Opera Southwest on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/3 3:00 p.m.) and a once-lost opera by Giovanni Bottesini about Ali Baba based loosely on the story found in “One Thousand and One Nights.”   Here, however, Ali Baba is an older, now successful merchant who is trying to arrange a profitable marriage for his daughter, Delia.  Delia, however, loves a poor man named Nadir who will do anything to win the hand of his beloved, and, like Ali Baba before him, he stumbles on the secret of the treasure cave of a band of thieves and amasses the fortune he needs, but it’s not all smooth sailing although it does have a happy ending when the pirates, who are hiding in barrels of moka (coffee) are “smoked out” when the contraband barrels containing the thieves are set afire.   The thieves and their leader, Orsacane, are apprehended by Aboul Hassan, the customs officer who was trying to blackmail Ali Baba about the moka to gain the hand of Delia.  

This week is the first of two operas from Opera Southwest on The Sunday Opera (9/26 3:00 p.m.).   Based on a 1760 play by Voltaire, “Tancredi” had its premier in 1813 and was one of two operas Rossini premiered that year.   Tancredi (Heather Johnson) is an exiled Syracusan soldier who is in love with Amenaide (Lindsay Ohse) who loves Tancredi as well.   However, Amenaide’s father, Argirio (Heath Huberg) has promised her to his formal rival Orbazzano (Matthew Curran) as a part of their truce after years of conflict.   The plot’s many twists begin before the opera starts with an intercepted letter written to Tancredi by Amenaide which will eventually be used by Orbazzano to arrest her for treason.  Even though Tancredi believes Amenaide is unfaithful, he challenges Orbazzano to a duel to save her life and defeats Orbazzano.  He then leaves even though Amenaide has tried to convince him of her love.   Feeling his loss, Tancredi goes into battle to save the city from the Moors, and Amenaide’s innocence is proclaimed by the head of the Moorish army, Solamir (It’s a long story) as he dies. The victorious Tancredi returns to the city, is reunited with Amenaide, and there is much rejoicing. 

The gods will be meddling in the lives of mortals again on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/19 3:00 p.m.) as we visit Paris’ Opera Comique for a production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s first opera (written when he was 50), “Hippolyte et Aricie.”   Modern soap operas can’t compare to this libretto by Simon-Joseph Pellegrin focusing on the convoluted lives lead by those with whom the gods interfere.   Theseus (Stephan Degout) is the king of Athens.  His second wife, Phaedre (Sylvie-Brunet Grupposo) has fallen in love with Theseus’ son by his first marriage, Hippolytus (Reinoud Van Mechelen), but Hippolytus is in love with Aricia (Elsa Benoit) who is the daughter of Theseus’ rival Pallas.   Phaedre has fallen in love with Hippolytus, but he tells her that he does not love her, and she tries to kill herself with his sword.   As Hippolytus wrestles the sword away from her, Theseus enters, and presumes that Hippolytus is trying to rape his stepmother.   Hippolytus, in order to preserve Phaedre’s honor, says nothing, and determines to exile himself with Aricia as Theseus calls on his father, Neptune (Arnaud Richard), to punish Hippolytus.   This is just the beginning!  

BECAUSE OF THE LENGTH OF THIS WEEK’S OPERA, ALL SUBSEQUENT PROGRAMMING WILL BEGIN ONE HOUR LATER THIS EVENING.

The Sunday Opera takes us to France once again (9/12 3:00 p.m.), but this time, we’re off to the Opera du Capitole de Toulouse for a production of Wagner’s “Parsifal.”   This is the tale of the fabled knight of the title (Nikolai Shukoff) who overcomes many obstacles, including amnesia, to save the life of the king of the Grail kingdom, Amfortas (Matthias Goerne).  One of those obstacles sent by the evil magician Klingsor (Pierre-Yves Pruvot) is Kundry (Sophie Koch), the messenger of the Grail who appears as an old crone until Klingsor summons her from her sleep and transforms her into a beautiful woman who is sent to seduce Parsifal from his task.   Kundry fails and calls on Klingsor to kill Parsifal who shows no pity for her suffering, but when Klingsor throws the spear that pierced Christ’s side at Parsifal, Parsifal catches it, and Klingsor’s realm vanishes along with his curse on Kundry.   

Join us for a trip to France and the Opera National de Bordeaux’s production of Anton Rubinstein’s “The Demon” on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/5 3:00 p.m.).   Based on a poem by Lermontov, this 1871 work centers upon the Demon of the title (Nivolas Cavallier) summoned by evil spirits to destroy everything beautiful in the world.   He’s up to the challenge until he sees Tamara (Evgenia Muraveva) with whom he falls immediately in love.   Tamara, however, is in preparations for her marriage with Prince Sinodal (Alexey Dolgov) and rebuffs the Demon.   Not to be denied, the Demon makes sure that Sinodal is killed on his way to the wedding, and the devastated Tamara begs her father to allow her to spend the rest of her life in a convent.   At the convent, Tamara is once again visited by the Demon who almost wins her soul this time but for the intervention of an Angel (Ray Cheneza) who saves her soul and reminds the Demon that he will always be alone.  

The Sunday Opera is off to Paris for this week’s program (8/29 3:00 p.m.) and the sad tale of “Manon” in the opera by Jules Massenet.   Manon (Pretty Yende) is being sent to a convent because of her family’s concern over her loving life and frivolity a bit too much.   However, on her way, she takes the fancy of Guillot de Morfontaine (Rodolphe Briand) who wishes to make her one of his conquests as well as des Grieux (Roberto Tagliavini) who genuinely falls in love with Manon at first sight.  Before Manon can continue on her journey with her cousin Lescaut (Ludovic Tezier), Manon runs away to Paris with des Grieux.   When Guillot is blamed for Manon’s disappearance, he begins to plot his revenge which will ultimately ruin the lives of Manon and des Grieux.  

We’re back at the Swedish Royal Opera for this week’s Sunday Opera (8/22 3:00 p.m.) and another archival performance.  Where last week we had the last performance of Jussi Bjorling, this week we have the first appearance of Birgit Nilsson in one of her signature roles, Elektra by Richard Strauss.  Elektra is determined to avenge the death of her father, Agamemnon.   He was killed by his wife, Klytaemnestra (Barbro Ericson), and her lover, Aegisth (Kage Jehrlander).   All of Elektra’s hopes are pinned on the return of her brother, Orest (Erik Saeden), who ran away when Agamemnon was killed, to enact her plans which he does.  Orest returns and first kills Klytaemnestra before Elektra lures Aegisth to his death.  The ending varies to each production.  Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis (Berit Lindholm), often tries to placate Elektra and searches for Orest to help her as Elektra, teetering on the edge of madness, dances herself to death.   Berislav Klobucar conducts. 

It’s the first of two archival performances from the Swedish Royal Opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (8/15 3:00 p.m.).   We’re beginning with Jussi Bjorling’s last stage appearance in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” just weeks before his untimely death.   Bjorling is Manrico, one of two brothers in love with Leonora (Hjordis Schymberg).  Manrico and his brother, the Count di Luna (Hugo Hasslo) are unaware that they are brothers as Manrico was abducted as an infant by Azucena (Kerstin Meyer) to avenge the death of her mother who was burned alive.   Azucena, confused and upset by her mother’s screams, threw her own child into a fire instead of Manrico.  Then, in remorse, she raised Manrico as her own.   This withheld information leads to a tragic ending for all four.   Herbert Sandberg leads the Swedish Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra.  If you aren’t familiar with Jussi Bjorling, this is sure to be an eye-opening experience. 

We take our leave of London’s Royal Opera House on this week’s Sunday Opera (8/8 3:00 p.m.) with their 2018 production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.”  Katerina (Eva-Maria Westbroek) is in a loveless marriage with Zinovy (John Daszak) who cannot or will not produce an heir.   Katerina is accosted by Sergey (Brandon Jovanovich) while Zinovy is away for business and reluctantly agrees to have an affair with him.  Sergey is accidentally locked in Katrina’s room and, in the morning, is caught climbing down from Katerina’s window by Boris (Sir John Tomlinson), Zinovy’s father.   Boris whips Sergey, and before he can do it again, Katerina decides to murder Boris by mixing rat poison with the mushrooms she prepares.  Boris dies in agony.  After Zinovy returns, he guesses the truth, but before he can run for help, he is killed by Katerina and Sergey, and his body is placed in the wine-cellar where his body is eventually found.  Katerina and Sergey are sent to a penal colony in Siberia, but Katerina drowns before they board the convict train.   Sir Antonio Pappano conducts. 

We’re winding down our time with London’s Royal Opera with their production of Richard Strauss’ gently romantic comedy of errors “Der Rosenkavalier” on this week’s Sunday Opera (8/1 3:00 p.m.).   Renee Fleming heads the cast as the Marschallin whose loveless marriage who has turned her affections to the young count Octavian (Alice Coote) but realizes that their affair cannot possibly last.  Octavian is chosen to be the silver rose bearer (hence the title) to deliver the rose to Baron Ochs’ (Matthew Rose) intended, the young Sophie (Sophie Bevan).   Ochs is the Marschallin’s boorish and impoverished cousin who is an insatiable womanizer and is only marrying Sophie for her father, Faninal’s (Jochen Schmckenbecher), money. 

We’re off to medieval Wartburg with a side trip to Venusberg on this week’s Sunday Opera (7/25 3:00 p.m.) with Wagner’s “Tannhauser” from London’s Royal Opera House.  Heinrich von Ofterdingen, a minnesanger (minstrel)-knight known as Tannhauser, is caught in a battle between sacred and profane love: the sacred being his love for Elizabeth and the profane his love for the pagan goddess Venus.   After finally rousing himself from the pleasures of Venusberg, he seeks redemption from the pope who rebuffs Tannhauser by saying, “As this staff in my hand, no more shall bear fresh leaves, from the hot fires of hell, salvation never shall bloom for thee.”  With this, Tannhauser calls once again to Venus who returns to welcome him back to Venusberg, but before she can claim him, Tannhauser sees the funeral of Elizabeth.   Realizing that he is the cause of Elizabeth’s death, he too dies as Venus vanishes, and the pope’s staff is carried in having sprouted leaves and flowers.  

We’re going to hell on this week’s Sunday Opera (7/18 3:00 p.m.) with “Don Giovanni” from London’s Royal Opera House.   Lorenzo Da Ponti’s tale of the lecherous Don features some of Mozart’s best loved music and is excellently performed by a superb cast headed by Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role.   Kwiecien is joined here by Alex Esposito as his equally amoral partner in crime, Leporello.  As the three women who have currently found themselves in his lustful crosshairs, Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Zerlina, we have Vernique Gens, Malin Bystrom, and Elizabeth Watts. 

This week, The Sunday Opera (7/11 3:00 p.m.) travels to 13th century Sicily for Giuseppe Verdi’s “Les Vepres Siciliennes.”   The French have invaded and exiled a leading Sicilian patriot named Procida (Erwin Schrott) before the opera has begun, and the action begins with the French soldiers toasting Guy de Montfort (Michael Volle), the French governor of Sicily currently ruling from Palermo.   With him is the sister of Duke Frederic of Austria, Helene (Lianna Haroutounian), who is in deep mourning for her brother whom the French assassinated a year before.  A young Sicilian named Henri (Bryan Hymel) swears that he will avenge Helene’s brother’s death with the only payment being her love.   Through the course of the opera, Procida mounts a rebellion as Henri finds out that he is Monfort’s illegitimate son whom he has been raised to despise.  The opera ends with Monfort blessing the union of his son with Helene as Procida’s forces attack to kill Monfort and the French troups.  Sir Antonio Pappano conducts the Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 

It’s a revolution on this week’s Sunday Opera (7/4 3:00 p.m.) with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca.”   The French have occupied Rome, the Pope exiled, and most of the Neopolitans, who have ruled in Rome, have fled as the opera opens.   The artist Mario Cavaradossi (Jonas Kaufmann) becomes tangled in the intrigue when he helps political prisoner Angelotti (Lukas Jakobski) try to escape the corrupt chief of police, Baron Scarpia (Sir Bryn Terfel). 

This week’s Sunday Opera (6/27 3:00 p.m.) begins our series of operas from the WFMT network from opera houses across the United States and Europe.   Our first program features a pair of operas by George Frideric Handel from Chicago’s Haymarket Opera Company, “Acis and Galatea” and “Apollo e Dafne.”   Acis (Michael St. Peter) is a mortal who’s in love with the water nymph Galatea (Kimberly Jones).   Unfortunately, the Cyclops, Polyphemus (David Govertsen) is also in love with Galatea, and in order to remove his rival, Polyphemus crushes Acis with a boulder.   Galatea then changes the blood emanating from the boulder to water, and the resulting river (The Jaci) is guarded by the now immortal Acis who, for some reason, now has horns and a blue face and is the god of the river.  

Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” is the source material for two works on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/20 3:00 p.m.). Both pieces follow the story as adapted for the 1939 film version where Lockwood (Aaron Schort), the new owner of neighboring Thrushcross Grange comes to Wuthering Heights on a stormy evening where Nelly the housekeeper (Susanne Mentzer) tells him the story of the tragic love of Cathy (Georgia Jarman) and Heathcliff (Kelly Markgraf).  Heathcliff is an orphan whom Mr. Earnshaw (Matthew Burns) treats better than his own children, Cathy and Hindley (Chad Shelton).   Cathy and Heathcliff grow up together with Heathcliff believing that they will one day marry, but Cathy sees the life at the Grange which is owned by the Lintons and is wooed by Edgar (Vale Rideout) whom she eventually marries. 

Stanislaw Moniuszko is considered to be the father Polish national opera, and two of his works will be featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/13 3:00 p.m.).  The first is considered to be one of his greatest works which is entitled “Halka.”  The romantic tragedy is about a young mountain girl who is spurned by the man who has said he loved her, and her resulting depression results in her tragic death as he marries another.  

We’re featuring the music of Jules Massenet on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/6 3:00 p.m.) with two of his operas.  We’ll begin with a story of lust and misplaced religious fervor in “Thais.”    The program will feature the 1989 revised version in a recording made over six months between 1997 and 1998.   Thais (Renee Fleming) is a wealthy courtesan in Alexandria whom a Cenobite monk named Athanael (Thomas Hampson) sees in a supposed vision.   He sets off to find Thais and save her soul, but he learns too late that it’s not her soul that he’s really after.   Athanael is able to persuade Thais to leave her life with the wealthy Nicias (Giuseppe Sabbatini), but his burgeoning lust for her leads him to lose his religion as Thais finds hers with dire consequences. 

For the Memorial Day weekend, we’re turning to American works on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/30 3:00 p.m.).  The centerpiece of the afternoon is Kurt Weill’s 1947 “American Opera” based on Elmer Rice’s 1929 Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same title, “Street Scene.”   Weill, relishing his American citizenship he had attained just four years earlier, wanted to write a purely American form, one that was a synthesis of the European opera tradition combined with American jazz and blues and Broadway.  Whether or not “Street Scene” did this, Weill’s score did win him the inaugural Tony for best score as well as accolades for lyricist Langston Hughes.   

It’s an afternoon with a revolutionary on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/23 3:00 p.m.), a musical revolutionary, that is, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and the opera considered by many to be his best work, “Castor et Pollux.”   Rameau’s use of harmony and complex phrasing startled audiences who were used to the straightforward formulaic works of Jean-Baptiste Lully and railed against Rameau’s more Italianate and intricate harmonic style which revolutionized baroque music.  “Castor et Pollux” premiered in 1737 and, after a rather unrelated prologue, looks at the fable of the twins, both war heroes, who loved the same woman. 

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