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


                Ernest Blanc                                 Claudia Muzio

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
Prelude, Act 3, "Lohengrin," by Wagner. 

There are lots of great opera singers who do not become household words, who are "great," but do not have "greatness." Yet they go through their careers quite laudably. One such excellent journeyman was Endrik Wottrich, a German Wagnerian tenor who passed away recently from a heart attack at only 53---and who made headlines for denouncing the stresses of the opera world, which, he said, was rife with drug use and alcoholism. He was also the one-time paramour of Katharina Wagner, the stage director who has desecrated many of her great-grandfather's operas in Bayreuth. Here he is in an excerpt for "Walter's Prize Song," from Wagner's comedic, moving paean to brotherhood, "Die Meistersinger von Nuremburg."
Role: Walter von Stolzing, a young knight from Franconia
Setting: a meadow outside of Nuremburg, Germany, mid-sixteenth century
Synopsis: Walter sings his Prize Song for the song contest. It is a beautiful and magical piece which poetically describes his love for Eva.
Most gracious day,
to which I awoke from a poet's dream!
The Paradise of which I had dreamed
in heavenly, new-transfigured splendour
lay bright before me,
to which the spring laughingly now showed me the path;
she, born there,
my heart's elect,
earth's loveliest picture,
destined to be my Muse,
as holy and grave as she is mild,
was boldly wooed by me

Wottrich made headlines by claiming drug use and insane pressures are rampant in opera.
"The stress levels are too high... the whole opera world is sick. There are standards expected of us that are just not possible to realise," he said.

Saturdee Opry Links doesn't get to Meyerbeer often, and here is one of his operas that no one gets to often anymore, "L'Etoile du Nord" ("The North Star.") It's a comic piece that has all but disappeared from the repertory, although one bit of it survives as a concert piece. This aria---really an obligato for flutes and soprano---is "C'est bien l'air que chaque matin" ("This is the air every morning.") It was a great showcase for Jenny Lind, once upon a time. The story involves to the love of Peter the Great for Catherine. Their union finally takes place, but not until Catherine has disguised herself as a soldier and served in the Russian camp. Natch. After surreptitiously watching Peter and a companion drink and carouse in the former’s tent with a couple of femmes, Cathy becomes appropriately deranged. Peter restores her calm and love by simply playing pretty tunes on a flute. (I've tried this, too---it works.) Now, to the casual ear, this is the kind of aria that brings to mind images of Curly Howard in drag, which is perfectly fine, but it also brings to mind the acrobatic coloratura of Sumi Jo, who executes this difficult, frilly showpiece here. Have a ball. 
No translation available, and I doubt it would illuminate the proceedings.

SOL also does not get to duets nearly enough, largely because on-line translations are lacking. Got lucky with this English-captioned excerpt from Mozart's late (and serious) opera, "La Clemenza di Tito." Here we have the brief, exquisite duet, "Ah perdona al primo affetto," in which the characters, Annio (trouser role, sung by a soprano) and Sesto, resolve their love. 
The sopranos are Kate Lindsey and Lucy Crowe.
About "Tito," From Wiki:
Alfred Einstein in 1945 wrote that it was "customary to speak disparagingly of La clemenza di Tito and to dismiss it as the product of haste and fatigue," and he continues the disparagement to some extent by condemning the characters as puppets – e.g., "Tito is nothing but a mere puppet representing magnanimity" – and claiming that the opera seria was already a moribund form.[8] However, in recent years the opera has undergone something of a reappraisal. Stanley Sadie considered it to show Mozart "responding with music of restraint, nobility and warmth to a new kind of stimulus".

"Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo," does not mean, "Romeo, where are you?" It really means, "why are you," that is, implicitly, "why do you have to be a Montague?" But this curvaceous, plaintive aria, from Bellini's "I Capuleti e i Montecchi," actually does ask, "Where are you, Romeo?" Sung here by the tremendous Kathleen Battle, who reputedly did battle with anyone and everyone around her throughout her career, and behaved with such condescension as to have merited a rarity: open condemnation from colleagues. But she could sing purdy good. Note: this aria, "O Quante Volte" ("How much time?") begins with a "precede," as we used to say in newspapers, a kind of set-up for the melody. 
Setting : Giulietta's balcony in the palace of Capulet, Verona, Italy, 15th century
Synopsis : Giulietta worries as she does not know where Romeo has gone. She is in love with him and waits with ardor for him to come. She wishes to see his silhouette in the light of the day and hear his sigh which reminds her of the breeze.

Lincinio Refice (1885-1954) was a priest who taught at the Scuola Pontifica for sacred music in Rome for some 40 years. He died on the rostrum while conducting the morning rehearsal of his own opera, "Cecilia" (with soprano Renata Tebaldi), inspired by the life of music's patron saint. The words of 'Ombra di Nube' are a prayer, a plea and a reminder of the eternal beauty that remains when the pain goes. Here is the great soprano of the past, Claudia Muzio. 
 Text and Translation:
 Era in ciel un arco azzurro di fulgor;
 chiara luce si versava sul mio cuor.
 Ombra di nube, non mi offuscare;
 della vita non velarmi la beltà.
 Vola, o nube, vola da me lontan;
 sia disperso questo mio tormento arcan.
 Ancora luce, ancora azzurro!
 Il sereno io vegga per l’eternità!
 The sky was an arc of dazzling blue;
 A brilliant light shone down on my heart.
 Shadow of a cloud, do not bring me darkness;
 do not obscure the beauty of life for me.
 Fly, cloud, fly far away from me;
 Let this strange torment of mine be swept away.
 Bring back the light, bring back the blue!
 Let me see the clear sky for all eternity!

 About Refice: 

About Claudia Muzio:

Wagner did what? He wrote a Romantic comic opera based on Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure?" Called "Das Liebesverbot?" ("The Ban on Love.") No, I didn't know this, either. (Wagner once referred to it as "the sin of my youth.") It was his second opera, bearing lots of influence of Donizetti and Bellini (whom he greatly admired.) Yes, long before leitmotiv, there was. . ."Liebesverbot." Here is a splendid aria that certainly brings the long lines of Bellini to mind: Mariana's aria, "Welch wunderbar Erwarten." ("What a wonderful expectation.") Sung by one Maria Miro. 
Role: Mariana, a novice in the Convent of St. Elizabeth's, formerly married to Friedrich
Setting: the end of a carnival, Palermo, Sicily, 16th century
Synopsis: Mariana and Isabella have plotted to trick Friedrich into recognizing his secret marriage with Mariana, who he had long ago abandoned. Mariana waits for the moment when they will be together again with both anticipation and worry.
No translation available.
About the opera: 

Another bit of "Das Liebesverbot" is this gorgeous duet, notable for both the influence of (young) Wagner contemporaries Bellini and Rossini---and for the obvious and unmistakable foreshadowing of Wagner orchestrations and themes to come. Just watch the first 3:35 and see if you hear hints of incipient "Ring" motivs to emerge decades later. I don't know what part of the opera this is from, or how it engages the storyline. The two nuns begin by singing of great peace and harmony with lines like, "The celestial calm arrives with the sunrise." Later in the aria, I'm guessing this part occurs: "In confidential converse with her friend Marianne, who also has entered as novice. Marianne discloses to her friend, from whom she has long been parted, the sad fate that has brought her there. By a man of high position she had been persuaded to a secret union, under the pledge of eternal fidelity; in her hour of utmost need she had found herself abandoned, and even persecuted, for the betrayer proved to be the most powerful personage in all the state, no less a man than the King's present State-holder." Anyhow, here is the lovely orchestral opening and duet. Mario Miro and
Sonja Gornik. 

Continuing our grab-bag of (mostly) less often heard opry, here is something from the rather preposterous sounding "Adelson e Salvini," which is not a law firm in a Woody Allen movie, but Bellini's first opera. Written while the composer was still a student in 1825, it is an uneven work, a ostensible comedy, with flashes of brilliance. Synopsis: Set in 18th-century Ireland, where the Anglo-Irish Lord Adelson is having trouble with Salvini, a somewhat unstable Italian painter in his employment, who has fallen inconveniently and unrequitedly in love with Adelson’s fiancee Nelly. Here is Joyce Di Donato with this achingly beautiful aria (translation underneath the video), "Dopo L'oscuro Nembo" ("Once the storm had passed.")
About the opera: 

From Gounod's "Faust," a noble (and very French sounding) aria of duty and compassion. The baritone is Ernest Blanc.
 "Avant de quitter ces lieux". . ."Before leaving this place."
 Synopsis: Valentin has been called off to war. He is not worried about what will happen to him because of the sacred medallion that he has been given. He is, however, worried because there will no one protect his sister while he is gone. He asks God to take care of her while he fights. He declares that he shall fight valiantly for his country and if he dies, he prays that he will be allowed to watch over his sister from Heaven.
About Ernest Blanc:

FINAL BOW: I don't think this duet requires explanation. It captures a particular nuance and poignancy unmatched in operatic literature. Did Rossini ever top this? 

Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
"Mattinata," the beloved song written by Leoncavallo, sung by Jussi Bjorling.
"The dawn, dressed in white, has opened the door to the sun!" 

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