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

SATURDEE OPRY LINKS: Christmas Edition!

St. John the Beatlist

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"Christmas Eve," opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. 

Saturdee Opry Links Christmas Edition opens with Metropolitan Opera stars Lauritz Melchior, Amy Ellermen, Elizabeth Rethberg, and Ezio Pinza Dec. 14, 1938, singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" for poor children of the Henry Street Settlement in New York. Founded in 1893 by social work and public health pioneer Lillian Wald and based on Manhattan's Lower East Side, the Henry Street Settlement still provdes a wide range of social service, arts and health care programs to more than 50,000 New York children. 
About the Henry Street Settlement: 

 There aren't too many clips of poor, bedeviled Mario Lanza singing live. Just one TV appearance on the old program, "The Christophers" (filmed in Rome), and a brief London Palladium concert, and that's it. Here he sings "Ave Maria," set by Schubert, on "The Christophers." The performance is preceded by "Santa Lucia," "Because You're Mine." "Ave Maria" begins at the 3:50 mark. Anyone who ever doubted the reality of his great voice should be persuaded by this clip. 
History of the song:

Yes, I realize that Cher and countless others have thrown up on this tune, and you are free to skip it here. Yet to hear it intoned as it should be is quite an experience, and no one tops Jussi Bjorling. The high note at the end is one of the most emotionally charged notes ever recorded. From Wiki: "O Holy Night" (French: "Minuit Chretiens!" or "Cantique de Noël") is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem "Minuit, chrétiens" (Midnight, Christians) by a wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau (1808–1877). 
About the music: 

 It's Christmas Eve in Paris, 1830. Rodolfo, a poet, sits alone in his rude, drafty garret, shivering. He has burned his latest work in order to generate a little warmth. His roommates, Marcello, Schaunard and Colline (painter, musician, philosopher, respectively), have gone ahead to the Cafe Momus in hopes of somehow cadging drinks and/or eating and skipping the check. He is about to join them when there is a faint, timid knock on the door. It is his frail upstairs neighbor, the seamstress, Mimi. Her candle has gone out and she asks him to re-light it for her. In the process, she drops her key on the floor and they both grope around in darkness, trying to find it. Rodolfo's hand accidentally alights on Mimi's. And with one note, Puccini brilliantly stops everything, conveying in that note the discovery of love, and all the poignancy of the scene---which shifts suddenly from the mundane to the sublime. Rodolfo sings an unabashed, candid explanation of who he is---how he is poor, but a "millionaire in spirit"---and how he has been captivated by Mimi. The greatest love aria ever written, by turns delicate, wrenching, soaring, rhapsodic. "Che Gelida Manina," from "La Boheme." Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni. 

And for fun, here is a rendition that stunned in its day, by the Polish tenor, Jan Kiepura. It would still stun today. 
About Kiepura: 

As Christmas Eve snow falls outside, and Rodolfo finishes his introduction, the little seamstress, Mimi, responds just as candidly in an aria that is nearly the equal in beauty to "Che Gelida Manina." This is the variously lilting, poignant, rhapsodic, "Mi Chiamano Mimi" ("My name is Mimi") from "La Boheme" by Puccini, sung here by probably the definitive Mimi, Mirella Freni (still with us at nearly 90.) "To make lilies and roses / I like these things / That have so sweet smell / That speak of love, of spring." When Puccini wrote Mimi's death scene, he wept over the loss. 

Still Christmas Eve in the drafty garret of the poet, Rodolfo. Mimi finishes introducing herself, oh so modestly, and her pallid face is suddenly bathed in moonlight shining through the rooftop window. Rodolfo, utterly captivated, turns to her and breaks into "O Soave Fanciulla," ("O, beautiful girl in moonlight"), which becomes a duet of mutual love. It is, of course, one of the most famous and cherished duets in opera. The two walk away into the night, on their way to meet Rodolfo's friends for Christmas Eve revelry at the Cafe Momus (where they will try to wine and dine despite lack of funds), singing "Amor, amor, amor." Here are Jussi Bjorling and Renata Tebaldi. 
"I al ritorno?"
"Dammi il bracio, mia piccina."
"Obbedisco, signor."
"Che m’ami…di’…"
"lo t’amo."
Translation: (scroll down)

And here are Beniamino Gigli and Licia Albanese. Albanese studied with a contemporary and devotee of Puccini, and her interpretations of Puccini heroines are thought by many to have a unique accuracy. 

 Is there any greater place in all human history to be on Christmas Eve than the Cafe Momus? Book my table, please. Rodolfo and Mimi,, newly met, newly in love, join their cohorts at the Cafe's Xmas festivities. Soon the coquette, Musetta, arrives on the arm of a doddering sugar daddy---sending her estranged beau, Marcello, into paroxysms of jealousy. Musetta, of course, rather enjoys this, and lays it on thick with a little parading around and singing of the joy of tantalizing men---particularly Marcello. This is, of course, Musetta's Waltz, "Quando Me'n Vo" ("When I walk"), the best known of Puccini melodies, probably. Every soprano loves to sing it, and it is easy to see why. Adriana Martino here in a wonderful clip from a 1965 filmed production. 

It's hard to stay away from the Cafe Momus on Christmas Eve. . .SOL wanted so much to invite you to the entire act 2, with its pageantry, bustle, children's choir, etc., but the only available specimen on Youtube is this charming---but small scale---Princeton Opera production. Still, at least it has English subtitles. The more I hear "Boheme," the more I am captivated by the music---especially the way the drama, comedy, and chaos all weave together in act 2. Wondrous, uplifting. 

And our penultimate entry in the Christmas Edition of Saturdee Opry Links is the sublime Beniamino Gigli, from long ago, movingly intoning "Panis Angelicus," by Cesar Franck, words by St. Thomas Aquinas. "May the Bread of Angels become bread for mankind. . ." 
About the piece, translation: 

FINAL BOW. "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," by St. John the Beatleist. The Three Tenors. Note: Luciano Pavarotti, born in Fascist Italy; Placido Domingo, born in WWII Franco Spain; Jose Carreras, born in post-WWII Franco Spain. No wonder they sing like they mean it. Chills here, and maybe a tear or two. Merry Christmas. 
About the music:

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