About this Recording
8.501054 - GREAT OPERA (10-CD Box set)
English 

GREAT OPERA
Mozart • Rossini • Verdi • Bizet • Leoncavallo • Mascagni • Puccini

 

Introduction

Opera, provocatively once defined by Dr Johnson as ‘an exotic and irrational entertainment’, has held a continuing and changing place in Western culture. Starting in Italy in the late 16th century as an academic experiment, an endeavour to re-create the drama of ancient Greece, it soon became a spectacular and extravagant vehicle for princely display, notably at the Gonzaga court in Mantua with Monteverdi’s Orfeo, a dramatic representation of the power of music. It was in Venice that the first public opera-houses were opened in the third decade of the 17th century, providing drama, music and spectacle for a wider audience, and mingling tragedy with comedy. Artistic development has always found a place for change and reform. In the 18th century this came first with so-called opera seria, opera generally on mythological or high-flown episodes in history and limited by strict conventions. By the last decades of the century, however, the art had been reformed once more, with the changes championed by Gluck in Vienna and then in Paris. The art of Western opera has continued its course with changes and innovations from generation to generation. It remains, however, a fundamental element in cultural life, in essence an astonishing synthesis of music, drama, poetry, dance and spectacle, its components varying in importance with swings of economic, political and artistic fashion.

Current operatic repertoire always finds a place of honour for Mozart, an immensely operatic composer, who only found a real chance to develop and display his operatic genius during the last decade of his life. In 1781 he broke his ties with his native Salzburg and settled in Vienna in precarious independence. Here he wrote his greatest operas, The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, followed, in 1787, by Don Giovanni, his second collaboration with the Italian librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, written for performance in Prague, where Mozart was always well received. Based on the moral tale dramatised by the Spanish playwright Tirso da Molina, the adventures of the dissolute Don Juan of the title and his fate, dragged down to Hell by the stone statue of a man he had killed, had been and was to be treated by other composers, but Mozart’s version remains supreme. A further collaboration with Da Ponte was staged in Vienna in 1790, and in 1791, the year of Mozart’s death, came two further operas, an Italian coronation opera for Prague, where the new Emperor, who had found no place for Mozart in his court establishment, was crowned as ruler of Bohemia, and a final German opera of masonic inspiration, The Magic Flute, a collaboration with the actor-manager Emanuel Schikaneder, which was running as Mozart lay dying.

The Italian composer Gioachino Rossini enjoyed enormous contemporary popularity. Born in 1792 into the theatre, the son of an orchestral player and a singer, he was as precocious as Mozart in his early success, turning his hand to opera of all kinds in the course of a busy and productive career from which he retired at the age of 37, dividing his time, in the following 37 years, between Italy and France. His most popular opera remains The Barber of Seville, based on the first play of the Figaro trilogy by Beaumarchais and first staged in 1816 in Rome. There its reception was mixed, suffering by comparison with other treatments of the same story in which the barber and factotum Figaro helps Count Almaviva in his courting of Rosina, whose jealous guardian has his own axe to grind.

It was in 1842 that Giuseppe Verdi, a composer who was to dominate Italian opera for many years, had his first great success with Nabucco. Like Rossini, he worked assiduously over years that he compared to slavery in the galley. His opera La traviata (The Fallen Woman), based on La dame aux camélias of Alexandre Dumas fils, had its first staging in Venice in 1853, and deals with a subject that became dear to some later composers, the story of a courtesan who breaks off her relationship with her young lover, at his father’s behest, only to suffer final poverty and death, finally united once more with her beloved. The 1871 Egyptian opera Aida, written for Cairo, is a tragedy of love, loyalty and self-sacrifice, as the slave-girl of the title faces a conflict between patriotism, love and betrayal, finally to die immured in a tomb with her lover through the machinations of the princess, her rival in love.

Georges Bizet’s French opera Carmen, based on a novel by Prosper Mérimée, introduces a new element of low life into the genre. First staged in 1875, the year of the young composer’s death, the opera is a story of love and jealousy, but set in Seville, with the leading figure the gypsy factory-girl Carmen, who seduces and then deserts her soldier captor, Don José, to bestow her favours on a toreador. In the final scene Don José takes his revenge and kills the girl who has betrayed him.

If there is an element of increasing realism in Bizet’s Carmen, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (Actors) and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) take matters even further. Pagliacci, first staged in 1892, is based on a court case. A company of actors mix drama with reality, when the jealous leading player, Canio, murders his wife, unfaithful in the plot and in reality, on stage. A further example of operatic realism (verismo) is found in Cavalleria Rusticana, a story of village love and jealousy that again ends in violent death.

Giacomo Puccini too draws on ideas of operatic realism in a series of very successful works. Tosca, first seen in Rome, where the plot is set, in 1900, pits the singer of the title against the evil police-chief Baron Scarpia, who imprisons her lover and tries to seduce her in return for the promise of her lover’s release. Tosca murders Scarpia, but has been deceived, when, according to Scarpia’s earlier orders, her lover is shot, leaving her to leap from the prison battlements to her death. Madama Butterfly, first mounted in 1903, is a further tale of love and deception, a Japanese tragedy. The girl of the title sacrifices everything for marriage with an American naval officer, who has no intention of keeping his word. For years she awaits his return, but when he comes back it is with his American wife, and Butterfly kills herself. There is love and death too in La Bohème, set in the Latin quarter of Paris among a young group of artists. At its heart is the love of the poet Rodolfo and the little seamstress Mimì. They separate, for whatever reason, and she is brought back to the young men’s apartment, in the final stages of consumption, to die, as they try to help her.

Keith Anderson

CD 1

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Don Giovanni [Highlights]

Dramma giocoso in 2 Acts
Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte

Don Giovanni – Bo Skovhus
Il Commendatore – Janusz Monarcha
Donna Anna – Adrianne Pieczonka
Don Ottavio – Torsten Kerl
Donna Elvira – Regina Schörg
Leporello – Renato Girolami
Masetto – Boaz Daniel
Zerlina – Ildikó Raimondi

Hungarian Radio Chorus
Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia
Michael Halász

Synopsis

[Track 1] The Overture opens with suggestions of the ghostly conclusion of the opera, a mood soon dispelled. Act 1 opens at night time. [Track 2] In a Seville garden Don Giovanni’s servant Leporello waits in front of Donna Anna’s house, complaining of his life. Voices are heard and he hides. Donna Anna emerges, holding Don Giovanni by the arm, while he tries to hide his identity. As her father, the Commendatore, comes out, she releases Don Giovanni and runs into the house. The Commendatore challenges the Don, who reluctantly defends himself. They fight and the old man falls, mortally wounded. Don Giovanni summons Leporello, who congratulates his master on seducing the daughter and killing the father. Don Ottavio and servants come out, and Donna Anna is horrified at her father’s death, while Don Ottavio, her lover, tries to console her. [Track 3] Donna Anna is in despair, while Don Ottavio offers what comfort he can, both swearing revenge on the unknown murderer.

In a nearby street Leporello deplores the life his master is leading. Don Giovanni tells him that he has another conquest to pursue. They withdraw a little. [Track 4] Donna Elvira, once jilted by Don Giovanni, complains of her treatment, as she seeks her former lover. Eventually Don Giovanni steps forward. She upbraids him, while he seeks to calm her and leaves Leporello to explain what has happened, making his escape. [Track 5] Leporello, in his catalogue aria, lists, by way of consolation, Don Giovanni’s many conquests—women of all classes, ages and degrees of beauty. Donna Elvira vows revenge, furious at this revelation of infidelity.

[Track 6] In the country villagers gather for the marriage of Zerlina and Masetto. They are joined by Don Giovanni and Leporello. Don Giovanni offers the couple his protection and invites the gathering to his castle, telling Leporello to keep Masetto occupied, while he sees to Zerlina. [Track 7] Masetto understands what is going on, thanks Don Giovanni and, in an aside, rebukes Zerlina for her ready compliance. Leporello tries to carry out his master’s orders, eventually leading Masetto away. Don Giovanni, alone with Zerlina, tells her that she is wasted on Masetto and offers to marry her. [Track 8] He is about to lead her into the castle, in spite of her misgivings, when the seduction is interrupted by the appearance of Donna Elvira, full of reproaches for her former lover and ready to rescue Zerlina. Don Giovanni pretends that Donna Elvira is mad through love for him.

[Track 9] Donna Elvira urges Zerlina to escape from Don Giovanni. She leads Zerlina off with her. Alone, Don Giovanni laments his bad luck. He is joined by Don Ottavio and Donna Anna, still unaware of his part in her seduction and the death of her father. They seek his help, which he promises. Donna Elvira returns, [Track 10] warning Don Ottavio and Donna Anna against Don Giovanni. He explains that the woman is mad and finally persuades her to go. Feigning pity for the poor woman, he leaves Don Ottavio and Donna Anna, and goes after her.

[Track 11] Donna Anna at last recognises Don Giovanni’s voice and realise that he killed her father. She begs Don Ottavio to seek revenge. Don Ottavio, alone, resolves to avenge his mistress and her father. [Track 12] He sings of his love for Donna Anna. As Don Ottavio leaves, Leporello and Don Giovanni return. Leporello explains how his provision of entertainment for Masetto and the villagers in the castle was interrupted by Donna Elvira, whom he finally succeeded in shutting out of the castle. [Track 13] Don Giovanni plans a party for all the girls Leporello can find. With dancing and drinking he will add another ten conquests to his list before morning.

In the garden Zerlina tries to convince Masetto that Don Giovanni has not touched her. [Track 14] Masetto admires her wiles. The voice of Don Giovanni is heard, and Zerlina urges Masetto away. He hides, planning to test her fidelity. Don Giovanni enters and Zerlina tries to hide, but is caught by Don Giovanni, who discovers Masetto’s presence. At the sound of dance music all three leave to join the party. Don Ottavio, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira enter, masked, seeking to uncover the villain, and are invited to join the entertainment and Don Giovanni’s attempted seduction of Zerlina is thwarted, with Don Giovanni blaming Leporello as the culprit. Don Ottavio and his companions unmask, accusing Don Giovanni. Together with Masetto, they threaten to reveal his wickedness. At first at a loss, Don Giovanni finally takes courage.

In a street Leporello tries to leave his master’s service, but is placated by money, if his master, will leave off women. Don Giovanni changes clothes with Leporello, in order to woo Donna Elvira’s maid. Evening draws in as they approach the house of Donna Elvira, who is seen at her window. He pushes Leporello forward and addresses her, while Leporello makes suitable gestures. She comes down to meet her lover, to the amusement of Leporello. Don Giovanni tells Leporello to embrace her, as soon as she comes, pretending to be him. Leporello duly embraces her and carries on the pretence, until Don Giovanni leaps out, brandishing his sword. At this Leporello and Donna Elvira take flight.

[Track 15] Don Giovanni serenades Donna Elvira’s maid, accompanying himself on the mandolin. He sees someone at the window, but is interrupted by Masetto, armed and followed by fellow-villagers. Masetto is tricked into surrendering his weapons to Don Giovanni, who beats him with the flat of his sword, before running off. [Track 16] Masetto is joined by Zerlina, who tells him she knows how to cure him. Leporello has led Donna Elvira to a dark courtyard, Donna Anna’s house, wondering how he can get rid of her. Don Ottavio and Donna Anna come out, he bidding her calm herself. Donna Elvira calls out for her beloved and is about to leave, when she is met by Masetto and Zerlina. Eventually Leporello’s identity is revealed, as he edges away. [Track 17] Don Ottavio seeks comfort for Donna Anna, while he lays a complaint against the murderer. [Track 18] Donna Elvira is appalled by news of further acts of debauchery, and foresees a fatal outcome. Don Giovanni has betrayed her and left her to her own unhappiness.

In a graveyard, among the funerary monuments, Don Giovanni glories in the darkness, joined there by Leporello. They hear a solemn voice declaring that before dawn Don Giovanni will laugh no more. Leporello is terrified, fearing a voice from another world, while Don Giovanni draws his sword. The voice is heard again, bidding Don Giovanni leave the dead in peace. Don Giovanni, imagining a trick, looks round and sees the statue of the Commendatore. Leporello is forced to read the inscription on the tomb, threatening revenge on the Commendatore’s killer. Don Giovanni forces Leporello to invite the statue to dinner, to which the statue nods acceptance.

In Don Giovanni’s castle a dinner has been prepared and musicians play. Leporello is in unwilling attendance. Donna Elvira bursts in, to make final proof of her love, but is mocked by Don Giovanni. She goes out, but then screams, rushing back again and making her escape from the other side of the room. Don Giovanni tells Leporello to find out what the matter is, and he too screams in horror. Trembling, he tells Don Giovanni not to go out there, for outside is a dreadful man of stone. There is a solemn knock at the door and Don Giovanni takes a light, and goes to open the door himself, while Leporello hides under the table. [Track 19] Standing at the door is the stone statue of the Commendatore, come to dine with Don Giovanni. Instead he invites Don Giovanni to dine with him. The latter accepts the invitation and the statue seizes and holds his hand. Unrepentant, Don Giovanni cries out as the statue disappears and Don Giovanni, already racked by the tortures of Hell, is drawn down to Hell.

When all is over, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto enter the room, seeking Don Giovanni. Leporello tells them what has happened. Revenge accomplished, Don Ottavio induces Donna Anna to promise marriage after a year. Donna Elvira will withdraw from the world, while Masetto and Zerlina will go home and have their dinner together. Leporello resolves to find a better master, with the others consigning Don Giovanni to the gods of the underworld. [Track 20] They all join in the final moral. This is the end of the evil-doer; as a man lives, so shall he die.

CD 2

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Die Zauberflöte [Highlights]

Opera in 2 Acts
Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder

Tamino – Herbert Lippert
Papageno – Georg Tichy
Sarastro – Kurt Rydl
Pamina – Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz
Papagena – Lotte Leitner
The Queen of the Night – Hellen Kwon
Monostatos – Wilfried Gahmlich

Hungarian Festival Chorus
Failoni Orchestra, Budapest
Michael Halász, Conductor

Synopsis

After the Overture [Track 1] the curtain goes up to reveal a rocky tree-girt landscape, with mountains on each side and a round temple. Tamino, in Japanese hunting-dress, comes down from a rock. He carries a bow but no arrows, pursued by a serpent. He calls for help [Track 2] to be saved by Three Ladies, carrying silver javelins, who hurry in, as Tamino falls unconscious to the ground. They kill the monster and vie in admiration of the handsome young man at their feet. News of his presence must be taken to their mistress, the Queen of the Night. Papageno, the bird-catcher, comes down a footpath. Clad in feathers, he carries a cage on his back, with various birds, and sings and plays the panpipes. His song tells of his life as a bird-catcher [Track 3]. Tamino asks Papageno who he is. In reply to Papageno’s question, Tamino tells him that he is of princely blood. Papageno knows nothing of other lands and people, beyond the mountains that surround the place where he lives. When he learns of the wider world beyond, he sees immediate possibilities for trade with his birds. He tells Tamino that he lives by catching birds for the Queen and her maidens, in return for food and drink. This Queen is the Queen of the Night. Tamino wonders if Papageno, covered with feathers, is human, but Papageno boasts the strength of a giant: after all he has just rescued Tamino by killing the serpent that pursued him. The Three Ladies return, overhearing Papageno’s false claim to bravery. They bring the bird-catcher a proper reward: instead of wine, the first Lady gives him water; instead of sugar-bread, the second gives him a stone, and instead of sweet figs, the third gives him a golden padlock, to close his mouth and stop his boasting. They ask him now if he slew the serpent, to which he can only shake his head. The third Lady tells Tamino that they saved him and gives him a portrait of the great Queen’s daughter, Pamina. Tamino is bewitched by the portrait [Track 4], immediately in love.

The Three Ladies return and assure Tamino that the Queen has heard his words: if he is as brave as he is handsome, her daughter will certainly be saved. Now she held by a wicked spirit. Tamino is horrified, but thunder is heard: the Queen of the Night approaches [Track 5] and goes on to explain her grief at the loss of her daughter, captured by a wicked man: Tamino shall set her free and be united with her. The Three Ladies return, releasing Papageno. Now he can talk, but never lie again. The first Lady gives Tamino a magic flute, with which he can cheer the unhappy. Papageno has been chosen to accompany Tamino as his servant, in his attempt to rescue Pamina from the clutches of Sarastro. Papageno is given a set of bells, a magic glockenspiel.

The scene changes to a magnificent Egyptian room in the palace of Sarastro. Monostatos and his slaves bring in Pamina [Track 6]. Papageno appears at a window, unseen by the blackamoor Monostatos. He explains that Tamino has been charged with Pamina’s rescue. Pamina and Papageno sing of the happiness of the union of two lovers [Track 7]. They go out, eager now to escape Sarastro. In a grove, with three temples, Tamino plays his flute, and animals of all kinds come out to listen. He is amazed at the effect of the magic flute [Track 8], yet Pamina still does not come. The answering call of Papageno’s pipes is heard. As Tamino goes out, Papageno and Pamina come in, hurrying to make good their escape [Track 9]. Papageno plays, and Tamino replies, from afar. As they are about to leave to find him, Monostatos and his slaves enter, barring their way. Papageno saves the situation by playing his magic glockenspiel, which sets Monostatos and the slaves dancing. Sarastro enters with his followers. Pamina falls at his feet, but he bids her rise and assures her that he knows her heart and the love she feels. She must not return to her mother, for a man must guide her heart.

The second act opens with the March of the Priests [Track 10]. Sarastro sings a prayer to Isis and Osiris, beseeching the spirit of wisdom for the initiates [Track 11], as Tamino and his servant are prepared for the ordeals they must undergo. Tamino is led away by two priests while Papageno is led away by another, complaining at all the hardship he must undergo to see his Papagena. The scene now changes to a garden. Pamina is sleeping in the moonlight, and Monostatos creeps in, intent on stealing a kiss, at the least. Monostatos sings of the need for love for all, whatever their colour [Track 12]. He too has a heart, and has every intention of stealing a kiss. As Monostatos approaches, there is a roll of thunder, and the Queen of the Night appears, bidding him back. Pamina wakes up, and greets her mother: she tells the Queen that the young man sent to rescue her has joined the initiates. The Queen now gives Pamina a dagger, in order to kill Sarastro: this murder she must carry out and bring her mother the orb of the sun that he wears. The Queen of the Night sings of the vengeance of Hell that is in her heart [Track 13]. If Pamina does not kill Sarastro, she will be an outcast. A clap of thunder and the Queen of the Night vanishes. Sarastro appears suddenly, saving Pamina and sending Monostatos away. Sarastro sings of the absence of revenge in the temples [Track 14], where love and friendship reign.

Undergoing their initiation ordeals of fasting and silence, Papageno starts eating, while Tamino plays his magic flute. Pamina now joins them, having heard the sound of the flute, but Tamino will not speak to her, following the behest of Sarastro. Pamina feels herself rejected by Tamino, and now can only die [Track 15]. Papageno plays his glockenspiel and realises that what he really wants is a girl or a little wife [Track 16], then he would enjoy eating and drinking and be truly happy. As Papageno finishes his song, an old woman hobbles in: Here I am my angel! The glockenspiel cannot be working properly, says Papageno. She wants him to promise to be true to her, and, when he reluctantly agrees, at once the old woman is transformed into young Papagena, his female counterpart. Pamina rushes in, with a dagger in her hand. She intends to die, abandoned by her beloved Tamino, the result of her mother’s curse. She is about to stab herself, but is restrained by the Three Boys, who have intervened before. They assure her of Tamino’s love and promise to lead her to him. Tamino has no fear of death, but pauses, as he hears the voice of Pamina: now she can go with him. He is allowed to speak to her, and go with her, for she too can be an initiate. Tamino plays his flute, as the couple undergo the ordeals of fire, then of water, coming through unscathed, to be welcomed by the priests. In the garden where Papageno was left, he plays his pipe, forlornly, and contemplates hanging from the nearest tree, only to be rescued at the last minute by the Three Boys, who restrain him and tell him to be wise. He plays his glockenspiel and the Boys lead in Papagena, in her true form. The two greet each other, hesitantly at first [Track 17]. The scene changes to the Temple forecourt. Monostatos creeps in [Track 18], with the Queen of the Night and the Three Ladies bearing torches. Monostatos expects Pamina as a reward for his treachery, but they are interrupted by the sound of thunder and rushing water, the elements uniting to defeat their purpose. Thunder, lightning and a mighty wind, are followed by bright sunshine. Sarastro is seen, with Tamino and Pamina now robed as initiates, by their side the priests and the Three Boys. Sarastro sings of the victory of the sun over night [Track 19], and all ends in light and happiness.

CD 3

Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Il barbiere di siviglia [Highlights]

Opera in 2 Acts
Libretto: Cesare Sterbini

Figaro – Roberto Servile
Rosina – Sonia Ganassi
Conte – Ramón Vargas
Bartolo – Angelo Romero
Don Basilio – Franco de Grandis
Berta – Ingrid Kertesi

Hungarian Radio Chorus
Failoni Chamber Orchestra, Budapest
Will Humburg, Conductor

Synopsis

The well-known Overture [Track 1] leads to the opening scene, in which Count Almaviva, incognito in Seville, serenades his beloved Rosina, calling the smiling dawn to witness [Track 2]. He dismisses the musicians he has engaged, to hear Figaro approaching, singing his song in which he proclaims his importance as general factotum in all Seville [Track 3]. The Count, renewing their acquaintance, explains the circumstances of his presence, his love for Rosina and the difficulties made by her old guardian Dr Bartolo, in whose house she is closely guarded Figaro promises his help, in return for due reward, the idea of gold having its attractions [Track 4]. He suggests that the Count disguise himself as an officer, to be billeted at the doctor’s house. In her room Rosina thinks of her lover, whom she knows as the student Lindoro, hearing his voice in her heart [Track 5]. Don Basilio, Rosina’s music-master arrives and warns Dr Bartolo that Count Almaviva, known to be Rosina’s admirer, is in town: the best weapon against him would be slander, to spread rumours about him [Track 6]. Figaro now finds a chance to tell Rosina about Lindoro and to ask her to write a note to him, which she has already done, although she pretends shyness, asking if she is really the object of Lindoro’s love [Track 7]. Figaro goes, but Dr Bartolo, who has planned to marry his ward and acquire her fortune as soon as possible, sees that she has been writing and is suspicious, since none can deceive a doctor of his cleverness [Track 8]. The Count, disguised as a drunken officer, now claims that he has been billeted on Dr Bartolo and the confusion he causes results in the police being called. The Count secretly reveals his identity to their leader, and is treated with due respect, while the rest of the company stand petrified [Track 9].

In the second act the Count gains entry again to Dr Bartolo’s house, this time as an obsequious music-master Don Alonso, replacing Don Basilio (who is said to be indisposed) wishing pious joy to the household [Track 10]. The Count and Rosina exchange confidences and embark on a song, part of her music lesson, which has a clear meaning for both of them, as love burns in their hearts [Track 11]. The appearance of Don Basilio would have complicated matters, but he is persuaded that he is really ill; a suggestion reinforced by the Count’s bribe of money, as he wishes him good evening and hastens him on his way [Track 12]. Berta, Doctor Bartolo’s housekeeper, has little sympathy with an old man in search of a young wife, or a girl who is willing to marry an old man [Track 13]. An elopement is planned but there are complications when Rosina imagines that Lindoro has planned to betray her to the Count and she tells Dr Bartolo of what is intended. She is amazed and delighted when she has the surprise of learning that Lindoro is really Count Almaviva [Track 14]. He and Figaro have entered her locked room by means of a ladder up to her balcony, but now that they must escape, they find the ladder gone. Don Basilio returns with a notary, summoned by Dr Bartolo for his own intended marriage, and is forced to witness the marriage of Rosina and the Count. Dr Bartolo, who has sought the help of the police to intercept the elopement, returns too late, but is pacified by the promise that he may keep Rosina’s fortune, a happy ending that all will remember [Track 15].

CD 4

Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)
La Traviata [Highlights]

Opera in 3 Acts
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

Violetta Valéry – Monika Krause
Flora Bervoix – Rannveig Braga
Annina – Ivica Neshybová
Alfredo Germont – Yordy Ramiro
Giorgio Germont, his father – Georg Tichy
Dottore Grenvil – Jozef Špaček

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari, conductor

Synopsis

The opera opens with a Prelude [Track 1], including music that will re-appear with great poignancy later. The curtain rises on a brilliant scene, a reception at the house of the fashionable courtesan Violetta, who is talking to her friends when Alfredo comes in, a distant admirer. He gallantly introduces a drinking-song [Track 2], in which the whole company joins. Violetta falters for a moment, as the rest of the company move into an adjoining room, and Alfredo takes the opportunity to declare his love for her [Track 3], but she tells him not to think of her, since she has only friendship to offer him. Left alone, however, she begins to feel the power of true love, after a life of superficial pleasure [Track 4]: perhaps Alfredo is the man her heart really desires. Then she pulls herself together [Track 5], for she has always remained free to take her pleasure where she will. The voice of Alfredo is heard from the garden below, but she takes no heed of his declaration.

The second act opens in a country-house near Paris, where Violetta and AI fredo have established themselves [Track 6]. Alfredo, who has been out shooting, considers the happiness of the last three months with his mistress. Annina, Violetta’s servant, tells him that her mistress is out, forced to sell property to pay for the house. Alfredo is horrified [Track 7] and filled with remorse at his own thoughtlessness. He rushes out, determined to prevent the sale. When Violetta returns, she finds a visitor, Germont, Alfredo’s father, who explains how her relationship with his son damages the prospects of his innocent daughter [Track 8]. Violetta imagines that he only demands a temporary separation, but he insists on a permanent parting, which she would rather die than allow. Nevertheless he persuades her to this act of self-sacrifice, pointing out that, as she grows older, Alfredo will tire of her. Persuaded by this reasoning, Violetta agrees, asking only that Alfredo’s sister be told of the sacrifice she is making, one that will surely bring her death. Alone again, she sits down to write a note making an assignation with Barone Douphol and another to her lover, seeking words to express her feelings [Track 9]. Alfredo comes in and she hides the letter, assuring him of her love and begging him never to stop loving her, as she runs into the garden. Alfredo sits down and opens a book, but a servant tells him that Violetta has left for Paris, leaving him a letter that tells him that she has left him for ever. Germont tries to comfort him and suggests he should now return home again [Track 10]. The second act ends with a scene set in the house of Violetta’s friend Flora Bervoix. Here the guests are entertained by a group of masqueraders disguised as gypsy dancers [Track 11]. AI fredo appears and reproaches Violetta, who has promised not to reveal her reasons for leaving him and keeps her word. Germont leads his son away.

The last act is set in the poor quarters of Paris, where Violetta now lives. The music of the Prelude to the act recalls the happier days of her love for Alfredo. She is ill and the scene is in singular contrast to her earlier life. A letter from Germont [Track 13] tells her that Douphol, the lover she had taken to convince Alfredo of the finality of her action in leaving him, had been injured in a duel with Alfredo, who has left the country. Now, however, learning of her sacrifice, he is returning to beg her forgiveness. She looks in the mirror at her changed features, and realises that she is near to death. Annina announces a visitor, AI fredo, who embraces Violetta passionately [Track 14] and each now assures the other of their love. He suggests that they should make a new life for themselves away from Paris, where Violetta may recover and they may live together in happiness. His promise comes now too late. Annina fetches the doctor, returning also with Germont, who now understands that his action has caused Violetta’s death [Track 15]. Even weaker, she gives Alfredo a medallion with her likeness, as she once was, and tells him to give it to the girl he will marry, assuring them both of her prayers, once she is dead. To the gentle sound of music associated with her earlier days of happiness, Violetta feels sudden relief from pain and weakness, and with radiant happiness on her face, falls dead in her lover’s arms.

CD 5

Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)
Aida [Highlights]

Opera in 4 Acts
Libretto: Antonio Ghislanzoni

Aida – Maria Dragoni
Radamès – Kristjan Johannson
Amneris – Barbara Dever
Amonasro – Mark Rucker
Ramfis – Francesco Ellero D’Artegna
The King of Egypt – Riccardo Ferrari

RT É Philharmonic Choir
RT É Chamber Choir
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
Rico Saccani, conductor

Synopsis

The opening Prelude [Track 1] suggests, in its themes, the conflict that will develop between Aida and the Egyptian priests. The first act opens in a hall in the palace of the Egyptian King at Memphis. The young captain Radamès is in conversation with the High Priest, Ramfis, who hints broadly that the goddess Isis has chosen Radamès to lead the Egyptian armies against the Ethiopians. [Track 2] Left alone, Radamès wonders if it can be true that he is the chosen man, fulfilling his ambition. Then he might return in triumph to his beloved Aida, whose heavenly beauty he praises. The Egyptian princess Amneris suspects that Radamès, whom she loves, is secretly in love with Aida. The King enters with his guards, ministers and priests and declares that the time has come for war against the Ethiopians and their King, Amonasro, Aida’s father. He appoints Radamès to lead the Egyptian armies. [Track 3] They leave for the Temple of Vulcan and Aida is left with divided feelings. She cannot wish Radamès victorious against her own father and her brothers, and yet she loves him. She cannot mention the names or her father and her lover and trembles in confusion, for only death can end her dilemma. [Track 4] In the Temple of Vulcan the rites are performed and priestesses carry out a sacred dance, as Radamès is appointed leader or the armies, to be given his sacred sword and armour.

The second act [Track 5] is set in a room in the quarters of Amneris. Slaves dance before her, singing of coming victory. She dismisses them and is joined by Aida, whose confidence she tries to gain, tricking her into confessing her love for Radamès. Amneris threatens her, in angry jealousy. [Track 6] She orders her to accompany her at the triumphal celebration of victory, leaving Aida to call on the gods for pity. [Track 7] Before the great Temple of Ammon the people crowd around, awaiting the triumphant return of the victors. [Track 8] The army marches in, preceded by fanfares, passing before the King, seated on his throne, with Amneris standing by him. [Track 9] Dancing-girls carry in the spoils or victory. [Track 10] The people sing the praises of the conquerors, their voices joining with those of Ramfis and the priests, giving thanks to the gods. The King greets Radamès as the saviour of his country and promises him whatever he wants. Among the prisoners who are brought in is Amonasro, who conceals his identity. Radamès seeks the release of the prisoners, against the objections or Ramfis, but only Amonasro is detained, as a hostage. The King grants Radamès the hand of his daughter Amneris in marriage, to the dismay of Aida and her lover, while Amonasro secretly assures Aida that revenge is at hand.

The setting for the third act is a starry night by the banks of the Nile. The Temple of Isis can be seen and from within are heard the voices of priests and priestesses. A boat draws near and Amneris disembarks, with Ramfis and some of the court women, and her guards. She enters the temple to seek divine favour on the eve of her marriage. [Track 11] Aida enters cautiously, apparently summoned by Radamès for what she believes must be their last farewell. She remembers the blue skies, sweet breezes, green hills and flowing rivers of her own country. [Track 12] She is startled to see her father, Amonasro, approaching. He tells her that he knows of her difficulties with Amneris and the situation in which she finds herself. With her help, she can be restored to her rightful position in her own country, if she can discover from Radamès the route the Egyptian armies will take. She is horrified at the very suggestion that she should betray her lover. Aida is joined by Radamès, while Amonasro withdraws and hides among the palm-trees. Her own dilemma is reflected in that of her lover, who is reluctant to desert his own country, but eventually agrees to do so. As they are about to hurry away together, Aida asks him about the route to be taken by the Egyptian army, so that they may avoid the soldiers. Radamès, overheard by Amonasro, reveals the army plans, aghast when Amonasro steps forward and reveals himself as Aida’s father and King of Ethiopia. He invites Radamès to join together with the Ethiopians, but they are overheard by Amneris, emerging from the temple. She accuses Radamès of treachery and is threatened with death by Amonasro, but saved by the young captain’s intervention. Ramfis calls the guards and Radamès tells Aida and her father to make their escape, while he stays behind.

The fourth act opens in a hall in the royal palace, outside the door of the prison where Radamès is incarcerated. Amneris regrets the escape of her rival, Aida. Radamès will be condemned as a traitor, although she would save him, if she could. She foresees, however, his condemnation by the priests. [Track 14] Brought in by the guards, he vows to say nothing in his defence, but Amneris tells him that if he does not defend himself he must die. Nevertheless he is ready to face death. [Track 15] She urges him to live and promises to sacrifice everything for him. He had believed Aida dead, but Amneris tells him that Amonasro was killed but that Aida still lives. She will save him, if he gives up Aida, but he prefers death. [Track 16] In fury Amneris threatens revenge, if he continues to reject her. [Track 17] Radamès, however, will accept death as a great good and has no fear of the threatened revenge of Amneris. Radamès is taken away by the guards and Amneris is left in despair, blaming herself for his capture. She sees the priests, led by Ramfis, seeking divine guidance, while she prays for his release. Finally Radamès is condemned to death, immured, living, in the tomb. Amneris pleads for him, but in vain, and ends by cursing the priests, as they go out.

The final scene is on two levels, the upper representing the interior of the temple, splendid in its gold and light. Below is an underground chamber, with long arcades disappearing into the distance. Radamès is there, as two priests seal the entrance with a stone. [Track 18] He is prepared to die, losing the light of day and his beloved Aida. At this moment Aida reveals herself. She explains how she has hidden in the tomb, anticipating his death. He is overcome with emotion at her sacrifice and, almost in a trance, she tells him how she sees the angel of death drawing near; Heaven now awaits them. The voices of the priests are heard from above, singing their hymn of death. Radamès tries to move the stone that seals the chamber, but without success. [Track 19] Together they bid the earth farewell, while the priests continue their chant. Amneris, dressed in mourning, appears in the temple above, throwing herself down on the stone that seals the underground vault. In the tomb below Aida dies in the arms of her lover, while Amneris prays to Isis for them and the priests call on the great god Fthá.

CD 6

Georges Bizet (1838–1875)
Carmen [Highlights]

Opera in 4 Acts
Libretto: Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy

Carmen – Graciela Alperyn
Don José – Giorgio Lamberti
Escamillo – Alan Titus
Micaëla – Doina Palade
Mercédès – Dalia Schaechter
Frasquita – Ann Liebeck
Zuniga – Danilo Rigosa

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari

Synopsis

[Track 1] The Prelude to the opera includes music associated with the toreador Escamillo, immediately followed by the sinister Fate theme. The first act opens with a group of soldiers, lounging in the square in front of the tobacco-factory where Carmen works. They discuss the girls and are joined by Micaëla, who is looking for Don José but does not wait with the soldiers. The guard changes and Don José takes over, with his men. [Track 2] The factory-bell sounds, a signal for the girls in the factory to stop work, the moment the men outside have been waiting for. Carmen is, of course, the centre of their attention, and here sings her famous Habanera [Track 3] recounting the dangers of love and the danger of flouting her, if she is in love with anyone. As she leaves to return to work, she looks round and throws a flower at the feet of Don José, leaving him to a gradual realisation of her power over him. The act continues with a scene between Don José and Micaëla which does something to restore his equanimity. There is a fracas in the factory and Carmen is arrested, later to induce Don José to allow her to escape, fascinating him with her Seguidilla [Track 4].

The second act is set in the tavern of Lillas Pastia, introduced by an Entr’acte [Track 5] that recalls the soldier’s song of Don José and the world he now seems about to leave for the gypsy life of Carmen. She and her friends Frasquita and Mercédès are found in the tavern with a group of officers and Captain Zuniga tells Carmen of Don José’s arrest for dereliction of duty, his release and his demotion. The toreador Escamillo comes in and proposes a toast to the officers, with whom he has fellow feeling as a warrior in the bull-ring [Track 6]. He then concentrates his attention on Carmen, who rejects his advances. When Escamillo and the officers have gone, Lillas Pastia calls in two smugglers, planning to bring contraband into Spain from Gibraltar. Carmen at first refuses to join the enterprise, since she is in love with Don José. When he comes in, he tells her of his love for her, recalling the flower that she threw him [Track 7] and that he has treasured ever since. She tries to persuade her lover to join her and the smugglers but he refuses, vowing to leave her, until the voice of Captain Zuniga is heard, calling for Carmen. When Don José is ordered back to barracks, he draws his sword against the officer, inevitably throwing in his lot with the brigands, who overpower and disarm Zuniga.

The Entr’acte [Track 8] depicts the tranquil serenity of the country, where the third act is set. It is night at the smuggler’s mountain hide-away, where bales of contraband are being moved. The brigands urge one another to caution, singing of the dangers of their trade and its rewards [Track 9]. Don José has regrets at the step he has taken, thinking of his mother, while Carmen, with growing impatience, bids him be gone. He moves away and sits apart, while Carmen and her friends while away the time by telling each other’s fortunes: Carmen’s fate is to be death. As the task of the smugglers continues, Carmen and her friends declare their willingness to deal with the customs officer [Track 10], using their feminine charms. Micaëla comes in search of her beloved Don José, summoning up all her courage in this dangerous place and calling on Heaven to protect her [Track 11]. She tells Don José of the mortal illness of his mother and Carmen too urges him to go. As he does so, the voice of Escamillo is heard, exciting his rival’s jealousy yet again.

[Track 12] The Entr’acte that precedes the fourth act of the opera is based on an Andalusian melody and leads to a scene set in a square in Seville, in front of the bull-ring. [Track 13] An excited crowd awaits the appearance of its hero, the toreador Escamillo, who now comes in, with Carmen at his side, greeted by the people. Turning to her, he tells her that if she loves him she will have cause to be proud of him, and she assures him of her love. The Mayor and his guards enter the amphitheatre, followed by the rest of the procession, and her friends warn Carmen not to stay, for fear of Don José, who has been lurking in the crowd. Now they are left alone together and Carmen tells Don José that she has been warned to be careful. He urges her to return to him, but she is adamant in her refusal, whatever it may bring. The sound of the crowd applauding Escamillo’s success is heard; exciting Carmen’s admiration and provoking Don José’s jealousy still more. She attempts to leave him, but he holds her back, although once more she tells him that she does not love him. The crowd is heard again from the arena, and Don José takes his final revenge, stabbing her to the heart, as the crowd repeats the words of the toreador’s song, promising love as the reward of victory.

CD 7

Pietro Mascagni (1863–1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana [Highlights]

Opera in 1 Act
Libretto: Giovanni Targioni and Guido Menasci

Santuzza – Stefka Evstatieva
Turiddu – Giacomo Aragall
Alfio – Eduard Tumagian
Lola – Anna di Mauro
Mamma Lucia – Alzbeta Michalková

Slovak Philharmonic Choir
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari

Synopsis

The Prelude [Track 1] presents three melodies that have later importance in the opera. After the opening, suggesting the church, themes associated with Santuzza’s pleas to Turiddu are heard. The introduction to the opera continues with the sound of Turiddu, daring to sing of his love for Lola, even if it brings his death. The curtain rises [Track 2] to reveal a village square in Sicily. To the right is a church, and to the left the inn and house of Mamma Lucia. It is Easter morning and the church bells are heard. As day dawns, people gather, the church doors open and they enter. The voices of the women are heard welcoming the orange-blossom and the coming of spring. They are joined with those of the men, now resting from their labour in the fields. Santuzza comes into the square, looking for Mamma Lucia and her son, Turiddu, who has been seen in the village the night before, although he is supposed to be away on an errand. Alfio, the village carter, appears, happily praising his work and the beauty of his faithful wife, Lola. He asks Mamma Lucia if she has yet received the wine she was expecting, and she tells him that Turiddu has not yet returned. Alfio, however, had seen Turiddu early in the morning in the village, near his own house. Santuzza interrupts to prevent Lucia saying more, while Alfio leaves to prepare himself for church, from which voices are now heard singing the Regina coeli [3]. Finally those who are still outside in the square go into the church, leaving Santuzza and Lucia alone. Santuzza tells her how Turiddu was once in love only with Lola, before he went to be a soldier and how, but in his absence Lola had married Alfio. Turiddu had then turned to her for consolation and she returned his love. Lola then became jealous, and lured Turiddu away. She asks for Lucia’s prayers. Lucia goes into the church, as Turiddu returns, surprised to see Santuzza and unwilling to talk to her. She tells him that Alfio had seen him near his own house early in the morning. Santuzza pleads with him, but he tells her that her jealousy is groundless. Lola’s voice is heard. She comes into the square and asks Turiddu if he has seen Alfio. Santuzza tells her, pointedly, that God sees everything and only those free from sin should go to Mass. Lola is confident of her fitness and leaves Santuzza and Turiddu alone again. Turiddu is angry, but Santuzza continues to plead with him, begging him not to abandon her. He will not listen and declares he will never forgive her. She threatens him and in fury he throws her down to the ground and goes into the church. Santuzza curses him. She is joined by Alfio, and tells him of his wife’s infidelity, at which Alfio swears to be revenged, his love for Lola turned to hate. The orchestral Intermezzo [4] summarises what has gone before and suggests what is to come.

The people leave the church and Lucia goes into her inn. Lola and Turiddu come out of the church together, and she tells him that she is going home to find her husband. He calls to his fellow villagers to join him in drinking, and they all gather outside the inn. Turiddu sings a drinking-song [Track 5] and toasts Lola and her admirers. Alfio appears and Turiddu invites him to join them, but Alfio refuses the wine Turiddu offers, which would be poison to him. Turiddu empties the beaker on the ground, while Lola is persuaded by the other women to leave the men alone, and they go. Turiddu asks if Alfio has anything to say to him, but Alfio says there is nothing to say. Turiddu awaits Alfio’s invitation, and Alfio suggests an immediate meeting. They embrace and Turiddu bites Alfio’s right ear, a sign that the challenge is accepted. Turiddu, however, has regrets, for if he dies, Santuzza will be left alone. Alfio cuts short his talk and tells him that he will wait for him behind the orchard. Turiddu calls to his mother and, when she comes out, tells her that he has drunk too much [Track 6] and will take a walk in the open air. First, though, he seeks her blessing and asks her, if he should not return, to look after Santuzza, as if she were her own daughter. Lucia asks him what he means, but he makes his drinking the excuse, still seeking her prayers and a kiss, before he goes. He runs out, and Lucia calls after him. Santuzza enters, to be embraced by Mamma Lucia. She is followed by villagers, anxious and agitated, until a cry is heard from the distance, announcing the death of Turiddu. Women come in, in fear, while Santuzza swoons and Lucia also faints, supported by the other women, as the curtain falls.

CD 7

Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857–1919)
Pagliaci [Highlights]

Opera in 2 Acts

Nedda – Miriam Gauci
Canio – Nicola Martinucci
Tonio – Eduard Tumagian
Beppe – Miroslav Dvorsky
Silvio – Bo Skovhus

Slovak Philharmonic Choir
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari

Synopsis

After the orchestral introduction [Track 7], Tonio comes forward [Track 8], seeking the indulgence of the audience. He explains that the coming play is true, not fiction, and written from the memory of events that still affect the writer. It is a story of love, hatred and sorrow. The audience should understand that actors are human, with feelings like those of the audience. He calls on the actors to begin.

The people of the village celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, gathering to see the players arrive. Canio, standing on his cart, announces the coming entertainment, promising the sight of Pagliaccio’s revenge and of the intrigues and discomfiture of the clown Tonio. Tonio makes to help Nedda down from the cart [9] and is cuffed by Canio, who takes her by the arm. Beppe drags the cart away, while Tonio threatens revenge. A group of villagers invite the players to drink with them, but Tonio alone refuses. The villagers suggest that Tonio wants to stay behind to pay court to Nedda, but Canio tells them that it is better not to joke like that, because acting and real life are not the same. On the stage Pagliaccio catches his wife with her lover, a subject for comedy, but if Nedda seriously were to be caught out like that it would be quite another matter.

Excitedly the villagers welcome the sound of the bagpipes, but it is time for Vespers. Canio tells those who have invited him to wait for a moment, while he goes behind the stage erected in the village square. To the sound of the bells [10] the villagers prepare to go to the church for Vespers. Nedda is left alone and thinks that Canio may discover her secret love. She welcomes the mid-August sunshine and the birds that her mother understood so well. [Track 11] She delights in the birds, singing and flying through the sky, towards the realisation of their desires, whatever may come, as her thoughts do. She is interrupted by Tonio, who has been listening. She laughs at him. Tonio tells her that, although he may be ugly and deformed, he is in love with her. She finds the idea ridiculous and tells him to keep his desires for the play. He tries to kiss her and she strikes him with a whip. He goes, vowing revenge, while she declares that she is not afraid of him. Silvio appears, begging her to stay with him, when the players move on the next day. He tries to persuade her to escape with him that night. They are observed by Tonio, who slips away to the tavern. Silvio continues, and Nedda gives way. Tonio has found Canio, whom he now leads to the scene. They hear the lovers plan to elope that night, but Silvio, unrecognised by Canio, makes his escape and is pursued in vain. Returning, Canio presses Nedda to reveal the name of her lover, but she refuses to divulge it. He threatens her with a dagger, but is restrained by Beppe, who urges Canio to make ready for the play. Tonio tells Canio that it is better to pretend and that he will watch out for Nedda’s lover in the audience. Beppe urges Canio to make ready and tells Tonio to bang the drum.

Canio is distraught and finds his task hard [Track 12], to play the clown in these circumstances. He must don his costume and make-up to amuse the public, whatever his own feelings. [Track 13] Beppe comes forward sounding the trumpet, while Tonio bangs the drum. Beppe then arranges the benches for the audience, who now come excitedly in, urged on by Tonio as they take their places. Silvio is among them, taking a seat in the front row and then moving to exchange a word with Nedda, who is collecting ticket money. She tells him to be careful but that Canio has not recognised him. The audience is impatient, while Beppe tries to deal with them. Eventually he and Nedda go behind the stage. A bell sounds and the curtain is drawn back. In the play Nedda, as Columbina, is seated at a table, from time to time looking round impatiently to the door. Her husband Pagliaccio is late coming back, and why is that idiot Taddeo not there. She hears the sound of a guitar from outside and with a cry of joy runs to the window, serenaded by Beppe as Arlecchino. She signs to him that the coast is clear, but Tonio, as Taddeo, comes in and declares his love for her; her husband is away and now they are alone. Ironically he praises her purity, as white as snow. Meanwhile Arlecchino has made his way into the room, carrying a bottle, which he puts on the table. He takes Taddeo by the ear and gives him a kick, turning him out. Columbina and Arlecchino embrace. He sits down at the table, while Columbina sets two places and puts a chicken on the table. They are interrupted by the return of Taddeo, announcing the arrival of Pagliaccio. Columbina tells Arlecchino to go and he leaps out of the window, telling her to pour a draught from the bottle into Pagliaccio’s drink, before he goes to sleep. She promises to join him that night, overheard by Pagliaccio. Pagliaccio reproaches Columbina, who declares that he is mad or drunk. He sees two places set at the table, but she tells him the other place was for Taddeo. Called in, Taddeo pretends to be afraid, assuring Pagliaccio that his wife is pure and chaste, to the amusement of the audience. Pagliaccio insists on knowing the man’s name. Unable to restrain himself any longer [Track 14], Canio declares that he is no longer Pagliaccio, now demanding blood to wipe out disgrace. He reminds Nedda how he found her, an orphan, almost dead from hunger, and gave her a name and his love. The audience comments on the realism of the scene, while Canio continues his reproaches. Nedda coldly tells him to let her go, if she is unworthy of him. He will have none of it, but must know the name of her lover, as he seeks, seemingly, to return to the play again. Nedda tries to continue her part and assures him that it was the timid, harmless Arlecchino who was with her. Canio, though, accuses her of infidelity and demands the name of her lover or her life, but she refuses to tell him [Track 15], as the audience begins to realise that the scene is real, not acting. She refuses to name her lover. Beppe tries to intervene, but is held back by Tonio. Canio seizes a knife from the table, as Nedda tries to escape among the audience. Canio seizes her and strikes her with the knife. As she falls, she calls on Silvio for help. He cries out and is stabbed to the heart by Canio. Disarmed by the audience, Canio declares that the play is over – La commedia è finita.

CD 8

Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
Tosca [Highlights]

Opera in 3 Acts
Libretto: Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Tosca – Nelly Miricioiu
Cavaradossi – Giorgio Lamberti
Baron Scarpia – Silvano Carroli
Spoletta – Miroslav Dvorsky
Sciarrone – Jan Durco
Gaoler – Stanislav Benačka
Sacristan – Jozef Špaček

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari

Synopsis

The scene is Church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle in Rome. On the right is the Attavanti Chapel and on the left, a scaffolding with a large painting on it, covered with a cloth, with painter’s brushes and colours and a basket. The republican nobleman Angelotti, escaped from prison, steals in and hides in the family chapel. The Sacristan complains about the work made for him by the artist Cavaradossi, who enters and sets to work on his painting of St Mary Magdalen, which, to the scandal of the old Sacristan, bears a close resemblance to a gentlewoman who comes each day to pray, the sister of Angelotti [Track 1]. Cavaradossi takes out a miniature of Tosca, at which he gazes, praising her beauty, and comparing her with the subject of his portrait, while the Sacristan complains of this blasphemy. As he goes, the fugitive nobleman Angelotti emerges from hiding, eventually recognised by Cavaradossi, who quickly moves to shut the church door, giving him his own basket of food. As the voice of Tosca is heard outside [Track 2], he hurries Angelotti into hiding once more.

Tosca, a famous singer, is at first suspicious of Cavaradossi, since she has heard him talking to someone and had found the church door locked. She urges Cavaradossi to meet her that evening after the theatre, to go together to his little villa. She sings of this idyllic cottage [Track 3] and of their future happiness, but shows signs of jealousy when she sees the picture, with blue eyes, rather than her own black eyes [Track 4]. As Tosca leaves, Cavaradossi reassures Angelotti, who has emerged again from hiding, praising Tosca’s loyalty, although he has told her nothing. He agrees to help Angelotti escape with the disguise that his sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, has arranged for him, to help him evade the wicked chief of police, Baron Scarpia. The latter appears, with his henchman Spoletta, amid public rejoicing at the defeat of Napoleon, to investigate the disappearance of Angelotti, whose sister he recognises in Cavaradossi’s painting. He himself has designs on Tosca, and from the empty food-basket and a fan with the Attavanti coat of arms, he infers that Cavaradossi has assisted Angelotti’s escape, with the help of the latter’s sister. He resolves to use the fan, at least, to arouse Tosca’s jealousy. People crowd into the church and Scarpia signals to Spoletta, telling him to follow Tosca [Track 5]. He gloats over his intended victim and now has two desires, to see Angelotti hanged and to possess Tosca, his evil intentions in contrast to the Te Deum sung to celebrate victory over Napoleon.

The second act is set in Scarpia’s rooms, on an upper floor of the palace. It is night, and Scarpia is taking his supper. He looks at his watch impatiently and remarks out aloud on the usefulness of Tosca in leading him to his victims Angelotti and Cavaradossi [Track 6]. He learns from his agent Sciarrone that Tosca has been sent for, as he ordered. From below, where the Queen of Naples is giving a ball to celebrate victory, comes the sound of music. Spoletta enters to tell him that Cavaradossi’s villa has been searched, but nothing found: Cavaradossi, however, has been arrested and is interrogated by his captor. Tosca rushes in, anxious to help her lover, and is left with Scarpia, who orders Cavaradossi to be taken away and questioned in the adjacent torture-chamber. He shows her the fan, to excite her jealousy, and then bids her tell him what she knows [Track 7]. When she refuses to reveal anything, he tells Spoletta to open the door, so that she may hear Cavaradossi’s suffering. This convinces her, and she admits that she knows that Angelotti is hiding in the well in the garden, where she had earlier followed her lover in jealousy. Scarpia has Cavaradossi brought in and the lovers greet each other (Track 8]. She is appalled at his suffering, while he realises that she has betrayed him and thrusts her away. Sciarrone rushes in, excitedly announcing news of a new victory for Bonaparte. Cavaradossi greets the news with jubilation, while Tosca tries to silence him, and Scarpia threatens execution. Cavaradossi is dragged away, to Tosca’s protests, and she is left alone with Scarpia, who suggests that together they find a way to save the man. Tosca asks the cost [Track 9] and Scarpia demands her honour. She jumps up, aghast, and threatens to jump from the window if he comes near her. She thinks of appealing to the Queen, in the apartments below, but Scarpia tells her that that will cost Cavaradossi his life. She tells Scarpia that she hates him, but this further arouses his desire for her. A drum-roll is heard, and he bids her look out of the window, to see prisoners being led to execution. She kneels in supplication, protesting her passionate devotion to her art and to virtue, doing harm to none [Track 10]. Spoletta rushes in to announce the suicide of Angelotti and is told that, now with Tosca’s nodded agreement, Cavaradossi is to pretend to be shot by the firing-squad, but allowed to escape. Spoletta understands very well that this ruse is designed to deceive Tosca and that Cavaradossi is actually to be executed. Scarpia gives his word [Track 11] and Tosca seeks a safe-conduct for herself and her lover, which Scarpia starts to write. As he writes, Tosca sees a knife on the table, which she takes and hides behind her, and when Scarpia has finished writing and sealed the document, she stabs him. As he falls, he curses her, but she quickly leaves the room, taking the safe-conduct with her, having placed burning candles at Scarpia’s head and a crucifix on the corpse.

It is night on a platform on the battlements of the Castel Sant’ Angelo [Track 12], with stars shining in the clear sky. Sheep-bells can be heard and the voice of a shepherdboy, singing his distant song of unrequited love [Track 13]. The matins bell rings and the bells of other churches. A gaoler, carrying a lantern, comes up the stairs into the room. Cavaradossi is brought in and the gaoler stands and salutes the sergeant, who hands his prisoner over [Track 14]. There is still an hour to go before the execution, but Cavaradossi rejects the offer of a priest, asking leave to write a last letter to Tosca, promising the man, in return, his last possession, his ring. He sits down and starts to write, but breaks off to reflect on his love for Tosca in happier times, as the stars shone, her sweet kisses and embraces and her beauty [Track 15]. Spoletta comes up the stairs, with the sergeant, followed by Tosca. He tells the sentry to watch the couple, and leaves them together. Tosca, too full of feeling to speak, rushes over to Cavaradossi and gives him the safe-conduct she has taken from Scarpia. He reads the document [Track 16], a safe-conduct for Tosca and the gentleman who accompanies her. She goes on to explain what had been demanded of her in return and how she had killed Scarpia. He marvels that her gentle hands could be so strong [Track 17] and she tells him what she thinks has been arranged, with his mock-execution and their coming escape together. She reminds him that he must be seen to fall when the firing-squad shoots, and as the soldiers approach, the two lovers sing of their coming joy and final triumph.

Dawn breaks and a bell is heard striking four, the hour of execution that Scarpia had set. The period of waiting is long [Track 18] and Tosca warns Cavaradossi once again to remember to fall down when the men fire. He takes leave of her and follows the officer, while she looks on, impatient. Cavaradossi refuses a bandage for his eyes and the ritual of execution proceeds slowly. The soldiers raise their guns and the signal is given. The men fire and Cavaradossi falls. The sergeant inspects the body and Spoletta prevents the sergeant from giving the coup de grâce. The soldiers now withdraw and Tosca tells her lover to lie still until all is safe. She looks over the parapet and goes back to him where he lies, telling him to stand up and make his escape, [Track 19] but to her horror she finds that he is really dead: Scarpia has outwitted her. She is in despair, and now cries are heard from a distance, as the murder of Scarpia is discovered and the alarm is raised. Spoletta and Sciarrone mount the staircase to seize Tosca, but she pushes them back and rushes to the battlements, leaping over to her death, now to meet Scarpia again before the throne of God. Sciarrone and some of the soldiers rush to the battlements and look down, while Spoletta stands aghast.

CD 9

Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
Madama Buterfly [Highlights]

Opera in 3 Acts
Libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica

Madama Butterfly (Cio-Cio-San) – Miriam Gauci
Suzuki – Nelly Boschkowa
FB Pinkerton – Yordy Ramiro
Sharpless – Georg Tichy
Goro – Jozef Abel
Mother of Cio-Cio-San – Anna Tomkovicová
Aunt of Cio-Cio-San – Mária Stahelová
Cousin of Cio-Cio-San – Elena Hanzelová

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari

Synopsis

The period is the present (1904). The scene is outside a small Japanese house, set on a hill overlooking the port of Nagasaki. There is a terrace and a garden, and, in the distance below, the harbour and city. The obsequious marriage-broker Goro shows the American Pinkerton the delights of the little house on the hill, and introduces the servants, as they await the arrival of Cio-Cio-San. Pinkerton is joined by the American consul Sharpless, telling him of the variable nature of Japanese contracts, for houses or in marriage. Pinkerton now sings in praise of the life of a roving Yankee [Track 1], anchoring where he will, and explaining to Sharpless his intention to undertake only a temporary arrangement, terminable, like the lease on the house, at a month’s notice.

Sharpless asks if the bride is beautiful [Track 2], bringing from Goro praise of her beauty, comparable to fresh flowers, a star with golden beams, and only costing a hundred yen. He offers Sharpless an assortment of such beauties. Pinkerton impatiently tells him to fetch Butterfly and he hurries away. Sharpless warns Pinkerton that, once married, he will find Butterfly a tartar, but Pinkerton can only comment on the delicacy of Cio-Cio-San, like a figure on a Japanese screen, a graceful butterfly [Track 3]. Sharpless warns Pinkerton that the girl’s love is not to be taken lightly. The latter offers his guest whisky and they drink to Pinkerton’s family in America and to his future wife, a true American.

Goro rushes in to announce the imminent arrival of the wedding-party [Track 4], heard approaching. The procession gradually comes into view, many of the girls carrying different coloured parasols. They see Pinkerton, shut their parasols, and, after Butterfly, greet him.

The marriage ceremony takes place, interrupted only by the appearance of Cio-Ciosan’s uncle, a Bonze, who curses her for rejecting her own religion and country and urges the guests to leave at once. Cio-Cio-san is disturbed by what her uncle has said: now she is isolated, a renegade. Pinkerton tells her not to cry [Track 5], since all her family and all the Bonzes in Japan are not worth her tears. She begins to be comforted, kissing his hand, a sign, she thinks, of respect among educated people. The voice of her servant Suzuki is heard, at her prayers, as Butterfly explains to Pinkerton. It grows darker, as he leads her towards their house. Now the evening is drawing on [Track 6], but she cannot forget what she has heard. Pinkerton claps his hands and the servants come running in. He tells them to shut the house for the night. Suzuki comes to prepare Butterfly for the night. She takes off her bridal dress and dons a white robe, looking at herself in the glass. Pinkerton tells her of his love for her, now she is his alone: dressed in white she is like the goddess of the moon [Track 7]. They stand together looking at the heavens. She has a moment of fear, as if hearing again the cries of her family, but then turns again to Pinkerton, whose love will banish all sorrow.

Night has now fallen and Butterfly kneels before Pinkerton and looks at him with tender supplication, seeking his love, but when he compares her with a real butterfly, she takes fright: in America butterflies are caught and killed with a needle through the body, fixed to a board. Pinkerton re-assures her she looks again at the beauty of the stars, as he leads her into the house.

The scene of the second act takes place some time later. Pinkerton has long gone, and Butterfly and her servant Suzuki pray for his return, Suzuki praying to her gods, but Butterfly claiming superiority for the American god. Suzuki thinks Pinkerton’s return unlikely, but Butterfly remains hopeful. One fine day we shall see smoke on the horizon and then his ship will appear, white in the harbour [Track 8]. Butterfly will wait for him and will see him as he climbs the hill to their house. For a moment she will tease him by hiding and then reveal herself, and all will be as before.

Sharpless, the consul, comes to tell her that he has had a letter from Pinkerton, but they are interrupted by Goro, who introduces the old suitor Yamadori, supported by Sharpless, who knows well the situation. Sharpless urges her to accept Yamadori, but she rejects this idea with indignation. She goes out and returns carrying her child, something that Pinkerton cannot ignore, and once Goro has gone, she thinks of her child [Track 9], her sorrow and her comfort: his father and protector some day will come and take him away to a far land.

Suzuki sees a warship in the harbour, and Butterfly, who joins her on the terrace, sees that the ship is white and flying the American flag. She takes a telescope and trembling with anticipation sees that it is Pinkerton’s ship. She tells Suzuki to gather blossom from the cherry-tree. Now the whole house must be full of flowers [Track 10], as the night is full of shining stars. They busy themselves, garlanding the room with flowers in preparation for Pinkerton’s return, and then make themselves ready for his arrival, Butterfly in her wedding robes. As they wait, night falls, but they continue watching. There is a distant humming of unseen voices [Track 11]. Suzuki and the boy fall asleep, but Butterfly remains awake, waiting for her husband.

Dawn is breaking and Butterfly is seen, motionless, still watching, while the other two sleep. The distant cries of sailors are heard and the sounds of activity in the harbour [Track 12]. Birds sing in the garden, as the sun rises. Butterfly rouses herself and takes her sleeping child into an inner room and Suzuki says she will wake her when Pinkerton comes. He arrives, accompanied by Sharpless, who eventually reveals to Suzuki the truth that Pinkerton has returned with his American wife. It is proposed that the Pinkertons take the child away with them, and Butterfly, at first delighted at the idea of Pinkerton’s return, slowly comes to understand what has happened. Pinkerton himself has not been able to face her, and has left Sharpless and his wife Kate to deal with the matter. Butterfly, betrayed and heart-broken, says she will obey her husband and will give him the child, if he so commands.

Only one choice is open to Butterfly. The only honourable solution is death. Left alone, she takes out the ritual blade that had been her father’s, with its inscription, “He dies with honour, who cannot live with honour” [Track 13]. She puts the dagger to her throat, but the door suddenly opens and Suzuki pushes the boy towards his mother, who drops the dagger and embraces him. She then bids the child farewell, now that he can travel to another land and no longer be troubled by her. She takes the child and blindfolds him, putting in his hands an American flag and telling him to play. She then picks up the dagger and moves behind the screen. The dagger is heard falling and Butterfly struggles towards the boy, embracing him once more, before collapsing. At this moment the voice of Pinkerton is heard, as he climbs the hill to the house. The door opens violently and Pinkerton and Sharpless rush in. Butterfly can only gesture towards the child, as she dies. Pinkerton falls on his knees by her side, while Sharpless sees to the boy. The tragedy has run its course.

CD 10

Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
La Bohème [Highlights]

Opera in 4 Acts
Libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica

Mimì – Luba Orgonasova
Rodolfo – Jonathan Welch
Musetta – Carmen Gonzales
Marcello – Fabio Previati
Schaunard – Boaz Senator
Colline – Ivan Urbas
Alcindoro – Jiri Sulzenko
Sergente – Stanislav Benacka

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Bratislava Children’s Choir
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Will Humburg

Synopsis

In a garret in the artists’ quarter of Paris, the young poet Rodolfo is gazing out of the window over the snow-covered roofs, while Marcello, a painter, is at work on his biblical painting. The Crossing of the Red Sea. The two men talk together [Track 1]. Rodolfo, meanwhile, looks at the smoking chimneys of other houses, while their own stove remains unlit. Marcello laments the falsity of Musetta, and Rodolfo assures him that love, like a stove, needs stoking. Rejecting the former’s idea of burning one of the chairs, so that they may warm themselves, Rodolfo offers to burn the manuscript of his play.

Other friends return, the musician Schaunard with some money he has earned, and they set out for the Café Momus, leaving Rodolfo alone. There is a timid knock at the door and he is joined by Mimì, who lodges in the same house and seeks a light for her candle. She is seized with a fit of coughing and is revived by Rodolfo. About to leave, she cannot find her key [Track 2]. Her candle blows out and Rodolfo runs to bring his own from the table, but that too is blown out by the draught from the staircase. The room is in darkness and the two now search for the key. Their hands meet and Rodolfo exclaims on the coldness of her little hand [Track 3]. He tells her they must wait for a shaft of moonlight, so that they may find the key. He tells her that he is a poet and writer, and she, in return, tells him her name, Mimì [Track 4], explaining that her real name is Lucia and that she is a seamstress, living alone. Rodolfo’s friends call to him from the street below, while Rodolfo praises the girl’s beauty, as she stands in the moonlight [Track 5].

The second act opens outside the Café Momus in the Latin Quarter of Paris. The place is crowded with street vendors and people out for enjoyment on Christmas Eve. The hawker Parpignol approaches, wheeling a barrow of toys, decorated with paper flowers and lanterns. He is followed by an enthusiastic group of urchins [Track 6]. As he moves on, the friends order from the waiter, and Mimì shows them the new bonnet that Rodolfo has bought her. Marcello’s friend Musetta comes in with the old man Alcindoro, whom she is teasing and provoking [Track 7], while seeking to attract the attention of the young artists, particularly that of Marcello [Track 8]. Eventually she packs old Alcindoro off on an improbable errand and joins Marcello. Their bill is brought [Track 9], as the sound is heard of soldiers marching nearer. Musetta tells the waiter to add the bill to that of Alcindoro, who will settle them both, and the friends leave together, merrily following the soldiers.

The third act brings a very different scene. It is a cold February morning at the Barrière d’ enfer (Hell’s Gate), the toll gate at the entrance to the city. To the left is a tavern, with Marcello’s great painting, The Crossing of the Red Sea, hanging outside as an inn-sign. The ground is covered with snow and the trees are grey and gaunt. Occasional sounds of revelry can be heard from the tavern. A gang of street-sweepers approach the toll-gate and call for admittance to the city [Track 10], and one of the officials lazily stirs himself and goes to open the gate. Mimì appears, racked by a fit of coughing. Approaching the sergeant, she asks if this is the tavern where the painter is working. As a serving-woman comes out of the tavern, Mimì asks to speak to Marcello. Day is now breaking and the place is coming to life, as more people pass through the gate. Couples now leave the tavern, followed by Marcello, who greets Mimì in surprise [Track 11]. He tells her that he is earning a living by painting and that Musetta is teaching the customers to sing. Mimì is looking for Rodolfo, who loves her but has left her, through jealousy. Marcello advises her to part for good with Rodolfo, who is now sleeping on a tavern bench. She breaks into a fit of coughing, but hides when Rodolfo comes out of the tavern. He tells Marcello that he wants to be done with Mimì [Track 12]: his love for her is dead, but revives when he looks into her eyes. Marcello advises separation, if love brings such misery and jealousy, although he doubts the truth of Rodolfo’s complaints. Rodolfo expresses his love for Mimì and his fears that she must soon die. He blames himself for the poor conditions in which she must live with him. Mimi bursts out coughing, and Rodolfo turns anxiously towards her, surprised that she is there. Musetta’s laughter is heard from within, as she jests with the customers. Marcello goes into the tavern, leaving the lovers alone together. She asks Rodolfo to send her few possessions [Track 13], for now she will leave him, but he can keep the little bonnet that he bought her when they first met, as a souvenir of their love. The sound of breaking plates and quarrelling between Marcello and Musetta is heard, and the latter storms off, leaving Marcello to go back into the tavern again. Rodolfo and Mimì have a sadder and calmer parting, looking forward to the end of the bitter winter of their love and the coming of spring, the season of flowers [Track 14].

The fourth act takes place in the attic room where Rodolfo and Mimì had first met. Marcello is painting and Rodolfo sitting at the table trying to write. He tells Marcello that he has seen Musetta riding past in a carriage [Track 15]: she has told him that she has no feeling of love; finery is compensation enough for her. Marcello tries to force a laugh, but is clearly upset. He tells Rodolfo that he has seen Mimì riding in a carriage, dressed up like a queen. Rodolfo is equally annoyed and curses his pen, which he throws on the floor, as Marcello throws down his brush and secretly takes out a bunch of ribbons that he kisses. Rodolfo laments Mimì’s duplicity and Marcello regrets his lost love. The former takes out of a drawer Mimì’s bonnet, which he clasps to his heart, but tries to conceal his feelings from Marcello, asking him what time it is.

Rodolfo’s friends Schaunard and Colline come in with simple food, bread and herrings, and they sit down to eat, pretending that it is a banquet, with water serving for champagne. The feast is followed by a ball, and then a mock-duel, with the fire-irons. They are interrupted by the arrival of Musetta with Mimì, now too ill to climb the stairs without help. Musetta explains how she had heard that Mimì had left the protection of the old viscount, and is now destitute. She is brought in and helped to a couch. The friends, who are as poor themselves, have nothing to give her, but Musetta takes off her ear-rings and tells Marcello to go and sell them to buy medicine for Mimì and for a doctor. Colline philosophically plans to sell his coat [Track 16] for the same purpose. Mimì is left alone with Rodolfo and turning to him, asks if the others have gone [Track 17]: she has so much to tell him. They recall their first meeting, when she first told him her name, and how cold her hands were. She is shaken by another fit of coughing. The others return, Marcello with medicine, having seen the doctor. Rodolfo asks him what the doctor has said [Track 18], but there is obviously little hope. Mimì sleeps, while Musetta murmurs a prayer, as she prepares the medicine, but all is too late. Mimì is dead, and Rodolfo in anguish throws himself on her body, calling her name.


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