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 75: Semi-"Carmen" Special

                                    Rise Stevens

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
Handel, "Rinaldo."

"Lascia ch'io pianga" is probably Handel's most popular aria. It began as a song which he later reworked for the opera, "Rinaldo," and today is a very popular concert piece. You will probably recognize it from goddamned car commercials. Pardon my Italian. It translates to "Let me weep," which is certainly an apt sentiment for our time. Soprano Joyce Di Donato.
Setting : a garden in Argante's palace, Jerusalem, Palestine, during the Crusades
Synopsis : Almirena has been abducted by the sorceress Armida and imprisoned in the palace. She laments her fate.
Lascia ch'io pianga
mia cruda sorte,
e che sospiri
la libertà.
Il duolo infranga
queste ritorte
de' miei martiri
sol per pietà.
Let me weep over
my cruel fate,
and that I may sigh for
Let my sadness shatter
these chains
of my suffering,
if only out of pity.

Here is another aria from Handel's "Rinaldo," and one which exemplifies why I almost never listen to baroque opera. It starts melodically enough, if mournfully, and then. . .surprise! It turns into the kind of sheer chattering insanity that makes you want to get out a large mallet and pound the cartoon rabbit on the head. That pretty well comprises my scholarly insight into baroque opera. Now, this aria, "Cor Ingrato," translates to "Ungrateful Heart" (and it will be followed by a far superior tune with the same title, so don't give up on SOL yet.) This dog of an aria is sung with great skill and aplomb by the great contralto, Ewa Podles. (Rim shot permitted here.)
Synopsis : Rinaldo's fiancee has been abducted by the sorceress Armida. After Rinaldo's commander, Goffredo, and his brother Eustazio appear, Rinaldo tells them how upset and angry he is.
No translation available, but it boils down to, "Goddamn it, go to hell, you jackass."

Leaving baroque opera behind, with apologies to Handel, we continue with the "ungrateful heart" theme. From Handel's "Cor Ingrato," we move exactly 200 years ahead to 1911, when the fabulous Neopolitan song, "Core 'ngrato," was written by one Salvatore Cardillo. Also known as "Catari, Catari" (diminutive of "Caterina"), the song's title comes from the heartfelt passage, "Core, core 'ngrato, te haie pigliato 'a vita mia! Tutt' è passato, e nun nce pienze cchiù!", which approximates in English to "Ungrateful heart, you have stolen my life! It's all over and you no longer think about us!" (Right on!) Say what you will about Mario Lanza. . .

We now make the ungainly segue from "Catari, Catari," to the mezzo, Caterina Antonacci, singing not of ungrateful hearts, but of capricious ones. Ms. Antonacci sings mostly in Europe, and tends to specialize in Berlioz and less popular fare than. So it is a sort of rare treat to have had her perform "Carmen." Gee, do you think she's sees the character as lascivious? (Compliments to the wardrobe department for having kept her breasts in check.) This is the Habanera, "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" ("Love is a rebellious bird.") 
Setting: A square in Seville
Synopsis: After appearing out of the cigarette factory, Carmen seductively sings about love and its unpredictable actions.

I must say I'm very, very tired of seeing "Carmen" and countless other femme fatales in opera portrayed as barely restrained nymphomaniacs. There can be innuendo and suggestion without writhing, leg-spreading, bondage, symbolic cunnilingus, and appearing to achieve orgasm, but opera has cheapened itself in this fashion in the interest of appearing "erotic," and titillating audiences conditioned by the popular culture to expect it. Just stupid, as is this notion that women are "empowered" by behaving and dressing lasciviously. Elina Garanca's portrayal here is hardly the most lurid example around, and I am posting it chiefly for her delicious, burnished mezzo---not the hormone party. The marvelous, ever alluring "Seguidilla" from "Carmen." "Près des ramparts de Séville," or "Near the ramparts of Seville." With English subtitles! The tenor is Roberto Alagna. 
Setting: A square in 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.

Here, again, is the Seguidilla from "Carmen," but sung by Rise Stevens, who was considered the definitive "Carmen" in her time (and still is by many.) I post it for the contrast with the wonderful singer, Elina Garanca, and her over-the-top suggestiveness that is standard fare today. Not how Stevens evokes allure with a raised eyebrow, a hand on hip, a sashay, a cocked head. This is called, I believe, "acting." (Thanks, Bonnie Tone.)
Rise Stevens obituary: 

Continuing with "Carmen," perhaps because Bizet's melodies never let you down, perhaps because I can't bring to mind many other operas where the music and melodies are so apt to the character. Also because I really like the late Rise Stevens (who passed away four years ago at 99.) Here is the beguiling "Les tringles des sistres tintaient," the "gypsy song." 
Setting : The inn of Lillias Pastia
Synopsis : With her friends Frasquita and Mercedes, Carmen sings a wild gyspy song about dancing and seduction to the joyous tavern crowd.

A nice staging, with Agnes Baltsa, for contrast: 

"Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" ("I say that nothing can frighten me") from "Carmen" is one of the most moving, poignant arias of all, of course. It's an expression of fear, and an invoking of courage, by a frightened woman, amid all sorts of purple woodwinds, sorrowful French horn, and worried strings. It must be a hard one to sing, and it certainly requires a particular type of soprano. I've listened to bits of six or seven Youtube clips of great singers this morning, and good as they are, they leave one wanting. Except for Anna Moffo. Regret there is not a clip, so you'll have to use your imagination. You remember imagination, right? It used to be heavily relied upon before iPhones. 
Role : Micaëla, a young girl from Don José's village
Setting : A mountain pass
Range : Has not been entered yet.
Synopsis : Searching for Don José, who she still loves in spite of the smugglers, Micaëla finds herself alone in the mountains. Frightened, she prays for courage. 
Anna Moffo obituary: 

Seeing as this has turned into a quasi-"Carmen" edition of SOL, here is young Franco Corelli singing the wrenching "Flower aria," "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" ("The flower that you tossed to me.") If you suspect that Carmen and Don Jose's efforts to effect domestic tranquility are doomed to failure, you are a fine student of opera. 
Setting : The inn of Lillias Pastia
Synopsis : Carmen and José have just reunited after José's stay in prison for releasing Carmen when he was supposed to be guarding her. She has danced and played castanets for him but in the distance, he hears the call back to the barracks and he says he must go. She becomes angry at him for leaving her. Don Jose then responds by singing how the flower she threw to him kept him going throughout his stay at the prison.

The great bass-baritone, Leonard Warren, finishes our semi-Carmen special with the Toreador song. "Votre toast je peux vous le rendre" ("A toast I give to you.") Sing along. "Tor-e-ador-e, don't spit on the floor-ay. . ." 
Setting : The inn of Lillias Pastia
Synopsis : Escamillo, a great bullfighter, sings of his adventures in the bullring.
Translation: t

And for those of you sitting home alone with nothing better to do. . .here's the whole damn opera! With English captions, of course. 

Back to Opera Links

Back to Home Page