Next up at SOH
Wednesday February 7th at 2:15 pm
(Finish around 5:55 pm)
“I am a Queen and I am a lover / and I want the Empire for myself / of my throne and of my heart”: these are the words which the poet Pietro Metastasio gave to Dido, the Queen of Carthage. The opera takes inspiration from the myth to present a resolute and proud woman, abandoned by her lover Aeneas, bothered by a suitor – Iarbas – who she does not want, tricked by her sister Anna, who she discovered was Aeneas’s lover, and betrayed by her confidante Osmida. The opera was a great success during the 1724 carnival in Naples, which led to more than 60 different musical versions: Metastasio’s libretto was also taken on by Händel, Paisiello and Mercadante. The version proposed here is from 1726 by Leonardo Vinci, considered to be one of the most important interpreters of the Neapolitan operatic school.
Roberta Mameli Dido, Carlo Allemano Enea, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, dir. Carlo Ipata
The story of the tragic love between Dido and Aeneas, the substance of Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid, has long formed an inspiration for painters, poets, dramatists and musicians. Following the invention of opera at the start of the 17th century, it would be a popular topic. Before the close of that century the story had inspired a number of operas, signifcantly those of Cavalli (1641) and of course Purcell. It is therefore of little surprise to find it the subject chosen by the greatest of 18th-century librettists for his first original drama.
Metastasio’s Didone abbandonato was written in 1724, probably with some assistance from his close friend, the singer actress Maria Anna Benti (known as ‘La Romanina’), being originally set by the Neapolitan composer Domenico Sarro. Thereafter it would become one of the poet’s most favoured dramatic works, employed on more than 60 (!) occasions. Among the earliest versions was that of Leonardo Vinci, whose setting was premiered in Rome’s Teatro delle Dame during the Carnival season of 1726. Vinci’s Didone abbandonato retained Metastasio’s most innovative feature, the highly dramatic tragic ending, where he writes a series of accompanied recitatives leading to the abandoned Didone’s immolation among the flames of burning Carthage. Metastasio’s version also fleshes out the story by providing additional characters or expanding the part played by those already in Virgil’s account, among them Dido’s African suitor Iarbas (Iarba in the opera) and her sister Anna, here renamed Selene. She provides additional love interest by also being in love with Aeneas, Selene in turn being loved by Araspe, the confidant of Iarba. The cast list is completed by Didone’s treacherous confidant Osmida.
Vinci’s music for them provides opportunities for both Didone and Enea to create strong personalities. Didone’s opening aria ‘Io son regina’ (I am queen) immediately establishes a strong, proud and stubborn persona. She will be at her most imperious and magnificent in her defiance of Iarbas in their act 2 confrontation, but the chromatic pain of the superb ‘Se vuoi ch’io mora’ (If you want me dead) (act 2) finds her at her most vulnerable as her scorn for the departing Enea suddenly evaporates to total capitulation. In that final sequence of accompagnati she rises to true tragic stature as she first rails then grieves before accepting the fate she (correctly) predicts will bring her lasting fame. Enea, too, emerges as a truly heroic figure to a far greater degree than Nahum Tate and Purcell ever allow him to be. Most of his arias are cast in the heroic mode and in his dialogue he makes a far better case for fulfilling his destiny. Other characters are less well rounded. Selene has several coloratura arias, but Iarba and the minor characters have perhaps rather too many ‘simile’ arias for contemporary taste, though of course they served a function in showing the vocal strength of the original singers.
The present set is taken from a production given at the Opera di Firenze in January 2017. Sadly both production and performance fall well short of ideal. Much the visual best feature is the sumptuous costumes, in particular the red and gold dresses of respectively Didone and Selene, both overlaid with brass cages. Their blond tresses are somewhat less convincing. Enea, too, looks every inch the Trojan hero, particularly given the stature and presence of tenor Carlo Allemano, the only drawback being that he looks rather too mature. It would be good to report that acting and movement matched. They don’t; on the contrary they are mostly very poor and often inelegant. Just occasionally there is a brief hint, usually from Roberta Mameli’s Didone, that someone has looked at a book about 18th-century gesture. They then obviously closed it again pretty quickly. The single set opens well enough, with a static projection suggesting the partially built Carthage and ships in the harbour. Thereafter it is downhill all the way, with much irritating shadowy movement back projected, often distracting attention from arias. Bearing in mind that we are on the Mediterranean, the set is also far too continuously dark and drab.
Conductor Carlo Ipata has a number of respectable period instrument recordings to his credit (with his Auser Musici), but his direction of the modern orchestra strings of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino orchestra is here disappointingly wooden and rhythmically square. The playing is exceptionally poor, with ensemble at times barely reaching decent professional standard. Much the best singing comes from Mameli’s Didone and Allemano’s Enea, though the latter is poor with articulating passaggi and ornamentation and some of Mameli’s top notes tend to be wayward, especially when attempting ill-advised octave leaps in da capo
It has been plausibly suggested that Purcell’s short opera Dido and Aeneas was originally designed as a court masque, and possible topical political allusions have been proposed, notably in the light of the future James II’s Catholicism, seen to deflect him from his duty as a future king, a hypothetical intrigue that casts the Jesuits as witches. The work owes something to John Blow’s Venus and Adonis of 1683. Most famous of all elements in the opera is Dido’s lament, When I am laid in earth, with its descending ground bass borrowed from current Venetian practice.
Dido, the widowed Queen of Carthage, entertains the Trojan prince Aeneas, shipwrecked on his way to Italy, where he will found a new Troy. Dido and Aeneas are in love. Witches plot Dido’s destruction and the Sorceress conjures a storm, to break out when the royal couple are hunting, and the impersonation of Mercury by one of her coven. The storm duly breaks and the courtiers hasten back to town, while the false Mercury tells Aeneas he must leave Dido and sail for Italy. Aeneas and his sailors prepare to leave, to the delight of the witches. Aeneas parts from Dido, who kills herself once he has gone, her death lamented by mourning cupids.
Orfeo ed Euridice is the first of Gluck’s reform operas, collaborations with Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, in which composer and poet aimed at a noble classical simplicity, avoiding what Gluck described in his preface to Alceste as the abuses of excessive ornamentation and other elements that pandered to the vanity of singers. Instrumental excerpts from the opera, which have appeared over the years in a variety of other arrangements, include the famous Dance of the Blessed Spirits, which is preceded in the opera by the contrasting Dance of the Furies. Most moving is the lament of Orpheus when Eurydice has died a second time, Che farò senza Euridice (What am I to do without Eurydice). Gluck made various changes in the work for staging in Paris, as Orphée et Eurydice.
Nymphs and shepherds celebrate the funeral rites of Eurydice, assisted by Orpheus, who laments her loss and reproaches the gods with cruelty. Cupid tells him that, if he can, he may bring her back from the dead by the power of music, but must not look at her until she is in the land of the living again. He encounters demons and Furies as he descends, calming them with his music, before entering the Elysian Fields, where the blessed spirits dance. Eurydice questions him and faints, as they try to leave, causing him to look round, at which she dies once more. He laments this turn of events, comforted by Cupid, who, rewarding his obvious fidelity, restores Eurydice to life. The opera ends in a celebration at the temple of Cupid.
Thursday February 15th at 2:30 p.m.
( Finish around 5:45 p.m. )
Part of complete Verdi from Teatro Regio di Parma with 10 minute introduction!
Verdi wrote his Egyptian opera Aida in response to a commission from the Khedive of Egypt for the opening of the new Cairo Opera House, after rejecting requests for an anthem to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal a year earlier. The first performance was conducted by the famous double-bass player Bottesini. Spectacle, of which some stage directors have made much, is provided particularly in the return of the victorious Radames in triumph. The story was the invention of the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, elaborated in French prose by Camille Du Locle, before the final Italian text was drafted. Aida remains a popular part of Italian opera repertoire. Familiar concert excerpts from Aida inevitably include the tenor Celeste Aida (Heavenly Aida) and Aida’s Ritorna vincitor (Return victorious). The grand march has celebrated many an non-operatic festivity and has allowed spectacular extravagance in more ostentatious productions of the opera. O patria mia (O my homeland) for Aida in the third act adds a particular poignancy, while the final death scene of Radames and Aida is also sometimes to be heard in dramatic isolation.
In the Egypt of the Pharoahs there is war with Ethiopia. The Ethiopian King’s daughter, Aida, has been captured and is now a slave in the service of the Pharoah’s daughter, Amneris. Radames loves Aida but is loved by Amneris. He is appointed general of the Egyptian army and in the second scene of the second act returns in triumph, to be rewarded by the unwelcome hand of Amneris in marriage. Aida’s father, Amonasro, has been taken prisoner, his life spared at the intercession of Radames. In the third act he induces his daughter to help him discover the plans of the Egyptian army, which she does in a meeting with Radames, their conversation overheard by Amonasro. Aida and Amonasro take flight but the apparent treachery of Radames is now revealed and he is condemned to death, to the dismay of Amneris. In the final scene he is immured in a stone tomb, where he is joined by Aida. As they die, Amneris, above the tomb, prays for peace for her beloved Radames.
In memory of Dmitri Hvorostovsky:
( 16 October 1962 – 22 November 2017 )
Beverly Sills interviews Fleming & Hvorostovsky: VIDEO
Dmitri Hvorostovsky – Onegin’s Act I aria: VIDEO
Tchaikovsky’s opera was written at the difficult period of his marriage to an apparently infatuated and certainly unbalanced admirer and their immediate separation. It was completed abroad in Switzerland and Italy. Of particular poignancy is Tatyana’s Letter Scene and Onegin’s subsequent answer in the garden. Prince Gremin’s aria in the third act gives depth to his character, as he describes the effect on him of his marriage to the young Tatyana. The dances from the two ball scenes have provided concert audiences with orchestral excerpts from the score.
Russia, 19th century. Autumn in the country. On the Larin estate. Madame Larina reflects upon the days before she married, when she was courted by her husband but loved another. She is now a widow with two daughters: Tatiana and Olga. While Tatiana spends her time reading novels, with whose heroines she closely identifies, Olga is being courted by their neighbor, the poet Lenski. He arrives unexpectedly, bringing with him a new visitor, Eugene Onegin, with whom Tatiana falls in love.
Tatiana asks her nurse Filippyevna to tell her of her first love and marriage. Tatiana stays up all night writing a passionate letter to Onegin and persuades Filippyevna to have her grandson deliver it in the morning.
Tatiana waits for Onegin’s response in the garden. He admits that he was touched by her declaration but explains that he cannot accept it and can only offer her friendship. He advises her to control her emotions, lest another man take advantage of her innocence.
January. The local community has been invited to the Larin estate to celebrate Tatiana’s name day. Onegin has reluctantly agreed to accompany Lenski to what he mistakenly believes will be an intimate family celebration. Annoyed to find himself trapped at an enormous party and bored by the occasion, Onegin takes his revenge on Lenski by flirting and dancing with Olga. Lenski’s jealousy is aroused to such a height that he challenges Onegin to a duel. The party breaks up.
Before the duel, Lenski meditates upon his poetry, upon his love for Olga, and upon death. Lenski’s second finds Onegin’s late arrival and his choice of a second insulting. Although both Lenski and Onegin are full of remorse, neither stops the duel. Lenski is killed.
St. Petersburg. Having travelled abroad for several years since the duel, Onegin has returned to the capital. At a ball, Prince Gremin introduces his young wife. Onegin is astonished to recognize her as Tatiana and to realize that he is in love with her.
Onegin has sent a letter to Tatiana. He arrives at the Gremin palace and begs her to run away with him. Tatiana admits that she still loves him, but that she has made her decision and will not leave her husband. Onegin is left desperate.
Complete Wagner Ring Cycle:
Tuesdays in March!
“In November 1851, Wagner drafted a first scenario for Das Rheingold, projected in three acts, with the title The Rape of the Rheingold. Then came a tentative sketch for Die Walkure, or at least two acts of it… by December 1852 he was able to write at the end of his huge manuscript: ‘Close of the stage-festival play’. By now he had come to see that no known stage could present his vast work adequately: a specially built festival theatre would be required.”
“So, by 1853 Wagner was at last ready to begin composing the music. For this he began at the beginning with Das Rheingold, now reduced from three acts to one. That work took him…six months. Die Walkure was begun in the summer of 1854 and completed in the spring of 1856, when Siegfried was started. The first two acts took him from September that year until July 1857. Then came the big break during which he wrote Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger no less, before he resumed work on Siegfried in March 1869. Gotterdammerung was begun in the autumn of that year and completed on 21 November 1874.”
Tuesday March 6th at 2:00 p.m.
( Finish around 5:00 p.m. with one intermission. )
1. Das Rheingold: “Rhinegold”
The first act of this first opera begins with a scene in which a dwarf named Alberich seizes the gold of the Rhinemaidens. Alberich denounces love in order to gain possession of the magic ring which gives its wearer ultimate power. This scene sets up the Ring as the most desireable object in the world, and thus it establishes the fundamental intrigue that lasts throughout the entire cycle of the Ring. Rhinegold is the story of the gods, possibly more so than the rest of the operas. One learns of the suffering of Wotan and the problems the gods have in repaying Fafner and Fasolt, the giants who built Valhalla. Since Wagner created Rhinegold to be the “Prelude” to the Ring, this opera perhaps is not as “free-standing” as the other works. Nevertheless, Rhinegold introduces “the main lines of The Ring‘s dramatic conflict” and “many of the cycle’s main musical ideas” (Blyth, 29).
Tuesday March 13th at 1:00 p.m.
( Finish around 5:40 p.m. with two intermissions. )
2. Die Walkure: “The Valkyries”
Brunnhilde and her father Wotan respectively struggle with their pride in order to decide the ultimate destiny of mortals. The Valkyries deals with the deep, but difficult relationship between gods and mortals. These gods also play games with one another, picking favorites and taking sides. Nobleness, especially in love, seems to come second to oaths–the divine promises–of the gods. Siegmund, the mortal hero, essentially dies because his father, Wotan, is under obligation to obey his lawful wife, Fricka.
Tuesday March 20th at 1:00 p.m.
( Finish around 5:45 p.m. with two intermissions. )
“Siegfried is often called the Scherzo of The Ring, suggesting that it is the lightest of the four dramas…” (Blyth, 83). It is the story of a hero, Siegfried, and how he grows into manhood to discover fear and love. Raised by the Nibelung Mime, Siegfried is young, innocent and cocky. With the help of a mysterious Wanderer (who is really Wotan in disguise), Siegfried finds the pieces of his father’s sword, Notung, reforges them and uses the instrument to kill the dragon Fafner who guards the hoard of Nibelung gold that formerly belonged to the Rhinemaidens. As a result of his killing of Fafner, Siegfried comes into possession of Alberich’s cursed ring. But, Siegfried faces his ultimate challenge when he follows a birdsong to find the sleeping Brunnhilde whom fate has destined Siegfried to awaken and fall in love with. At the end of the opera, Siegfried gives the Ring to Brunnhilde to prove and symbolize his oath of love and fidelity to her.
Tuesday March 27th at 1:00 p.m.
( Finish around 6:15 p.m. with two intermissions. )
4. Gotterdammerung: “The Twilight of the Gods”
An ambiance of doom overabides The Twilight of the Gods. Wotan and the rest of the cycle’s characters face the consequences of the choices they made throughout the stories of the first three operas. As predicted by the three Norns in the “Prelude” to this opera, the Nibelung Alberich’s curse upon the Ring proves to be prophetic. Everyone who comes into possession of it is ultimately destroyed. Although Wotan’s disempowerment was foreshadowed in Siegfried by the breaking of his spear by Siegfried, the doomed fate of the gods and their All-Father Wotan is sealed when Alberich’s evil son, Hagen dupes and cruelly murders the brave mortal hero Siegfried. Thus, The Twilight of the Gods , which is “a panorama of love and betrayal, good and evil, subconscious and overt events, grand, pictorial and private, intimate scenes” is “the climax of the whole Ring cycle” and “shows Wagner at zenith of his powers” (Blyth, 115).