On Friday the Whitman College Orchestra will performs its closing concert of the season, beginning with the fourth movement, for soprano and orchestra, of “Exsultate, Jubilate” by Mozart.
Though only 17 at the time in 1773, Mozart demonstrated a complete mastery of the currently fashionable Italian operatic style; as a result, he surpassed his contemporaries with this work, still widely performed.
Soloist Madison Wray has graced the Whitman stage in the past; I am eager to hear her musical gifts again.
Closing this program is Kurt Weill’s Symphony No. 2. Weill (1900-1950) has long been a favorite of mine, in part because I came of age in the ’60s with the radical songs of Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) set to Weill’s music. “Mack the Knife,” “Pirate Jenny,” or “Alabama Song” was always playing on somebody’s stereo.
Brecht was a poet and playwright in Germany between the wars, and Weill was his musical collaborator; together they created many immortal songs.
Brecht and Weill both fled Nazi Germany in the early 1930s, Weill eventually settling in the U.S. where he continued to write music for the theater, not returning to the purely concert works of his youth.
This symphony was completed in 1933 and abounds in creative energy and vibrancy, as well as Weill’s famous melodic gifts.
The Symphony’s final concert of the season, “A Night at the Opera,” is of course only jokingly related to the old Marx Brothers film.
It will feature stellar performers Jennifer Welch-Babidge, soprano; Sarah Mattox, mezzo-soprano; Marcus Shelton, tenor; and Jeremy Irland, baritone.
They will treat us to a handful of better- and lesser-known arias by the masters: Verdi, Puccini, Saint-Saens, Bizet and others.
I will mention here only a few that may be among your favorites, as they are among mine. First, “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore,” a comic opera. Nemorino, a peasant, is hopelessly in love with Adina, beautiful and far above his station.
He purchases a love potion from a mountebank and drinks it (the way it’s supposed to work: in fact it is cheap red wine, intended to put the gull to sleep while the quack makes his escape).
After many plot twists, Nemorino reflects on the fact that he saw Adina weeping, and concludes that the “furtive tear” is proof that the potion was effective.
Indeed it does turn out to be effective, but that’s a matter of psychology.
From Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” comes the stunning male duet, “Au fond du temple saint” (“At the back of the holy temple”); sung by two friends who have seen an ethereally beautiful woman, briefly, in the temple.
Both fell in love, but she departed, and now they swear their eternal friendship, rather than the expected rivalry. The goddess has united, not divided, them.
The keystone piece of Puccini’s “La Boheme” is “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” (“Yes, I’m called Mimi”). Its counterpart, in an unfolding duet, is young Rodolfo’s “O soave fanciulla” (“O lovely girl”).
They realize, in the act of singing this remarkable work, that they have fallen in love. This is one of those insights provided by good operatic writing that cannot be done any other way: the arousal of such profound feelings, happens in the music that accompanies the action and singing.
To make matters even more impressive, the tragic ending of the story is foreshadowed in the music.
The god Wotan’s farewell to his heroic daughter Brunhilde will be sung by Jeremy Irland.
In all 16 hours of Wagner’s Ring cycle, this is for this writer perhaps the highlight, the lingering memory.
Wotan, driven by his oaths and by his power as the king of the gods, is forced against his will to lay Brunhilde to sleep under a magic spell, protected by magic fire.
He knows that when she awakes, she will look on another (Siegfried, as it turns out), and that he and she will never meet again.
Of all the children of this prolific god, Brunhilde was the one he loved most. Farewell.
On Saturday, the Whitman Chorus will perform Gabriel Fauré’s justly famous “Requiem” from the late nineteenth century.
Though it premiered in Paris’s La Madeleine church (1888), not Notre Dame, think of the latter as you listen.
John Jamison teaches in the Quest program at Walla Walla Community College and serves on the board of the Walla Walla Symphony. He can be reached at email@example.com.