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 # 63: Run the Gamut

                                                           Roberto Alagna

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"La Belle Helene," by Offenbach.
(Great little youth orchestra.)

Sometimes operatic arias sound very grand, but are about nothing profound. They can even be flighty, silly. Here, from Offenbach's "La Belle Helene" (a comic operetta about Helen of Troy), is "Au Mont Ida," which always sounds rather heroic---yet is just the main character relating the story of a mythical beauty contest among three goddesses. (Yes, this is an SOL favorite.) The tenor is Juan Diego Florez. 
About the operetta: 
At Mount Ida, three Goddesses
quarreled in a wood.
What is, said these Princesses,
the most beautiful of the three of us?

Evohe, that these Goddesses,
to enthrall the boys,
evoked, that these Goddesses
have funny ways.

A young man passes through this wood,
a young, handsome and handsome man
His hand was holding an apple,
you can see the picture.

Ah, hello, eh! The handsome young man,
im instant, stop,
and please give the apple
to the most beautiful of us.

Evohe, that these Goddesses,
to enthrall the boys,
evoked, that these Goddesses
have funny ways.

One says: I have my reserve,
my modesty, my chastity,
give the price to Minerva,
Minerva deserved it.

Evohe, that these Goddesses,
have funny ways.
The other says: I have my birth,
my pride and my peacock.
I have to prevail, I think,
give the apple to Juno.

Evohe, that these Goddesses,
have funny ways
to enthrall the boys,.

The third, ah, the third!
The third says nothing;
She got the price all the same,
Calchas, you can hear me!

Evohe, that these Goddesses,
to enthrall the boys,
evoked, that these Goddesses
have funny ways.

Sometimes operatic arias sound very grand, and are about rather potent topics. Here, from Gounod's "Mefistofele," the (rather well dressed, disguised) devil himself sings triumphantly of how humans are forever controlled by greed. "Le Veau d'or" ("The Golden Calf.") The baritone is Rene Pape. With English subtitles.
Setting: A celebration in a public square in a German city, 16th century
Synopsis: Appearing in the midst of a celebration by Valentin, Wagner, and their student friends, Mèphistophélès sings a song about greed and men's susceptibility to it. He finishes by singing that Satan is behind it all.

Annnd, sometimes operatic arias are just plain frivolous. Here is "“Ah! quel diner je viens de faire!" ("What a lunch I just had!") which apparently included a lot of booze. From Offenbach's "La Perichole." The soprano is Teresa Berganza.
Translation, about the aria:

But of course, the most affecting arias in opera are the poignant and sad ones. Here is the wrenching, "I Poveri Fiori" from "Adriana Lecouvreur," by Cilea. Here is Mirella Freni. (Aria begins around 00:40.)
Setting: a room in Adriana's house, Paris, 1730
Synopsis: On her birthday, Adriana is sent a package which she believes is from her beloved Maurizio. Depressed and suicidal because of Maurizio's betrayal of their love, her mood worsens when she opens the package and finds that it contains the decrepit remains of the violets that she gave Maurizio some time ago as a sign of their love. She sings to them of her sorrow. Little does she know, however, that the package is from Maurizio's other love, the Princesse de Bouillon, who has soaked the flowers in poison.
Poor flowers, buds of the meadows,
although born yesterday, dying today,
oaths of treacherous heart!
The last kiss, or the first kiss,
here I impress you,
sweet and strong kiss of death,
kiss of love.
Everything is over!
With your stench, die the contempt:
with you
of a day without return!
Everything is finished!

Original French: 

Opera is full of prayers, both in the religious sense and the secular or poetic sense. Here is one of the latter, "O, Du, Mein Abenstern," or "Oh, my Beautiful Evening Star," from Wagner's "Tannhauser." In this scene, Wolfram has a premonition of his beloved Elizabeth's death, and tenderly prays to the evening star to guide her to heaven. The baritone is the late, great Dmitri Hvorostovksy.
German and English:
About the aria:

Opera is full of righteous indignation, declamation. Here is "Un di all'azzuro spazio" from "Andrea Chenier," by Umberto Giordano. The story is based loosely on the poet executed during the French Revolution. In this scene, Chenier has been invited to a grand ball hosted by the hoity-toity. The hostess's daughter, one Maddalena, asks Chenier to recite a poem, almost as a party trick. Chénier refuses, and the woman makes a little quip about how the muse must have deserted him. Pissed off, Chenier improvises a poem about the suffering of the poor, ending with a tirade against those in power in church and state, shocking the guests. The tenor is the great Franco Corelli. With English subtitles.
Or, if you prefer a clearer video, here is Placido Domingo:

Opera, like classic literature, is full of characters making noble pleas of self-sacrifice. One such comes in Puccini's "western," "The Girl of the Golden West," in which Johnson (actually the bandit, Ramerrez) is about to be hanged. He asks his captors to never tell his beloved, Minnie, of his fate, and instead to lie that he has escaped and gone far away. Here is the man who could not sing quietly, Mario Del Monaco.
And here, for amazement, is the astonishing Giuseppe Giacomini, at age 54:

There is no greater aria of noble self-sacrifice in all of opera than "Tu che di gel sei Cinta," from Puccini's "Turandot." The poor slave girl, Liu, tells the "ice queen," Turandot---who is torturing her---that she will kill herself in order that Turandot may learn love. The soprano is Leona Mitchell.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, here is Maria Callas with Rossini's de facto paean to uh, oh, feminine tenacity, let's call it. "Una Voce Poco Fa," from "The Barber of Seville." There was nothing this woman could not sing. Remember, she began as weighty (literally and figuratively) Wagnerian soprano---yet here she is, waifish, assaying coloratura runs perfectly. This is fun to watch. 
Setting: A room in Dr. Bartolo's house
Synopsis: After having read the letter from Lindoro (Count Almaviva), Rosina is filled with joy. She sings of her love for him. And what she will do if it is threatened.

Today's "Run the Gamut" edition of Saturdee Opry links has tried to give samples of different types of arias, in terms of their emotional and dramatic purpose. We have not yet touched on the harshest of these themes, which is shuffling off this mortal coil. Here is the most devastating such scene of all, "Sono Andati," from Puccini's "La Boheme." In it, Mimi, who is dying of tuberculosis, relives the happiest moments of her love with Rodolfo. Note: Rodolfo is sung by Roberto Alagna (who was married at the time to the soprano, Angela Gheorghiu.) If Alagna's grief seems almost too real in the final moments, it is because he lost his first wife ten years earlier from a brain tumor. He is just barely able to sing the final cry of "Mimi." 
And here is a clearer---but equally good---clip, with Ileana Cotrubas and Neil Shicoff, with English subtitles. It includes the entire final moments, including Mimi's death. 

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