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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The age-old story of boy gets girl, boy loses girl, and boy poisons girl is featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/18 3:00 p.m.) in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Luisa Miller.”   The Tyrolean maid Luisa is in love with a stranger to her village named Carlo much to the chagrin of her father, and his misgivings are well founded when Carlo is revealed to be Rodolfo, the son of the treacherous Count Walter who has another bride in mind for him, Walter’s niece, Federica.   Add to this the machinations of the evil Wurm, and our lovers are surely doomed.   

It’s a bit of historical fiction on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/11 3:00 p.m.) with George Frideric Handel’s “Alessandro.”  Closer to a comedy than a drama, this 1726 work looks at Alexander the Great who, although he’s in mid-conquest of India, cannot make up his mind regarding which of two women he loves.  Alexander finally makes up his mind just in time for a happy ending.  

We have a 19th century opera from the British Isles, and it’s not by Gilbert and Sullivan on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/4 3:00 p.m.).  This time, it’s by Irish composer William Vincent Wallace, and it’s the story of the water nymph Lurline and her love for the mortal Count Rupert.  She has to go to some drastic ends to secure his love, and along with a magic ring that allows him to breathe underwater, there’s a happy ending for the both of them under the waters of the Rhine. 

Richard Strauss is the featured composer on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/28 3:00 p.m.) and his final opera, “Capriccio,” completed when he was 77-years-old in 1941.  This highly conversational work looks at the merits of music compared to poetry through the dilemma faced by a widowed countess who is in love with both a composer and a poet but can’t choose between them.   In this recording from 1993, you’ll hear Kiri Te Kanawa in her much heralded performance as the Countess.  Joining her are Uwe Heilmann as the composer Flamand and Olaf Bar as the poet Olivier.  

March 21st is the 336th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach, and on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/21 3:00 p.m.) we’ll be helping to celebrate it with three of his works and a work by one of his sons.  We’ll begin with three of JS Bach’s cantatas, two written to celebrate the unorthodox rise to the Polish throne and subsequent reign of Augustus III:  Preise dein Glucke, gesegnetes Sachsen, BWV 215 (Praise your good fortune blessed Saxony) and Auf, schmetternde Tone der muntern Trompeten, BWV 207a (Arise, blairing tones of high-spirited trumpets).  We’ll follow that with one of his most loved secular cantatas and one that has been costumed and staged, Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht BWV 211 (Be still, stop chattering) otherwise known as The Coffee Cantata. 

It’s an afternoon of Shakespeare on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/14 3:00 p.m.).  We’ll begin with a 1971 performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth” featuring some stellar performances from memorable singers who often “fall through the cracks” of contemporary radio programming.  Our Macbeth is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and his ambitious Lady is Elena Souliotis performing in a libretto that closely follows the Shakespearean original even with the addition of a whole herd of witches. 

Camille Saint-Saens wrote twelve operas in all, and we’ll be enjoying one of them on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/7 3:00 p.m.), and it’s not “Samson et Dalila” which seems to be the only one done with any regularity and the only one to be done at the Metropolitan Opera.   “Henry VIII,” which has a libretto by Leonce Detroyat and Armand Silvestre which was based on “The Schism in England” by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, had its premiere on March 5, 1883 and looks at the period in Henry’s life where he tries to dissolve his marriage to Katherine of Aragon so that he can marry the doomed Anne Boleyn.  

This week’s Sunday Opera (2/28 3:00 p.m.) is celebrating Black History Month with a choral work based on stories gathered during the years of the Underground Railroad and the first opera by an African-American composer to be performed by a major American opera house.   We’ll begin with an encore presentation of Paul Moravec’s “Sanctuary Road” which is a setting of some of the personal stories gathered by Philadelphia Abolitionist William Still, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, who not only helped hundreds of people achieve their dreams of freedom, he also collected their stories through interviews.   The main piece of the afternoon is the opera “Troubled Island” by William Grant Still (no relation to William Still above) that was presented by the New York City Opera on March 31, 1949 making it the first opera by an African American composer to be presented at a major American opera house. 

The music of Jean-Philippe Rameau will be featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (2/21 3:00 p.m.) with the 1756 version of his epic battle between good and evil entitled “Zoroastre.”  The prophet Zoroaster is in love with Amelite who is the presumptive heir to the newly vacant throne of Bactria.  Amelite’s sister, Erinice, plots with the evil sorcerer Abramane to seize the throne and banish Amelite, partially because of her jealousy of Amelite after being rejected by Zoroastre.  The battle rages over five acts with furies, genies, demons, gods, and a fiery chariot and still manages to come to a mystically happy ending after Zoroaster dispatches the evil sorcerer and his minions with lightning bolts. 

It’ll be a 1960’s dream cast for Amilcare Ponchielli’s 1876 success, “La Gioconda,” on this week’s Sunday Opera (2/14 3:00 p.m.).  Gioconda is a Venetian street singer who runs afoul of the Inquisition in the form of one of its spies, Barnaba, who lusts for her.  However, Gioconda loves Enzo Grimaldo, a Genoese prince who has come to Venice in disguise in order to collect his love, Laura, the wife of Alvise, one of the leaders of the Inquisition.  Thinking that he can get rid of Enzo so that he might have more of a chance with Gioconda, Barnaba leaves a message for Alvise in the mouth of one of the lions guarding the Basilica of St. Marks to inform Alvise of his wife’s treachery. 

We have a bit of historical fiction, quite a bit actually, on this week’s Sunday Opera (2/7 3:00 p.m.) with Alberto Franchetti’s homage to Christopher Columbus in a work commissioned by Genoa to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Columbus’ voyage.  Here, Columbus is beloved of his men after finding South America where he runs afoul of the natives but escapes with the help of the high priest’s daughter.  The cast includes Renato Bruson, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Rosella Ragatzu, Marco Berti, and Gisella Pasino with Marcello Viotti leading the Radio Chorus Budapest and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. 

We turn to England for this week’s Sunday Opera (1/31 3:00 p.m.) for the only full-length opera of Sir William Walton, his 1954 treatment of a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer about the doomed love of “Troilus and Cressida.”  Cressida is the daughter of the high priest of Troy, Calkas, is in love with Troilus, the Prince of Troy.  After Calkas tries to falsely convince the Trojans that the Oracle at Delphi has declared that the Greeks are sure to be victorious, he is not believed and defects to the Greek camp. 

Franz Lehar might be best known for works like “The Merry Widow” and “The Count of Luxemburg,” but on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/24 3:00 p.m.), we’ll be looking at two of his lesser known works: “Friederike” and “Der Sterngucker” (“The Stargazer”).  “Friederike” is based on the “true” story of the unrequited relationship between Johannes Goethe and the young lady of the title.  When a new position is offered to Goethe, he believes his marriage to Friederike is assured.  However, his new patron has required the poet to be unmarried and encumbrance free which gives Goethe no choice but to leave Friederike, so he must reject his love and leave.   The cast includes Kristiane Kaiser, Sylvia Schwartz, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Daniel Behle with Ulf Schirmer conducting. 

Richard Strauss is known for his tone poems and operas such as “Der Rosencavalier,” “Solome,” and “Elektra.”  We’ll sample two of his Lesser-known works on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/17 3:00 p.m.) – two one-act operas “Daphne” and “Feuersnot.”  “Daphne” was first performed in 1938 and is loosely based on the myth of Ovid’s “Metamorphosis” about the chaste maid of the title who is pursued by a childhood friend, Leukippos, and the god Apollo.  Apollo accidentally kills Leukippos and, in regret, arranges for Daphne to become a part of the nature she loves by changing into a tree.  The cast on this recording includes June Anderson, Roberto Sacca, Scott MacAllister, Daniel Lewis Williams, and Birgit Remmert.

We have a historical rarity on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/10 3:00 p.m.) with Johann Adolph Hasse’s “Cleofide.”  Hasse, who was incredibly popular during his time, is all but forgotten now as is his catalogue of sacred music and some seventy operas of which “Cleofide” was his seventeenth, premiering in 1731 and not really surfacing again until 2005.   The subject matter is the clemency of Alexander the Great during the time of the war with King Porus in India which Hasse would revisit again later with an entirely new score.  True to many Baroque operas, the storyline is rather convoluted but deals mainly with men who misunderstand the actions of the women in their lives who are doing what they think is best to save their kingdoms.  

Erich Wolfgang Korngold is best known for his film music, but on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/3 3:00 p.m.) we’ll hear some of his classical work including his romantic opera “Die Kathrin.”  Kathrin (Melanie Diener) falls in love with Francois (David Rendall), but life and various misunderstandings get between them until many years pass, and they can finally be together for a happy ending which we all need about now. 

We’ll once again enjoy a European tradition on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/27 3:00 p.m.) as we prepare you for your New Year’s celebrations with Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.”  This delightfully comic battle-of-the-sexes features some stellar singing from some old favorites including Hilde Guden, Regina Resnik, Waldemar Kmentt, Erika Koth, and Walter Berry. 

We’re turning to Tchaikovsky for our holiday opera this week (12-20  3:00 p.m.) when the Sunday Opera features his adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story “Christmas Eve” entitled “Cherevichki” or “The Slippers” or “The Tsarina’s Slippers.”  In the past, The Sunday Opera has featured the same story in a version by Rimsky-Korsakov, so we thought we’d turn to Tchaikovsky’s treatment of this wonderful fantasy.  Vakula (Valerij Popov) is in love with Oksana (Ekaterina Morosova), but neither his mother, the witch Solokha (Ludmila Semciuk), or Oksana thinks much of the match.  

One of the most iconic pairings of two one-act operas is featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/13 3:00 p.m.) with Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” from Opera Barcelona.  Both operas look at the tragic results of lost love.  In “Cavalleria Rusticana,” Turiddu (Roberto Alagna) has returned from war only to find that his love, Lola (Mercedes Gancedo), has married the carter Alfio (Gabriele Vivian), and although he is loved by Santuzza (Elena Pankratova), Turiddu begins an affair with Lola that angers the jealous Alfio. 

This year’s holiday season is upon us with even more stress than usual, so we’re offering some lighthearted romance and fantasy on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/6 3:00 p.m.) as we begin with Giaochino Rossini’s “Il Turco in Italia” from La Scala.  It’s an afternoon of lost love, new love, regained love, and forgiven love as the story of Selim (Alex Esposito) arrives in Naples only to find himself attracted to Donna Fiorilla (Rosa Feola), the free-spirited wife of Don Geronio (Giulio Mastrototaro). 

The Sunday Opera: Puccini's "Tosca" from La Scala

Nov 26, 2020

The tragic tale of famed singer Floria Tosca is the feature on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/29 3:00 p.m.) in a production of Puccini’s beloved opera from La Scala.  Set in Italy against the backdrop of the French Revolution and the onset of the Napoleonic Wars, Tosca (Anna Netrebko) unwittingly sets in motion the course of events that will eventually lead to her death as well as those of her lover Mario Cavaradossi (Francesco Meli), ruthless police chief Baron Scarpia (Luca Salsi) and escaped political prisoner Cesare Angelotti (Carlo Cigni). 

We’re heading to court on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/22 3:00 p.m.) with a double feature from Opera Delaware with their production of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury” and Derrick Wang’s “Scalia and Ginsburg.”  “Trial by Jury” features Colin Doyle as Edwin, the man who is on trial for jilting Angelina (Anais Naharro-Murphy) because he’s found another.  Only a last minute inspiration by the Learned Judge (Ben Lowe) saves the case.  Wang’s piece looks at the unlikely friendship between Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Jennifer Zetlan) and Antonin Scalia (Brian Cheney).  They’re joined  by Ben Wager as The Commentator.  

The scene is ancient Gaul for this week’s Sunday Opera (11/15 3:00 p.m.) and the tragic love story of a Druid Priestess and her Roman consul lover in Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma” from the Hamburg State Opera.  Marina Rebeka is the priestess Norma who breaks her vow of celibacy and has two children with the Roman invader, Pollione (Marcelo Puente), and after Pollione turns from Norma to the young priestess Adalgisa (Diana Haller), Norma confesses to her father Oroveso (Liang Li) and seals her fate.  

London’s Royal Opera House takes us back to ancient Rome through Handel’s “Agrippina” on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/8 3:00 p.m.).  The ruthless Agrippina (Joyce DiDonato) works her wiles to ensure that her son Nerone (Franco Fagioli) will become the next emperor.  By pitting her henchmen Pallante and Narciso (Andrea Mastroni and Eric Jurenas) against her husband Claudio (Gianluca Buratto) and his chosen successor Ottone (Iestyn Davies), she places Nerone on the throne where he will become one of the most infamous of Rome’s emperors.   

Unrequited love that leads to tragedy is the theme for this week's Sunday Opera (11/1 3:00 p.m.) in a production of Jules Massenet's "Werther" from London's Royal Opera House. The poet Werther (Juan Diego Flores) falls in love with the charming Charlotte (Isabel Leonard) during a Christmas ball they attend, but she is betrothed to Albert (Jacques Imbrailo) because of a promise she made to her mother on her mother's deathbed.  When they return to Charlotte's house, Werther tries to declare his love for Charlotte, but is interrupted by the news that Albert has returned, and Werther is despondent.  Over the course of a year, Werther writes of his love to Charlotte, but she is happily married, and once again, on Christmas Eve, she tells Werther that she cannot be with him, and he leaves, determined to commit suicide.

We have a comic battle of the sexes on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/25 3:00 p.m.) in a production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” from London’s Royal Opera House.  Norina (Olga Peretyatko) and Ernesto (Ioan Hotea) are in love and want to marry.  However, Norina is not the choice of Ernesto’s wealthy uncle Don Pasquale (Bryn Terfel), so Pasquale decides to disinherit him and get married himself.  With the help of Dr. Malatesta (Markus Werba), Pasquale is introduced to Sofronia, a beautiful young woman who just happens to look exactly like Norina, whose charms are soon overshadowed by her “true” character as a willful shrew who is quite happy spending all of Pasquale’s money.  

Obsession resulting in tragedy is the theme of this week’s Sunday Opera (10/18 3:00 p.m.) with Benjamin Britten’s last opera based on Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice.”  The libretto by Myfanwy Piper focuses on the aging writer Gustov von Aschenbach who travels to Venice, a rare treat, to try to work though his ennui and reconnect with his muse.  Instead, he encounters a beautiful fourteen-year-old Polish boy named Tadzio and begins a downward spiral where he tries to justify his burgeoning feelings as classical inspiration.  This results in his overstaying his time, exposing himself to the raging cholera epidemic.  

The Stone Guest will be paying us a visit on this week’s Sunday opera (10/11 3:00 p.m.) with a production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” from London’s Royal Opera House with Erwin Schrott in the title role.  With the help of his lackey, Leporello, (Roberto Tagliavini), Giovanni lives only for pleasure and carnal conquests and sets his sights on Donna Anna (Malin Bystrom), Donna Elvira (Myrto Papatanasiu), and Zerlina (Louise Alder).  

Germanic paganism mixed with some Early Middle Age Christianity and a splash of Greek tragedy is the recipe for this week’s Sunday Opera (10/4 3:00 p.m.) and the Opera Southwest’s production of Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin.” The son of King Parsifal, Lohengrin, is sent by God to protect Elsa of Brabant, who has been falsely accused of the murder of her brother, and to unite the people of Brabant.  His one condition is that Elsa never ask his name, or he will be forced to leave her.  The Opera Southwest cast includes Core Bix in the title role and Michelle Johnson as his Elsa.  

Hector Armienta’s adaptation of “Bless Me, Ultima” from Opera Southwest is the featured production on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/27 3:00 p.m.).  Mexican-American composer Armienta based his libretto on the award-winning coming-of-age novel by Rudolfo Anaya which deals with Antonio’s spiritual transformation against the changing backdrop of the American Southwest during WW II through his contact with Ultima, a traditional healer who knows both the ways of the Catholic faith into which Antonio was born as well as the indigenous beliefs of the generations of people who came before them.  Through her help, Antonio overcomes the pull between his mother’s faith and the nature-driven faith of Ultima, and Antonio becomes a man who is not one or the other but a better product of both.  

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