Rape, murder, love and vengence in two acts

Don Giovanni, Vienna 1972 © Elisabeth Hausmann/Bundestheater
Don Giovanni, Vienna 1972 © Elisabeth Hausmann/Bundestheater

“The opera is divine, but such music is not meat for the teeth of my Viennese.” Such were the words with which Emperor Joseph II characterized Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” in 1877 according to the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. And divine it is. Mozart is said to have replied to Da Ponte: “Give them time to chew on it.” Two centuries later the Viennese, who initially reacted lukewarm to the opera, as well as the rest of the world has had time to chew on it. It is one of the most popular and most performed operas ever. So what is the magical formula behind this stunning success?

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About singing and faith in the 15th century

A place to retreat - the Protestant church in Luxembourg City. © Charles Thibo
A place to retreat – the Protestant church in Luxembourg City. © Charles Thibo

I like to sing. I have been singing since I was a child. Children songs at school, Christmas songs on Christmas Eve, Luxembourg’s national anthem on June 23. I sang “Eng lëschteg Band” when on the road with boy scouts and I sang the “Kyrie” at mass. Both with enthusiasm. I feel light when I sing, like if nothing could harm me. A special kind of euphoria.

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The Venice competition of harmony and invention

Vivaldi - inspiring like the flowers in our garden. © Amélie Wohlgenannt
Vivaldi – inspiring like the flowers in our garden. © Amélie Wohlgenannt

Can I write about Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin Concertos commonly know as “Le Quattro Stagioni” (The Four Seasons) without boring you? Vivaldi succeeded in an admirable way to paint with notes the sounds heard during the different seasons: the birds at spring time, a summer thunderstorm, the drinking and dancing on a late summer night, the bitter winter frost… Everything worth saying or writing about this piece has been said and written. Really? I hope I can find a new angle. The four concertos “Spring” in E major, “Summer” in G minor, “Autumn” in F major, and “Winter” in F minor are part of those compositions that I can listen to over and over again. Why? Because I feel how every note speaks to me, resonates in my body and makes me shiver out of pure pleasure. And I am blessed since I have three recordings to choose from.

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Inventing the string quartet in the 18th century

Richter's string quartets are lovely entertaining pieces. © Charles Thibo
Richter’s string quartets are lovely entertaining pieces. © Charles Thibo

Elegance – that’s the first word coming to my mind when I listen to Franz Xaver Richter’s Seven Quartets Op. 5. Lightness is another immediate association with this music. It’s entertaining in the best way, not too intellectual, but not trivial either. And the quartets have a few surprises, like the Spanish flavor of the second movement of Quartet No. 5 in G major, where Richter uses castanets. Intrigued? Try the recording of the Casal Quartett.  It will be well spent money. The Swiss ensemble used period instruments for the recording and was nominated for the Grammy Awards last year…

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