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

Bad Guys Edition

Ildebrando d'Arcangelo  Watch out for that statue!

Saturdee Opry Links Overture
Mozart: Abduction from the Seraglio (lively!)

Saturdee Opry Links opens with. . .our national anthem. "Le veau d'or," ("The Calf of Gold,") from Gounod's "Mephistopheles." National anthem, what? Well, it's a paean to the greatest American value today: greed! The baritone is Erwin Schrott. 
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.

He isn't the devil, but he might as well be. This is the powerful, lyrical, (and a little frightening) "Te Deum" sequence from Puccini's "Tosca," with baritone Bryn Terfel. How can music be simultaneously beautiful and ugly? How can it convey grandeur and evil at the same time?
When Tosca arrives looking for her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, she instead finds Count Scarpia---who deviously arouses her jealousy by implying that the painter is having an affair with Marchesa Attavanti. Tosca falls for his deceit and rushes off to confront Cavaradossi. Scarpia orders Spoletta and his agents to follow her, assuming she will lead them to Cavaradossi and Angelotti. In this scene, he gloats as he reveals his intentions to possess Tosca and execute Cavaradossi. A procession enters the church singing the Te Deum; as Scarpia declares, 'Tosca, you make me forget even God!' 

Attention, metoo ladies! You'll like this one. Don Giovanni (Don Juan), the greatest womanizer in all literature, is dragged to hell by a statue-come-to-life. The statue, of course, is of the Commendatore, a moral man who dared to oppose Giovanni after finding him "forcing his intentions" on his daughter. Giovanni slew the Commendatore in a duel, and lived to womanize another day. Until. . .yes, it's the final scene of Mozart's great opera, a trio, really, known as "A cenar teco" ("Be thee invited!"). With English subtitles. Il Commendatore: Franz-Josef Selig; Don Giovanni: Carlos Álvarez; Leporello: Ildebrando D'Arcangelo. 

Barnaba in Ponchielli's potboiler, "La Gioconda," is a kind of minor league Scarpia (from Puccini's "Tosca.") He also schemes and lies and betrays in order to trick a woman (Gioconda) into acquiescing to his fiendish will. (Aria starts at 2:10 or so in video.) This is “O monumento,” in which Baranaba addresses the statue of a lion, ascribing multiple similarities to the beast and himself. The baritone is the great Ettore Bastianini.
Setting: Courtyard of the Duke's Palace, Venice, 17th century
Synopsis: Barnaba has arranged to meet with Enzo later in the day in order to bring Laura (the Duke's wife) to Enzo for a lover's meeting. Unbeknownst to Enzo, Barnaba plans to betray Enzo and writes an anonymous letter to the Inquisition disclosing the time and location of the meeting, explaining each of his actions as he writes them.
In the rather florid aria, "O Monumento," Barnaba more or less declares how evil he is---singing to a statue of a lion, with which he professes much in common. 
O monumento!
regia e bolgia dogale! Atro portento!
Gloria di questa e delle età future.
Ergi fra due torture
il porfido cruento.
Tua base i pozzi, tuo fastigio i piombi!
Sulla tua fronte il volo dei palombi,
i marmi e l'ôr.
Gioia tu alterni e orror con voce occulta.
Quivi un popolo esulta,
quivi un popolo muor!
Là il Doge, un vecchio scheletro
coll'acìdaro in testa;
sovr'esso il Gran Consiglio,
la Signoria funesta;
sovra la Signoria,
più possente di tutti, un re, la spia!
O monumento!Apri le tue latèbre,
spalanca la tua fauce di tenèbre,
s'anco il sangue giungesse a soffocarla!
Io son l'orecchio e tu la bocca: parla.
Lower down: The Lion's Mouth.
There, hand it me. Be silent and go.
He takes the sheet and Isepo exits.
O monumentl
Ducal palace and hell hole! Evil marvel!
Glory of this and future ages;
Your wicked cruelty
Is built on two tortures.
The base are your pozzi, the peak your piombi.
Before your facade of marble and gold
Doves soar in flight.
You alternate joy and horror with secret schemes,
Here the people exult,
Here the people die.
Here sits the Doge, old skeleton
With his ceremonial headress,
Above him is the Grand Council,
That fateful oligarchy;
Above this oligarchy
Most potent of all a king: the spy.
O monument! Open your recesses.
Fling open your maw of darkness,
Even if blood should choke it!
I am the ear and your the mouth: speak!

This must be the most delicious explication of the destructive power of rumor in all literature, let alone opera. It is simultaneously unnerving and hilarious. From Rossini's "Barber of Seville," this is "La calunnia è un venticello" ("Calumny is a gentle breeze.) One Paolo Montarsolo is the dastardly Basilio in this splendid production.
"Little by little, mildly,
in a low voice, hissing,
it goes flowing, it goes buzzing;
in people's ears
it enters deftly
and makes heads and brains
stun and blow. . ." 
Setting: A room in Dr. Bartolo's house
Synopsis: Don Basilio informs Dr. Bartolo that Almaviva is Rosina's new lover. He suggests a plan to discredit him by calumny - vicious gossip. Basilio describes the vast array of gossip that he can drag up and amplify.
Translation (wonderful reading): 

Dr. Dulcamara isn't so much a rotten villain as a semi-endearing flim-flam man who plays fast and loose with people's gullibility and emotions. In Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love," the good doctor wreaks havoc with love potions, strictly for profit, damn the heartbreak. Here is Erwin Schrott as Dulcamara, in the hilarious aria, "Udite, Udite oh! Rustici." 
OR here is a slightly truncated version with English subtitles, with Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (which is easy for you to say.) 
Setting: The village square of an Italian village, 19th century
Synopsis: Entering into the village square, the quack Dulcamara introduces himself and proceeds to comically hawk his amazing potions to the crowd, offering them to the villagers for "discount" prices.
Translation (a great read):

Saturdee Opry Links Extra: The Top Ten Opera Villains 

As far as Beethoven was concerned, every producer, impresario, publisher was a bad guy. Perhaps some of that disdain influenced the characterization of Pizarro, the owner of the prison where Florestan was tortured, in the composer's only opera, "Fidelio." I mean this guy is one straightforward murderous bastard. Here is the great baritone, Walter Berry, with "Ha! welch ein Augenblick" (Ha! What a moment!") This is one wicked sounding declamation! (And Berry, contrary to the claim in the video, looks NOTHING like George Clooney! More like Anthony Hopkins.) 
Setting: The courtyard of a prison close to Seville
Synopsis: Pizarro is holding Florestan illegally as a prisoner deep in his dungeons. He has received a letter that the Minister (Fernando) will soon be arriving and will be inspecting the prison to make sure that every prisoner is being legally held. Pizarro knows that he will be in deep trouble if Florestan is found so he decides that he will solve everything by killing Florestan immediately.

Now if anyone can look at this performance and have the slightest doubt that this character is unambiguously naughty, I would say counseling is in order. These are the dark, sinister, uniquely Germanic snarls of "Der Freischutz," by Von Weber. This is "Kaspar's aria," or "Schweig! damit dich Niemand warnt—"Silence, let no one warn him." Sung by Dimitry Ivashchenko. (Pretty good cackle at the end.) Run for your lives! The plot is complicated (surprise!) but Kaspar---who has sold his soul to the devil, is trying to buy a few more years of frolic before going to hell. . .by sending another guy in his place. There is a love triangle, and magic bullets, and Donald Trump (I mean, the devil), and suffice to say, bad decisions. Here, Kaspar gloats over his fiendish plotting. 

Yes, to answer the question nagging at all of you, there are female villains. What, you were going to accuse me of discrimination? (Perhaps SOL will cover them next week.) For now, here is one such---Fricka, from Wagner's "Die Walkure." What a shrew! Just the stereotypical bitching wife, constantly ragging her husband, never mind that he is the king of the gods! What's more, she manages to manipulate Wo into all manner of cunning, lying, and dumb choices that wind up, uh, destroying the universe. These women, I tell ya!
Here is the sequence where she really gives him hell, with English subtitles. The plot is no more difficult to explain than trigonometry. In Chinese. So we'll leave it alone. 

In today's Saturdee Opry Links "Bad Guys" edition, here is the baddest. Yes, it's Old Scratch, Hob, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Yen-lo Wang, etc. Right---the devil hisself! From "Mefistofeles," by Arrigo Boito, here is "Ecco Il Mondo," in which Satan lays it out:
"Such is the world. . .
Upon its huge
And rounded back
Dwells an unclean
And mad race,
Wicked, subtle,
Proud, vile,
Which forever
Devours itself!"
Plain enough for you? The baritone is Samuel Ramey. 
Full translation, Italian and English: 

Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
Okay, after all that nastiness, maliciousness, cunning, and just plain evil, here is a little relief: pure goodness and beauty in the form of the duet from "The Pearl Fishers," by Bizet. Here is the poignant, heartening, "Au Fond du Temple Saint," in which two friends, once torn apart by love for the same woman, swear to remain friends forever. This is a rare recording in English, with Richard Tucker and Robert Weede.
The scene is a desolate seashore, with the ruins of a Hindu temple in the background. A chorus of pearl fishermen sing of the dangerous tasks that lie ahead ("Sur la grève en feu"), and perform ritual dances to drive away evil spirits. They then elect one of their number, Zurga, as their leader, or "king". Nadir enters, and is hailed by Zurga as a long-lost friend. Left alone, the pair reminisce about their past in the city of Kandy, where their friendship was nearly destroyed by their mutual love of a young priestess whose beauty they had glimpsed briefly. They had each renounced their love for this stranger and had sworn to remain true to each other. Now, reunited, they affirm once again that they will be faithful until death ("Au fond du temple saint"). 
Original French with translation:

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