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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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.  

We could all use some levity just now, and there will be an afternoon of it when this week’s Sunday Opera (11/11 3:00 p.m.) features the San Francisco Opera production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” where a poor and rebellious nephew and his beloved teach his conniving uncle a lesson about love and family.  The cast includes Maurizio Muraro in the title role, Lawrence Brownlee is his nephew Ernesto, and Heidi Stober as Ernesto’s beloved Norina.  

Beaumarchais’ trickster Figaro is the central figure on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/4 3:00 p.m.) in the San Francisco Opera production of Giaochino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”  Luca Meacham is the wily Figaro, Daniela Mack the lovelorn Rosina, and Rene Barbera the fickle Count Almaviva.  Joining them are Alessandro Corbelli as the greedy Doctor Bartolo, Andrea Silvestrelli as Don Basilio, and Catherine Cook, Edward Nelson, and Efrain Solis as Berta, Fiorello, and Ambrogio.  Giuseppe Finzi conducts.  

We begin a series from the San Francisco Opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/28 3:00 p.m.) with Umberto Giordano’s love story set during the French Revolution based loosely on the life of its title character, the poet Andrea Chenier.  The production features Yonghoon Lee as Chenier and Anna Pirozzi as his love, Maddalena.  The remainder of the cast includes George Gagnidze, Joel Sorenson, Robert Pomakov, Catherine Cook, Jill Grove, and David Pershall with Nicola Luisotti conducting.  

We’ll be going “down to the sea in ships” on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/21 3:00 p.m.) with an encore production of Jake Heggie’s version of “Moby Dick.”  Jay Hunter Morris leads the cast as Captain Ahab, and he’s joined by Joshua Guerrero as the Greenhorn (Ishmael), Morgan Smith as Starbuck, Musa Ngqungwana as Queequeg, and Jacqueline Ehols as Pip.  The performance features James Conlon leading the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra.  

A trickster and a vengeful husband are featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/14 3:00 p.m.) in Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” from his collection “Il Trittico” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Paglicacci” from Los Angeles Opera On Air.  The afternoon begins with Placido Domingo as the scheming Schicchi who tricks the bickering Donato family out of part of their inheritance by pretending to be their dead relative, Buoso, and writing the will Buoso left unfinished.  Joining Domingo are Andriana Chuchman as Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta, who sings the much loved aria “O mio babbino caro,” her beloved Rinuccio is Arturo Chacon-Cruz, and Meredith Arwady as the imperious Zita.  

A recurring theme in opera deals with forbidden love that leads to a tragic ending, and this week’s Sunday Opera (10/7 3:00 P.M.) is a version of that in Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma” from LA Opera On Air.  Angela Meade stars as the titular Druid princess who falls in love and secretly has children with the Roman proconsul Pollione (Russell Thomas) against the laws set forth by her father, Oroveso (Morris Robinson).  

Placido Domingo leads the LA Opera in the title role of Verdi’s “Nabucco” on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/30 3:00 p.m).  Joining Domingo is Liudmyla Monastryska as the treacherous Abigaille.  Rounding out the cast are Mario Chang as Ismaele, Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Fenena, and Liv Redpath as Anna in this tale of treachery and redemption that follows Nabucco through his madness, the seizure of his throne by Abigaille, and Nabucco’s restoration through his newly found faith and Abigaille’s suicide.   James Conlon conducts the LA Opera Chorus and Orchestra.  

Journey to Seville with this week’s Sunday Opera (9/23 3:00 p.m.) and the LA Opera production of George Bizet’s “Carmen” featuring Ana Maria Martinez as the ill-fated title character.  Joining Martinez is Brandon Jovanovich as obsessed Don Jose, and Amanda Woodbury as the faithful Micaela.  Rounding out the quartet is Alexander Vinogradov as the egotistical bullfighter Escamillo.  James Conlon conducts the La Opera Chorus and Orchestra.  

There have always been operas based on actual events, and this week’s Sunday Opera (9/16 3:00 p.m.) is one of those.  “Bel Canto,” with a score by Jimmy Lopez and libretto by Nilo Cruz, uses the novel of the same name by Ann Patchett which, in turn, uses the 1996 – 1997 Japanese Embassy Crisis in Lima, Peru as its source.  The plot deals with a terrorist takeover of a party at the Embassy, and the relationships that develop during the four ensuing months.  

We’re continuing with our second series of operas from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and their production of Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/9 3:00 p.m.).  Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra to support a cast including Eric Owens as Wotan, Samuel Youn as Alberich, Stefan Margita as Loge, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner as Fricka, Okka von der Damerau as Erda, and as the giants, Fasolt and Fafner, Wilhelm Schwinghammer and Tobias Kehrer.  

Although a story about selfish desire for information and pleasure might sound like it could involve politics, this week’s Sunday Opera (9/2 3:00 p.m.) explores those themes in “Faust” by Charles Gounod from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Most people know a bit about the story of the bored Faust selling his soul to the Devil (Mephistopheles) in order to gain unlimited information/knowledge and unbridled hedonism resulting in the death of four innocent people and, depending upon the version, the damnation or salvation of Faust.

The Sunday Opera returns to Chicago this week (8/26 3:00 p.m.) for a bit of fiancée swapping from the minds of Lorenzo Da Ponte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in “Cosi fan tutte, ossia la scuola degli amanti” which translates with care to “Women Are Like That or The School for Lovers” where a pair of soldiers bet that their fincees will be eternally faithful and set into motion a plan to test them by pretending to be amorous Albanians.  

The Lyric Opera of Chicago returns to the Sunday Opera (8/19 3:00 p.m.) with Hector Berlioz’s epic work “Les Troyens” for which he wrote the libretto himself based on Virgil’s retelling of the circumstances surrounding the Trojan War, the “Aeneid.”  Sir Andrew Davis conducts a cast that includes Christine Goerke as Cassandre, Susan Graham as Didon, Brandon Jovanovich as Enee, Lucas Meachem as Chorebe, Christian Van Horn as Narbal, and Okka von der Damerau as Anna.

The age-old story of good being undermined by corrupt forces and the forbidden question comes to us from the Lyric Opera of Chicago on this week’s Sunday Opera (8/12 3:00 p.m.) and their production of “Lohengrin” by Richard Wagner.  Knight of the Grail Lohengrin, son of Parsifal, is sent to Brabant to unify the people and protect the unjustly accused Elsa under the proviso that he does so anonymously and that no one must ever ask his name.  Of course, Elsa asks, and loses both Lohengrin and her life as a result.  

We’re staying in England for this week’s Sunday Opera (8/5 3:00 p.m.) and the Opera North production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera.”  Without the censors of the 1850s, Antonio Somma’s libretto is set, as it was first intended, in Sweden, where the opera deals with the political machinations surrounding the assassination of King Gustavus III.  The cast includes Rafael Rojas as Gustavus, Adrienn Miksch as Amelia, Philip Rhodes as Count Anckarstroem (Renato), Patricia Bardon as the fortune teller Ulrika, and Tereza Georgyan as Gustavus’ page Oscar.  

Join us as we travel to Glasgow for this week’s Sunday Opera (7/29 3:00 p.m.) and the Scottish Opera’s production of “Eugene Onegin.”  Tchaikovsky’s glorious adaptation of Pushkin’s novel features Samuel Dale Johnson as the jaded Onegin, Peter Auty as the doomed Lensky, and Natalya Romaniw as the naïve Tatyana.  Also in the cast are Sioned Gwen Davies as Tatyana’s sister Olga, Alison Kettlewell as their mother Larina, Anne-Marie Owens as their servant Filipyevna, and Graeme Broadbent as Prince Gremin.  Stuart Stratford conducts.  

We’ll journey to the 17th century on this week’s Sunday Opera (7/22 3:00 p.m.) and a production of Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Return of Ulysses” in a joint production of London’s Roundhouse and the Royal Opera.  This tale of Ulysses’ return to Penelope and the defeat of her treacherous suitors after his arduous journey  features Roderick Williams in the title role and Christine Rice as his Penelope, and they’re joined by David Shipley as Antinous, Catherine Carby as Minerva, Samuel Boden as Telemachus, and Susan Buckley as Eurycleia.  

We’re continuing with productions from England’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden on this week’s Sunday Opera (7/15 3:00 p.m.) with their production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth.”  Shakespeare’s tragic tale of unbridled ambition features Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth, Anna Netrebko as the tortured Lady Macbeth, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Banquo, Konu Kim as Malcolm, and Yusif Eyvazov as Macduff with Antonio Pappano leading the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House.  

The Sunday Opera begins a series of productions from the UK this week (7/8  3:00 p.m.) with the world premiere of George Benjamin’s “Lessons of Love and Violence” which debuted at the Royal Opera House in May of this year.  

Join us as we travel to 17th century England this week (7/1 3:00 p.m.) in a production of Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Puritani” from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Set during the English Civil War in 1640, the story deals with lovers caught in a web of intrigue, the sense of duty, and unrelenting loyalties.  The cast includes Albina Shagimuratova, Lawrence Brownlee, Adrian Sampetrean, and Lauren Decker with Enrique Mazzolla conducting.  

The Sunday Opera continues with the 2018 season from the Lyric Opera of Chicago this week (6/24 3:00 p.m.) with Giacomo Puccini’s adaptation of a 1762 work by Count Carlo Gozzi, “Turandot.”  Originally, this story of a Chinese princess who asks riddles and beheads anyone who seeks her hand was, in turn, based on a 12th century Persian work, one of seven that corresponds with the seven days of the week, colors, and then known planets, was originally about “Turan-Dokht” or the daughter of Turan, a Russian or central Asian princess.  

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