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
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Giacomo Puccini

SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 48: Mozart & Wagner Special!

                   Wolfgang                                         Richard

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"Apollo et Hyacinthus," by Mozart. (Er, he was uh, eleven. . .when he wrote this. Eleven!) 

A brisk and vigorous "Fuor del Mar," from Mozart's opera, "Idomeneo," to start the proceedings, with the brisk and vigorous lyric tenor of Juan Diego Florez.
Setting: Idomeneo's apartments
Synopsis: Even though he is no longer on the sea, Idomeneo, king of Crete, still feels as if he is in as much danger as if he was on the sea. He wonders if he is as close to disaster as when he was shipwrecked. 
And if you want to see how it looks on stage, here is Matthew Polenzani: 

Today's Saturdee Opry Links features nothing but Wolf and Rich. Mozart and Wagner, to you. Quite a contrast, you say? And do you enjoy stating the obvious? Mozart began working on what would have been another masterpiece opera, "Zaide," in 1780, but soon became so interested in "Idomeneo" and "Abduction from the Seraglio: that "Zaide" slipped through the cracks, unfinished. Too bad, as it is a morality story that denounces slavery. Here is the best known aria from it, "Ruhe Sanft, mein holdes Leben," sung warmly and comfortingly by soprano Mojca Erdmann (in a silly looking production.) With English subtitles. 
Synopsis of opera:
Zaide falls in love with Gomatz, a slave, which strikes up jealousy and rage in the Sultan, who happens to also admire her. After capture she chooses a free life with Gomatz rather than a good life with the Sultan. Allazim encourages the sultan to consider Gomatz as a man, not as a slave. The final surviving quartet suggests Zaide and Gomatz are sentenced to punishment or execution. This is where Mozart's manuscript breaks off.
Synopsis of scene: Zaide comes upon Gomatz sleeping under a tree. She admires his good looks and leaves him jewels, money, a portrait of her, and a letter asking him to meet her later in that same spot. She then sings that he should sleep until he awakes with happiness. She hopes that her tears will bring her wishes to reality.

A heldentenor (heroic tenor) is a dark tenor voice with enormous power. I'm not sure if Jonas Kaufmann is a heldentenor or not, and there seems to be some debate about this. He has a dark tenor voice, to be sure, but critics say he lacks a ringing, clarion quality (squillo), and a certain amount of power. Well, I sure don't know. Still, he sings Wagner beautifully, helden or not.
Role: Lohengrin, a knight
Setting: a plain on the banks of the Schelbt, Antwerp, first half of the 10th century
Synopsis: To this point, the Knight has not been allowed to tell his name or his origin. However, he must leave because he has killed Frederick, the Count of Brabant, and now tells his past. He is a Knight of the Grail from the island of Montsalvat and his father is Parsifal, the leader of all the Knights of Grail who strive to do good in the world as long as no one knows their secret. He finally reveals that his true name is Lohengrin. 

Wagner the ecologist? In "Das Rheingold," the first of his four "Ring" operas, the earth goddess, Erda, rises from the depths to warn the gods that they are headed for destruction. The metaphor was prescient, and is rather punishing, don't you think? There is a subtext throughout the "Ring" of earth and nature being threatened by the folly of the gods, and in the end, after Wotan and Co. have destroyed everything, one prevalent interpretation has nature reasserting itself. The mezzo-soprano is Hanna Schwarz, from Munich in 1989. With English subtitles. 
Synopsis: Erda rises from the earth to give a warning to Wotan and the rest of the gods. She cautions that if Wotan continues to have anything to do with the magic all-powerful Ring of the Nibelungs, the gods will be eventually thrown from power.

SPECIAL: Here is the greatest analysis of Wagner's "Ring" you will ever hear. 

And here is Mozart's idea of an angry goddess. . .(I'd prefer Erda's wrath to this hellion's.) From "The Magic Flute," here, of course, is the Queen of the Night, wreaking her usual havoc. Run for your lives! (Music starts at 2:15 or so.) Diana Damrau does the honors.
Synopsis: Giving her a knife, the Queen of the Night tells Pamina to kill Sarastro in order to get the Shield of the Sun from him.
Longer Synopsis:
Pamina is asleep in the garden. Monostatos approaches and gazes upon her with rapture. (Aria: "Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden") He is about to kiss the sleeping Pamina, when the Queen of the Night appears. Monostatos hides. In response to the Queen's questioning, Pamina explains that he is joining Sarastro's brotherhood and she is thinking of accompanying him too. The Queen is not pleased. She explains that her husband was the previous owner of the temple and on his deathbed, he gives the ownership to Sarastro instead of her, rendering the Queen powerless (This is in the original libretto, but in modern productions, it is usually omitted, making the scene with Pamina and her mother shorter). She gives Pamina a dagger, ordering her to kill Sarastro with it and threatening to disown her if she does not. (Aria: "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen"). 

Voices will fool you (or at least, me.) Jonas Kaufmann, he of the dark tenor, meet Peter Mattei, he of the bright baritone. Mattei does a lovely job of conveying the ideas and mood in this aria, rather than merely featuring his chops. This is "O du mein holder Abenstern," from "Tannhauser," by Wagner. "There you are, O loveliest star. . ." Here, by the way, is a good article about the aria, its purpose, context: 
Wolfram initially sings in arioso (between speech and song), reflecting on the darkness of the evening to melancholy, low-pitched music, accompanied by slow funereal chords in the brass. The aching dissonances as he describes the soul yearning to escape the world convey his sorrow at Elisabeth’s approaching death. But as Wolfram catches sight of the Evening Star, he takes comfort in its light, marked by ethereal high tremolo strings, delicate musical textures and the quickening, higher vocal line. To rippling harp arpeggios, he prays for Elisabeth’s safe journey from earth to Heaven.

Just for contrast: 

As for a Mozart baritone aria, here is a jolly melody you will recognize. Well, maybe. Well, if you've seen "Amadeus." (Well, maybe.) Here is the bit of life advice from Figaro to Cherubino in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," something along the lines of "Women and drinkin', lovin' and thinkin', will do it to you every time." (From "I Want to Testify," by Roger Taylor.) The excellent baritone is one Luca Pisaroni. With English subtitles.
Role: Figaro, valet to the Count of Almaviva, betrothed to Susanna
Synopsis: After the Count orders Cherubino to leave and join the Seville regiment for his romantic indiscretions, Figaro tells Cherubino that he must give up his easy life and his women and become a soldier. 
And if you want to hear what the great a cappella group, The Persuasions, did with Figaro's (and Roger Taylor's) advice, go here:

Here is a spectacularly preposterous, or preposterously spectacular, staging of the "Ride of the Valkyries," from Wagner's "Die Walkure." This is the Met's recent "Big Machine" staging. Right, some madman constructed a huge machine that would morph into all manner of shapes and configurations for each scene in the four operas. Ambitious idea, and sometimes very effective, though perhaps not so much here. I mean, just turn the sound down and play The Moody Blues' "Ride My See-Saw," fer crissakes. But. . .the music, for all its horrific exploitation and satire, will forever be thrilling and dramatic when taken in proper context: a depiction of goddesses astride flying horses, retrieving fallen heroes of battle to take them to Valhalla. Good theme for International Women's Day, really, though I suspect I would be in the minority in that opinion. 
History of Valkyries: 
"Ride My See-Saw." 

"Ch'io mi scordi di te? ... Non temer, amato bene" (Will I forget you? ... Fear not, beloved), K. 505, is a poignant farewell aria by Mozart, composed in December 1786 in Vienna---specifically as a concert aria. It is, Wikipedia informs, often considered to be one of his greatest compositions in this genre. Here it is with the Spanish mezzo, Teresa Berganza---who is still with us at 83! 
About Ms. Berganza:

After Mozart's moving farewell aria, here is Wagner's, one of the most powerful and poignant arias in all opera. I don't care for the legendary Chereau Bayreuth staging of the mid-70's, but it's the only good specimen on Youtube. The singing is great, at least. What's happened is that Wotan's (king of the gods) favorite daughter, Brunhilde the Valkyrie, has disobeyed dear old dad. She tried to help the heroic Siegmund in a duel, only to have Wotan appear and thwart her, and then she bravely sheltered Siegmund's pregnant lover, Sieglinde, who was targeted for death by Wotan. Why? Compassion, pure and simple. There are complicated reasons for Wotan objecting to this, but it all has to do with his generally doing the wrong thing---at the advice of his awful wife. Yes, a henpecked god! Brunhilde knows what is in her father's heart, though, and acts accordingly. Bad move. Wotan strips her of her god status, and is going to put her into a sleep on a mountaintop, at the mercy of any human who comes along. Brunhilde pleads with him to allow her to be awakened only by a man of character, worth, and broken-hearted Wotan relents, in a final gesture of love. He puts Brunhilde to sleep, and calls Loge, the god of fire, to encircle her with a magic fire that only the greatest of heroes might enter. This is "Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!," or "Farewell, valiant, glorious child!" from "Die Walkure," the second "Ring" opera of Wagner. Donald McIntyre and Gwyneth Jones. I suggest starting around the 3:10 mark. The "Leb Wohl" begins at 4:23. 
Translation: (search for "Farewell," and start there.) 

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