Giuseppe Verdi


A weekly Quixotic pursuit for appreciators of opera who don't expect too much, would-be appreciators of opera who don't know what to expect, and those somewhere in-between,
such as your host.

Thrown together in haste every
Saturdee morning by
Rip Rense

Giacomo Puccini

OPRY LINKS 14: Bel Canto Edition

Giuseppe di Stefano

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!

"La Cenerentola," by Rossini.

Opening with something sprightly. . .making its Saturdee Opry Links debut. . .Donizetti wrote 70 operas, and would have written many more had penicillin been around (syphilis.) "Linda di Chamounix" was one of is his last works, appearing in 1842. From that opera, here is the recitative and aria, "Ah, tardai troppo!" Note: a recitative is essentially a preamble, with the lyrical (aria, or song) portion coming later. In this case, the "song" portion, "O luce di quest'anima," begins at 1:55. This is soprano Rita Streich. Synopsis: Linda is in a hurry because she is late for her daily rendezvous with Carlo, a young artist from Paris who is working in the village. 

While on the subject, here is a much loved aria by Donizetti, from his last opera (I think), "Don Pasquale." This is the charming, beguiling, lilting, antic "Quel guardo il cavaliere. . .So anch'io la virtu magica." (Yes, the first is a preamble, the second an aria---you're catching on.) A confection.
Synopsis: Rome, early 19th century. Norina, a young widow, Ernesto's beloved, is at home, reading a novel about love. After reading a passage aloud, she explains that she knows all the tricks of ensnaring a man. (Uh-oh.)
The soprano is Anna Netrebko.

Taking nothing away from the great Netrebko, whose performance here is rivaled only by her breasts, perhaps you'd prefer to hear a lighter soprano more suited to the part:

More delightful Donizetti. A grand scene from the comic opera, "The Daughter of the Regiment," the tale of a young orphaned girl adopted by a French army regiment.
Synopsis: Marie, a young woman raised by a regiment of French Grenadiers, is at an army camp site in a valley in the Swiss Tyrolese Mountains, 1815. After inducting a young Tyrolese peasant into their regiment, the grenadiers call on Marie to sing the invigorating song of the regiment.
Natalie Dessay (who has had to retire from opera, tragically, due to vocal problems), is here at her peak with "Chacun le sait," or "Everyone knows it." 


Continuing our bel canto (beautiful song) edition, here is a work by the composer considered the architect of this loose designation, Vincenzo Bellini. "I Puritani" was Bellini's final opera, the story of love between Elvira and Arturo, set against the backdrop of the English Civil War of the 1640s.
Synopsis: Elvira's hand has been promised to Sir Richard Forth, whom she does not love. Instead, she is madly in love with Arturo Talbo. Realizing his niece's sadness, Elvira's uncle, Sir Giorgio, convinces her father, Lord Gualtiero, to allow her to marry Arturo. At the wedding celebration, Arturo discovers that Queen Enrichetta is a prisoner in the castle. By covering the queen in a wedding veil, Arturo helps the Queen escape. Meanwhile, Elvira thinks that she has been abandoned. (In the end, Arturo and Elvira are reunited and the two live happily ever after---yes, a happy ending in an opera!) In this scene, Elvira enters visibly perturbed (and somewhat insane) and remembers her lover's voice while Riccardo and Giorgio pity her.
The soprano is Anna Netrebko.

This bel canto specimen is just incredibly bel. Those of you who do not know the plot of "Romeo and Juliet" should leave now. Here, Juliet asks "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou?" more or less. From Bellini's "I Capuleti e i Montecchi," this is "Oh quante volte. . ." The soprano is, again, the sadly retired Natalie Dessay.

"Ah mes amis" ("Ah, my friends") from Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment" is duly famous for, yes, its elan---but mostly its nine high C's. Here is a wonderful performance by Juan Diego Florez, whose elastic lyric tenor had little difficulty assaying all nine notes.
Setting: an army camp site in a valley in the Swiss Tyrolese Mountains, 1815
Synopsis: After Tonio has been made a member of the French Grenadiers, he approaches some of the members and explains that he has joined the regiment because he loves the regiment's "daughter," Marie. After asking the members of the regiment to allow him to marry Marie and receiving an affirmative answer, Tonio sings his joy at finally being united with his one love.

Annnnnd, sometimes the poor tenor is called upon to do an encore, as was the case here, at the Met, with Jorge Camarena:

Okay, I cave. Can't resist posting the obvious, in today's survey of bel canto. "Una Furtiva Lagrima," from Donizetti's comic opera, "The Elixir of Love." You know it, probably, and if you don't, you should. Here it is, sung ever so delicately by Tito Schipa, long ago.
Setting: The interior of Adina's house in an Italian village, 19th century
Synopsis: Nemorino has just taken a second dose of love potion. Unbeknownst to him, he has also just inherited a fortune and when he enters the room, he is flocked by the women in the room. Confident because of his dose of "love potion" (which is really just wine), he ignores them as well as his love Adina. Adina is hurt by this and leaves. Nemorino notices her unhappiness and realizes that she does care for him. He sings of his joy at finding that she loves him.

Before wine and women, there was song---for Giuseppe di Stefano. After wine, women (and cigarettes) there was less song for this great tenor. Here he is when his voice was young and unfettered, with an exceedingly tender aria by Donizetti: "Spirito gentil ne sognia miei," from "La Favorite."
Setting: the monastery of St James of Compostella, Castile, Spain, circa 1340
Synopsis: Not knowing that Léonore is the "favorite" of King Alphonse, Fernand asks the king for her hand in marriage and receives it because he has led Castile to victory in battle over the Moors. Thinking that his bride is pure, he prepares to marry her. However, before she appears, he finds out that she has been the lover of the King. With his heart broken, he returns to the monastery and mourns for the betrayal of his love and the loss of Léonore.

Pavarotti, as is well known, was essentially a freakish lyric tenor. Most lyric tenors do not have big voices capable of sustaining volume and duration like a great dramatic tenor. Pavarotti did, and then some. He loved and excelled at lyric tenor repertory, where he brought a power to roles undreamed of by composers of bel canto. Here he is with the stately "Quanto e bella, quanto e cara," from Donizetti's "Elixir of Love." "How beautiful she is, how dear she is." This is about as understated as he gets.
Setting: The lawn of Adina's farm in an Italian village, 19th century
Synopsis: Nemorino, a young peasant, sings of his love for Adina. He believes that, although he will always love her, nothing will ever come of it because she does not want him. He wonders who can teach him what he needs to win her heart.

Okay, I'm cheating. This is not bel canto, yet it might as well have been, such is its sheer beauty and similarity to arias in bel canto repertory which came much later. This is a rare song, "Amarilli, mia bella," written by one Giovanni Guarini a couple hundred years (!) before the likes of Bellini and Donizetti came along. Here sung by Beniamino Gigli, known as "Caruso Secondo" in his time (though he preferred "Gigli Primero!")
Have a bel canto day, folks.


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