Great Moments in Opera – Pagliacci

October 16, 2013 3 comments

Pagliacci watercolor

 

Most finales in dramatic opera tend to be emotional roller coasters, and in many of these works, it may take a marathon of several hours to build up to that climax.  Unlike many of those longer works, Pagliacci (Italian for “Clowns”) is more of a sprint, firing off the starting line with its opening notes and thrusting the audience quickly toward that dark, tragic end.

 

The finale in Pagliacci is thrilling and tense, a play within a play.  Canio has a comic troupe that has arrived in town, and while he plays an idiot clown husband in his role on stage for the audience, he is in fact very jealous.  His wife Nedda, has engaged in an affair with another in town, and pledges she will run off with her new lover after the show.  Canio nearly caught the two in the first act though he didn’t see who Nedda’s lover was and she refused to tell him.  Even though he is furious with rage, he sets aside his jealousy as he dresses in costume for the upcoming evening’s performance.

 

In the final scene, we see a stage set up for the evening’s performance.  In the opening scene of the play, we see Nedda’s character Columbina having a similar affair with a character Arlecchino.  As they dine while Canio’s character (Pagliaccio) is out drinking, Arlecchino gives Columbina a sleeping potion to use on Pagliaccio so she can escape and run away with him that evening.  In the play, warning is given to Arlecchino that Pagliaccio has become suspicious and is returning immediately.  Arlecchino escapes and as he leaves, Columbina tells him, “I will always be yours.”  In a strange parallel to what occurred earlier in the day for real, these words trigger Canio to exclaim, “Name of God, those very same words!”, though he gathers himself to enter the stage and attempt to complete his performance.  This is the point at which the clip below begins.

 

Canio eventually loses control of his character, and demands from Nedda the name of her lover.  At first the audience is thrilled with the drama, thinking it is part of the performance.  They don’t yet realize the drama unfolding is real and not part of the script.  Rather than explain the rest, put on a nice set of headphones, and watch a great dramatic moment in opera unfold.  English translation of the libretto appears below.

 

 

 

English translation:

CANIO
(Pagliaccio)
(In God’s name! Those very same words!  Courage!)
A man was here with you.

NEDDA
(Columbine)
What nonsense!
Are you drunk?

CANIO
(Pagliaccio)
Drunk, yes, for an hour!

NEDDA
(Columbine)
You are home early.

CANIO
(Pagliaccio)
(significantly)
But in time!
Does that distress you, sweet wife?
(resuming the play)
Ah, I thought you were alone…
But I see two places.

NEDDA
(Columbine)
Taddeo was with me, and scampered off for fear.
(towards the door)
You, there, speak up!

TONIO
(Taddeo)
Believe her! She is pure!
Her pious lips abhor all falsehood!
(Spectators laugh loudly.)

CANIO
(furiously to the public)
The devil take you!
(then to Nedda)
This is enough. I have the right to act
like every other man! His name!

NEDDA
(cold and smiling)
Whose?

CANIO
I want your lover’s name.
Name me the villain to whom you gave yourself, base harlot!

NEDDA
(still acting her part)
Pagliaccio! Pagliaccio!

CANIO
No, I am not Pagliaccio!
Although my face is white,
that is for shame and for the lust for vengeance!
The man reclaims his right,
the heart that bleeds wants blood
to wash away the shame, damned woman!
No, I am not Pagliaccio!
I am he, I am that fool who found you,
a starving orphan of the street,
and took you in, and offered you a name,
and the fever and the folly of his love!

WOMEN
Friend, it makes me weep,
so true the play appears!

MEN
Keep quiet there!
The devil take you!

SILVIO
(to himself)
I can hardly contain myself!

CANIO
So blinded was I by my passion,
that I had hoped – if not for love –
at least for merciful compassion!
And gladly every sacrifice
I placed upon my heart,
and trustful, I believed in you
more than in God Himself!
But only evil dwells
in your abandoned soul:
yes, you are heartless and you know
no law but of your senses.
Go, you do not deserve my grief,
woman without shame!
In my disgust I will
crush you beneath my feet!

THE CROWD
Bravo!

NEDDA
(cold but serious)
Well, then, if you so judge me
unworthy of you, drive me out!

CANIO
(with derision)
Ah, ha! You could ask for nothing better
than to run off to your paramour.
You are cunning!
But no, by God, you’ll stay
and you’ll tell me now your lover’s name!

NEDDA
(desperately trying to resume the play, to Canio)
Now, there, get going. Truly I never thought
you could be so terrible.
There is no tragic business here.

(over to Taddeo)
Taddeo, come now and tell him
that the man sitting with me here a while ago
was our own timorous and harmless Harlequin!

(She stifles her laughter as she meets Canio’s glance.)

CANIO
(wild with rage)
Ah! You defy me still! And still don’t understand
that I’ll not yield? His name or your life! His name!

NEDDA
Ah! No, by my mother! I may be unworthy,
all you will, but, by God, I am no coward!

BEPPE
We must go!

TONIO
Silence, fool!

NEDDA
My love is stronger than your raging!
I will not speak! Not if it cost my life!
(a murmur in the crowd)

CANIO
(shrieking as he seizes a knife)
His name! His name!

NEDDA
No!

SILVIO
(drawing a dagger)
By the devil,
he means it…

(Convulsed with rage, Canio seizes Nedda and stabs her with the knife.)

BEPPE and THE CROWD
What are you doing?

CANIO
This for you!

NEDDA
Ah!

CANIO
And this!

BEPPE and THE CROWD
Stop!

CANIO
In your death spasm
you’ll tell me!

NEDDA
Help!…Silvio!

SILVIO
(rushing onto the inner stage)
Nedda!

CANIO
(turns like a beast, leaps on Silvio and stabs him.)
Ah, then! It’s you! Welcome!
(Silvio collapses to the floor.)

THE CROWD
Jesus and Mary!

CANIO
The comedy is ended!

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Great Moments in Opera – Ensembles

October 22, 2012 15 comments

The other night, at a group party celebrating the birthdays of five family members within a three week period of time in October, everyone was in a festive mood and excitably talking to everyone else.  The sound level was high and the conversations incredibly varied among the individuals, but in the collective there was that distinct din of voices, unintelligible yet quite familiar to anyone who has ever encountered a crowd of people.

My mind began wandering and wondering (as it so often does) about how this is captured in various forms of dramatic arts.  It is difficult, if near impossible to capture such a phenomenon in written form, for the mind and eyes can only read one dialogue at a time, even when trying to imagine it all occurring simultaneously.  In spoken form, be it on the stage or in film, it is still difficult to coherently present the effect and emotions of simultaneous discussions taking place at a mass gathering.  At best you will hear that din, but not be able in the audience to eavesdrop and process what in fact is taking place.

Ah, but take all those words, and put them to music, and a wonderful transformation takes place.  Some of the greatest moments in Opera occur when ensembles of casts and characters live through their experience of emotions while the music works its magic to resolve the complex problem of portraying such an action.  The actual phrases become less important than the overall effect in song, and somehow it all works coming together in a magical moment.  Following are a few personal favorites among the many of such moments.

First is the sextet from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor, composed by Gaetano Donizetti in 1835, based loosely on a novel written by Sir Walter Scott titled The Bride of Lammermoor.  In Act 2, Scene 2, we are in the Hall of Lamermoor Castle with Lucia acting despondent realizing she’s been deceived by her brother Enrico into signing a marriage contract to well connected Arturo despite being in love with Edgardo, who storms into the hall angered and still in love with Lucia, perplexed and devastated she has signed the marriage contract.  Lots of passionate emotions and thoughts in sotto voce can be found in this sextet.  There is jealous anger yet love for Lucia by Edgardo; with Enrico there is anger at Edgardo yet a sense of remorse for having deceived his sister; we have sadness and sympathy for Lucia from Alisa the hand maid;  irritation and astonished contempt at Edgardo by Raimondo the Chaplain and by Arturo the bridegroom; and of course there is deep remorse and depression by Lucia as the realization of the deception and her life-changing mistake sets in. The sextet is typically referred to as “Chi mi freno in tal momento” (Who is stopping me at this very moment) as Edgardo storms in.

Next up is the quartet from the opera Rigoletto, composed by Giuseppe Verdi in 1851, based on a Victor Hugo play Le roi s’amuse (The king amuses himself).  There was a lot of editing required in adaptation of the libretto in an attempt to placate the censors before bringing it to the opera stage, as it portrayed royalty in a most unfavorable manner.  In Act 3 we are in the seedy quarters of town, at a dilapidated home where a tryst is about to occur between the rakish Duke of Mantua looking for another womanly conquest as he tries to woo the affections of a most skeptical Maddelena, who mocks and spurns his flirtation playing hard to get.  Meanwhile Rigoletto, court jester to the Duke is trying to disabuse his daughter Gilda of the notion the Duke still loves her.  Gilda has fallen in love with the Duke even though he defiled her 30 days prior.  Gilda was naively unaware of the Duke’s sexual proclivities for such womanizing.  Rigoletto has Gilda peer into the home from the street to see her beloved Duke wooing another conquest in his insatiable appetite for women.  Her heart is shattered when she realizes the Duke to be so unfaithful, that his words to her were meaningless.  Here we have a contrast in emotions.  The Duke is laying on thick flirtations, Maddelena is playfully skeptical and mocking the Duke’s advances, Gilda is heartbroken and upset to discover the infidelity of her lover, and Rigoletto is fuming with anger, plotting revenge against the Duke for ravaging his daughter and ruining her reputation.  The quartet is known as “Bella figlia dell’amore” (Lovely daughter of love).

Enjoy!

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La Bohème – Giacomo Puccini

May 28, 2011 8 comments

 

La Bohème, French for The Bohemian Woman, is an adaptation of a French Novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème (Scenes of Behemian Life) written by Henri Murger.  The Opera was composed by Giacomo Puccini with the libretto written by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa.  La Bohème premiered on February 1, 1896.  It is a Opera in four acts, each a different scene and setting in the lives of six bohemians living in Paris around 1830.  The cast is as follows:

Rodolfo – our protagonist poet, living in poverty in a Parisian garret with his three male friends.
Mimi – the heroine, a consumptive, frail but beautiful seamstress living alone in a room below.
Marcello – a painter and Rodolfo’s best friend.  He shares the garrett.  Unlucky in love but always trying.
Colline – a philosopher and another roommate of Rodolfo.
Schaunard – a musician, and the last of the roommates in Rodolfo’s garrett.
Musetta – a beautiful, flirty, and free-spirited single woman who enjoys an on-again, off-again love affair with Marcello.

This is a love story between Rodolfo and Mimi, with a contrasting secondary story between Marcello and Musetta.

Act I

Setting:  The Parisian garret of the four male bohemians, Christmas Eve.

As the curtain draws open, it is Christmas Eve in the freezing garret.  With no fuel for the stove, Rodolfo and Marcello comically ponder alternatives to set the idle stove ablaze.  Maybe a chair, or perhaps Marcello’s latest painting.  They ultimately settle on a play Rodolfo is currently writing, setting it ablaze for too brief a period to warm the apartment.  Colline arrives, huddles around Rodolfo and Marcello as the blaze soon smolders.  They muse on how bad it must have been since it is hardly warming them.  To everyone’s surprise, in walks Shaunard, with attendants carrying food, fuel, and wine.  Apparently he has hit the jackpot, and astonishes the others throwing money on the floor.  He was paid to provide music lessons to a wealthy Englishman in Paris.  He convinces them they should dine at the Cafe Momus this Christmas Eve, but first they all agree to have a drink.

As soon as they pour the drink, their elderly landlord Benoit knocks at the door.  Three months behind in the rent, they scurry about, but ultimately open the door and offer him a drink in the hope they can ply him with alcohol.  After a few drinks loosens Benoit up, they make sport of him, playfully complimenting him on his manliness with the women about town. As the wine takes effect, he jokingly tells them it is true, that he prefers women who are sturdy, not skinny and complaining like his wife.  The bohemians all feign shock at the idea of his being married yet womanizing, and whisk him out of the garret, dismissing him of course without paying the rent.  Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard depart for the Cafe Momus in the Latin Quarter where they will dine and drink.  Rodolfo stays behind, vowing to catch up with them all in a few minutes, but he has to complete a manuscript for his publisher first.

Alone in the garrett, Rodolfo is not inspired to write.  He hears a knock at the door.  It is a beautiful woman Mimi, who lives downstairs, in another rented room.  She needs a light for her candle which has gone out.  She is weak from consumption (tuberculosis) and wanes while she’s in the apartment, whereupon Rodolfo offers her a chair and some wine.  As she regains her strength she leaves, but has lost her key in the apartment (probably when she fainted or maybe by design).  Her candle flame extinguishes with the draft (or maybe by her blowing it out – wink) and somehow Rodolfo’s goes out too (wink).  Now they are stuck looking for the key in the dark.  Found by Rodolfo, but pocketed without her seeing (or maybe not), they continue to search in the dark until their hands meet.

The following clip, Che gelida manina (What a cold little hand) has subtitles, and so I’ll omit the actual lyrics and translations.  Basically this is Rodolfo managing to tell this beautiful woman who he is…

 

 

Rodolfo ends his aria asking this beautiful woman in his garret to tell him a little about herself.  She tells him that she is called Mimi, but her real name is Lucia.  She sings about a simple life as a seamstress sewing flowers, the thing in life she really loves, and how she looks forward to the first signs of spring when the real flowers come in bloom in front of her window.  They are fragrant, unlike her embroidered flowers, and they speak of love.  She let’s Rodolfo know she’s single…

 

Si, mi chiamano Mimi (They call me Mimi)

 

 

Rodolfo and Mimi have now told each other a little about themselves, and it’s looking promising.  Rodolfo’s friends shout from the street to his balcony, wondering why he’s taking so long.  They have come to gather him to the restaurant.  He rushes out to the balcony to scoot them away, saying he isn’t alone.  They make some fun of him, saying he has found his poem.  Rodolfo returns to the garret and in a tender duet they both proclaim their love for each other. A bit shy, Mimi suggests maybe she could go with Rodolfo, and the two decide to join the others after all.  Mimi takes Rodolfo’s arm and they walk out of the garret exclaiming Love!  Love!

 

O soave fanciulla (Oh lovely girl)

 

 

The curtain draws and this is the end of Act 1.  Time to get up, stretch your legs a bit, and go pee if necessary…  The stage hands have a lot of work to do to get ready for the next act

Act II

 

Setting:  On the streets of the left bank of Paris, known as the Latin quarter, later that same evening, Christmas Eve and ending up at the Cafe Momus.  (This is a full “chorus” act, with dozens and dozens of singer/actors shoehorned onto the stage, mimicking a crowded street scene in a carnival atmosphere – think of it as a large impressionist painting come to life)

Schaunard, Colline, and Marcello wend their way through the packed streets of the Latin Quarter as hawkers sell treats and gifts.  Schaunard buys a used horn and Colline buys some cheap books to read with their new-found money, while Marcello flirts with all the pretty girls, with little success.  Rodolfo and Mimi are elsewhere in the crowd.  He buys her a pink bonnet.  All meet up at the Cafe Momus, where Rodolfo introduces Mimi to his friends.  He tells them that now their company is complete, since he is a poet, and she poetry in life.  They all sit down at a table on the sidewalk and order their food.  The discussion is about the nature of love.  Mimi sings that love is sweeter than honey.  Marcello counters that, depending on one’s palate, it is either sweeter than honey or bitter as gall.  Mimi worries she has offended Marcello, but the others assure her it is just Marcello once again mourning his latest break-up in a chain of failed romances, namely Musetta.

As they fill their glasses, Musetta (Marcello’s beautiful ex girlfriend) arrives, overdressed and laughing up a storm.  Marcello’s mood immediately sours from jealousy (he still loves her, but is in denial) as he puts down the glass of wine and exclaims he’d prefer some poison instead.  All the crowd notices Musetta’s new found fortune, attributable to her old, unattractive, and pompous Sugar Daddy Alcindro.  When she notices Marcello and the bohemians sitting, she demands a table next to theirs (she still loves Marcello, but is enjoying some of the finer things that the money of being a kept woman brings) and orders “Lulu”, her silly pet name of Alcindro, to sit and be quiet – much to his embarrassment.  Musetta becomes annoyed that Marcello is ignoring her.  She creates a scene in order to gain Marcello’s attention, insisting she’ll do as she pleases, further embarrassing Alcindro.  She gets up and sings to the crowd about how she enjoys being the center of attention and how everyone is captive to her charms – how it delights her!  Alcindro sings in the background how he hates this appalling song.  Musetta coyly continues to sing in Marcello’s direction, “You won’t admit it, but it’s killing you!”  Mimi observes how Musetta’s still in love with Marcello, Schaunard bets Marcello will give in, all while Musetta continues singing that she will do as she pleases in front of her protesting suitor Alcindro, but loudly enough for Marcello to hear.

Musetta ponders on how to get rid of her “old pelican” of a man and comes up with an idea.  She creates a diversion in order to continue her flirting with Marcello.  She cries out nearly fainting, complaining how her shoe pinches her and hurts!  Alcindro must run out and get her another pair immediately!  He gives in and leaves; the flirting and chorus continue.  Marcello stands up and sings loudly, conceding his youth and memories for Musetta are still very much alive – he adores his siren.  The waiter brings the bill, everyone checks their pockets, now nearly empty from spending it all on cheap items earlier in the evening at the bazaar.  Musetta takes the bohemians’ bill and tells the waiter to add it to Alcindro’s, who will pay it when he returns.  The festival continues and the crowd builds.  The bohemians carry off Musetta and run off into the crowd.  Alcindro returns, Musetta is gone, and the bill is huge!

 

Quando me n’vò  (When I stroll)

 

 

End of Act II.  Intermission time.  Perhaps a nice refreshment from the bar?

Act III

 

Setting:  Tollgate near a tavern at the Barriere d’Enfer, on the outskirts of Paris in early February.  Sweepers are cleaning the streets of snow, but it keeps falling into the wee hours of early morning.

Mimi appears by the gate, asking for a tavern where she might find a painter who works there (Marcello).  The officer points the way.  Marcello comes out of the tavern and is surprised to see Mimi.  Marcello tells Mimi that he and Musetta have been living at the tavern for a month – he earning his wages by painting figures on the tavern wall, and she by teaching songs and dances to the patrons.  Marcello invites Mimi to come inside from the cold, but when Mimi learns Rodolfo is inside, she insists on remaining outside.  She can’t see him, she only wants Marcello’s advice.  She confides in Marcello, stating Rodolfo is acting strangely jealous, for he stares at her constantly as she sleeps and she awakens to see him that way.  Rodolfo becomes agitated whenever she questions him.  Marcello urges Mimi to leave him if she cannot live carefree.  Mimi’s cough has become more noticeable and her tuberculosis is becoming more serious.  She coughs violently outside the Tavern.  Marcello urges her to leave before Rodolfo emerges so not to cause a scene.  She begins to leave, but then returns and hides by a tree nearby when she hears Rodolfo’s voice to eavesdrop on the two.

Rodolfo bounds out of the tavern to tell Marcello he is leaving Mimi because she is a shameless flirt.  Marcello claims Rodolfo is a liar and a jealous boor.  Rodolfo breaks down and admits he is only acting this way because he is trying to force Mimi out of his poor wretched life; he is deeply worried about her failing health.  He fears the freezing cold garret is killing her, aggravating her illness. He believes by leaving her, she will be free to find a more affluent suitor who can keep her warm and take better care of her.  Mimi, hiding behind the tree overhears this and fills with dread and remorse over her illness.   Unfortunately, she coughs and alerts Marcello and Rodolfo of her presence.  Rodolfo in a fit of embarrassment and denial, claims he didn’t mean anything he said about her illness; he was simply being over-dramatic.  Meanwhile, Marcello rushes back in the tavern jealously when he hears laughter, assuming Musetta is flirting with yet another patron of the tavern. He leaves Rodolfo and Mimi alone outdoors.

Distraught, Mimi bids Good Bye to Rodolfo; she will leave him.  But where?  Why, to the place she left when love first called her, to her old apartment room.  Mimi sings a wonderfully touching aria, asking Rodolfo to wrap up her few things so she can send someone to fetch them.  He is told to keep the bonnet he bought her as a souvenir of her love; of their happier times together.  Good bye, with no malice in her heart, simply parting as friends.  There is a lot lost in the translation – the verse is written in lyrical poetry form, and  unfortunately the translation makes it seem mundane and trivial.  Even so, the aria is a very musically touching moment.

 

Donde lieta usci.  Addio senza rancor.  (From where I came. Good bye without malice.)

 

 

What follows is another tender duet, that turns into a quartet, and concludes as a duet.  After Mimi sings her farewell to Rodolfo, he is torn with mixed emotions.  He asks if is it really over?  The kisses? The sweetness?  She replies, the jealousies?  The bitterness of fighting?  But… being alone in the winter is like death.  In the spring, they will both be better able survive the separation, so they decide to remain together until the “season of flowers” in April.

While they are singing tenderly to each other about this, Musetta and Marcello emerge from the tavern fighting over her flirtatious dancing with another man inside.  How dare she flirt!  She, to her credit, asserts that she despises lovers who act like husbands.  She demands her freedom!  Musetta charges off, hurling her abuse toward Marcello, “Housepainter!”  He retorts, “Viper!”  She, “Toad!”  He, “Witch!”   Rodolfo and Mimi are left alone to finish off their tender vows to remain together until the spring.  Mimi wishes the winter would last forever as they embrace each other while the snow starts to fall again; a powerful artistic moment emotionally, visually, and musically…

 

Dunque e proprio finita  (Therefore and truly over)

 

 

Curtain draws.  End of Act III.

Act IV

 

Setting:  Back in the Garret, sometime in April after the breakup.

Rodolfo and Marcello taunt each other about their lost loves.  Each has seen their former lovers in well dressed carriages kept by other men of more means.  They try to feign indifference, even teasing each other, but it’s no use, Rodolfo’s pen and Marcello’s brush won’t cooperate as they try to work.  They both reflect on how much they miss their former lovers, singing a heartfelt duet O Mimì tu più non torni.  Schaunard and Colline burst in with dinner – four rolls and a single herring.  They all try to act noble about the “feast” but it’s no use.  They begin to frolic and dance a quadrille – a sort of square dance, with Colline calling the steps.  They playfully argue about the proper order, and break into a mock sword fight.  Musetta then bursts in – she found Mimi wandering the streets in a stupor, near death and has brought her back here and needs help getting her up the stairs.

 

O Mimì tu più non torni (Oh Mimi, you will no longer return)

 

 

They lay the nearly dead Mimi into Rodolfo’s bed, assuring her she is welcome to stay as long as she needs.  Musetta tells everyone she had just separated from the Viscount (a wealthy nobleman who was keeping her) when she ran into Mimi who was determined to return to Rodolfo and see him one last time before she dies.  Musetta asks her bohemian friends is there nothing to offer Mimi?  Nothing but poverty, Marcello tells her.  Mimi complains her hands are freezing, if only she had a muff to warm them.  Musetta takes off her earrings and gives them to Marcello, instructing him to sell them off and get some medicine and a doctor.  She will run out and get a muff.  Colline takes off his overcoat and pledges to sell it in order to help – he will accompany Marcello. Everyone runs off to get help, leaving Rodolfo and Mimi alone.  She feigns that she is asleep, and when she awakens, she embraces Rodolfo, asking “Sono Andati? (Have they left?)” She proclaims her dying love for Rodolfo, and in a tender duet, Mimi reminisces with Rodolfo of the time when they first met.  He pulls out the bonnet he had been saving and gives it to her.

 

Sono andati?  (Have they left?)  I apologize in advance as the clip ends prematurely.

 

 

Mimi eventually goes into a coughing spasm, and lies down to rest.  Musetta and Marcello return.  Musetta gives Mimi the muff and says it is a gift from Rodolfo.  Musetta then goes to side table lit with a votive candle to pray for Mimi – asking God to please spare her.  Content with her muff and the fact she’s in Rodolfo’s bed, Mimi breathes her last breath, unbenown to Rodolfo initially.    Schaunard approaches the bed and tells Marcello that Mimi has died.  The friends signal each other behind Rodolfo’s back, but he notices and asks why are they looking at him this way?  “Courage!” Marcello tells him.  Rodolfo calls out for Mimi twice in an anguished cry and falls sobbing on her lifeless body.

 

Finale – Mimi’s Death – continued but from a different production.  Hey, it’s Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni, so don’t complain!

 

Curtain draws – the end.  Any good production will by now have an emotionally drained audience on it’s feet and wiping a few tears.

A Few Final Thoughts

 

I’d like to make a few points here.  I’ve selected Opera clips that are from a live performance at the Met, except for the last clip, although it too was from a live performance in San Francisco.  I felt it important to give you a feel for how Opera comes across on a live stage setting, as opposed to a movie production.  Another really important point – when you look and listen to productions like this, try to imagine it through the lens of an audience pre-movies, pre-TV; remember that these original audiences did not have any frames of reference on so many things we in the modern age take for granted.  For example, in Sono Andati – the beauty and power of the background music playing as Mimi and Rodolfo embrace is something we can easily take for granted, having seen hundreds of movies with a background soundtrack playing.  To an audience 120 years ago with no movie-going experience to serve as a frame of reference, this would all have been new and novel.  I wonder, how much more powerful its impact must have been – almost magical like movies might have seemed to us as children for the first time.  I think it’s important to keep that in mind.

Another thing to keep in mind is the acting and the positioning on stage.  Opera singers do not have the benefit of microphones and the venues are typically large, so they need to face the cavernous dimensions of the house seating the audience to be heard, even with the fantastic acoustics that exist in most Opera houses.  They remain reasonably true to tradition – no microphones; only their voice, an assembled orchestra and chorus to fill the house.  Microphones are used only for recording purposes, not amplification.  Also, since action on the stage needs to be seen from even the most faraway seats as best as possible, the movements and expressions are typically much more exaggerated than we modern theater goers are accustomed to to seeing, with zoom lenses and the frame of reference of hundreds upon hundreds of movies we’ve seen in our lives.  It is difficult to be subtle on a large stage and successfully let the live audience see what you are doing.

I hope you enjoyed accompanying me to the Cyber Opera.  My sincerest hope is for you to be able to enjoy such a performance live in a true Opera venue sometime in the future.  These clips cannot and do not give justice to the true Opera experience.

As I think about it, perhaps another hope is that I didn’t bore you to death and scare you away.  I do hope you might decide to visit here again.

Until next time.  Addio!

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Inspired by the Moon

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

It has been a rainy week here and while I realize the full moon occurred a few nights ago, this evening was the first break in the clouds that allowed me to see the nearly full moon as it starts its inevitable wane to nothingness.  It was good to see that moon shining down, if only for a few fleeting hours between the cloud breaks.  I’ve written before about how the moon is a major source of inspiration for all, including artists, poets, writers, and composers. In that spirit, I will choose another nice piece written by Vincenzo Bellini in 1838 – a mere 173 years ago.  It is sung by a favorite mezzo-soprano of mine, Cecilia Bartoli.

Vaga luna, che inargenti

Vincenzo Bellini (1838)

Lyrics in Italian:

Vaga luna, che inargenti
queste rive e questi fiori
ed inspiri agli elementi
il linguaggio dell’amor;

testimonio or sei tu sola
del mio fervido desir,
ed a lei che m’innamora
conta i palpiti e i sospir.

Dille pur che lontananza
il mio duol non può lenir,
che se nutro una speranza,
ella è sol nell’avvenir.

Dille pur che giorno e sera
conto l’ore del dolor,
che una speme lusinghiera
mi conforta nell’amor.


English translation:

Beautiful moon, dappling with silver
These banks and flowers,
Evoking from the elements
The language of love

Only you are witness
To my ardent desire;
Go tell her, tell my beloved
How much I long for her and sigh.

Tell her that with her so far away,
My grief can never be allayed,
That the only hope I cherish
Is for my future to be spent with her.

Tell her that day and night
I count the hours of my yearning,
That hope, a sweet hope beckons,
And comforts me in my love.

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Opera – My Very Own Prelude (via Random Thoughts)

May 19, 2011 4 comments

Those who know me know that I love Opera.  I’ve often shared my deep passion and love for this art form with my friends, sending them links and detailed set-ups describing the action in the scenes, along with the lyrics and their translation.  After a bit of prodding by a few of these friends, I have decided to establish a separate blog where I could write principally about Opera and selected arias in one spot, instead of scattered about in my other blog, Random Thoughts.  I wouldn’t want to confuse or bore my tens of, er… um… tens of readers there.

First things first.  The purpose of this blog will be to give those readers who never have been to an Opera a small glimpse and taste of what makes it so delicious and appealing to so many of the senses.   Opera weaves together so many different art forms; it delights with music and voice, gracefulness in dance, visually stunning backdrops and costume, poetry in the lyrical passages, and expressive dramatic emotions both tragic and comic.  While some emotions can be evoked with little or no understanding of the lyric, setting, and circumstance, I strongly believe the best enjoyment comes from a more thorough understanding of and preparation for the experience, and that is what I hope to accomplish with those who will visit here from time to time.  In fact, my ultimate hope would be to inspire someone enough to go out and actually experience an Opera live in their locale.  That would be a success in my view.

What this blog is NOT:  This blog is intended to be an introduction, and as such, I will likely select among the most popular and mainstream performances.  The focus and discussions will be on enjoyment of the performances, not the pretentious critiques laced with intentionally obscure terminology.  I find those critiques typically to be arrogant, elitist, and oft condescending viewpoints of pompous snobs of the worst kind.  Precious few people in the world possess the talent to be performing on an Operatic stage, using their God-given gift of voice and dramatic skills .  I have little patience for those sitting in the seats trying to act as though they are somehow better than those on stage.  Please, no snobbery here!

So… find a seat and enjoy.

If you are wondering who I am, then perhaps the following may help to explain how I wound up here.

Opera - My Very Own Prelude I grew up with music all around me. I took music lessons as a child and continued into my early teens, but then my brother became ill with Leukemia. My brother’s illness became an all-consuming devastating process, draining the family resources and taxing everyone’s time as he was shuttled back and forth to the Hospital, countless Doctor appointments, and various Treatment Centers. There was simply no money left after all this for music lessons. … Read More

via Random Thoughts