Tuning in to Opera 2021

wallpaper image.jpg

A course exploring, enjoying and discussing opera at U3A Nillumbik, Melbourne, conducted by Lyn and Tom Richards

Welcome to Tuning in to Opera. Our group meets on Fridays in U3A terms in the Girl Guide Hall, Eltham. This blog offers information about the operas and composers we study - and links to lots more materials about them including live performances. Contact U3A Nillumbik to join the course.

This course has run since 2016: see this website for its first years and this blog for 2019-20.


Vienna demanded waltzes. Staying in Vienna this week, we leave Baron Ochs' lecherous version of the lovely Rosenkavalier waltz, (but check out this comment on the music). (There are several waltzes in this opera, and they were melded to a suite for orchestra.) Wander back in search of laughs and dances to the 1800s, when composer Johann Strauss II (no relation to Richard) was ‘The Waltz King’. (Go back to his father, J. Strauss Snr, for the origin of the high society Viennese waltz music. But it was Strauss Jr who won the gold statue in Vienna that the tourist buses drive past. Richard Strauss (unrelated Johann), when writing his waltzes for Rosenkavalier (1911), said of Johann Strauss, "How could I forget the laughing genius of Vienna?"

Lots of Strauss waltzes are free from operas - just search for recordings. and in the hands of other composers, the waltz can be a more serious ingredient, carrying the plot, with deep meaning - as in Eugene Onegin or Faust.

But this week's opera has the classic Viennese lighthearted, alcohol-fuelled waltz. Demanded by the mysterious Prince Orlofsky, it brings his drunken party of pretenders to their feet. Here's Welsh National Opera. And here, Vancouver Opera shows how to dance the steps!! We've visited this opera before - lots of detail and links to songs, on our blog post here.

Fledermaus is of course about more than a waltz. It's Strauss's best known operetta - indeed he was known for dances, not opera, before this. The French genius of comedy, Offenbach, reputedly told him, "You ought to write operettas, Herr Strauss." (Yes, we'll get to Offenbach on this tour of comedy and dance.) So he did.

The libretto was in fact originally written for Offenbach (by the successful Meilhac and Halévy), then adapted for Strauss. It's a full-on face, with mistaken identity, lots of wine and a trick ending - here's the plot solemnly recited - and some wonderful extracts of classic performances, including Edita Gruberova's Adele, with the famous laughing song. Vienna loved it - Strauss went on and write operetta after operetta over the next twenty-five years - but none nearly as successful. Here's the Wikipedia story. And reflect on this NYTimes piece on why Fledermaus is funny. It's not just a great answer to that question, but an insight (from 1986) into Otto Schenk's thinking about this opera and opera in general - he was the director of the performance we're watching - a year later (1987).

We're watching Brenda's copy, (thankyou Brenda) of the 1987 Munich production Bayerisches Staatsorchester, conducted by Carlos Kleiber. Review here. Pamela Coburn (at right) is Rosalinde, (a part Joan Sutherland loved - watch her here.)

Brigitte Fassbaender is that mysterious Prince, Janet Perry the maid Adele. Eberhard Wächter the befuddled husband, Eisenstein. Seen here with Fassbaender singing the superb aria declaring 'chacun à son goût'.


Time, inexorably fleeting, is central to Der Rosenkavalier, our opera of the week.

Early in the opera, the Marchellin tells how she gets up at night to stop the clocks, fearing time's passing. She sings of time gone as she frees her young lover to a younger love. The final trio says it all in amazing mingling of music about joy and sweet gratitude and sadness.

Listen here to the final trio from the classic performance we'll watch. Die Feldmarschallin is sung by a majestic Felicity Lott (above on right), Octavian by Anne Sofie von Otter and Sophie by Barbara Bonney, (above left, at the presentation of the silver rose.) It's from the Wiener Staatsoper under Carlos Kleiber, 1994.

To linger on the music, listen here to a Berlin 1992 New Year's Eve Concert with three other wonderful voices. Kathleen Battle is Sophie, Frederika von Stade is Octavian and Renee Fleming is in her favourite role as the Marchelin.

Here's some reflections on the opera, its significance to Strauss, and that theme of time, passing not only in the lives of these people, but in the society in transition. Synopsis here. And our web page for a long ago first showing of this production here.

Fast forward in time to Covid-restricted 2020, and Garsington Opera's extraordinary lock-down production, currently screening on OperaVision and YouTube.

Here's the link to the Garsington Rosenkavalier on YouTube. It's available until April 2022.

Lots more about the opera on their site and reviews. And OperaVision has more here about this modern Rosenkavalier - with images and a discussion of the opera by the director and conductor of this exquisite production. ' Exquisite music, poignant comedy and fairy tale romance: Der Rosenkavalier has it all', says OperaVision). The Marschallin is sung by Miah Persson, and (as below) Octavian (Quinquin) by Hanna Hipp and Sophie by Madison Leonard.


It was the fourth collaboration and their first that was wildly successful - premiered in 1858. It's also one of the most acerbic comments on the class system by Gilbert and possibly inspired more spoofs than any G&S and been performed more often than most.

We're showing the 2005 Australian Opera production with David Hobson (Ralph Rackstraw), Anthony Warlow (Corcoran), Tiffany Speight (Josephine), Collette Mann (Buttercup), John Bolton-Wood (Admiral).

Pinafore at the Opera Comique, 1878.

David Hobson desperate in love

in case you recall the AO version we'll view on Friday, and require something different, here's two options to revive your memories.

BBC Proms is on YouTube with a concert version from 2005 with a brilliant and star cast. BBC Concert Orchestra with Sir Charles Mackerras conducting - enjoy that music!! And check out who you're hearing. Little Buttercup is sung by marvelous mezzo Felicity Palmer. Timothy Robinson is Ralph, Sally Matthews Josephine, and baritone Neal Davies the Captain, Richard Suart (right) is the ruler of the Queen's navee...

and I could go on! Tim Brooke-Taylor narrates, with lots of commentary. Play it loud this week!

And then here's a great amateur spoof. The highly talented young MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players have provided a Star Trek style production, full opera here for your entertainment on YouTube. I couldn't summarize better than they:

The MIT group takes it to the stars.

'Not content with her earthly empire, Great Britain has turned her gaze outward, and Her Majesty's Navy now patrols the vast expanse of the final frontier. But where England goes, so goes her notorious class system...

With Romulans in the neutral zone, restless Klingons itching for a fight, and Josephine's social-climbing father, and captain, determined to marry her off to a pompous admiral, the stakes have never been higher for Gilbert and Sullivan's most famous lass and the sailor she loves.'

Poster from the original 1878 production (Wiki)

The libretto is super-Gilbert, laden with wicked commentary, vacuous sayings, lovely allusions. Sullivan's tunes wonderful and dances inevitable when we're on the seas. Check out the list of dance arrangements on gsarchive - galop, quadrille, barcarolle, etc. The home page for Pinafore will take you to the full libretto if you wish to follow it. Or follow or print out the hit song lyrics from my summary below.

Pinafore hit songs
Download DOCX • 106KB