Vissi d'arte

from lullaby to requiem

Friday, November 03, 2006

20 Operas - part II

11. Madama Butterfly – Giacomo Puccini
Ciocio-san, the 15 year old daughter of a disgraced samurai who had killed himself, had been sold off to work as a Geisha. She marries B.J. Pinkerton, an American naval officer, giving up her own Buddhist beliefs and converting into Christianity in the process. Pinkerton leaves to go back to America, leaving a pregnant Butterfly. After two years – disgraced and impoverished – Butterfly is still waiting for Pinkerton to return. He does, along with his new American wife. At this news, Butterfly tries to save her honour – by killing herself with her father’s sword.

Points to look forward to: Butterfly’s aria Un bel di vedremo (One beautiful day we will see) is always a show stopper. Her first act duet with Pinkerton is another masterpiece, as well as her flower duet with Suzuki (her maid), and the Humming Chorus in the second act.

12. Turandot – Giacomo Puccini
The story of the Chinese Ice-Princess and how her heart finally melts at the insistent – if not pesky – Unknown Prince is a great contrast to that of the Prince’s servant girl, Liu. Turandot asks all her suitors three questions, if they can’t answer them, she has them killed. The Prince answers all three, but gives her an ultimatum – discover his name and he will subject himself to the executioner. Liu is captured and tortured, but she would still not give up his name – she kills herself to protect the Prince’s secret. In the end, Turandot is shaken by the slave girl’s sacrifice, and falls in love with the Prince - Calaf.

Points to look forward to: Nessun Dorma! Pavarotti’s signature aria. Turandot’s In questa reggia (In this palace), the Riddle Scene, and Liu’s showstoppers: Signore, ascolta (My lord, listen) and Tu che di gel sei cinta (You who lives behind icy veils).

13. The Barber of Seville – Giachino Rossini
This comic opera revolves around Rosina and her love affair with Lindoro – except that’s not his real name. Lindoro is the count and asks Figaro, the Barber of Seville, for help to conceal his identity so that he could woo Rosina in spite of her guardian, Dr. Bartolo.

Points to look forward to: Rosina was written for the rare coloratura mezzo-soprano voice, which is why she’s mostly performed by coloratura sopranos. If you’ve been fortunate enough to find Conchita Supervia’s cover of Rosina’s Una voce poco fa (A tiny, little voice)

Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci – Pietro Mascagni/Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Rustic Chivalry and The Clowns - often offered as a double bill, the two operas are each over an hour long. They were also released within two years of each other, and stand as the classic examples of Italian verisimo. Both are the stories of women doomed by the fickle nature of love – Rusticana’s Santuzza has been forsaken for another woman, and Pagliacci’s clown Nedda has betrayed her husband for another (clown…). Both end with a brutal murder… it seems that these two operas are just meant for each other.

Points to look forward to:
Cavalleria Rusticana: Santuzza’s aria (Voi lo sapete o mama – You know very well, mama) and Turridu’s opening siciliana, O Lola. Of course, the ever famous and LSS-inducing Intermezzo, which has been used in several commercials (including one for the Kapamilya comedy ad), and even transformed into a version of the Ave Maria called Sancta Maria (for Charlotte Church).
While you won’t find any semblance of Barbra Striesand’s Send in the Clowns in Pagliacci, there are quite a few other songs worthy of proper attention – Tonio’s opening prologue and Canio’s show stopper – Vesti la guibba (Put on the costume) which basically says ‘the show must go on’ despite heartache and sorrow.

15. Lucia di Lammermoor – Gaetano Donizetti
Made famous by 5th Element’s Diva Dance, Lucia, daughter of the Ashtons, is forced to marry Arturo despite being in love with her family’s rival, Edgardo Ravenswood. On her wedding night, she goes insane, stabs her new hubby Arturo, and dies. Fun…

Points to look forward to: Another masterpiece of the bel canto school, Lucia is best sung by a dramatic-coloratura, one of the rarest of all voices. Few have been able to sing her properly before (or, for that matter, after) Callas. But then again, she was Callas. Anyway: Lucia’s well-side recollection of a ghost – Regnava nel silencio (The night reigned in silence), the wedding sextet, and of course, Lucia’s Mad Scene – 20something minutes of trills, pure bel canto, and a couple of e-flats to top everything off.

16. Macbeth – Guiseppe Verdi
Although not quite as important (musically and dramatically) as Verdi’s other Shakespearean works – Falstaff and Otello, Macbeth is one of Verdi’s most challenging operas, especially his Lady Macbeth. Anyone who’s gone through high school English literature knows the plot of the feeble Macbeth and his demonic sleepwalking wife, and Verdi stays quite loyal to the text, except when he uses three choruses of witches instead of Shakespeares’ three.

Points to look forward to: I’m quite fond of the witches, but then that’s me. As I said, Lady Macbeth is a difficult role to cast (and to pull off). A soprano needs the darkness characteristic of many mezzos and altos, but also the range and agility of a coloratura. Her opening recitative and aria, Vieni t’afretta! (Come, hurry!) is deliriously difficult. It’s used in Terrence McNally’s Masterclass – a play in which Callas lectures some students, one of which decides to sing this song. She asks whether she should sing it with the cabaletta (a short aria which is repeated over and over, with the music going higher and higher). Callas answers yes, “An aria without its cabaletta is like sex without an orgasm.” Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene is another wonderful aria.

17. Tristan und Isolde – Richard Wagner
As the movie said, before there was Romeo and Juliet, there was Tristan and Isolde. Tristan is Marke’s knight and he brings the king his princess bride Isolde. They fall in love, and in around four hours of music, Tristan gets stabbed, Isolde decides to die, and Marke grants both of them pardon.

Points to look forward to: I can only think of one – like most of Wagner’s work, listening to an entire Tristan and Isolde will make your ears bleed. The finest piece of music (in this whole ENTIRE world), however, is written in this opera – Isolde’s Liebstod – her death. As many of Puccini’s arias are great for sopranos who can weep with their voices, the Liebstod (Mild und liese – Softly, gently) is perfect for sopranos who can have orgasms with their voices. The entire aria is rapt in ecstasy, and should be sung as if one were in the middle of the most intense orgasm in one’s life. That’s how beautiful the aria is. The world’s finest, most pleasurable – and perhaps even the longest – orgasm.

18. Der Ring das Nibelungen – Richard Wagner
Wagner’s masterpiece is still very often performed today despite its difficulty (technically and vocally) and length. The Ring is actually composed of four separate operas, re-telling the Norse Myths of Ragnarok – the end of the gods. The first opera (Das Rheingold) tells how the Rhine Maidens had lost the cursed Rhine Gold to two dwarfs who forge the gold into a Ring. The second (Die Walkure) is the story of how the Valkyrie Brunnhilde aids a pair of siblings (Siegmund and Sieglinde) from Fricka’s wrath, incurring the wrath of Wotan for herself. In the end, she is placed in a ring of fire under a cursed sleep – only the greatest warrior can wake her. Siegfrid, the third opera, tells the story of Siegfrid (Sigmund and Sieglinde’s son) and how he awakens Brunnhilde (read: Brynhilde), and attains the Rhine Gold for himself. The final opera, Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods) tells how, by disobeying Wotan’s orders to destroy the ring and the bearer, Brunnhilde brings forth the end of all the gods and Valhalla.

Points to look forward to: Lots of different choruses, arias, and orchestrals – from Brunnhilde’s Battle Cry (Hojotoho!!!) to the Ride of the Valkyries, to the Magick Fire Music, to Siegfrid’s death and funeral, to the longest aria EVER – Brunnhilde’s Immolation.

19. La Sonnambula – Vincenzo Bellini
Wikipedia calls this opera a semiseria, that’s an icky name, but it applies. Norma’s twin sister, Bellini wrote the tale of the Druid High Priestess and Amina, a sleepwalking villager in the same year – for the same soprano (Giuditta Pasta in 1831). Amina is now engaged to Elvino, to Lisa’s dismay. However, she sleepwalks right into the room of the count. Elvino finds her and cancels the wedding. In a little over an-hour-and-a-half, the conflict is solved and Amina wakes in Elvino’s arms ready to be wed.

Points to look forward to: Amina’s first aria, Compagne… Come per me sereno (Friends… So softly for me) is sung as she thanks her friends for her happy engagement. The opera ends with two wonderful arias, leagues apart when it comes to mood – Ah! Non credea mirarti (Ah! They will not believe) and Ah! Non giunge! (Ah! No more!)

20. Medéé – Luigi Cherubini
The daughter of the sun-god has never stopped being on stage – from Euripedes to Broadway. Cherubini composed several versions of the opera in several languages – what we have today is an Italian version with recitatives, popularized by Callas in the 1950’s. Medea is the sorceress daughter of Aeetes, king of Colchis, and Eidyia, daughter of Helios. She was the high priestess of Hecate, and keeper of the Golden Fleece. Jason had needed her to attain the Fleece, now in Corinth, he betrays her in favor of the King Creon’s daughter. To exact her revenge, Medea tasks Neris, her maid, to deliver gifts to the princess - a cloak and diadem. The moment she puts it on, she bursts into flames – her father along with her. Medea then locks herself inside a temple to kill her two young children – Jason’s sons. She leaves Jason alone to suffer.

Points to look forward to: The Princess Glauce’s aria Amore, vieni a me (Love, come to me), Creon’s aria Pro nube dive dei custodi (Gods of marriage), Medea’s powerful entrance and first aria Dei tuoi figli la madre (I am your children’s mother), and her duet with Jason – reminiscing about the fateful Golden Fleece and cursing each other. And that’s only in the first act! The second act has Medea’s duet with Creon pleading with the King to be allowed one last day to be with her children, which, of course, he grants. Then in the midst of all the turmoil – Medea’s pleas, Creon’s warning, and the people’s shouts to have Medea driven out – we are given a respite in the form of Neris’ only aria, Solo un pianto (Alone you weep). The act ends with a wedding chorus in the background, and Medea swearing her vengeance on Jason, Glauce, Creon, and everyone else. Act three opens with Medea’s spooky invocation to the gods – Numi, venite a me! (Gods, come to me). She ends the opera with an aria (Figli miei, miei tesor – My children, my treasures), a fabulous cabaletta (Atre Furie volate a me! – Dark Furies fly to me!), and a curse to Jason – My shadow will wait for you in the underworld! Of course after that she was granted immortality by Hera for refuting Zeus, flew to Athens and married Aegues, had a son Medus who became the next ruler of Colchis, and then retired in the underworld with uber-hotty Achilles. ^_^


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