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 # 84: Christmas Edition (2019)

Placido, Jose, Luciano

Saturdee Opry Links Christmas Edition!
"Christmas Eve," from the opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. 

Saturdee Opry Links Christmas Edition opens with Metropolitan Opera stars Lauritz Melchior, Amy Ellermen, Elizabeth Rethberg, and Ezio Pinza Dec. 14, 1938, singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" for poor children of the Henry Street Settlement in New York. Founded in 1893 by social work and public health pioneer Lillian Wald and based on Manhattan's Lower East Side, the Henry Street Settlement still provdes a wide range of social service, arts and health care programs to more than 50,000 New York children. 
About the Henry Street Settlement:

2. A sublime recording by Beniamino Gigli of "Panis Angelicus," by Cesar Franck, words by St. Thomas Aquinas. "May the Bread of Angels become bread for mankind. . ." If only, if only. 
About the piece, translation:

3. A little change of pace for our annual Saturdee Opry Links Christmas Special. To quote the late, great, great, great Luciano Pavarotti, here is "Wawgeen een the winder wonderlohnd. . ." with The Three Tenors. Charming. Really.

4. There aren't too many clips of the wonderful but bedeviled Mario Lanza singing live: just one TV appearance on the old program, "The Christophers" (filmed in Rome), and a brief London Palladium concert, and that's it! Here he sings "Ave Maria," set by Schubert, on "The Christophers." The performance is preceded by "Santa Lucia," "Because You're Mine." "Ave Maria" begins at the 3:50 mark. Anyone who ever doubted the reality of his astonishing voice should be persuaded by this clip.
History of the song:

5. Is there any greater place in all human history to be on Christmas Eve than the Cafe Momus in the Latin Quarter of Paris, around 1830? Book my table, please. Rodolfo and Mimi, newly met, newly in love, join their destitute Bohemian cohorts at the Cafe's Xmas festivities. How will they pay for their wine and meal? Never mind that---something will work out. Here are the final couple of minutes of that scene, in which all has indeed worked out: lovers have been been reunited, bills paid, happiness abounds. All sing joyously, in chorus, as a Christmas parade joins the throng. The music, start to finish, is just astonishingly melodic. This is why so many people love this opera. It isn't just the glorious music, which always amazes, or the poignancy of the story. It's the chance to go to the Cafe Momus in 1830!
AND. . .for those who would like to see the entire scene (and I know means most of you), here it is, with English subtitles:
Better production, no subtitles (at 33:35):

6. There is an aria from Handel's "Xerxes" that I like to post on SOL once in a while, usually with the suggestion that it be the national anthem of every country. That is "Ombra Mai Fu," which is a paean to a tree, to nature. I never get through it without tears. An ironic choice for Christmas Opry Links, seeing as millions of little trees are killed for the holiday. Still, they are killed, uh, out of, uh, love. What? It's sort of "Oh no, Christmas Tree!" instead of "Oh, Christmas Tree." Here is wonderful Lucia Popp, who was given only 54 years here. "Never was a plant more dear or loving or gentle." Listen to how her voice floats in, on the opening note.

7. It's Christmas Eve in Paris, 1830. Rodolfo, a poet, sits alone in his rude, drafty garret, shivering. He has burned his latest work in order to generate a little warmth. His roommates, Marcello, Schaunard and Colline (painter, musician, philosopher), have gone ahead to the Cafe Momus in hopes of somehow cadging drinks and/or eating and skipping the check. Rodolfo is about to join them when there is a timid knock at the door. It is his upstairs neighbor, Mimi. Her candle has gone out and she asks him to re-light it for her. He invites her in, and as he lights the candle, she drops her key on the floor. They grope around in darkness, trying to find it, when Rodolfo's hand accidentally touches the frail hand of Mimi. And with one note, Puccini stops everything, conveying in that note the discovery of love. Rodolfo sings the aria, "Che Gelida Manina," or "how cold your little hand is," in which he explains who he is---how he is poor, but a "millionaire in spirit," and how he has been captivated by Mimi. The greatest love aria ever written, delicate, wrenching, soaring, rhapsodic. Puccini at his greatest. Here are Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni. 
And for fun, here is a rendition that stunned in its day, by the Polish tenor, Jan Kiepura. It would still stun today. 
About Kiepura:

8. "Ay! Para Navidad." The Three Tenors covered many styles in their big Christmas concert of 1999, including this jolly rouser by Sergio Villar. Domingo, of course, is a champion of Mexican song and Spanish zarzuela.
Nochebuena, nochebuena
ay, para Navidad
ay, mi paloma quebradeñitay...
te vendré a buscar
Te vendré a buscar
casi al aclarar,
charangos y guitarras
palomay, para festejar
Ay, mi paloma quebradeñitay,
te vendré a buscar
Una estrella se ha perdido
ay, para Navidad
y en la capilla de la quebrada
seguro estará
Seguro estará
para contemplar
esta nuestra alegría
palomay, de la Navidad
Y en la capilla de la quebrada
seguro estará

English: (via Google Translate)
Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve
oh for christmas
oh, my brittle pigeon ...
I will come looking for you
I'll come looking for you
almost clearing up,
charangos and guitars
palomay to celebrate
Oh, my brittle pigeon,
I will come looking for you
A star has been lost
oh for christmas
and in the chapel of the creek
sure will be
Sure will be
to contemplate
is our joy
Christmas palomay
And in the chapel of the creek
sure will be

9. Yes, I realize that Cher and countless others have thrown up all over this tune, and you are free to skip it here. Yet I recommend against that. To hear it intoned as it can be is quite an experience, and no one---no one---tops Jussi Bjorling. The high note at the end is one of the most emotionally charged notes ever recorded. Your hair will not only stand up, it will uproot and run around in circles. The beautiful "O Holy Night" (French: "Minuit Chretiens!" or "Cantique de Noël") was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem "Minuit, chrétiens" ("Midnight, Christians") by a wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau (1808–1877). Jussi sings it in Swedish. 
About the music:

"Happy Xmas (War is Over)," by St. John the Beatleist. The Three Tenors. Note: Luciano Pavarotti, born in Fascist Italy; Placido Domingo, born in WWII Franco Spain; Jose Carreras, born in post-WWII Franco Spain. No wonder they sing like they mean it. Chills here, and maybe a tear or two. Merry Christmas. 
About the music:

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