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The Sunday Opera - Hans Pfitzner's "Palestrina"

Palestrina (left) and (Pfitzner (right) with the Council of Trent, where the second act of the opera takes place, in the center.

We’re showcasing the music of German composer Hans Pfitzner and what is considered his greatest work, “Palestrina,” on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/3 3:00 p.m.). Pfitzner described himself as an anti-modernist, and he settled quite nicely into the post-Romantic world of composition, offering wonderfully lush and melodic works.  

“Palestrina” certainly was Pfitzner’s most successful work and is still produced in German speaking countries today although it, and none of Pfitzner’s other music, has ever been performed at the Met. He based his libretto loosely on the life of another composer, ‘Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who, is credited with saving polyphonic music in the church in the 16th century with his Missa Papae Marcelli. 

The action of the opera is rather complicated and deals with the infighting of the different factions of the church hierarchy, so suffice it to say, that it deals with the Palestrina’s loss of confidence after the death of his wife Lukrezia and how he has to be bolstered and spurred on by his son Ighino to complete the Missa which he does in one night through some divine intervention. 

The cast of this 1986 recording includes Peter Schreier as Palestrina, Lukrezia is Uta Priew, Ighino is Carola Nossek, and Silla, one of Palestrina’s students, is Rosemarie Lang. 

The various cardinals, legates, bishops, and other church officials are sung by Peter-Jurgen Schmidt, Gunther Kuhrt, Siegfried Lorenz, Hans-Joachim Ketelsen, Gunter Lieb, Hermann Christian Polster, and others. Otmar Suitner conducts the Chorus and Orchestra of the Berlin State Opera. 

We’ll have just a little time left after the opera, so we’ll hear the overture to another of Pfitzner’s operas, one you’ve heard on the Sunday Opera before – at Christmastime – “Das Christ-Elflein” about an elf who travels with Father Christmas in the hopes of understanding humans and finding a soul. The overture is performed by the Munich Radio Orchestra conducted by Kurt Eichhorn. 

It's another glorious afternoon of music and a huge opera that you’ll probably not get the chance to see in the United States.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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