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 # 82: All-Beauty Edition

Patricia Janeckova

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 singing. 

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 capture him.

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 of love.

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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