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


Fromantel Halevy                                                                                             Richard Tucker
Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"La Juive," by Halevy  

The French composer, Fromantel Halevy, wrote 40 operas. Forty! Yet you likely have not heard of him, or any of his work. Only his opera, "La Juive," ("The Jewess") is still performed today, with rare exceptions. Halévy was born in Paris, son of the cantor Élie Halfon Halévy, who was the secretary of the Jewish community of Paris and a writer and teacher of Hebrew, and a French Jewish mother. "La Juive" was very popular in the 19th century, and that popularity was revived and perpetuated in the 20th by Enrico Caruso. From Wiki: "Because of the story of an impossible love between a Christian man and a Jewish woman, the work has been seen by some as a plea for religious tolerance, in much the same spirit as Nathan the Wise, which premiered in 1779, Meyerbeer's "Les Huguenots," which premiered in 1836, a year after "La Juive," as well as the 1819 novel, "Ivanhoe," by Sir Walter Scott. . .Meyerbeer and Halévy were both Jewish, and storylines dealing with topics of tolerance were common in their operas. Here is the crowning aria, "Rachel quand du seignur" ("Rachel, when the lord. . ."), sung wonderfully by an older Richard Tucker in 1973.
Setting: the Emperor's palace, Constance, Switzerland, 1414
Synopsis: Eléazar's daughter Rachel has been condemned to death by Cardinal de Brogni for consorting with the Christian prince Léopold. However, Brogni does not realize that Rachel is actually his own daughter, saved from a fire in Roman years ago by Eléazar and raised as Eléazar's own daughter. Eléazar knows he can save her life by revealing this fact, but he is unable to reconcile his Jewish faith with forcing his daughter to change her faith.
Google translation:
Rachel, when from the Lord
The tutelary grace
To my trembling hands entrusted your cradle,
I had your happiness
Dedicated my whole life.
And it's me who delivers you to the executioner!
I had your happiness
Dedicated my whole life,
And it's me who delivers you to the executioner,
And it's me who delivers you to the executioner!
But I hear a voice shouting at me:
Save me from the death that awaits me!
I am young and I want to live,
O my father, save your child,
I am young and I want to live,
O my father, O my father, spare your child!
Ah! Rachel, when from the Lord
The tutelary grace
To my trembling hands entrusted your cradle,
I had your happiness
Dedicated my whole life.
And it's me who delivers you to the executioner,
And it's me who delivers you to the executioner!
And it's me who delivers you to the executioner,
Rachel, I'll give you to the executioner!
Rachel, it's me, me
I who delivers you to the executioner!
And a word, and a word stopping the sentence,
One word stopping the sentence
I can save you from death!
Ah! I abjure forever my revenge,
I abjure forever my revenge,
Rachel, no you will not die!

(For those who want to sing along in French:  )
And here is the glorious Caruso version, remastered and updated with new orchestra.

Bizet's "Pearl Fishers" is chiefly known for a the duet of brotherhood, "Au fond du temple saint," and the haunting tenor aria, "Je crois entendre encore," but it should not be forgotten that there is a very moving aria for baritone, "L'orage s'est calmé" ("the storm has quieted.") Here, this French aria of deep regret is given more Italianate expressiveness (which I like) by Renato Bruson. (Feel free to "tune in" at the 2:20 mark, if you want to forego the throat-clearing. Also: note obvious Wagner influence in orchestral prelude.) 
Synopsis : Zurga has broken off his friendship with Nadir because Nadir disobeyed his order to leave the priestess Léïla alone. Instead Nadir and Léïla have fallen in love. Zurga's mind is unsettled and restless like the storm which only recently has ceased. He laments his impetuous temper which has led to Nadir sentenced to execution in the morning.
About Bruson: 

Yes, to our ears (even mine), opera can seem overwrought, corny, unduly grand, dated. Aside from the sometimes dated aspect, though, these other things speak directly to the impetus and purpose of opera: to take the mundane, dreary, quotidian aspects of life---the pecadillos, failings, cheap travail---and imbue them with greatness, importance, even grandeur. To give some nobility to the ignoble trappings of daily life, and personality. Such is the case with this "dated" duet from Verdi's "Don Carlo" (now at L.A. Opera, by the way.) This is the hymn to friendship overriding jealousy, "Dio, che nell’alma infondere" ("God who kindles love and hope in our hearts.") Does it all end well for the two characters, Carlos and Rodrigo? Hint: this is opera. Here are Sherrill Milnes and the utterly forgotten Vasile Modoveanu, with English subtitles. (The duet starts at 3:32.) So put aside your modern ears. . .
All about the duet:
Dio, che nell’alma infondere
Amor volesti e speme
Desio nel cor accendere
Tu dêi di libertà;
Giuriamo insiem di vivere
E di morire insieme;
In terra, in ciel congiungere
Ci può la tua bontà!
God, who has brought us together,
Fire our hearts with flames of glory,
Fire that is noble and pure,
Fire of love that will set men free!
God, grant that this love may fire us,
May freedom call and inspire us!
Accept the vow that we swear!
We shall die united in love!

Speaking of duets of friendship overriding jealousy, back to Bizet. Here is perhaps the greatest such example, or certainly the most loved, "Au Fond du Temple Saint," from "The Pearl Fishers." Once again the great baritone, Renato Bruson, joined here by tenor Nicolai Gedda. Tune in at about the 9:00 mark for this tremendous performance, live on stage (somewhere!) Does this sound more enduring and modern than the Verdi duet? Which is more moving to you?
It even gets its own Wikipedia entry (complete with translation):
After a self-imposed absence, Nadir returns to the shores of Ceylon, where his friend Zurga has just been elected Fisher King by the local pearl fishermen. The two had once fallen in love with the same woman, but then vowed each other to renounce that love and remain true to each other. On meeting again, they sing this duet, remembering how they first fell in love/were fascinated with a veiled priestess of Brahma whom they saw passing through the adoring crowd.

Well, it isn't exactly about vowing friendship, but the trio at the end of "Der Rosenkavalier," by Richard Strauss, is indeed about putting aside jealousy, and selfishness. What is more magnanimous, one might argue, than walking away from a beloved, knowing that he or she will be happier with another person? The trio is sung by the entire love triangle at the opera’s heart: the Marschallin and Sophie, the sopranos, and Octavian, a young man played by a mezzo-soprano. Strauss was so enamored with his composition that it was sung at his funeral – a performance which saw each of the three singers break down in tears. Here is that exquisite, almost ecstatic, trio that ends the opera, "Hab mir's gelobt," or "I made a vow." With Kathleen Battle, Frederica von Stade, Renee Fleming as The Marschallin. The composer requested that it be played at his funeral. 
The Marschallin, Sophie, and Octavian are left alone, and Octavian doesn't know what to do. The Marschallin introduces herself to Sophie, recognizing that the day she feared has come (Trio: Marie Theres'! / Hab' mir's gelobt), and releases Octavian to be with the woman he truly loves.
Translation: (scroll way down) 
More about the trio:

And how it looks on stage:

Der Rosenkavalier musical highlight: ‘Hab mir’s gelobt’
Can't let "Rosenkavalier" pass without giving you this rose of a scene: the "presentation of the rose." From the glistening 1962 film of the opera.
Synopsis: Octavian (remember, this is a trouser role, a male part played by a female, in this case, a mezzo) arrives with great pomp, dressed all in silver, and presents the silver rose to Sophie ("Mir ist die Ehre widerfahren..."). She smells it, saying it's as sweet as a greeting from Heaven itself. Octavian, instantly smitten, joins her avowal that they'll remember this moment until death. 
Translation (though the music and singing really tell you all you need to know): 

They might or might not have been roses, but Puccini's first opera, the supernatural "Le Villi" (The Fairies), is best remembered for a delicate aria about a bouquet of flowers. Here is the affecting, "Se come voi piccina io fossi," or "If I were tiny, like you, or a wild flower." Sung by Renata Scotto.
Synopsis: Anna puts her bouquet from her engagement celebration in Roberto's luggage. He is about to leave to go to Mainz where he has been left a fortune. She hopes that he will think of her when he looks at the flowers.

There is another aria in Puccini's first opera, "Le Villi" that might be better remembered than it is. It hints at great Puccini tenor arias to come. This is "Torna ai felici di," or "Bring back the happy days," a rather eternal sentiment. Sung so powerfully here by Jonas Kaufmann. (Main part of the aria begins around 2:20.)
Setting: A town in the Black Forest during spring
Synopsis: Anna has been killed by fairies that were conjured by a witch that seduced Roberto when he was away in Mainz. However, he does not find this out until after it happens. Roberto is filled with remorse at letting himself be seduced by another woman and is shocked to find out that his true love is now dead at the hand of the same witch.
Translation: (scroll down)

"Torna ai felici di," such a universal sentiment, is found in many an opera. Here, from "Rosenkavalier," the aging Marschallin, ponders her waning youth and the unhappiness of her forced marriage (worrying that the same is in store for another.) Here is "Da geht er hin..." ("The World Will Have its Way.")
Synopsis: The Marschallin, Princess von Werdenburg, wife of Field Marshall Prince von Werdenburg, looks at her face in the mirror, studies the lines and worries about the time when she will be an old woman.
Here is Kiri Te Kanawa. (Aria begins at the 3:00 mark.)
But why trouble myself? The world will have its way.
Did I not know a girl, just like to this one,
Who straight from out her convent was marched oflf
Into the Holy Estate of Wedlock?
Where is she now !
Go seek the snows of yesteryear!
But can it be — can it be — though I say it so,
That I was that young Tess of long ago
And that I shall be called, ere long, "the old Princess,"
"The old Field Marshal's lady." — "Look you
"There goes the old Princess Theresia" —
How can it come to pass?
How can the Pow'rs decree it so?
For I am I, and never change.
And if indeed it must be so,
Why then must I sit here, a looker on.
And see it all and grieve? Were it not better we were
These things are still a mystery — a mystery —
And we are here below to bear it all.
But how? but how?
In that lies all the difference.


To go out on a comic up note, given the morning's more weighty fare, I sat, chin on fist, and thought, "Hm Hm Hm." And then it came to me: the insanely adroit quintet, "Hm! Hm! Hm!" from Mozart's "Magic Flute." Here it is, with English subtitles, although the plot details are, as usual with Mozart operas, quite mad. Parrot-man, complete with children singing from a cloud. 
The ladies return and tell Tamino that Pamina has been captured by Sarastro, whom they describe as a powerful, evil demon. Tamino vows to rescue Pamina. The Queen of the Night appears and promises Tamino that Pamina will be his if he rescues her from Sarastro (Recitative and aria: "O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn" / Oh, tremble not, my dear son!). The Queen leaves and the ladies remove the padlock from Papageno's mouth with a warning not to lie any more. They give Tamino a magic flute which has the power to change sorrow into joy. They tell Papageno to go with Tamino, and give him (Papageno) magic bells for protection. The ladies introduce three child-spirits, who will guide Tamino and Papageno to Sarastro's temple. Together Tamino and Papageno set forth (Quintet: "Hm! Hm! Hm! Hm!").


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