Opry Links # 82: All-Beauty Edition
Saturdee Opry Links Overture
Mozart: “Marriage of Figaro”
Today's All-Beauty-All-the-Time Edition of Saturdee Opry Links begins with
wonderful Renee Fleming. This is "Casta Diva," from Bellini's "Norma," a
textbook example of how this composer pioneered the extended melodic line
(legato) in opera. And a prayer for peace.
Synopsis : The Druids have come to meet with Norma, their high priestess. They
want to revolt against their Roman oppressors but Norma convinces them that
their time to rise up has not come yet. Rome will be defeated by their own
failings, she tells them, then invokes the moon and prays for peace. While the
chorus of Druids sings their derison against the Romans, Norma sings her
cabaletta (aria), privately worrying that that the hatred for the Romans must
also translate to hatred for Pollione, her secret Roman lover.
One of the most beautiful and moving arias for baritone is certainly "Di
Provenza Il Mar," from "La Traviata," by Verdi. For my money---not a potent
boast---no one sings it better than the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He has that
rich, deep, smoky fullness that you want in a baritone. Here he is at the top of
his game, twelve years before he was claimed by brain cancer. English subtitles.
Setting: Violetta's country house
Synopsis: Alfredo and Violetta are in love, a love that is not approved by
Alfredo's father, Giorgio, who thinks Violetta beneath his son. Giorgio
convinces Violetta that it is better for everyone if she leaves Alfredo, and,
her heart broken, she agrees. Giorgio then sings this aria, in which he asks his
son to remember his roots, and his love of Provence, asking him to return home.
Here is another one of so many glorious Neopolitan songs by Paolo Tosti. I still
say someone should write an opera built around his songs, somehow. . .This is
the great tenor, Carlo Bergonzi, with the heart-rending (not "heart-wrenching!")
"Segreto" ("Secret.") Bergonzi really makes this sing. Perhaps because he is
So what if Dvorak stole, I mean took his inspiration from, Puccini, in composing
this aria. (Well, I think he did, anyhow.) It's unearthly beautiful---you might
say moonly beautiful. This is the "Song to the Moon" from "Rusalka," by Dvorak,
as sung by enchanting Lucia Popp, who only got 54 years here. English subtitles.
Setting: A clearing on the shore of the lake, medieval times
Synopsis: Rusalka, daughter of the spirit of the lake, has fallen in love with a
Prince. Unfortunately, Rusalka is a water sprite and cannot come out of the
water or communicate with him. She asks the moon to tell her love that she is
thinking of him.
AND here is how wonderful it can look on stage, as sung by Kristina Opalais:
Not all beautiful opera need be poignant, or concern sad things, of course.
Opera can be downright whimsical, even frivolous. Here is a melody you probably
know, and never knew where it came from. This is "Je Suis Titania," from
"Mignon," by Ambrose Thomas. The soprano is Sabine Devieilhe (no, I can’t
pronounce it, either), currently in her prime.
Setting: a park in a German castle, late 1700s
Synopsis: Philine has finished her show, "A Midsummer Night's Dream", and
declares that she loves playing Titania, the fairy queen.
She's on Farcebook, by the way, if you want to pay her a compliment:
Massenet could write a hell of a melody. Here is one such, "Pourquoi me
Reveiller," ("Why do you awaken me?") from "Werther," as sung by Juan Diego
Florez (who is acquiring more power in middle age.)
Setting: the Magistrate's house at Christmas, Frankfurt, Germany, 1780
Synopsis: Werther has come back to see Charlotte, his love who is married to
another man. She shows him some of the books that they used to read together.
One book in particular, a collection of Ossain's verses, sparks Werther to ask
spring to cease its gentle caresses upon him, for sadness and grief is now his
fate. Other than that, everything's fine!
Franz Schubert, as you probably know, was a consummate composer of lieder
(songs), pretty much without peer. One of his most famous is, of course, "Ständchen,"
or "Serenade." It's one of those beautiful melodies you know, but perhaps did
not where it was from. Or maybe it just sounds familiar, in ways that only great
melodies can. For fun, here is a version with The Three Tenors.
Much of Saint-Saens' opera, "Samson et Delilah," is a bore! Well, that's too
subjective. Let's just say "workmanlike," or a potboiler. There are some good
choruses, fine music, but overall, I basically live for one aria when I see it
(which will probably be never again), and that aria is among the most beautiful
in the repertory. Saint-Saens was firing on all eight when he wrote it. Don't
listen to her, Samson! Don't do it! Stay away from the barber! Here is
magnificent Shirley Verrett with "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" ("My heart opens
to your voice.")
Setting: the valley of Soreck, ancient Palestine
Synopsis: In an attempt to close the trap which she has set for Samson, Dalila
tells Samson seductively that she will surrender herself entirely to him if he
wants her. She begs him to respond to her caresses, hoping that he will finally
forget about the Israelite rebellion he is leading against the Philistines. If
Samson concentrates completely on her, the High Priest of Dagon may be able to
As I said earlier, not all beauty in opera need be sad, poignant, tender, and
attendant emotions. Frivolity is allowed! Here is one of the most frivolous of
all arias, and, yes, one of the most beautiful. A little background: this guy,
see, has made a life-sized wind-up doll that can sing, see, but the problem is,
see, she keeps winding down. Got it? How's that for a sophisticated synopsis?
From Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann," here is the delightful "L'oiseaux dans la
charmille," ("The birds in the hedges") in a concert performance with soprano
Patricia Janeckova. Just wind her up and watch her go. . .
Setting: The parlor room of Spalanzani the scientist, 19th century
Synopsis: Spalanzani the inventor winds up Olympia the doll to sing for his
guests. She sings this song about the birds and how they sing of the young girl
And now we go out with a waltz, and a laugh. Literally. Here is the "Laughing
Song," also known as "Mein Herr Marquis, ein Mann wie Sie," from "Die Fledermaus,"
by Johann Strauss Jr. The soprano is, once again, the antic Patricia Janeckova.
Setting: A party in Prince Orlofsky's house, Vienna, Austria, 1870.
Synopsis: Adele has run into her mistress's husband, Gabriel von Eisenstein. He
believes that he recognizes her but she convinces him that a chambermaid would
never be found at a party such as this one.
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