Giuseppe Verdi


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Giacomo Puccini

SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 28: Heroic Tenor Edition

Vittorio Grigolo as Romeo (with Diana Damrau) in Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet."

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"Luisa Miller," by Verdi. 

After leaving the Metropolitan Opera in a pay dispute in 1932 (he refused a cut), Beniamino Gigli---"Caruso Secondo," as his nickname went---returned to Europe, where he sang for the rest of his days. His voice grew heftier and darker in later years, and he sang a great many recitals (one was an exhausting world tour in 1955 that cut his life short.) Here he is in 1951, live on stage, in, of all places, Rio de Janeiro. You'll note that some parts of the performance are raw, unwieldy, but subtlety was not the point. This is the lovely "Quando le sere al placido," from "Luisa Miller," by Verdi. "When in the evenings, in the calm. . ." Note: it opens with a lengthy declaration of anger, setting up the aria, which begins at the 1:50 mark. 
Setting: the gardens in the castle of Count Walter, the Tyrol, early 17th century
Synopsis: Rodolfo has received a letter from Luisa saying that she never loved him. He is crushed and reminisces about the happy times they had together.
English translation: 

As I am fond of saying, if you need to know the plot of this opera, you perhaps need an explanation of why fish swim. Here is Vittorio Grigolo with the ardent, lovely, at times thrilling aria from Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet," "Ah, Leve toi Soleil." ("Oh, rise, sun!") Talk about singing your heart out. . . 
Setting: Juliet's balcony at the Capulet estate, Verona, Italy, 14th century
Synopsis: Romeo has escaped from his companions in search of Juliet's room. He finally spies her on her balcony and sings of her beauty which is like the sun. The words are almost exactly translated from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

In Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West," or "Girl of the Golden West," the composer set out to write something modern, befitting the new, often less sentimental music of the early 20th Century. Good idea? Not when it does not allow you to play to your strengths, but then, artists must do what interests them. The opera is musically brilliant, nonetheless, though lacking in his hallmark soaring, inspired melodies (never mind that Toscanini, who conducted the premiere, called it a "great symphonic poem.") Caruso, however, noticed this "deficiency," and refused to sing in the opera's debut unless Puccini wrote a great, characteristic aria for tenor. He grudgingly obliged. Here it is: "Ch'ella mì creda libero," ("Let her think I am free and far away.") Yes, yes, it's a horse opera, joke made. (Aria starts at 00:35 in.) Here is Franco Corelli.
Role: Dick Johnson aka Ramerrez, a bandit on the run disguised as Dick Johnson
Setting: a forest at the foot of Cloudy Mountain, USA, 1849-50
Synopsis: Johnson is about to executed for his crimes committed as Ramerrez. He explains his final wish passionately : that his beloved Minnie think that he was freed and never know his actual fate. 
About the opera: 

One of the things opera does uniquely is to give heroic voice to emotion, human spirit---whether in peccadillo or cataclsym. We muddle through this thing of murky origin, little idea who or what we are, with every day some kind of a struggle. Whether on a grand scale or a puny one, just living without doing harm is heroic. Each time one simply faces reality is heroic. Opera knows this. So did wonderful Nicolai Gedda, here singing how he is resigned to sad fate in the heroic French aria, "Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?" ("Why do you awaken me, breath of spring?") From "Werther," by Massenet. 
Role: Werther, a poet, about 23 years old
Setting: the Magistrate's house at Christmas, Frankfurt, Germany, 1780
Synopsis: Werther has come back to see Charlotte, his love who is married to another man. She shows him some of the books that they used to read together. One book in particular, a collection of Ossain's verses, sparks Werther to ask spring to cease its gentle caresses upon him, for sadness and grief is now his fate. 
About Mr. Gedda:
His parents abandoned him at birth and planned to consign him to an orphanage. But when he was six days old, his father’s sister, Olga Gädda, intervened, determining to rear him as her own. 

If you think this sounds a bit like "Ch'ella me creda" from Puccini's "Girl of the Golden West," you have a very good ear. Yet "Ch'ella me creda" was from 1910, and this aria from 1893. Did Puccini sort of cannibalize it? Or is my ear flawed? Here is the stirring "Donna non vidi mai," from "Manon Lescaut," with Placido Domingo, live at the Met in 1980. ("I have never seen a woman like this.") 
Role: Il Cavaliere Renato des Grieux, a student and young nobleman
Setting: a square near the Paris gate, Amiens, France, 18th century
Synopsis: Des Grieux has just met Manon and fallen in love with her. Manon leaves when called by her brother, but promises to return. Alone, Des Grieux sings about his feelings for Manon.

Okay, just for fun, here is a tenor I dislike. No reservations. Dislike. Yet he is immensely popular today, in demand, even, the world over. Why, I don't know. Michael Fabiano certainly worked hard and had sufficient ability to merit success, but every time I listen to him, I get the sense of someone pushing hard to do something that did not come naturally; all seems budgeted and studied. What do I know? Not much, really. And most people disagree with me. But I did hear him sing a "Boheme" a couple years ago in which he actually could not adequately sing "Che Gelida Manina." It was atrocious, an embarrassment. Perhaps a bad day. . .Of course, my disdain could be partly due to an interview I read, where he came off as  peculiar, adamantly pointing out that he never, never reads fiction---only fact-based writing! Odd for an actor and opera singer, wouldn't you say? He also has an unfortunate habit of licking his lips while singing, lizard-like. And that's a rug. Other than that, he's okay! (Well, to be fair, he has set up what appears to be a fine program to aid young people with education, .) This is "De' miei bollenti spiriti" from "La Traviata," by Verdi. "My passionate spirit." I admit he is pretty good here, though the audience is definitely underwhelmed. (Aria starts at 1:50, though I recommend listening from the start.)
Setting: Violetta's country house
Synopsis: Alfredo and Violetta have moved in together. Alfredo sings of his happiness from living with her and of how much she loves him. 

Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman," for an essentially comic opera, has some great arias that sound as if they could have come from verismo (late 19th century opera that focused on the poor, the working class.) Here is a great one, "O Dieu, de quelle ivresse," ("God, with what intoxication!"), sung by Placido Domingo. Never mind that it involves a character named "Schlemil," hardy har har.
Setting: Giulietta's palace, Venice, 19th century
Synopsis: After Giulietta warns Hoffmann that he should go to avoid a confrontation with Schlemil (another of her lovers), Hoffmann confesses the full extents of his love for her. 


This stately, noble little item from the comic opera, "Gianni Schicchi," by Puccini, is not generally thought of as being in the first tier of great Puccini tenor arias, but it has its stalwart charm. Here is Juan Diego Florez, live on stage, with "Firenze è come un albero fiorito" ("Florence is like a blosssoming tree.") 
Role: Rinuccio, Zita's (the old woman) nephew, in love with Lauretta
Setting: The bedroom of Buoso Donati, Florence, Italy, 1299
Synopsis: After telling his family that he has called for Gianni Schicchi to help them regain their inheritance, he proceeds to sing them a noble song which extolls the virtues of Florence and that Gianni Schicchi embodies all of them.

Such a tremendous aria. It has everything you would want from Verdi, beginning with soaring, affecting melody---but peppered with wild, dramatic interjections, culminating with poignant lyricism. And Pavarotti probably brings about everything there is to be brought to it: "Parmi Veder Le Lagrima," from "Rigoletto." The Duke might be a scoundrel to whom tenderness and regret should not be assigned, but I think things are a bit more complicated, don't you? 
Role: The Duke of Mantua
Setting: A room in the Duke's palace
Synopsis: Discovering that someone has abducted Gilda after he seduced her, the Duke sings of his unhappiness that someone has taken his "beloved" away.

Jonas Kaufmann with one of the most noble arias ever written, that's all: "Allmacht'ger Vater" from "Rienzi," by Wagner. 
Role: Cola Rienzi, Roman tribune, brother of Irene
Setting: a hall in the Capitol of Rome, Italy, middle of the 14th century
Synopsis: Rienzi has been excommunicated for leading a force of Roman citizens against the treacherous Roman nobles, prompting everyone to abandon their support of him. On the brink of disaster, Rienzi prays to God that he might be given strength to weather the crisis. He feels that he is doing God's work by empowering the common citizen.


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