Oft’ have I moaned and groaned about the licensing contracts signed by The Teaching Company/Great Courses and various recording companies, contracts that precluded me from identifying the performers heard on the musical excerpts in my courses. Yes indeed, this is entirely counter-intuitive; one would think that the record companies would want me to name-names, the better to sell those albums being excerpted in the courses. But like quantum mechanics, the actions of these companies remain unfathomable; weird business.
Because I wasn’t allowed to name performers, I would estimate that roughly 50% of the mail I’ve received over the years in response to my courses has been about the recordings I’ve used: folks want to know who played this, who sang that. In many cases I don’t know at all, because in the early years I was often sent recordings for audition on cassettes with no indication as to the identity of the performers. For example, to this day, I haven’t a clue as to any of the performers on the recordings I chose for my Symphonies of Beethoven course, recorded in 1995.
Every now and then – by begging, scraping, whining, banging on tables, and giving noogies – I managed to secure the rights to a particular performance I just had to have. Because these performances were and remain special, they are the ones I am most frequently asked to identify. I wrote about one such recording in November of 2018, when I identified the male soprano who performed Vivaldi’s recitative and aria, “Tra le folle diverse/Siam navi all’ onde algenti” (from the opera L’Olimpiade) in How to Listen to and Understand Opera (recorded in 1997).
Lecture 37 of How to Listen to and Understand Great Music is entitled “Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera: Bel Canto Opera”. That lecture describes the business and nature of mid-nineteenth century Italian opera, and then focuses specifically on the life and career of Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) and his opera The Barber of Seville (1816).