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8.557269 - TENOR ARIAS (Marcello Giordani)
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Tenor Arias

Tenor Arias

Bellini • Bizet • Donizetti • Mascagni • Pacini • Rossini • Verdi

 

Rossini’s William Tell (1829), based on Schiller’s play, tells of the heroic fourteenth-century Swiss struggle against the oppressive rule of the Austrians. Melchthal has pledged with Tell to rid their country of foreign rule, and Melchthal’s son, Arnold, has agreed to join them. Melchthal, however, trying to protect a local herdsman whose daughter an Austrian soldier was attempting to rape, is taken prisoner and executed. Arnold returns to his family home and laments the death of his father in the powerful aria Asile héréditaire [1], which Hector Berlioz thought to be the finest thing in Rossini’s score.

 

In Donizetti’s La fille du régiment (1840), Maria, a girl of uncertain parentage, was found on a battlefield and raised by the French 21st Regiment. During the French campaign into the Tyrolean Alps, Maria falls in love with a local villager, Tonio, who saved her from slipping over a dangerous precipice when she was picking flowers. French soldiers arrest Tonio, thinking he is a spy because of his lurking about camp to catch a glimpse of Maria, but she clears him of any guilt by explaining that he saved her life. Maria and Tonio declare their love. The soldiers insist that Maria may only marry a member of the regiment, however, so Tonio enlists and greets his new comrades in Ah! mes amis [2].

 

Act I of Donizetti’s tragedy La favorite, composed for the Paris Opéra in 1840, is set in 1340 in the Spanish monastery of St James at Compostela, where Fernand is a novice. As the monks process into the chapel, Balthazar, the Superior of the order and Fernand’s father, notices a disquiet in his son. When he inquires about the source of the young man’s agitation, Fernand replies with the aria Un ange, une femne inconnue [3], in which he confesses that he has become obsessed with a beautiful woman he saw praying in the chapel.

 

In the rivalry over the rule of thirteenth-century Sicily that motivates Bellini’s Il pirata (1827), Gualtiero has been defeated and exiled by Ernesto, and has turned to a life of piracy to keep his cause alive. Both men loved Imogene, but Ernesto has coerced her into marrying him despite her love for Gualtiero by blackmailing her father, a supporter of Gualtiero’s defeated party. The opera opens as a furious storm drives Gualtiero’s ship onto the Sicilian shore, whereupon he confesses in Nel furor delle tempeste [4] & [5] that an angelic image of Imogene has stayed always in his thoughts.

 

Torna, vezzosa Fillide [6] dates from 1826, a year after Bellini had graduated from the Real Collegio di Musica in Naples and during the time that he was producing his first professionally staged opera, Bianca e Fernando, at the city’s Teatro San Carlo. Torna, vezzosa Fillide, a shepherd’s lament for his lost Phyllis by an unknown poet, shows Bellini’s gifts for melody, dramatic expression and operatic scale to have been present from early in his career.

 

Giovanni Pacini, one of the most popular and prolific Italian composers of the second quarter of the nineteenth century, produced some ninety operas, a quantity of other music, several theoretical treatises and many journal articles. Born in 1796 in Catania, on the cast coast of Sicily, Pacini was trained in Bologna and Venice, and scored his first success in 1817 in Milan with the melodramma semiserio Adelaide e Comingio. He was appointed maestro di cappella to the Duchess Marie-Louise de Bourbon in Lucca in 1821, built himself a fine house in the coastal town of Viareggio (near where Giacomo Puccini would make his home seventy years later), and enjoyed excellent success for the next decade as composer and musical director for theatres in Naples and Milan. The failure of several operas in the early 1830s, however, halted his creative work for nearly five years, during which time he founded a successful music school and a private theatre in Viareggio and received an appointment as maestro di cappella to the archducal court of Lucca. After returning to operatic composition in 1839, Pacini incorporated harmonic and orchestral elements of the flourishing Romantic style and treated only serious subjects. He continued to compose after moving to Péscia, just east of Lucca, in 1855, but he was unable to meet the rising competition of Giuseppe Verdi, and largely devoted the remaining years until his death, in 1867, to teaching and writing instrumental music. Though Pacini was a talented melodist, the swift pace of his composition allowed for little polishing of the harmony, instrumentation and dramatic details of his works. “God help us if he knew music,” Rossini once said, “No one could resist him.”

 

In Bizet’s 1875 opera, the seductive Carmen flirts with Don José, a guardsman in Seville’s militia, during a break from her work at the cigarette factory. Carmen returns to the factory. A mêlée erupts; Carmen has stabbed one of the other girls. She is caught as she runs from the factory, bound, and left in the charge of Don José. She promises to meet him at a local tavern and reward him with her love if he will untie her hands and help her to escape. He does, and is imprisoned. After his release, he seeks out Carmen, and tells her of the special pleasure that the flower she gave to him had during his prison term in the lovely Flower Song [8].

 

Verdi’s I Lombardi alla prima crociata (The Lombards at the First Crusade) of 1843 shows how Arvino leads the Lombards in an assault on Antioch. His daughter, Giselda, is captured by the Muslims. Oronte, a Muslim prince, falls in love with Giselda, and sings of his passion in La mia letizia infondere [9].

 

Luisa Miller (1849), based on Schiller’s 1784 melodrama Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love), tells of the title character’s love for Rodolfo, son of Count Walter, and the machinations of Walter to keep them apart to conceal the fact that he has come into his noble title through murder. Luisa’s father is taken prisoner, and to save his life she writes a letter to Rodolfo under Walter’s duress claiming that she in fact loves another. Convinced of Luisa’s faithlessness, Rodolfo sings of his heartbreak in Quando le sere al placido [10].

 

Il trovatore (1853), set in northern Spain at the beginning of the fifteenth century, is a tale of nobles and gypsies and the vengeful circumstances that bring them together to share tragedy. The mother of the gypsy Azucena has been burned at the stake as a witch by Count di Luna. As the old woman dies, she calls upon her daughter to avenge her death; Azucena steals the Count’s infant brother. A baby’s skeleton, found in the burned embers surrounding the stake, is assumed to be the missing child. The opera begins twenty years later. Manrico, believing himself to be the son of Azucena, is the enemy of Count di Luna. Both love Leonora, but it is Manrico’s affections that she reciprocates. In Ah, sì, ben mio [!], Manrico acknowledges the strength that he finds in the love of Leonora. Count di Luna subsequently sentences Azucena to a fiery death at the stake on suspicion of spying, and Manrico sets off to rescue her in Di quella pira [12]. Through the tangled web of the story, Manrico is captured in battle by di Luna, who sentences his enemy to death. Leonora offers herself to di Luna in exchange for Manrico’s life. Di Luna accepts, and agrees to release Manrico, but Leonora swallows poison concealed in her ring, and dies. Di Luna proceeds with Manrico’s execution. Upon his death, Azucena announces that Manrico was, after all, the Count’s younger brother, and that she has finally won a terrible vengeance for her mother’s execution.

 

Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (1890) created a sensation when it was firsr staged on 17th May 1890 in Rome. The progenitor of an Italian operatic sub-species known as verismo (realism), it was one of the first modern operas to depict contemporary settings and characters on stage, and was produced with immediate and enormous success across Europe and in the United States. The one-act story is set in the square of a Sicilian village on Easter morning. Turiddu returns from the army to find that his former sweetheart, Lola, has married Alfio. With Lola unavailable, Turiddu consoles himself with the charms of the peasant girl, Santuzza. She falls in love with Turiddu, and is infuriated when he returns to Lola for an adulterous affair. Santuzza confronts Turiddu on the steps of the church when he appears to attend Mass, but he refuses to be a slave to her jealousy. Lola enters, singing a light-hearted ditty, grasps the situation at a glance, and exchanges bitter words with Santuzza. Turiddu, furious at the scene, hurls Santuzza to the ground, and escorts Lola into church. At this tense moment, Alfio enters, and Santuzza reveals to him his wife’s illicit love for Turiddu. Alfio swears vengeance, and leaves. A crowd fills the square after the Easter service ends. Turiddu proposes a toast to the villagers, but Alfio spurns the glass of wine offered to him. Insulted, Turiddu challenges him to a duel, and bids a passionate farewell to his mother in the aria Mamma, quel vino è generoso [13]. Turridu and Alfio leave, and the villagers rush back into the square with the news that Turiddu has been killed.

 

Richard E. Rodda


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