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8.555920 - TENOR ARIAS (Janez Lotric)
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Tenor Opera Arias

Tenor Opera Arias

Verdi • Glinka • R. Strauss • Rossini • Adam • Giordano • Puccini

 

It was at the initial request of the tenor Enrico Tamberlick, the first Alvaro, that Giuseppe Verdi was persuaded to return to work to write his opera La forza del destino for the Russian Imperial Theatre. This was given its first performance in St Petersburg in November 1862, but is now generally heard in a revised version that was first staged at La Scala, Milan, in 1869. The plot, later modified, is one of some complexity, derived from a play by the Duke of Rivas. Don Alvaro is in love with Leonora, but accidentally kills her father, leading to a long search for revenge by her brother, Don Carlo. Leonora, believing her lover dead, retires to a hermitage, and Don Alvaro to a neighbouring monastery, the revelation of their final meeting coinciding with the appearance of Don Carlo, his death at the hands of a reluctant Don Alvaro and his final murder of Leonora, as he dies. The Act III recitative and aria, Qual sangue sparsi, from the first version of the opera, is heard after Don Alvaro, on campaign with Don Carlo, where the two have hitherto failed to recognise each other, engages in a duel with the latter, apparently killing him, an outcome that he can only bitterly regret.

            The libretto of Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore was also derived from a Spanish play, the work of Antonio García Gutiérrez. It was first staged in Rome in January 1853. The plot again concerns love and revenge. Manrico, the troubadour of the title, supposed son of the gypsy Azucena and in the service of Count Urgel, is in love with Leonora, who is also loved by the young Count Di Luna, a supporter of the Prince of Aragon. Their rivalry ends in the defeat and capture of Manrico by the Count. Leonora offers herself to the Count in return for Manrico’s life, taking poison, in order to outwit him. In the event she dies and Manrico is put to death, leaving Azucena, from her prison, to reveal that Manrico was in fact the Count’s brother. In the third act Manrico is in possession of the fortress of Castellor, where he plans to marry Leonora, although the place is likely to be attacked by the Count Di Luna. Something of this threat is inherent in Leonora’s ominous Di qual tetra luce, a light that is actually and figuratively gloomy. Manrico assures her that if he must die, he will die with her name on his lips.

            A period of six years followed Verdi’s Egyptian opera, Aida, and it was only then that he turned his attention again to Shakespeare in Otello, first staged at La Scala in February 1887. By Act III Iago has succeeded in arousing Othello’s jealousy. In Datemi ancor l’eburnea mano, Othello takes Desdemona’s hand, anxious to find out whether Iago’s story of the handkerchief that he had given her is true. His jealousy can only increase and in Act IV he murders his wife in her bed-chamber, only to learn that his suspicions of her were groundless. When all is revealed, it is only left for him to die by his own hand, sealing his love of his dead wife with a kiss.

            Set originally in Sweden and dealing with the murder of Gustav III, Un ballo in maschera, first performed in Rome in February 1859, was transferred, thanks to the censors, to America. There Riccardo, Governor of Boston, falls in love with Amelia, the wife of his mulatto secretary, Renato, who kills him, in spite of their friendship and his earlier unswerving loyalty and unwillingness to conspire against him. The third Finale opens in Riccardo’s study, where he drafts an order for Renato, with Amelia, to return to England, a paper that, ironically, he will show to Renato only after the latter has stabbed him during the masked ball with which the opera reaches a final climax.

            Mikhail Glinka’s heroic tragedy A Life for the Tsar was the first nationalist Russian opera, staged in St Petersburg in 1836. Set in Russia and Poland in 1613, it centres on the heroic exploits of Ivan Susanin in the aftermath of the defeat of Boris Godunov by the so-called false Dmitry, with Polish support. The peasant Susanin succeeds in diverting the Polish forces, who are in pursuit of the newly elected Tsar, Mikhail Romanov, leading them astray until the young Tsar has been able to escape. In the fourth act Sobinin, who is to marry Susanin’s daughter, leads a band of peasants in the forest at night, and encourages them in Brothers, into the snow-storm. Susanin is finally successful in his protection of the Tsar, but is killed for it, his heroism to be remembered by the Tsar and by future generations.

            The nostalgic Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss is set in the first years of the Empress Maria Theresia. The opera was first performed in Dresden in 1911. The plot centres on the Feldmarschallin, her love for the young Octavian, later the knight of the rose of the title, and the sacrifice she makes when she allows and encourages Octavian’s love for Sophie, daughter of a rich parvenu, on whose money the Feldmarschallin’s uncouth cousin, Baron Ochs, has set his heart. At her levée the Princess is attended by a number of people, including an Italian singer, whose song of love, Di rigori armato il seno has a charm of its own and some relevance to the plot.

            Gioachino Rossini’s last opera was Guillaume Tell, written for Paris, where he had settled, and also familiar in an Italian version. It was first performed at the Paris Opéra in August 1829. The action is set in thirteenth-century Switzerland, where the young Swiss patriot Arnold, in love with the Austrian noblewoman Matilde, seeks revenge for the death of his father through a rising against Austrian domination of his country. In Act IV Arnold, standing outside his father’s house, laments his father’s fate and realises that, with William Tell captured by the enemy, it is he who must lead the conspirators.

            Adolphe Adam’s opera Le postillon de Lonjumeau had its first performance at the Paris Opéra-Comique in October 1836. The unlikely story deals with the rise of the coachman, Chapelou, to the position of principal tenor at the Paris Opéra, after the Marquis de Corcy, director of the Opéra, has overheard his remarkable song about the postilion of Lonjumeau, Mes amis, écoutez l’histoire, with its top Ds in imitation of the post-horn. Chapelou deserts his new wife, Madeleine, on their wedding night to embark on his new career, leading her to take her revenge ten years later, when she inherits money and appears under a very different guise in Paris.

            Set in revolutionary Paris, Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, first given at La Scala in March 1896, centres on the poet of the title, his association before the Revolution with the noble family of Madeleine de Coigny and their love during the Terror, to which Chénier falls victim through the actions of his rival in love, Gérard, a former family servant. He sings his new poem, Come un bel dì di maggio, in prison, as he awaits execution.

            Giacomo Puccini’s last opera, Turandot, unfinished at the time of his death in 1924, had its first performance at La Scala in 1926. The Chinese princess of the title poses riddles to her suitors, who suffer death when they fail to solve them. Calaf, son of the exiled King of Tartary, answers Turandot’s riddles, but then offers to stake his life on the discovery of his name. It is proclaimed that none shall sleep, until the stranger’s name be found, and in Nessun dorma Calaf expresses his confidence in victory over the icy-hearted princess, an outcome finally achieved.

 

Keith Anderson


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