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Famous Soprano Arias From Italian Operas

Giuseppe Verdi was a dominant figure in Italian opera from his first great success in 1842 with Nabucco until his final opera Falstaff in 1893. At the height of his career he was closely associated with Italian nationalism, with even his name serving as a popular acronym for Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy, under whom national unity was secured.

Verdi's opera Don Carlos, written originally to a French text, derived from Schiller, was composed for Paris, where it was first staged in 1867. The abridged Italian version was first mounted at La Scala, Milan, in 1884, although subsequent productions have often attempted a compromise between the two versions. The drama concerns the love of the heir to the Spanish throne, Don Carlos, and the French princess Elisabeth de Valois, destined, for political reasons, to marry his father, King Philip II. Don Carlos intervenes with his father in defence of the cause of Flemish freedom, threatening violence, and is imprisoned, to be saved finally from death by the intervention of the old Emperor Charles V emerging from his monastic tomb, or a monk taking his place. In the fifth act Elisabeth, in the monastic cloister of San Yuste, prepares, in her aria Tu che la vanità (You who know the hearts and weaknesses of mortals) to renounce her young lover Don Carlos, recalling their earlier love, now ready to part from him for ever.

Verdi turned to Shakespeare in old age for his final opera, Falstaff, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor. Earlier Shakespearian subjects included Macbeth and, in 1887, Othello, with a text adapted by Arrigo Boito. Jealous of his young Venetian wife Desdemona, through the machinations of the wicked lago, the Moor Othello, principal general in the service of Venice, finally kills Desdemona. In the final act she prepares for bed, recalling the gentle Willow Song of her childhood and offering a prayer to the Blessed Virgin, as her death draws near.

La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) based by the librettist Cesare Piave on a Spanish original, was first staged in St. Petersburg in 1862. Don Alvaro has prepared to elope with his beloved Leonora, but is discovered by her father, whom he accidentally kills, leading her brother, Don Carlo, to seek revenge. Alvaro and Carlo later meet, without recognising each other, but when he realises Alvaro's identity, Carlo challenges him, but a duel is prevented. Alvaro later takes refuge in a monastery, but is subsequently provoked into killing his enemy, an event that brings about a final meeting with Leonora, who has lived as an hermit in a nearby cave. In her aria Pace, pace, mio Dio (Peace, grant me peace, O God) Leonora, before the final catastrophe, prays outside her cell for a peace that she has never known, complaining that the bread left for her, out of charity, only prolongs her misery.

The most popular opera of Alfredo Catalani is La Wally, a work that persuaded the great conductor Toscanini to choose the name Wally for his daughter. The opera was first mounted at La Scala, Milan, in 1892. The heroine, Wally, loves Hagenbach but is ordered by her father to marry Gellner, on whose account she leaves home. The opera culminates in the death of Hagenbach and Wally in an avalanche, their love for each other finally revealed, alter a series of misunderstandings. Wally's aria Ebben, ne andrà lontana, occurs in the first act, when she refuses Gellner and resolves to leave home rather than marry him, as her father wishes.

Giacomo Puccini, born in Lucca in 1858, won his first considerable success in 1893 with his opera Manon Lescaut, based on the novel by the Abbé Prévost and first staged in Turin in that year. The Chevalier des Grieux falls in love with Manon, destined by her brother for a convent, to complete her education, but subject of a plotted abduction by the old Geronte, with the connivance of the girl's brother. Des Grieux and Manon elope, but by the second act love and poverty have proved less attractive, and Manon is found living comfortably with Geronte. Lescaut now brings des Grieux, who has won money at the gaming-table, to his sister, but Geronte surprises the couple and Manon is prosecuted and sentenced to transportation. Her lover follows her into exile and the American wilderness, where she dies. Manon's second act aria In quelle tri ne morbide (In these silken curtains) tells Lescaut of her present dissatisfaction at life with Geronte and her regret for the relative poverty in which she had earlier lived with des Grieux. Her final aria in Act IV, Sola, perduta, abbandonata (Alone, ruined, deserted) expresses her despair, as she lies dying, alone, lost and deserted, while des Grieux has gone in a vain search for help.

Tosca, staged first in Rome in 1900, is based on a French original by Sardou. The singer Tosca becomes involved, with her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, in the escape from prison of the political dissident Angelotti. Cavaradossi is imprisoned and sentenced to death through the machinations of the chief of police Baron Scarpia, who cynically and falsely offers to spare him, if Tosca will be his. Tosca murders Scarpia, and still believes his promise to spare her lover. When Cavaradossi is shot, she kills herself by leaping from the prison battlements. Tosca's aria Vissi d'arte, Vissi d'amore, non feci mai male ad anima viva (I have lived for art, I have lived for love, and have never done harm to any living thing) expresses her passionate grief at the dilemma with which Scarpia has seemingly presented her in order to save the life of her lover.

The three operas that form Il trittico, Il tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, were first staged at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 1918. In the best known aria of the second of these, Senza Mamma, from Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica), the heroine, in a convent to expiate her sin as an unmarried mother, laments the reported death of her child, of whom she has sought news from her hard-hearted aunt. By way of contrast Gianni Schicchi deals with intrigue over the will of a man who has cut off his greedy relations in favour of a monastery. Gianni Schicchi is enrolled to impersonate the dead man and to make a new will, in which he leaves everything to himself. In O mio babbino caro (O my dear daddy), Lauretta, Schicchi's daughter, begs him to help her and her lover Rinuccio, a nephew of Zita, cousin of the dead man.

Puccini's last opera Turandot is set in China, based on a play by the eighteenth century Venetian writer Gozzi. The icy-hearted Princess Turandot poses unanswerable riddles to her suitors and when they fail to find a solution they are put to death. It is left to Calaf, son of the exiled King of Tartary, to find an answer and, in the end, alter considerable suspense, to find love with Turandot, although his loyal slave girl Liù dies to help him. In Tu che di gel sei cinta (You who are girdled with ice) Liù addresses the Princess, who vainly seeks to learn the name of Calaf, who has solved her riddles but posed her the riddle of his name. Rather than reveal this to Turandot even under torture, Liù kills herself. In her first act aria, Signore, ascolta (Sir, listen) Liù begs Calaf not to risk his life by attempting to become a suitor of Turandot.

The opera Le Villi, first staged in Milan in 1884, deals with a story familiar from Adam's ballet Giselle. A faithless lover, Roberto, deserts Anna, whose ghost, with those of other girls that have suffered a similar fate, returns to haunt him and bring about his death. Anna's aria Se corne voi piccina io fossli (If I were as small as you, sweet flowers) expresses her sadness at her fate.

La Bohème is possibly the best known of all Puccini's operas, and Mimi's aria Si, mi chiamano Mimi (Yes, they call me Mimi, but my real name is Lucia) comes at a moment of poignancy, when the young heroine meets for the first lime the man who will become her lover, the penniless poet Rodolfo, her neighbour. Love ends in tragedy, when Mimi, estranged from Rodolfo, finally dies of consumption, in the presence of her old lover and his artist friends, recalling, as she dies, their first happiness.

Miriam Gauci
The soprano Miriam Gauci has emerged as one of the most exciting new voices on the international opera scene. Born in Malta, she studied in Milan and made her début at La Scala in 1985 as Prosperina in the first modern revival of Rossi's Orfeo, returning the following season in Die Frau oh ne Schatten and La Sonnambula. She made her American début in Santa Fe in 1987, when she sang the rôle of Madama Butterfly, a role she later recorded on the Naxos label followed by Mimi in La Bohème in Los Angeles, Liù in Turandot in Hamburg and Ginevra in Giordano's La Cena delle Belle at the Wexford Festival. Miriam Gauci has appeared in major opera-houses throughout Europe with a wide repertoire, ranging from Donna Elvira to Anna Bolena and Luisa Miller.

Alexander Rahbari
Alexander Rahbari was born in Iran in 1948 and was trained as a conductor at the Vienna Music Academy as a pupil of von Einem, Swarowsky and Osterreicher. On his return to Iran he was appointed director of the Teheran Conservatory of Music and took a leading position in the cultural development of his country. In 1977 he moved to Europe, winning first prize in the Besançon International Conductors' Competition and the Geneva silver medal. In 1979 he was invited by Herbert von Karajan to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and served as von Karajan's assistant in Salzburg. Rahbari's subsequent career has been highly successful, with concerts throughout the world and engagements in leading opera-houses. In the 1986-87 season he appeared for the first time with the BRT Philharmonic and in September 1988, accepted appointment as principal conductor. Rahbari is Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and has conducted major orchestras throughout Europe, in Japan and in Canada. Alexander Rahbari is now a citizen of Austria. For Naxos, he has recorded symphonies by Brahms and Shostakovich, works by Stravinsky, Bartók and Debussy as well as a number of complete operas (Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Carmen, Aigoletto and La Traviata).

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