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


Raquel Gonzalez (with Michael Brandenburg) in "La Boheme."

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
Tannhauser, by Wagner. 

This is the only clip of Raquel Gonzalez on Youtube, but probably not for long. The unknown soprano just got a terrific notice in Opera News for her "Mimi" in "La Boheme," which read, in part: "Her complexly shaded lirico-spinto soprano proved an instrument of ideal weight for the role. . .her seamstress never begged for our sympathies, but instead elicited them through her simple, direct manner. . .so unaffected, so thoroughly in the moment. . .the work of a true artist." So here she is at a Renee Fleming master class, singing a Tchaikovsky aria from "Eugene Onegin."
Setting: Tatiana's bedroom in Madame Larina's house, St. Petersburg, Russia, late 1700s
Synopsis: Tatiana decides that the only way to express her love for Onegin is to write him a letter in which she explains her feelings towards him. As she writes, she discovers more and more about the depth and strength of her love for him. 
I suggest you really listen to Fleming's critique, as it demonstrates just how complicated and difficult operatic singing is. You'll be hearing more about Gonzalez, and from her, without a doubt: 

Not all divas are divas. Dolora Zajick has always been true to her nature, which is that of the introvert. The mezzo once said, "It's not that I'm disconnnected from reality, but given my druthers, I'd rather spend my time alone." Here is a wonderful sequence in which Ms. Zajick sings "Nel giardin del bello saracin ostello" from Verdi's "Don Carlo." In it, Princess Eboli, lady in waiting to the Queen of Spain, sings a Moorish love song about an encounter between a young veiled woman and the King who has tired of the Queen's attention. It is only at the end of the song that the King finds out the veiled woman is actually the Queen herself. No translation available, but the entire scene---which features lovely chorus parts---is too pleasing to pass up. Note how the Moorish love song sounds. . .Spanish. 
Good short profile of Ms. Zajick:

Generally, whenever Saturdee Opry Links hauls out the duet from "The Pearl Fishers," by Bizet, we go with the duly enshrined version with Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill. Probably unsurpassable. But this time, it's Jonas Kaufmann's rich, dark tenor and Dmitri Hvorostovksy's rich, dark bass-baritone. There is such a breadth, warmth, depth to this rendition of "Au Fond du temple saint," a pledge to friendship (not the Facebook kind.)
Synopsis : Nadir and Zurga have reunited after Nadir has been wandering in the jungle for years. At one time, Zurga and Nadir were friends but their friendship broke up over the Brahmin priestess Léïla, whom they both loved. They discuss their old grudges against each other but they declare that the strife their disagreements have caused in the past is no longer an impediment to their friendship. 

Of course, the "Pearl Fishers" friendship between Zurga and Nadir goes bad, as these things can when a woman is involved. Here, Zurga nobly agonizes over the lost friendship, and how to resolve things. "L'orage s'est calme" ("The storm has calmed"), sung by Leonardo Neiva. 
Setting: An Indian tent in Ceylon in ancient times
Synopsis: Zurga has broken off his friendship with Nadir because Nadir disobeyed his order to leave the priestess Léïla alone. Instead Nadir and Léïla have fallen in love. Zurga's mind is unsettled and restless like the storm which only recently has ceased.

FUN READ: "Pearl Fishers" Not a One-Hit Wonder 

There is "the other duet" from "Pearl Fishers" by Bizet, and quite an affecting one, between Leila and Nadir, in Act 2. "Leila! Dieu puissant,le voila!" with Diana Damrau and Mathew Polenzani, in rehearsal for last year's Met production. Yes, it's a bit melodramatic. This is opera, whaddya 'spect? It gets more melodic as it goes along.
Synopsis: In the temple with Nourabad, Leila expresses fear at being left alone, but Nourabad exhorts her to be brave and to fulfil her vows to Brahma on pain of her own death. She tells him of the courage she once displayed when, as a child, she had hidden a fugitive from his enemies and refused to give him up even when threatened with death ("J'étais encore enfant"). The fugitive had rewarded her with a necklace that he asked her always to wear. She had kept this promise, as she would her vows. On the priest's departure, Leila quietly muses on the former times when she and Nadir would meet together secretly ("Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre"). Nadir then enters; in her fear of Nourabad's threats Leila begs him to leave, but he remains and the two declare their love in a passionate duet ("Léïla! Léïla!...Dieu puissant, le voilà!"). 

You all know Erich Wolfgang Korngold's music from the great old movie, "The Adventures of Robin Hood," with Errol Flynn (and other lusty film scores.) Principally a "serious" composer who had mixed feelings about writing for Hollywood, Korngold wrote the very moving opera, "Die Tote Stadt" ("The Dead City"), which is known for this utterly beautiful duet, "Glück, das mir verblieb (Marietta's Lied"). Here are Karan Armstrong and the heldentenor, Siegfried Jerusalem. Korngold eventually quit film, returning to "serious" composition. He spent his last years in North Hollywood, of all things ordinary. . .
Setting: Paul's room devoted to his dead wife Marie, Brussels, late 19th century
Synopsis: After Marietta and Paul meet for the first time, she sings a intensely sad song about lost love for him. 

Here is a bit of a change of pace. Ravel, who I think is practically singular in his style (despite musicologists showing influences of many other composers), wrote two operas. One was a bizarro comedie about a clockmaker, "L'Heure Espagnole," and this is an "aria" (for lack of better descriptor) from it: "Oh! La Pitoyable Aventure" (Roughly, "Oh, the pathetic love affair!") In it, the principal character, Concepcion, gripes about the two men pursuing her. The music is as roiling with anger and outburst as she is, and yet is actually based on the Seviliana, a Spanish folk dance from Andalusia.
Here is Anna Stephany, with English subtitles. 
About the opera: 
More about the aria: 

(If Ravel's allegedly Spanish influence does not come through here, I guarantee you will discern and enjoy it in his "Rhapsodie Espagnole:" )

Mozart plots, to my vastly impatient taste, are not rewarded by close study. They quickly devolve, if not dissolve, into flailing tentacle-like tangents. To call them "Byzantine" is gentle. So I never pay much attention to Mozart plots, which, as I suggested, is my failing. You might love them! Perhaps you also enjoy "women's literature," gawd help you. But both of us, I expect, love a good Mozart melody, and please forgive Saturdee Opry Links for yet again (well, it's been months) posting "Soave sia il vento," or "May the wind be gentle" from "Cosi Fan Tutte." Mozart's melodic writing is in profound opposition to the harum-scarum storylines. You almost get the idea that he invented melody, and to some extent, he did. 
Partial Synopsis: Scene 1: A coffeehouse
In a cafe, Ferrando and Guglielmo (two officers) express certainty that their fiancées (Dorabella and Fiordiligi, respectively) will be eternally faithful. Don Alfonso expresses skepticism and claims that there is no such thing as a faithful woman. He lays a wager with the two officers, claiming he can prove in a day's time that those two, like all women, are fickle. The wager is accepted: the two officers will pretend to have been called off to war; soon thereafter they will return in disguise and each attempt to seduce the other's lover. The scene shifts to the two women, who are praising their men (duet: Ah guarda sorella—"Ah look sister"). Alfonso arrives to announce the bad news: the officers have been called off to war. Ferrando and Guglielmo arrive, brokenhearted, and bid farewell (quintet: Sento, o Dio, che questo piede è restio—"I feel, oh God, that my foot is reluctant"). As the boat with the men sails off to sea, Alfonso and the sisters wish them safe travel (trio: Soave sia il vento—"May the wind be gentle").
Translation: Italian:
Soave sia il vento,
Tranquilla sia l’onda,
Ed ogni elemento
Benigno risponda
Ai nostri {vostri) desir.

English translation:
Gentle is the wind,
Calm is the wave,
And every one of the elements
Answer warmly
To our (your) desire.

Ah, it's the old "speaking truth to power" routine, eh? Never gets old with me. . .Here we are at roughly the time of the French Revolution, with one Andrea Chenier, a poet, attending a lavish ball given by the riche.
The guests arrive. Among them is an Abbée who has come from Paris with news about the poor decisions of King Louis XVI's government. Also among the guests is the dashing and popular Chénier. The soirée begins with a "pastoral" performance. A chorus of shepherds and shepherdesses sing idealized rustic music. The Countess asks Chénier to improvise a poem but he says that inspiration has abandoned him. Maddelena asks Chénier to recite a verse, but he refuses her also, saying that "Fantasy is not commanded on cue." The laughter of the girls draws the Countess' attention, and Maddelena explains mockingly that the Muse of poetry is absent from the party. Chénier now becomes angry and improvises a poem about the suffering of the poor, ending with a tirade against those in power in church and state, shocking the guests.
Here is mighty Mario del Monaco, the man who could not sing quietly, with "Un di all'azzurro spazio" ("One day to the blue skies"), also known as "L'improvviso," live in 1961. 

FINAL BOW: Mario del Monaco with what is perhaps the most powerful and affecting short aria in all literature, "Addio, Fiorito Asil" or "Farewell, Flowery Refuge," from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly," in which the callow Pinkerton attempts to resolve his self-centeredness, his guilt, and his having confused falling in love with a girl with falling in love with a place. This is a poor film clip, but the sound is clear, and downright thrilling. Nice lady conductor, too. 

Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
Hvorostovksy and Kaufmann once more. . .
"What a beautiful thing is a sunny day. . .
But another sun that's brighter still,
It's the that's upon your face. . ." 

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