Giuseppe Verdi


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Giacomo Puccini

SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 46: Mostly Tenor Edition

                   Ariel Bybee                                                      Josef Mann                                               Giacomo Lauri-Volpi

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"La Favorite," by Donizetti.

There are innumerable singers who come and go in opera, decade after decade, singing hundreds of roles, yet are largely unknown. Such a bulwark was mezzo Ariel Bybee, who passed away in 2018 at 75. In 18 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, she sang over 460 performances. In 1973, her performance of "Carmen" with the San Francisco Opera elicited this comment from Martin Bernheimer: "Hats off, gentlemen, a Carmen!—Her name is Ariel Bybee." Here she is singing the delight, "Bei raggi lucenti... Dolce zeffiro," Ines's aria and cabaletta from "La Favorite," by Donizetti. (Thanks, Laura Wagner, for the tip.)
About Ms. Bybee
Beautiful shining rays, of the blessed aura,
the enamelled soil of white flowers
of joyful fragrance, here fragrance breathes
every one here embraces peace, love.
A divine genius watches over us,
guides us, propitiates and gives us favor
The happy destiny responds gladly
tsacred of the heart.
Silence ! Pure is the sea, serene the air
the battle already here advances
the hope directs it.
Silence! A chorus of damsels approaches the bank
Sweet zephyr, lightly blows on the sail
until it draws to this side my beloved
to make more grateful the scented sigh of the orange and jasmine.

While on the subject of "La Favorite" by Donizetti, here is Fernand's aria from this underrated opera, just to get things off to a brisk start. And to make them extra brisk, here is Luciano Pavarotti. This is the rousing "Si, che un tuo solo accento" just another of dozens of "hit tunes" by the great Donizetti. The story unfolds against the background of the Moorish invasions of Spain and power struggles between church and state. 
Synopsis : Fernand has met Léonore, whose beauty has caused him to renounce his vows to the monastery (whoopeee!) and travel to the palace in hopes of meeting his love. Léonore is also taken with Fernand but, unfortunately, she is the mistress of the king and tells him that any relationship between the two of them would end badly. To help him out, though, she has arranged for him to obtain a commission in the king's army. He exults over this chance, anticipating that the impressive deeds that he will accomplish will change Léonore's mind about their relationship. One-track mind, this Fernand!
Rough Translation:
I did not take this love, this heart.
Great God!
that I deserve it to become
Yes, this rank, this title
and this sublime honor!
Oh yes! In a moment, a captain,
she sees me as a lover.
Yes, the love that I feel in my chest
depends on my valor.
I have sweet joy in the heart,
that we will live together
blessed in love.
So goodbye, beloved,
you are my destiny
I will come back to you I promise,
surrounded by laurel.

Saturdee Opry Links will be back after this brief word:

Exploring a few arias from Donizetti's "La Favorite" today, not because the opera is a favorite, but because I don't know it. Donizetti, of course, being the pioneer of bel canto (beautiful singing) opera who really cranked 'em out. Good that he did, seeing as he became one of the countless artists felled by syphilis (and, in his case, complicated by manic-depression.) Here is the great forgotten tenor, Miguel Fleta, an astonishing story on his own, with the gorgeous "Una vergine, un angel di Dio," from "La Favorite." Once arguably the most acclaimed tenor in the world, Fleta made a number of bad career decisions, capped off by a bad political one (siding with the fascists in Spain, when Republicans failed to support music education---you know, just like they do today!), and died at only 41 of renal failure. So as you have gleaned, the only difference between the melodrama of opera and the melodrama of real life is. . .one has musical accompaniment! Anyhow, here is the great Fleta. 
Synopsis : Fernand tells Balthasar, the Father Superior of the monastery, that he would like to renounce his vows because he has fallen in love with a woman. Although he doesn't know anything about her, he does know that she is young and beautiful like an angel and that he cannot get her out of his thoughts.
Translation (partial):
A virgin, an angel of God
at the altar she prayed with me.
A hope, a terror, a desire
the impious came down to the soul and to joy.
Ah, my father, my father!
How beautiful she was! How beautiful she was!
Ah, my father, my father!
The peace of the heart has taken hold of me.
Ah. I turn my mind to the numb. . .

About Fleta: 

The best known aria from "La Favorita," by Donizetti, is the poignant "Spirito Gentil," and duly so. Here is another great forgotten tenor of the past---and one-time rival of Miguel Fleta---Aureliano Pertile. (Aria starts at 1:02.) Pertile was among tenors famously sought by the Met when Caruso became increasingly ill. He had a baritone quality, and a touch of the heroic, and was well received at the Met. Yet when General Manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza went to re-sign Pertile for a second season, he realized he had overcompensated for the loss of Caruso, having signed what today reads like an all-star list of legends: Miguel Fleta, Beniamino Gigli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, and Giovanni Martinelli. Pertile was not re-signed, but went on to become Toscanini's favorite tenor at La Scala. . .Not bad!
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. 
About Pertile: 

While on a forgotten tenor kick, Joseph Mann comes to mind. He was also among the tenors hired by Met GM Giulio Gatti-Casazza to fill the void left by the ailing Caruso in 1921 (see previous post), but it was not to be. Mann, born in the Austro-Hungarian town of Lemburg, was a tremendous success in Europe, the master of a good thirty prominent tenor roles (no mean achievement, seeing as he trained originally as a baritone.) So why did he miss his Met gigs? Same reason as Caruso: the Grim Reaper. Mann dropped dead from a heart attack on stage at the Berlin Opera a month after Enrico. He was singing Radames from Verdi's "Aida," as he is in this 1919 recording of "Celeste Aida," here sung in German.
Setting: A hall in the Palace of the Kings at Memphis.
Synopsis: Rumors of an impending war with Ethiopia have been circulating. Radamès has just been told by Ramfis that Isis has named a new, young man to command the Egyptian Army. Radamès wishes it were he so he could free Aida.

Here again is the great Josef Mann, who would have been greater had a heart attack not stopped him at age 38. He seems to have fallen just short of possessing the "mighty high note," but in every other respect is compelling, commanding. Here, in another rarity, Mann sings Manrico's love song, "Ah sì ben mio coll' essere," (sung in German as "Dass nur für mich dein Herz erbebt") from Act III of Verdi's "Il Trovatore." This recording, one of Mann's last, was made in Berlin for Odeon in the spring of 1921. We are lucky to have it.
Setting: A room adjoining the chapel at Castellor, 1409.
Synopsis: Although the castle of Castellor is under siege, Manrico and Leonora are about to be married. Manrico tells his love that, even if the fortress is destroyed and he is killed, he will die speaking her name.

More forgotten tenor "Trovatore" excerpts. . .Here again is "Met reject" Aureliano Pertile with "Ah, si ben mio. . .Di Quella Pira." He might not naturally have the chops to assay the big final note, but he muscles it out admirably well. Small wonder: Pertile was known for dazzlingly dramatic results despite possessing a voice that was not especially suave or beautiful. It was even described by critics as "brutta" (ugly)! (I don't think so!) Verdi roles and verismo were Pertile's forte, where he was noted for emotional intensity (you will hear it here.) He is today thought of as one of the best in the world, "between the wars," at least by those who are aware of him. 
Setting: A room adjoining the chapel at Castellor, 1409.
Synopsis: Manrico has discovered that his mother Azucena has been captured by the Count of Luna and is about to be burned at the stake. Furious, Manrico calls together his soldiers and sings valiantly of how they will save Azucena from death.

Okay, we've showcased two of the singers meant to "replace" Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera in 1921, after the wondrous tenor fell into what would prove to be a fatal illness: Miguel Fleta, and Josef Mann. Here, now, is one of the remaining three, Beniamino Gigli (the others were Giuseppe Martinelli and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi.) Gigli proved such a hit that (silly) audiences dubbed him "Caruso Secondo," which was rather off the mark, considering Caruso had a dark, heroic tenor and Gigli's was much sweeter, more contoured. Gigli stayed at the Met until a pay dispute drove him away in 1932---well, a "pay dispute." The skinny: Met GM Gatti-Casazza insisted that many singers take pay cuts due to the Depression, and told the press that Gigli refused. In point of fact, Gigli had refused to take the pay cut---but had offered to sing six operas for no pay (!), something the GM failed to tell the newspapers. Here is a WONDERFUL 1927 film of Gigli in "Cavalleria Rusticana" by Mascagni. Sync up the translation at 4:12 into the film with this line from the libretto, "Compar Alfio, lo so che il torto è mio," and follow it to the end. (Full translation link below.) This will lead to the great aria, "Mamma, quel vino è generoso" at 6:05. 
Synopsis : Turiddu, a soldier, has been challenged to a duel by Alfio. He is drunk and does not believe that he will live through the duel. He tells his mother that he is going out and asks her to take care of his beloved Santuzza if he doesn't come back.
Translation: (Start at "Compar Alfio" at 4:12.)

Pavarotti speaks of meeting Gigli:

The legendary Giovanni Martinelli was a great Metropolitan Opera star by 1913; his taking over the roles that Caruso vacated in 1921 was no hardship. Martinelli's voice was much brighter, more silvery than Caruso's warm, rich timbre. He was a spinto (able to punch through the orchestra on big notes, but otherwise a lyric tenor) whereas Caruso was a dramatic tenor (bigger voice.) Here is Martinelli in 1917 with the world's greatest short aria, or the world's shortest great aria, take your pick. "Amor Ti Vieta," from "Fedora," by Giordano. I've never heard it sung this way, so drawn out and expansive---very dramatic! Legato line singing (smooth, flowing), defined.
Setting: a party at Fedora's house, Paris, France, late 19th century
Synopsis: Fedora has found out that Count Loris killed her fiance and swears to avenge his death. As the first step in her plan to capture Loris, she goes to Paris and attempts to get him to fall in love with her. Later, they are at a party at Fedora's house and he tells her that he truly loves her.

Here is a parody of Martinelli (good-natured) by Mario Lanza. What can you say? Tenors.

The last of the three tenors ostensibly hired at the Met to take the place of Caruso was Giacomo Lauri-Volpe, who was to have an astounding 40-year career. Considered one of the greatest tenors in history, he sang at the Met for ten years and 307 performances---departing in the same Depression-era pay dispute that drove Beniamino Gigli away. Lauri-Volpe (the "Lauri" was added to set him apart from two other tenors with the same name) was orphaned at the age of eleven, fought bravely for Italy in World War I, and ultimately chose singing over a career in law (phew.) A dignified, private man, he hated publicity, and, sad to say, making records---though many recordings survive. His longevity is legenday: he debuted at the late age of 27, made his last opera performance at the age of 67 and astonished the world of opera by releasing a recital disc at 81.
Here are three selections. First, here he is in his prime, or one of them, in 1922---when he was hired at the Met---with "Una Furtiva Lagrima" from Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love."
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.
Second, here is his noble, ringing voice in a rare recording of "Donna Non Vidi Mai" from Puccini's "Manon Lescaut." He is reportedly 62 years old here!
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. 
And here he is at 80 (!!), singing "Nessun Dorma." Gasp.
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.

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