About this Recording
English  French  German  Spanish 

Famous Soprano Arias from Italian Opera

The present collection of soprano arias from Italian opera takes its general title from a popular aria in Giacomo Puccini’s 1918 Gianni Schicchi, part of a trilogy of contrasting short operas first staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Based on an episode in Dante’s Inferno, it deals with the frustration of attempts by the relatives of Buoso Donati to effect a posthumous alteration of his will in their favour by allowing the rogue Gianni Schicchi to impersonate him. His impersonation is successful enough to allow him to make himself Buoso Donati’s heir. His daughter Lauretta, in O mio babbino caro ('My dear father'), pleads with her father to intervene in the affairs of Buoso Donati’s relatives and her new dowry finally enables her to marry Rinuccio, nephew of a cousin of the dead man.

Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani ('The Puritans') was first staged in Paris in 1835 and was the composer’s last opera. Set in the period of the English Civil War, the opera, with a surprisingly happy ending, treats the problems faced by the cavalier Lord Arturo Talbo, in love with Elvira, daughter of the Puritan Lord Walton. Arturo helps the disguised Queen, widow of Charles I, to escape, disguised in Elvira’s bridal veil. Apparently deserted by her new husband, Elvira goes mad and in Qui la voce soave ('Here the tender voice') imagines she hears the voice of Arturo. Eventually Arturo is taken prisoner and able to explain matters to Elvira, now restored to a measure of sanity, while he finally benefits from a general amnesty declared by the victorious Cromwell.

La bohème is one of the most romantic of all operas. A group of young artists lives in poverty in a garret in the Latin quarter of Paris. There the poet Rodolfo meets their neighbour, the little seamstress Lucia, known to her fiends, as she explains at their first meeting, as Mimi, Sì, mi chiamano Mimì ('They call me Mimi'), when she comes to seek a light for her candle. Their love founders, however, in subsequent privation and they are only finally re-united when Mimi is dying of consumption. Musetta, in contrast to Mimi, is a stronger character and in the second act of the opera, set outside a neighbouring café, accompanied by her elderly admirer, she outlines her own charms in a waltz-song, Quando m’en vo (When I go alone along the street, people stop and look at me), aiming her remarks at her former lover Marcello, the painter friend of Rodolfo. Puccini’s opera was first staged in Turin in 1896.

Alfredo Catalani is best remembered for his 1892 opera La Wally. In a Tyrolean village the heroine of the title refuses to marry the man her father has chosen for her, preferring, instead, the young huntsman Haghenbach. Misunderstandings arise between them, as the story unwinds, and in jealousy she seeks to have Haghenbach killed, before relenting and saving him from the ravine where he has been propelled. As they return, Haghenbach is killed by an avalanche and Wally leaps down to her own death. In Ebben, ne andrò lontana ('Well, I shall go far away from here'), in the first act, Wally expresses her intention of leaving home, to avoid marriage to the man of her father’s choice.

In Nagasaki Cio-Cio-San, the central figure in Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, marries the visiting American naval officer, Pinkerton, who regards the arrangement as a temporary one, to suit his own convenience. In his absence Cio-Cio-San bears him a son,

and in innocent hope awaits his return. Un bel dì vedremo (One fine day we shall see a plume of smoke), she tells her servant Suzuki of her hopes, as she waits. When Pinkerton returns he brings with him his new American wife, prepared to adopt the son Cio-Cio-San has born him, leaving the latter to take her own life. The opera was first mounted in Milan in 1904.

Giuseppe Verdi’s powerful drama of 1851, Rigoletto, brings irony after irony, as the court jester of the title unwittingly aids the abduction of his own daughter by courtiers of the philandering Duke that he serves. Gilda has already been wooed by the Duke, disguised as a student and it is his false name on which Gilda muses in Caro nome ('Dear name'). In spite of her abduction and seduction by the Duke, she still loves him and dies in his place at the hands of an assassin that her father has paid to kill the Duke. In a nocturnal scene the murdered body, in a sack, is given to Rigoletto, who thinks it is the body of the Duke, until he hears the latter’s carefree song and finds that it is his own daughter that has been killed.

Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier is set in the French revolution, in which the poet of the title, originally sympathetic to the revolutionary cause, eventually suffers death, together with his beloved Maddalena, whom he had met in earlier times and who takes the place of another at the guillotine. In La mamma morta (Mother dead) Maddalena tells the former family servant turned revolutionary official, Gérard, who is also in love with her, of the death of her mother and the destruction of the family château. The opera was the only significant success of the controversial 1896 season at La Scala, Milan.

Tosca, the eponymous heroine of Puccini’s opera of 1900, a famous singer, becomes involved in revolutionary activity through her lover, the painter Cavaradossi. The latter is taken prisoner by the villainous chief of police, Baron Scarpia, who promises to release him in return for Tosca’s favours. She murders Scarpia and awaits Cavaradossi’s escape after the mock execution that Scarpia had promised. In death, however, Scarpia triumphs. Cavaradossi is shot and Tosca leaps to her own death from the prison battlements. In Vissi d’arte ('I lived for art, I lived for love') Tosca must decide on a course of action that may, she thinks, win release for her tortured lover.

Verdi’s La traviata, first unsuccessfully mounted in Venice in 1853, soon won an important place in Italian operatic repertoire. Based on the work of Dumas and set in Paris and its neighbourhood, it centres on the relationship between the young Alfredo and the courtesan of the title, Violetta, who is persuaded by Alfredo’s father to end their affair, while not revealing to her lover the reason for her action. Alfredo re-acts angrily and the two are only re-united as Violetta dies of consumption. In Ah, fors’è lui ('Ah, perhaps it is him my heart desires') Violetta, after their first meeting, wonders whether at last Alfredo has aroused true love in her heart. In Sempre libera ('Always free') she puts such thoughts out of her head.

La rondine ('The Swallow'), first performed in Monte Carlo in 1917, enjoys less popularity than many of Puccini’s operas. In Ch’il bel sogno di Doretta ('The fine dream of Doretta') Magda takes up the tale of love started by the poet Prunier in her

Paris salon. The swallow of the title, Magda leaves her lover Rambaldo to live in happy innocence with Ruggero, who is ignorant of her past, to which she eventually returns, unable to deceive the young man any longer.

Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia ('The Barber of Seville') followed earlier operas based on the play by Beaumarchais, with which it had to compete on its first production in Rome in 1816. Figaro, the barber of the title, helps his master, the disguised Count Almaviva, to woo and win the hand of Rosina, ward of the jealous Dr Bartolo. She recalls, in Una voce poco fa ('A voice, a moment ago, in my heart'), the serenade of the supposed student Lindoro, whose love she resolves to have, brooking no opposition.

Manon Lescaut, based on the novel by the Abbé Prévost, brought Puccini his first great success when it was staged in Turin in 1893. The young girl of the title elopes with the Chevalier Des Grieux, but later leaves him for the rich old Géronte, who sees to it that she is arrested for immorality, when she tries to return to her earlier lover. She is condemned to transportation and dies, accompanied by Des Grieux, in the American wilderness. In In quelle trine morbide ('Amid these soft lace curtains') she complains to her scheming brother of her life of barren luxury with Géronte, to which poverty and the love of Des Grieux would have been preferable.

At his death in 1924 Puccini left his opera Turandot unfinished. The cold-hearted Chinese princess of the title poses riddles to her suitors, whose failure to find the answer brings death. It is left to Calaf, son of the exiled King of Tartary, to find the answer, after which he sets her the task of finding his name, which he eventually reveals to her, as she at last finds love. Calaf had at first been dissuaded from approaching the princess by the slave girl Liù in Signore, ascolta ('Listen, sir'), who is tortured by Turandot, in an effort to discover Calaf’s name, and kills herself rather than reveal it.

Verdi’s Il trovatore ('The Troubadour'), first given in Rome in 1853, has a plot of some complexity. This hinges on the love of the troubadour of the title, Manrico, supposed son of the gypsy Azucena but in fact the younger brother of his enemy and rival in love, the Count di Luna, for Leonora. Manrico is finally imprisoned and condemned to death, as his beloved Leonora stands outside the castle, hoping her love may reach him in D’amor sull’ali rosee ('On the rosy wings of love'). Leonora sacrifices herself for the release of her lover and dies of poison, leaving the Count to have Manrico executed, only to learn from the imprisoned gypsy Azucena, as his enemy dies, that he has had his own brother killed.

Verdi’s La forza del destino ('The Force of Destiny') was first performed in St Petersburg in 1862. It is again an involved story of love and family strife, the first between Leonora and Don Alvaro and the second between Leonora and her brother Don Carlo, who seeks revenge for the accidental death of their father at the hands Don Alvaro. After various coincidences and failures of recognition, the two men eventually meet after Don Alvaro has entered a religious order, while Leonora, unknown to him, lives the life of an anchoress nearby. Finally provoked to anger by the taunts of Don Carlo, Don Alvaro kills him and calls for help from the woman now revealed as Leonora, in time for her to attend her brother, who kills her, as he dies. In Pace, pace (Peace, peace) Leonora, until disturbed by the final duel between Don Alvaro and her brother, but unaware of the identity of the combatants, prays for her own peace of mind in her barren solitude.

Mascagni’s 1890 verismo opera Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) is a tale of love, jealousy and death, set in the realistic surroundings of a Sicilian village. Santuzza, deserted by her former lover Turiddu, who has turned his attention to Lola, the unfaithful wife of Alfio, betrays Turiddu to him, leading to Turiddu’s death. In Voi lo sapete, o Mamma (You know, Mamma) Santuzza explains the situation to Turiddu’s mother, before making her fatal revelation to Alfio.

Close the window