OPERATIC LOVE Notes on the Program by DR. RICHARD E

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OPERATIC LOVE Notes on the Program by DR. RICHARD E
MASTERWORKS SERIES I
OPERATIC LOVE
Notes on the Program by DR. RICHARD E. RODDA
Triumphal March from Aida
Giuseppe Verdi
(Born October 10, 1813 in Le Roncole, Italy; died January 27, 1901 in Milan)
Composed in 1870.
Premiered on December 24, 1871 in Cairo, Egypt.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs plus piccolo, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones,
tuba, timpani, percussion and strings.
Duration: ca. 7 minutes.
Aida, Verdi’s grandest spectacle and one of the most popular operas ever written, was
intended to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal and the Cairo Grand Opera House in
1869. The premiere was delayed for almost two years, however, not only because of Verdi’s
stringent demands on himself, his librettist and the producers, but also because the FrancoPrussian War of 1870 made it impossible to ship the sumptuous costumes and sets to Cairo
from Paris, where they were constructed. The plot was based on a story by the French
Egyptologist Auguste Mariette Bey, who sent his idea to Camille du Locle, manager of the Paris
Opéra Comique, to determine if it could be turned into a stage work. Du Locle devised a
scenario from Bey’s plot and sent it to Verdi, with whom he had a close personal and
professional relationship. Verdi demurred at first, but he was eventually convinced to
undertake the project and worked with his usual speed and vigor until the opera was
completed. Terrified of sea voyages, he refused to attend the brilliant premiere in Cairo on
Christmas Eve 1871, but supervised Aida’s first Italian performances at Milan’s La Scala six
weeks later.
In the opera, Radames is chosen to lead the Egyptian forces against the invading
Ethiopians. The Egyptians prevail, and parade their captives and booty before King and people
in the spectacular Triumphal Scene (Gloria all’Egitto [“Glory to Egypt”]). The grand March from
this scene so impressed the Egyptian authorities with its noble strains and majestic gait that it
was adopted as the national hymn of that country soon after the opera’s premiere.
Selections from La Bohème
Giacomo Puccini
(Born December 22, 1858 in Lucca; died November 29. 1924 in Brussels)
Composed in 1893-1896.
Premiered on February 1, 1896 in Turin, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.
Four poor but high-spirited bohemians live together in a Parisian garret. Marcello, a
painter, suggests that they smash a chair to fuel the waning fire on this chilly Christmas Eve,
but Rodolfo, a poet, offers the manuscript of his latest work instead. The philosopher Colline
arrives with the disappointing news that he has been unable to pawn a bundle of old books,
but Schaunard, the musician, appears with food and fuel and some extra cash from a new
patron. He suggests that they celebrate his good fortune at the Café Momus in the Latin
Quarter. Rodolfo stays behind to finish an article. There is a knock on the door. Rodolfo opens
it to find Mimi, his neighbor, whose candle has gone out on the way to her flat. She asks him
to light it, and drops her key in the process. Rodolfo, struck with her fragile beauty,
extinguishes his own candle. As they search in the darkness for Mimi’s key, they touch, and
Rodolfo remarks on her “frozen little hand” (“gelida manina”). “Let me give it back its warmth,”
he sings. He holds her hand tenderly as he tells her of his life: “When it comes to dreams and
visions ... I’ve the soul of a millionaire.”
Rodolfo asks his unexpected visitor to tell him about herself, which she does in the tender
aria Mi chiamano Mimì (“They call me Mimi”).
Rodolfo and Mimi are immediately drawn to each other and in the rapturous duet O soave
fanciulla sing of their new-found love before leaving to join the bohemians at the Café Momus.
Che gelida manina,
se la lasci riscaldar.
Cercar che giova?
Al buio non si trova.
Ma per fortuna
è una notte di luna
e qui la luna
l’abbiamo vicina.
Aspetti, signorina,
le dirò con due parole
chi son, e che faccio,
come vivo. Vuole?
Chi son? Sono un poeta.
Che cosa faccio? Scrivo.
E come vivo? Vivo.
In povertà mia lieta
scialo da gran signore
rime ed inni d’amore.
Per sogni e per chimere
e per castelli in aria,
l’anima ho milionaria.
Talor dal mio forziere
ruban tutti i gioielli
due ladri: gli occhi belli.
V’entrar con voi pur ora,
ed i miei sogni usati
e i bei sogni miei
tosto si dileguar!
Ma il furto non m’accora,
poichè, poichè v’ha preso stanza
la speranza!
Or che mi conoscete,
parlate voi, deh! parlate. Chi siete?
Vi piaccia dir!
What a frozen little hand,
let me warm it again.
What’s the use of looking?
We can’t find anything in the dark.
But fortunately
it’s a moonlight night,
and very soon
the moon will shine in here.
Wait, pretty maiden,
and I’ll tell you briefly
who I am, what I do,
and how I live. May I?
Who am I? I’m a poet.
What do I do? I write.
And how do I live? I live!
In my happy poverty
I’m as prodigal as a lord
with my rhymes and love-songs.
In dreams, fantasies
or castles in the air,
I’m as rich as a millionaire.
Sometimes the strongroom of my imagination
is robbed of all its treasures
by two thieves: beautiful eyes.
They came in with you just now,
and all my accustomed dreams,
all my beautiful dreams,
melted away at once!
But I’m not distressed at this robbery,
because they have been replaced
by hope!
Now that you know all about me,
won’t you please tell me who you are?
Please will you say?
* * *
Si. Mi chiamano Mimì,
ma il mio nome è Lucia.
La storia mia
è breve: a tela o a seta
ricamo in casa e fuori.
Son tranquilla e lieta,
Yes. They call me Mimi,
but my name is Lucia.
My story
is brief: I embroider linen
or silk, at home or outside.
I’m contented and happy,
ed è mio svago
far gigli e rose.
Mi piaccion quelle cose
che han sì dolce malia,
che parlano d’amor, di primavere;
che parlano di sogni e di chimere,
quelle cose che han nome poesia.
Lei m’intende?
and it’s my pleasure
to make roses and lilies.
I love those things
which possess such sweet enchantment,
which speak of love and springtime,
of dreams and visions,
those things that people call poetic.
Do you understand?
Mi chiamano Mimì,
il perchè non so.
Sola mi fo il pranzo da me stessa.
Non vado sempre a messa,
ma prego assai il Signor.
Vivo sola, soletta,
là in una bianca cameretta;
guardo sui tetti e in cielo,
ma quando vien lo sgelo,
il primo sole è mio!
il primo bacio dell’aprile è mio!
Il primo sole è mio!
Germoglia
in un vaso una rosa;
foglia a foglia
la spio! Così gentil
il profumo d’un fior.
Ma i fior ch’io faccio, ahimè! ...
i fior ch’io faccio, ahimè!
non hanno odore!
Altro di me non le saprei narrare:
sono la sua vicina
che la vien fuori d’ora
a importunare.
They call me Mimi,
why, I don’t know.
All alone, I make my own supper.
I don’t always go to Mass,
but I pray diligently to God.
I live alone, quite alone
there in a little white room;
I overlook roofs and sky,
but when the thaw comes,
the first sunshine is mine,
April’s first kiss is mine!
The first sunshine is mine,
In a vase
a rose is coming into bloom;
petal by petal
I watch it! The scent
of a flower is so sweet.
But the flowers I make, alas,
the flowers I make
have no smell!
There’s no more I can tell you about myself:
I am your neighbor
who comes to bother you
at the wrong moment.
* * *
RODOLFO
O soave fanciulla,
o dolce viso
di mite circonfuso di alba lunar,
in te ravviso il sogno ch’io vorrei
sempre sognar!
Oh lovely girl,
oh sweet face suffused
with the light of the rising moon,
in you I see the dream incarnate
I’d like to dream for ever!
MIMI
Ah! tu sol comandi, amor!
Oh, love, alone command me!
RODOLFO
Fremon già nell’anima …
… le dolcezze estreme.
Nel bacio freme amor!
My soul’s already throbbing …
... with the sweetness of passion.
Love trembles in a kiss!
MIMI
Oh! come dolci scendono
le sue lusinghe al core,
tu sol comandi, amor!
(as he tries to kiss her)
No, per pietà!
Oh, how sweetly his flattery
falls upon my heart.
Love, alone command me!
No, please!
RODOLFO
Sei mia!
You’re mine!
MIMI
V’aspettan gli amici.
Your friends are waiting for you.
RODOLFO
Già mi mandi via?
Are you sending me away already?
MIMI
Vorrei dir … ma non oso …
I’d like to say … but dare not …
RODOLFO
Di’.
Say it!
MIMI
Se venissi con voi?
Suppose I came with you?
RODOLFO
Che? Mimi!
Sarebbe così dolce restar qui.
C’è freddo fuori.
What? Mimi!
It would be lovely to stay here.
It’s cold outside.
MIMI
Vi starò vicina!
I shall be near you!
RODOLFO
E al ritorno?
And when we return?
MIMI
Curioso!
Wait and see!
RODOLFO
Dammi il braccio, mia piccina.
Give me your arm, my sweet.
MIMI
Obbedisco, signor!
I obey, Monsieur!
RODOLFO
Che m’ami di’.
Say you love me.
MIMI
Io t’amo!
I love you!
MIMI, RODOLFO (as they go out)
Amor! Amor! Amor!
Ah, love, love, love!
Capriccio Sinfonico
Giacomo Puccini
Composed in 1883.
Premiered on July 14, 1883 in Milan, conducted by Franco Faccio.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs plus piccolo, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones,
tuba, timpani, percussion, harp and strings.
Duration: ca. 16 minutes.
Giacomo Puccini’s father, Michele, the organist at Lucca Cathedral, died when the lad was
five, and Mama Albina struggled for years thereafter to raise her brood of eight. When
Giacomo’s exceptional talent and ambition for composition soared beyond the means of the
family’s budget to provide training, Albina successfully importuned an old acquaintance, a
Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Margherita, to intercede with her mistress for a government grant to
allow Giacomo to enter the Milan Conservatory. Albina then cajoled the remainder of the
needed funds from her uncle, a physician named Niccolo Cerù, and Puccini entered the school
in 1880, receiving the highest possible scores on his entrance exams. When the Queen’s
stipend expired after a year, sufficient additional money was pried from Uncle Niccolo to enable
Puccini to complete the course of study by the summer of 1883, a year earlier than the
rigorous curriculum usually allowed. For the required graduation exercise, Puccini determined
to produce not the usual academic fugues and arias, but a grand orchestral work, a Symphonic
Caprice, which would both justify the family’s faith in him and establish his name in the world
of music. “I felt inspired,” he later told his biographer Arnaldo Fraccaroli. “I composed at home,
in the street, in class, at the Osteria Aida or at the Excelsior of good old Signor Gigi, where one
ate without the silly pretence of being able to pay for it; I wrote on odd sheets, bits of paper and
the margins of newspapers.” Puccini showed this jumble of jottings to his teacher, the
respected Amilcare Ponchielli, who lamented, “I can’t make anything of it. It’s just a mess.”
Plans to perform the work at the student concert of July 14th proceeded, however, and Puccini
managed to produce a legible score and set of parts by the submission deadline.
The celebrated Franco Faccio, a graduate of the Milan Conservatory and music director of
La Scala since 1871 (Verdi chose him to lead both the first Italian performance of Aida and the
world premiere of Otello), had agreed to conduct the concert, and the rehearsals went well,
despite the difficulty of the unfamiliar music for the student players. The performance was a
success, and the Capriccio Sinfonico created a sensation. Ponchielli was disabused of his earlier
estimate of the piece, and he wrote to Albina Puccini that very evening to report on the
enthusiastic reception of the work and to predict a brilliant career for her son: “Those who
deserve honors sooner or later receive them. In time, your son will achieve his just reward.
Remember, with faith and courage, the Way of the Cross becomes the Way of the
Resurrection.” The morning after the premiere, the influential critic Filippo Filippi praised the
young composer in the newspaper La Perseveranza: “Puccini has won the favor of the general
public. He unquestionably possesses the rare essentials of a symphonic composer. I am certain
he would be equally successful in the vocal field and in dramatic expression, but his orchestral
composition contains so much unity of style, personality, character and brilliant technique as
is rarely found among the most mature composers.” (Filippi was right about Puccini’s
theatrical potential, wrong about his symphonic inclination. Capriccio Sinfonico is one of just a
handful of non-operatic works by Puccini, which otherwise include an early Mass, a small
setting of the Requiem text, a motet for soprano, a cantata, three brief orchestral scores, seven
songs, and a few pieces for string quartet and for piano.) On July 16th, Puccini received the
Conservatory’s little bronze medal recognizing his graduation. Though Faccio’s plan to give the
Capriccio Sinfonico its first professional performance at La Scala never materialized, he did
conduct it twice to considerable acclaim at an exhibition in Turin in 1884. A piano-duet
version of the score was published in Milan by Giovannina Lucca that same year, but then the
work dropped from sight, and was apparently not performed again during Puccini’s lifetime,
though he did mine two of its themes for inclusion in Edgar and La Bohème. (He later
“borrowed” the score from the Conservatory library and refused to return it for years in an
apparent attempt to conceal this musical shuffling.) Puccini persevered through the next
decade, composing two operas (Le Villi and Edgar) which earned only modest success and even
less money, but he was taken on by the powerful publisher Giulio Ricordi, and finally achieved
the acclaim that Ponchielli had prophesied for him with the premiere of Manon Lescaut in
1893.
The passion and richness of sonority that mark the Capriccio Sinfonico (and the rest of
Puccini’s work, for that matter) are evident in the opening measures, a dramatic proclamation
for full wind choir. The quieter moments that ensue contain several fine melodic ideas
indicating that Puccini’s lyrical gifts were already highly developed during his student years.
(One of these themes was borrowed for the choral Requiem in Act III of Edgar of 1889.) The
Capriccio’s fast-tempo central section is launched by the vigorous motive that Puccini reused
extensively in La Bohème a dozen years later; the episode is filled out with lilting waltz music
sprung from the principal theme. The mood and music of the introduction return to round out
this attractive and highly skilled creation of Puccini’s early maturity.
Selections from La Traviata
Giuseppe Verdi
Composed in 1852-1853.
Premiered on March 6, 1853 in Venice.
La Traviata, set in Paris and environs, circa 1850, opens with the scene of a lively party in
Violetta Valery’s elegant city house. Among her guests is Viscount Gastone, who introduces her
to a young man, Alfredo Germont, who, Gastone tells her, has admired her from afar for some
time. Gastone asks Alfredo to sing the company a drinking song, but he is reluctant to do so
until Violetta adds her voice to the request. Alfredo begins the “Brindisi” (Libiamo ne’ lieti calici),
and soon Violetta and the guests join this song in praise of the pleasures of wine.
ALFREDO
Libiamo, libiamo ne’ lieti calici,
Let us drink, let us drink from festive
che la belleza infiora;
e la fuggevol, fuggevol ora
s’innebrii a voluttà.
Libiam ne’ dolci fremiti
che suscita l’amore,
poichè quell’ occhio al core
onnipotente va.
Libiamo, amore, amor fra i calici
più caldi baci avrà.
cups that with beauty are adorned;
and the fleeting, fleeting hour with
sensuous pleasure will be replete.
Let us drink with sweet excitement
arising out of love;
because of a glance that reigns supreme,
after having pierced the heart.
Let us drink, love, for the warmest kisses
of love lie within the wine cup.
ALL
Ah, libiam; amor fra i calici
più caldi baci avrà.
Ah, let us drink; love finds the
warmest kisses within the cup.
VIOLETTA
Tra voi, saprò dividere
il tempo mio giocondo;
tutto è follia nel mondo
ciò che non è piacer.
Godiam; fugace e rapido
è il gaudio dell’ amore;
è un fior che nasce e muore
nè più si può goder.
Godiamo, c’invita un fervido
accento lusinghier!
Among you, I shall share
my times of happiness;
in this world, all is folly
which is not pleasure.
Let’s be merry! Fleeting and soon past
is the happiness of love;
and it’s a flower that is born and dies,
nevermore to be enjoyed.
Let’s be merry, as long as the
pleasure lasts.
ALL
Ah, godiamo, la tazza e il cantico
le notti abbella e il riso;
in questo paradiso
ne scopra il nuovo dì.
Ah, let’s make merry; wine and song
and laughter beautify the night.
May the dawn still find us
in this paradise.
VIOLETTA
La vita è nel tripudio.
Life is just pleasure.
ALFREDO
Quando non s’ami ancora …
But if one still waits for love …
VIOLETTA
Nol dite a chi l’ignora.
I know nothing of that — don’t tell me …
ALFREDO
E il mio destin così.
But there lies my fate.
After Alfredo leaves the party, Violetta, alone, muses on the night’s happenings, and is
surprised at how strangely his words have affected her (É strano! è strano!). She reveals her
longing “to love and be loved” in the expressive aria Ah, forse’è lui, but soon dismisses these
thoughts as hopeless folly for a woman of her sort. She says she will give up on love and renew
her pursuit of pleasure (Sempre libera degg’io), but Alfredo’s voice floating in through the
window gives her pause. Act I ends with Violetta’s brilliant commendation of the sensuous life.
É strano! ... è strano! ... In core
scolpiti ho quegli accenti!
Saria per mia sventura un serio amore?
Che risolvi, o turbata anima mia?
Null’uomo ancora t’accendeva ...
O, gioia ch’io non conobbi,
esser amata amando!
E sdegnarla poss’io
per l’aride follie del viver mio?
It’s strange ... it’s strange!
His words are carved in my heart.
Would real love be a misfortune for me?
What do you say, my troubled soul?
No man has ever been your light.
Oh joy that I never knew,
of loving and being loved!
Shall I now disregard it
for the empty follies of my life?
Ah, fors’è lui che l’anima
solinga ne’ tumulti,
godea sovente pingere
de’ suoi colori occulti!
Lui, che modesto e vigile,
all’egre soglie ascese,
e nuova febbre accese
destandomi all’amor?
A quell’amor, quell’amor ch’è palpito
dell’universo, dell’universo intero,
misterioso, misterioso altero,
croce e delizia, delizia al cor.
Ah! perhaps it is he, who,
when my soul was lonely and troubled,
used to tint it with invisible colors,
invisible colors.
He who, humbly and watchfully,
came to the threshold of my sickroom,
and kindled in me a new fever
waking my heart to love!
Ah, such love, such love so tremulous!
Out of the universe, the heavenly universe,
mysteriously, mysteriously from on high,
come sorrow and gladness to the heart.
(She wakens from her reverie.)
Follie! Follie! delirio vano è questo!
Povera donna, sola, abbandonata
in questo popoloso deserto,
che appellano Parigi,
che spero or più? Che far degg’io?
Gioire, di voluttà nei vortici perire.
Sempre libera degg’io
folleggiare di gioia in gioia,
vo’ che scorra il viver mio
pei sentieri del piacer.
Nasca il giorno, o il giorno muoia,
sempre lieta ne’ ritrovi
A diletti sempre nuovi
dee volare il mio pensier.
Folly! Folly! This is madness!
For me, a poor woman, alone and
abandoned in this populated desert
which is called Paris, what am I
hoping for? What should I do?
Enjoy myself! Then end in a vortex
of dissipation.
Ever free my heart must be,
as I flit from joy to joy,
I want my life to glide
along the paths of pleasure.
May the dying or dawning day
always find me in haunts of mirth,
and to ever-new delights
may my thoughts soar and fly.
Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(Born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg; died December 5, 1791 in Vienna)
Composed in 1785-1786.
Premiered on May 1, 1786 in Vienna.
Instrumentation: woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs, timpani and strings.
Duration: ca. 4 minutes.
On April 12, 1782, Pietro Metastasio, dean of 18th-century Italian opera librettists, died in
Vienna. The following year, the poet Lorenzo da Ponte, a Venetian-born Jew who converted to
Catholicism as a young man and took priestly orders but lived a life profligate enough to be
dubbed “a kind of minor Casanova” by Eric Blom, arrived in the Imperial City to fill the void.
He was so successful that he was named poet to the Imperial Theaters the following year by
Emperor Joseph II, whose taste in opera ran more to the traditional Italian variety than to its
more prosaic German counterpart.
Mozart, who claimed to his father to have searched through “hundreds of plays” to find a
subject for a new opera, met da Ponte in 1783 and the writer agreed to furnish him with a new
libretto. That promise bore no immediate fruit, but in 1785 Mozart approached da Ponte again
with the idea that a recent satiric comedy of manners called La Mariage de Figaro by the
French writer Beaumarchais might well make a fine opera buffa. The play in its original version
was written around 1781 but was not given for some three years because of Louis XVI’s
objections to the manner in which it attacked the aristocracy. (Napoleon described it as “the
revolution already in action.”) Though Louis vowed, “Cela est détestable, cela ne sera jamais
joué,” La Mariage was indeed staged in Paris in April 1784. It was a hit. Reportedly, some
dozen German translations of the play appeared within a year, though the piece was banned in
Austria for its anti-aristocratic stance. Mozart, however, thought the characterizations
excellent, and he convinced da Ponte to join his plan to base an opera on it.
The pair set to work in the fall of 1785, not knowing if the result would be approved for
production. Da Ponte continued the story in his Memoirs, written late in his life, after he had
settled in the United States. (He died in New York in 1838.) “As fast as I wrote the words,”
wrote da Ponte, “Mozart wrote the music, and it was all finished in six weeks. [The Overture,
however, was completed only two days before the May 1, 1786 premiere.] The lucky star of
Mozart willed an opportune moment and permitted me to carry the manuscript directly to the
Emperor. ‘What’s this?’ said Joseph to me. ‘I have already forbidden the German company to
give this play, Figaro.’ ‘I know,’ I replied, ‘but in turning it into an opera, I have cut out whole
scenes, shortened others, and been careful everywhere to omit anything that might shock the
conventionalities and good taste. In a word, I have made a work worthy of the theater honored
by His Majesty’s protection. As far as I can judge, it seems to me a masterpiece.’ ‘Very well,’
said the Emperor. ‘I trust your taste and prudence. Send the score to the copyists.’”
The premiere of Figaro was set for May 1, 1786 in Vienna’s Burgtheater. Opera was
Mozart’s first love and his highest professional ambition, and he threw himself completely into
the work’s preparations. Michael Kelly, the English tenor who sang the roles of Don Basilio and
Don Curzio in the first performance, recalled that he would “never forget Mozart’s little
animated countenance when lighted up with the glowing rays of genius; it is as impossible to
describe as it would be to paint sunbeams.” The premiere went on as scheduled, and it proved
to be a fine success — the audience demanded the immediate encores of so many numbers
that the performance lasted nearly twice as long as anticipated. “Never was anything more
complete than the triumph of Mozart and his Nozze di Figaro,” reported Kelly. Intrigues against
both Mozart and da Ponte, however, managed to divert the public’s attention to other operas,
and The Marriage of Figaro was seen only eight times more during the year. It was not given in
Vienna at all in 1787, though its stunning success in Prague led to the commissioning of Don
Giovanni for that city. It was revived in Vienna in 1789 at the request of Emperor Joseph II
(Mozart and da Ponte were commissioned to write Così fan tutte as a result of its success), by
which time it had also been staged in Italy and Germany. Performances followed in Paris
(1793), Amsterdam (1794), Madrid (1802), Budapest (1812), London (1812) and New York
(1824), and The Marriage of Figaro became an integral part of the operatic repertory during the
following years. In the biographical sketch of Mozart that the French novelist and music lover
Stendhal published in 1815, he wrote of the essential quality that continues to distinguish The
Marriage of Figaro as one of the supreme masterworks of musical theater: “Mozart, with his
overwhelmingly sensitive nature, has transformed into real emotions the superficial
inclinations that amuse Beaumarchais’ easy-going inhabitants of [Count Almaviva’s castle]
Aguas Frescas…. All the characters have been filled with feeling and passion. Mozart’s opera is
a sublime mixture of wit and melancholy that has no equal.”
The noted American critic Henry Edward Krehbiel (1854-1923) called the Overture to The
Marriage of Figaro “the merriest of opera overtures ... putting the listener at once into a
frolicsome mood.” It was the last part of the score Mozart wrote, and captures perfectly its aura
of sparkling good spirits and fast action. Originally Mozart provided the Overture with a slow
middle section based on a sentimental 6/8 tune for the solo oboe, but, feeling that this music
detracted from the overall character of the piece, removed it before the premiere. The
effervescent music that remained, in a compact sonatina form (sonata-allegro without
development section), is one of the greatest and most apposite of all operatic curtain-raisers.
____________________________________________________________________________
“Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Composed in 1787.
Premiered on October 29, 1787 in Prague.
At the beginning of the opera, Don Giovanni slays the Commendatore during an attempt to
abduct his daughter, Donna Anna. Anna’s fiancé, Don Ottavio, vows vengeance on the
murderer. In Act II, Ottavio has an encounter with a disguised figure he believes to be
Giovanni, but who reveals himself to be Giovanni’s valet, Leporello. Leporello offers a nervous
explanation and escapes. Ottavio sings of his love for Anna in the aria Il mio tesoro before
leaving to present his evidence of Giovanni’s guilt to the authorities.
Il mio tesoro intanto
Andate a consolar,
E del bel ciglio il pianto
Cercate di asciugar.
Meanwhile go and console
My dearest, darling girl;
See if you can dry the tears
From her precious little eyes.
Ditele che i suoi torti
A vendicar io vado:
Che sol di stragi e morti
Nunzio vogl’io tornar.
Tell her that I’ve gone away
To avenge her every wrong,
And that I’m coming back again
To tell her of his death.
“Dove sono” from The Marriage of Figaro
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Composed in 1785-1786.
Premiered on May 1, 1786 in Vienna.
In Dove sono, Countess Almaviva sings of her longing for the faded days of youthful love
and her sadness at being reduced to stratagem in collusion with her maid, Susanna, in an
attempt to save her marriage with her wandering husband.
Dove sono i bei momenti
Di dolcezza e di piacer?
Dove andaron i giuramenti,
Di quel labbro menzogner?
Perchè mai se in pianti e in pene
Per me tutto si cangiò,
La memoria di quel bene
Dal mio sen non trapassò?
La memoria di quel bene non trapassò?
Dove sono i bei momenti, etc.
Ah! se almen la mia costanza
Nel languire amando ognor
Mi portasse una speranza
Di cangiar l’ingrato cor!
Ah! se almen la mia costanza, etc.
Where are those wondrous moments
of sweetness and pleasure?
and those vows
made by lying lips?
Why, if everything for me has changed
to sorrow and to suffering,
does the memory of that former bliss
still linger in my heart?
Why does that memory not fade?
Where are those wondrous moments, etc.
Oh, if my pining and devotion
might at least
bring hope of change
in his ungrateful heart!
Oh, if my pining and devotion, etc.
Suite from Der Rosenkavalier
Richard Strauss
(Born June 11, 1864 in Munich; died September 8, 1949 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen)
Composed in 1909-1910.
Premiered on January 26, 1911 in Dresden, conducted by Ernst von Schuch.
Instrumentation: piccolo, three flutes, three oboes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, three clarinets,
bass clarinet, three bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba,
timpani, percussion, two harps, celesta and strings.
Duration: ca. 22 minutes.
Norman Del Mar titled the chapter on Der Rosenkavalier in his biography of Richard
Strauss, “The Crowning Success.” Notoriety was hardly new to Strauss when this opera
appeared in 1911, but its success solidified a reputation that had elevated him, according to
universal opinion, to the position of “The World’s Greatest Composer.” The last dozen years of
the 19th century saw the production of most of his tone poems, each one generating more
popular interest than the one before. When Salome appeared in 1905 and Elektra followed
three years later, Strauss was branded as the principal dispenser of musical modernity,
stretching not only technical resources but also psychological probings in music far beyond
anything previously known. It was therefore significant news when the Berlin Boersen-Courier
learned before the premiere of Strauss’ 1911 opera from that ubiquitous and eternal “wellinformed source” that the score was “absolutely un-Strausslike, inasmuch as none of the
excessively modern subtleties predominates in the vocal parts or orchestration. On the
contrary, the score is brimming over with exceedingly pleasant and catchy melodies, most of
them in three-four time. Yes, melodies, incredible as this may sound in the case of Richard
Strauss. One waltz, especially, which the tenor sings, is likely to become so popular that many
people will believe it is the work, not of Richard, but of Johann Strauss….” (The two Strausses
were unrelated.)
The Berlin correspondent knew what he was talking about. So popular did Strauss’
bittersweet opera with the 18th-century Viennese setting prove to be that its music and fame
spread through Europe like wildfire. Extra trains from Berlin and other cities had to be added
to the rail schedule to handle the throngs journeying to Dresden to see this new artistic
wonder. Productions were mounted within months in all the musical capitals of Europe. The
1917 catalog of the London publisher Chappell and Co. listed no fewer than 44 arrangements
of music from Der Rosenkavalier for instrumental combinations ranging from brass band to
salon orchestra, from solo mandolin to full symphony. The opera was made into a motion
picture in 1924 — five years before sound movies were introduced! (A pit orchestra without
singers played the much-truncated score.) The popularity of the haunting and infectious music
from Der Rosenkavalier continues unabated today in both the opera house and the concert
hall.
The libretto by the gifted Austrian man of letters Hugo von Hofmannsthal is one of the
masterworks of its type for the lyric stage. It gently probes the budding, young love of Octavian
and Sophie, poignantly examines the fading youth of the Marschallin, and humorously exposes
the blustering Baron Ochs. It is a superb evocation of sentiment, wit and vigor wedded to one
of the most opulently glorious musical scores ever composed. Harold Schonberg wrote of the
emotional milieu of the opera, “In Der Rosenkavalier, there are no Jungian archetypes, only the
human condition. Instead of long narratives, there are Viennese waltzes. Instead of a
monumental Liebestod, there is a sad, elegant lament from a beautiful, aristocratic woman who
begins to see old age. Instead of death, we get a bittersweet and hauntingly beautiful trio that
in effect tells us that life will go on as it has always gone on. People do not die for love in
Hofmannsthal’s world. They face the inevitable, surrender with what grace they can summon
up, and then look around for life’s next episode. As Strauss himself later said, the Marschallin
had lovers before Octavian, and she will have lovers after him.” Der Rosenkavalier is an opera
wise and worldly, sophisticated and touching, sentimental and funny that contains some of the
most memorable music to emerge from the opera house in the 20th century.
The Suite that Strauss extracted from Der Rosenkavalier includes the Prelude to Act I, the
luminous Presentation of the Rose from Act II, the blustering Baron Ochs’ Arrival and Waltz
from Act II, the glorious trio and duet in the opera’s closing scene, and a rousing selection of
waltzes from the score.
©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

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