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 38: Aria for Aria Sake 

Charles Burles                                       Maria Ewing

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!

"Mireille," by Gounod.

Intrinsic in the beauty and poigancy of opera, even if not overtly expressed, is the heartbreak of temporal existence. Perhaps this is what draws people to it, and to much art. The melody of "Anges du Paradis" illustrates a simple prayer for safety, yet it is so expressive as to mean much more. Here is "Anges du Paradis" ("Angels of Paradise") from the opera, "Mireille," by Charles Gounod. Sung here by the largely forgotten French lyric tenor, Charles Burles. 
Synopsis: Act V. Outside the chapel of the Saintes Maries.
Pilgrims walk across the stage and enter the chapel, calling upon divine protection (choir: " O vous, que du haut du ciel"). Vincent arrives and looks for Mireille; he prays for her to be safe (cavatina: " Anges du paradis ").
My heart is filled with black forebodings!
Who detains her? Why is she not here?
Angels of Paradise, cover her with your wings!
Up in heaven, spread your cloak above her!
And you, fiery summer sun,
Have mercy on her youth, spare her beauty!
I saw her in my dream
On the heath where a fiery breath blows,
Running alone towards the beach,
Pale, her brow bent under the glare of the blue sky,
Invoking the Holy Women and God!
Angels of Paradise, etc.

Mon, cœur est plein d'un noir souci!
Qui l’arrête? Pourquoi n'est-elle pas ici?
Anges du paradis, couvrez-la de votre aile!
Etendez dans les airs votre manteau sur elle!
Et toi, cruel soleil d'été,
Fais grâce à sa jeunesse, épargne sa beauté!
Je l'ai vue à travers mon rêve,
Dans la lande aux souffles de feu,
Accourant seule vers la grève,
Pâle et le front courbé sous l'éclat du ciel bleu;
Je l'ai vue, hélas! dans ma fièvre,
La mort dans les regards et la soif à la lèvre,
Implorant les Saintes et Dieu!
Anges du paradis, couvrez-la de votre aile!
Etendez dans les airs votre manteau sur elle!
Et toi, cruel soleil d'été,
Fais grâce à sa jeunesse, épargne sa beaute.

About the opera:

Is this aria merely about what it seems to be about? Is it, for example, merely a man comforting a woman, or does it express some underlying universally felt heartache? A question to ask yourself about opera, and art. From Act II of "Manon" by Jules Massenet, here is "En ferment les yeux," also known as "La Reve." The great French-Canadian lyric tenor, Leopold Simoneau.
Synopsis: In order to cheer Manon up, Des Grieux relates to her a dream that he has had. He has dreamed that someday he will own a house surrounded by beautiful flowers and singing birds. However, he realizes that his dream was still drear because it lacks one thing : Manon.
When I close my eyes I see far away a modest retreat,
a little cottage lost in the middle of the woods!
Under the quiet shade,
the clear and joyous streams,
in which the leaves are reflected,
sing with the birds!
It's Paradise!
Oh no, everything there is sad and melancholy,
because one thing is missing:
Manon ought to be present!

En fermant les yeux, je vois
Là-bas... une humble retraite,
Une maisonnette
Toute blanche au fond des bois!
Sous ses tranquilles ombrages
Les clairs et joyeux ruisseaux,
Où se mirent les feuillages,
Chantent avec les oiseaux!
C'est le paradis!... Oh non!
Tout est là triste et morose,
Car il y manque une chose,
Il y faut encore Manon!

What is at the heart of operatic expression? Why are people drawn to it? Is "Casta Diva" merely a beautiful melody written long ago by a composer pioneering legato (smooth, flowing) writing? Why is it that when one singer sings this aria, it contains so much more than another? What is it about Maria Callas's singing, even when imperfect, that compelled so much adoration? Answer these questions and you might have explained all art. Here is Ms. Callas.
Setting: Night in the Druid's sacred forest, Gaul, around 50 B.C.
Synopsis: The Druids have come to meet with Norma, their high priestess. They want to revolt against their Roman oppressors but Norma convinces them that their time to rise up has not come yet. The Romans will be defeated by their own failings. Norma then invokes the moon and prays for peace. While the chorus of Druids sings their derison for the Romans, Norma sings her cabaletta, privately worrying that that the hatred for the Romans must also translate to hatred for Pollione, her secret Roman lover.

Someone told me once the he couldn't stand tenors who "tried to devour the whole world." Translation: the big tenor voice. Maybe there's something to that---the caricature of singing big simply because you can sing big. I'm sure some tenors do this, at least on occasion, perhaps to ham up the proceedings or play to the audience. But I have to think that the norm is the opposite. It's damn hard, even if you are Pavarotti, to "devour the whole world." It comes with great effort, great learning, and, in my opinion, great heart. Did people adore Jussi Bjorling merely because he had a large voice? Preposterous. Here is Bjorling's "large voice," but with the gentle, haunting "Je crois entendre encore" from Bizet's "Pearl Fishers." 
Synopsis: In the past, Nadir, a fisherman, had fallen in love with a beautiful Brahman priestess named Léïla at a Brahman temple. Now, a veiled priestess has come to his village and he recognizes her as Léïla. He sings of his love for her which has not been diminished by the time they have spent apart.

An aria can be an exposition essential to plot advance, but in essence, an aria is just a song. Yet the term, "song," is used far too loosely today. I don't think it fits most of the hideous music-product mesmerizing the smartphone-dependent, with programmed drums and processed voices repeating meaningless phrases over and over and over. How ironic that dunderheads would therefore think me a snob, simply because I prefer melody and harmony in pure form. In other words, arias. Here is an obscure one, making its Saturdee Opry Links debut. This is "Nuit resplendissante," from Gounod's "Cinq-Mars," as sung by the forgotten soprano, Charlotte Tirard, in 1929. Warning: no drum machines. 
Eighteenth century France. At a gathering of nobles and courtiers, it is announced that a marriage has been arranged between Princess Marie and the King of Poland. The Marquis de Cinq-Mars is troubled by the news, for he is in love with Marie. He takes her aside for a moment and asks her to meet him privately in the courtyard a little later that evening. She agrees to the meeting and is the first to arrive. As she awaits Cinq-Mars, she contemplates the beauty of the night
About Ms. Tirard: 

But back to tenors "devouring the world." What is being expressed, with such vocal athletics? What is in the mind of the composer, writing towering, demanding melody for the mighty tenor voice? Are they not combining to try to express something monumental? A longing, a lament, a triumph, ardor? And intrinsic in this expression, is there not a declaration of existence, a defiance of death? Or. . .is it just loud? Purists knocked Mario Lanza for his big notes, for "devouring the world," but I say his singing was a defiance, and an embrace. Here, Lanza is the poet, Andrea Chenier, reciting a new work on the night before his execution---for standing up to royalty, and championing the plight of the poor. The defiance of death is overt, as well as built into the very music and singing. This is "Come un bel di di maggio," from "Andrea Chenier," by Giordano. "Like a beautiful day in May. . ."
Setting: In the courtyard of the Prison of St. Lazare
Synopsis: Waiting for dawn and his execution, Chénier has been writing a poem. He recites it to Roucher at his urging.

As with all art, there is banality in opera, and vulgarity, perverse subject matter (see: "Salome"). . .the panoply of conceit and plot. And yet, as with The Beatles, opera keeps coming back to love. It must be the defining aspect of the art form; opera after opera, aria after aria, are all about love. Aspiring to it, having it, losing it, exalting over it, being destroyed by it---or, yes, to cite the nauseatingly ubiquitous "cool" cliche of popular culture, being somehow redeemed by it. Here is a sheer utterance of love's ecstasy, showing that not only tenors "devoured the world." This is the ethereal "Depuis le Jour," from "Louise," by Charpentier, as sung by Joan Sutherland.
Setting: a small garden next to the Montmartre, Paris, 1900
Synopsis: Louise describes how her life has changed since moving in with Julien. She revels in his love for her and her life which grows better every day. 

Very few of you---hell, probably no one---will watch this, and that's fine. But while on the subject of love in opera, I thought I would illustrate that it is not all garden variety plot and prose, but can explore elements that would have kept Freud busy for a lifetime (come to think of it, probably did.) So here is the full love duet from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," the classic old myth of two people consuming one another because of love potion poisoning. Here they express, in part, a desire to be free of "the world," meaning, perhaps, the temporal nature of existence, through love. Excerpt:
"Oh, sink down upon us, night of love, make me forget I live: take me into your bosom, free me from the world! Extinguished now is the last glimmer of what we thought, of what we dreamed. All remembrance, all recollection, holy twilight's glorious presentiment obliterates the horror of delusion, setting us free from the world."
Here are Siegfried Jerusalem and Waltraud Meier. With English subtitles.

I mentioned perversion earlier. There are modern operas far, far more perverse, I am sad to say, than Richard Strauss's "Salome," but it remains the standard, what with the lead character's beheading of John the Baptist, and subsequent smooch of same. In this case, arias as classically understood no longer exist; everything has become sprechgesang (sung speech), take it or leave it. The legacy of Wagner, mostly, carried on by Strauss. Here is Maria Ewing's rather legendary performance of long ago, with English subtitles. This is "Ah! Ich habe deinen Mund geküsst, Jochanaan," ("I have kissed your mouth, John") a "mad scene" that deeply upset audiences and critics in its day.
About Ms. Ewing:

Returning to arias and their function as implicit denials of the absurdity and cruelty of existence, here is Mario Lanza at age 27, on stage at the Hollywood Bowl in 1948. "Devouring the world." This, of course, is "Nessun Dorma," but---unless you have already heard this clip---as you have never heard "Nessun Dorma" before. Talk about an aria that seems to triumph over all travail, eh? I mean, "Vincero! Vincero!" rather says it all. 
Setting: The gardens before the walls of Peking
Synopsis: A herald has just announced that no one will sleep in the city of Peking until the Calaf's name is known to the Princess. Calaf, who knows that he has agreed to be killed if Turandot learns his name before the morning, is not worried. He is sure that he will be the only one to reveal his name to the Princess and he will only do that once morning has come and the Princess has consented to be his wife.

Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
"What a wonderful thing is a sunny day!"


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