Tuesday August 3, 2021’s Smile of the Day: William Tell
On this Day:
In 1829, Gioachino Rossini’s last and greatest opera “Guillaume Tell” (William Tell) premiered at Salle Le Peletier in Paris.
William Tell (French: Guillaume Tell; Italian: Guglielmo Tell) is a French-language opera in four acts by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Victor-Joseph Étienne de Jouy and L. F. Bis, based on Friedrich Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell, which, in turn, drew on the William Tell legend. The opera was Rossini’s last, although he lived for nearly 40 more years. Fabio Luisi said that Rossini planned for Guillaume Tell to be his last opera even as he composed it. The often-performed overture in four sections features a depiction of a storm and a vivacious finale, the “March of the Swiss Soldiers”.
Paris Opéra archivist Charles Malherbe discovered the original orchestral score of the opera at a secondhand book seller’s shop, resulting in its being acquired by the Paris Conservatoire.
Guillaume Tell was first performed by the Paris Opéra at the Salle Le Peletier on 3 August 1829, but within three performances cuts were being made and after a year only three acts were performed. The opera’s length, roughly four hours of music, and casting requirements, such as the high range required for the tenor part, have contributed to the difficulty of producing the work. When performed, the opera is often cut. Performances have been given in both French and Italian. Political concerns have also contributed to the varying fortunes of the work.
In Italy, because the work glorified a revolutionary figure against authority, the opera encountered difficulties with the Italian censors, and the number of productions in Italy was limited. The Teatro San Carlo produced the opera in 1833, but then did not give another production for around 50 years. The first Venice production, at the Teatro La Fenice, was not until 1856. By contrast, in Vienna, in spite of censorship problems there, the Vienna Court Opera gave 422 performances over the years 1830 to 1907. As Hofer, or the Tell of the Tyrol, the opera was first performed at Drury Lane in London on 1 May 1830 (in English), with a production in Italian following in 1839 at Her Majesty’s, and in French at Covent Garden in 1845. In New York, William Tell was first presented on 19 September 1831. It was revived at the Metropolitan Opera in 1923 with Rosa Ponselle and Giovanni Martinelli, and there were revivals during the 1930s in Milan, Rome, Paris, Berlin and Florence. When the opera was performed at Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona) in 1893, an anarchist threw two Orsini bombs in the theatre.
In the later 20th century there were major productions in Florence (1972), Geneva (1979, 1991), La Scala (1988), Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (1989), Covent Garden (1990), and then Opéra Bastille (2003) as well as at the Sportspalace in Pesaro (lasting over 5 hours, 1995). In 2010 there was an important revival of the opera, when it opened the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia’s season, under Antonio Pappano. This performance was of the French version, with some cuts to particularly the fourth act (which Pappano noted had been approved by Rossini himself). A live recording of this concert performance was released in 2011, and the production was transferred to The Proms in July of that year, with Michele Pertusi taking on the title role, Patricia Bardon as Hedwige, Nicolas Courjal as Gessler, and Mark Stone as Leuthold. The performance was very well reviewed, and marked the first full performance of the work in the history of the Proms.
A co-production by the Dutch National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera New York of the opera in the original French opened at the Met in October 2016 with Gerald Finley in the title role.
According to an anecdote, when an admirer told the composer that he had heard his opera the previous night, Rossini replied “What? The whole of it?”. Another version of the story refers only to act 2. In 1864 Offenbach quoted the patriotic trio from act 2, “Lorsque la Grèce est un champ de carnage” in La belle Hélène.
The famous overture to the opera is often heard independently of the complete work. Its high-energy finale, “March of the Swiss Soldiers”, is particularly familiar through its use in the American radio and television shows of The Lone Ranger. Several portions of the overture were used prominently in the films A Clockwork Orange and The Eagle Shooting Heroes; in addition, Dmitri Shostakovich quotes the main theme of the finale in the first movement of his 15th symphony. The overture has four parts, each linked to the next:
“The Prelude (Dawn)” is written only for the cello section (including parts for five soloists), the double basses, and the timpani, in a slow tempo and in E major.
“The Storm” is a dynamic section played by the full orchestra, with backup from the trombones, in E minor.
The “Ranz des Vaches”, or “call to the dairy cows”, features the cor anglais (English horn) and the flute. It is in G major.
The finale (“March of the Swiss Soldiers”) is an ultra-dynamic “cavalry charge” galop heralded by horns and trumpets, and is played by the full orchestra in E major (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
It is a little known fact that Wiliam Tell was almost expelled from archery school…but his Dad pulled some strings…
Second, a Song:
The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra is recognized as the oldest symphony orchestra in Japan, having been founded in Nagoya in 1911. It relocated to Tokyo in 1938 and has some 166 members as of 2005.
The orchestra plays frequently at Tokyo Opera City in Shinjuku, Orchard Hall, part of the Bunkamura shopping and entertainment complex in Shibuya, and Suntory Hall in Akasaka, Tokyo.
Myung-whun Chung (born 22 January 1953, Seoul) is a South Korean conductor and pianist.
At one time he and his sisters, violinist Kyung-wha Chung and cellist Myung-wha Chung, performed together as the Chung Trio. He was a joint second-prize winner in the 1974 International Tchaikovsky Competition. Chung studied conducting at the Mannes College of Music and the Juilliard School. He also studied piano with Maria Curcio. Chung was an assistant conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the music directorship of Carlo Maria Giulini. He was a founder of the Asia Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also a guest conductor for the Inbal Orchestra, which was established in 1985 in honor of the Israeli conductor Eliahu Inbal.
In Europe, Chung was chief conductor of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken from 1984 to 1990. He was principal guest conductor of the Teatro Comunale Florence, from 1987 to 1992. He has conducted many of the prominent European and American orchestras and made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1986 with Simon Boccanegra. At the end of the 1987–1988 season, he received the Premio Abbiati Award from Italian critics, and the following year the Arturo Toscanini prize. From 1989 to 1994, Chung served as the Music Director of the Paris Opera. He opened the inaugural season at the new Opéra Bastille with Berlioz’s complete Les Troyens. In 1991, the Association of French Theatres and Music Critics named him “Artist of the Year”. In 1992, he received the Legion of Honour for his contribution to the Paris Opera. He has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon since 1990.
In 1995 Chung was honored three times at the French Victoires de la musique classique, and was also named Meilleur Chef d’Orchestre de l’Année (best conductor of the year). He directed the world premiere of Messiaen’s last work: the Concert à quatre for four soloists (piano, cello, oboe, flute) and orchestra, which the composer had dedicated to Chung and the Orchestre de la Bastille. He became Special Artistic Advisor of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in 2001, Honorary Conductor Laureate from 2010, and Honorary Music Director from 2016.
In addition to being awarded numerous music prizes, Chung has also been honored with Korea’s most distinguished cultural award, the Order of Cultural Merit or Geum-gwan Medal (Gold Crown), for his contribution to Korean musical life and was named “Man of the Year” by UNESCO. He served as Ambassador for the Drug Control Program at the United Nations and was Korea’s Honorary Cultural Ambassador, the first in the Korean government’s history.
In 1997, Chung became music director of the Asia Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2000, he became music director of the Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France, and from 2001 the Special Artistic Advisor of Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra (Honorary Music Director since 2016). With the 2012/2013 season, he became the first principal guest conductor in the history of the Staatskapelle Dresden.
In 2005, Chung became Principal Conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. In April 2011, the Seoul Philharmonic became the first Asian orchestra to sign a major-label record deal, committing to make 10 CDs for Deutsche Grammophon. Chung led the orchestra in its first performance at The Proms in August 2014. In September 2011, Chung made a cultural breakthrough visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, returning with an agreement to form an orchestra made up of musicians from North and South Korea. In December 2015, Chung resigned his post with the Seoul Philharmonic (per Wikipedia).
Here is Myung-whun Chung conducting the the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in its 100th Anniversary Special Concert performing The William Tell Overture by Rossini. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings.” – Robert Benchley
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky