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.

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Giacomo Puccini

SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 64: Quasi-Trousers Edition

Isabel Leonard

Saturdee Opry Links Trousers Overture!

The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart 

What's a man doing singing a mezzo role? Well, in this time of LGBTBBQ, such questions are hopelessly antiquated, right? Not to me! Answer: there used to be "trouser roles" in opera (and theater) where women were cast as men. Why? Well, that's a lonnnnng, very weird story. See accompanying article below. Or don't, and just enjoy Isabel Leonard as a young military man, Cherubino, in Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro." Here he sings a plea to women to see how much love he has to give. If you don't know this melody, you've had your head up your iPhone. "Voi che sapete," or "You, ladies, you know what love is. . ." With English subtitles. 


"Opera is full of little quirks, but the trouser role tradition may well be the icing on the cupcake of its peculiarities." So writes Ellen MacDonald-Kramer in an article (posted above.) Richard Strauss saw fit to more or less revive this cupcake icing in his tender comic opera, "Der Rosenkavalier," ("The Rose Bearer"), where the young rogue, Octavian, is assayed by a mezzo (and we all know how painful that can be.) Yet you can take the trousers off your mind, such is the beauty of the singing, and music. This is the "presentation of the rose" sequence. Here the "older woman" (The Marschallin) graciously releases her grip on Octavian, freeing him to marry his peer, Sophie. Anne Sophie von Otter is Octavian, Barbara Bonney is The Marschallin.
The Marschallin, Sophie, and Octavian are left alone. The Marschallin recognizes that the day she so feared has come, as Octavian hesitates between the two women (Trio: Marie Theres'! / Hab' mir's gelobt). In the emotional climax of the opera, the Marschallin gracefully releases Octavian, encouraging him to follow his heart and love Sophie. She then withdraws elegantly to the next room to talk with Faninal. 


SOL usually presents concert performances of the aria, "Ombra Mai Fu," from Handel's "Xerxes," owing to the beauty and poignancy of the piece. It stands without context, a paean to nature. So, for a change, here it is in context, on stage, as performed by mezzo Alice Coote. Yes, it's another trouser role, folks! Coote portrays the King of Persia (why this production has her looking more like the King of England, I don't know), who takes time to contemplate the beauty of a tree---just before all hell breaks loose.
King Xerxes, looking up from contemplation of his beloved plane tree, sees Romilda, the daughter of his vassal Ariodate, and makes up his mind to marry her. However Romilda and Xerxes' brother, Arsamene, love each other, while Romilda's sister, Atalanta, is also determined to make Arsamene hers. Amastre, Xerxes' fiancée, forsaken by him for Romilda, disguises herself as a man and observes Xerxes.
About the opera: 

There is dance in opera, too, none more famous than the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Strauss's "Salome." This sequence is tricky, depending on the size and agility of the soprano. I've seen it done rather modestly (by a soprano well past 60), and rather immodestly (Patricia Racette, who doffed her duds entirely in her '50's.) All of which is to say, I was looking for a segue out of the "trouser roles" subject, a way to, in other words, remove the trousers from these proceedings. So here is Maria Ewing, sans trousers and everything else, in the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Strauss's bizarre, rather spellbinding and distinctly disturbing "Salome." Take it off, er, away, Maria. 

Just so as not to shortchange Ms. Ewing, here she is, fully clothed (no trousers, though) and singing. Or rather, elegantly and beguilingly dispatching the seguidilla from Bizet's "Carmen." A seguidilla segue.
"Près des remparts de Séville" ("Near the ramparts of Seville.") 
Synopsis: After Carmen is arrested for fighting another girl in the cigarette factory, Don Jose is assigned to watch her. She sings that she wants to go to her friend Lillias Pastia's inn and insinuates that she would like him to go with her.

Ms. Ewing seems to be doing showtunes and jazz these days. . .
Ewing sings "The Shadow of Your Smile" 

Well, Saturdee Opry Links is caught with its trousers down. No idea where to go with the remaining posts. Did not want to devote things entirely to women in trouser roles because I find women more interesting without trousers. What'd he say? So when in doubt. . .Luciano. Here is the stupendous "Ingemisco" from the Verdi Requiem, sung by young Pavarotti. (Remember, the man could not even read music.) The Requiem has one tenor solo, ‘Ingemisco’ where the singer pleads to God that at the last day of judgment, God will forgive him his sins and not allow him to burn in hell but will raise him up, separate him from the sheep and goats and place him at God’s right hand. Me, I like the idea of being with sheep and goats, and all the other animals.
Translation (scroll down): 

When in doubt. . .Pavarotti. Or Lanza. Or Pavarotti and Lanza. Hang on to your hats, folks, it's The Two Tenors. That's a lot of uvula.
¿Quién es más macho? "Celeste Aida," from "Aida," by Verdi. 
Radamès, an officer in the Egyptian army, 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.

Just for (more) fun: Battle of the High C's 

When in doubt, Caruso. Here is a rarity, and a gem. It's from a very late Donizetti opera, "Dom Sebastian," written when the poor composer was mentally disintegrating from the ravages of syphillis. (Think you've got it tough?) Two years after this opera, he would die in an insane asylum. "Dom Sebastian's" generally brooding quality would likely be reflective of Donizetti's state of mind. The New York Times wrote in 1984, when the opera was revived briefly:
"By 1843, when he composed this work, Donizetti was two years away from being committed to an insane asylum. He was already beginning to suffer from the cerebral disintegration, a result of syphilis, that ended in his death five years later. That may have had an effect on the music's overall mood, which for him is unusually lugubrious and unvaried. In fact, some forgotten critic labeled it as ''a funeral in five acts.'The work's chief weaknesses, however, probably trace to other causes. ''Dom Sebastien,'' with its emphasis on bluster, spectacle and military marches, was Donizetti's bid for fame in Paris, where Meyerbeer's grandiose operas had enthralled the public. ''Dom Sebastien'' is, you might say, unintoxicating Meyerbeer. Donizetti in this final work also seems to have been studying the early operas of Verdi, with their lusty emotionalism and broad popular appeal."
NONETHELESS, this aria is a great one, and should be as well known, perhaps, as the composer's many indelible arias. No translation available, and, as you will hear, none necessary. If this is not an utterance of desolation and abandonment, I don't know what would be. A song for the poor human race! 
New York Times Review: 
About the opera:

Here is a favorite from Donizett's "La Favorita," sung by one Miguel Fleta, briefly in the '20's a favorite of the Metropolitan Opera. But Miguel was a bit flighty, perhaps, as he made the mistake of breaking a Met contract and lying about it. Career soon ruined, he sang himself into bad health with concert appearances around the world. In the end, he wound up on the wrong side of the Spanish Civil War, hiding from Loyalists, dying in 1937 at only 40. (See bio accompanying video.) His voice lives on, here with "Spirito Gentil." "You once shined in my dreams, but now I've lost you forever. . ." 
Fernand (Ferdinand), a young novice at the monastery of St. James of Compostella asks the king to marry Leonore, not knowing that she is the king's favorite. The king nonetheless grants the request because Fernand 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.

The great, tragic tenor, Miguel Fleta (see previous post) in 1926, at his peak, presumably wearing trousers, with "In Fernem Land," from "Lohengrin," by Wagner. In Italian.
Synopsis: Synopsis: Lohengrin the Knight has not been allowed to tell his name or his origin. However, he now 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.

Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
The great Neopolitan song, "Mattinata," live in 1949, with Mario Lanza. Send 'em home with a smile. "The dawn, dressed in white, has opened its door to the sun." 

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