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Giuseppe Verdi

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 6

Jonas Kaufmann: Why I saved my first Otello for London

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThe tenor tells the Covent Garden website: ‘I can’t tell you exactly the amount of offers I got for this part… You need an enormous amount of experience. It’s not so much the technical side of singing the role, but the challenge of losing yourself in the craziness of this character and pushing yourself to a limit where your voice might be harmed. I waited very long and I finally realized, “If I don’t do it now, when then?”. It has to be done under the best possible circumstances. The Royal Opera House has always been a place where I’ve felt very at home and the acoustic is good – it’s not too big but still has a glory. ‘Otello is the perfect Verdi opera. It starts, the curtain opens and you’re thrown right into it. A lot of actors are very jealous of opera singers in operas like Otello because we have this carpet of emotions. You don’t have to do it from scratch. The audience is already captivated – you just have to go and harvest.’ More here.

Royal Opera House

June 20

10 of opera’s greatest tenor roles

Juan Diego Flórez in La fille du régiment © Bill Cooper Whether cast as heroic warriors, ardent lovers, romantic poets or revolutionary outsiders, tenors are the undisputed kings of opera. We look at a few of the greatest – and most challenging – tenor roles: Idomeneo – Mozart ’s Idomeneo Idomeneo is a rare example of a tenor role with no love interest. However, Mozart more than makes up for it by giving the eponymous King of Crete one of the greatest virtuoso arias in the tenor repertory, 'Fuor del mar', and through his moving musical representation of Idomeneo's struggle to reconcile paternal love and religious duty. Arnold – Rossini ’s Guillaume Tell Arnold famously led to the birth of the ‘modern tenor’ , when his first interpreter, Gilbert Duprez , sang the high C in the Act IV cabaletta ‘Amis, amis’ in full voice rather than the customary falsetto. From the flamboyance of this stirring cabaletta to the lyricism of Arnold’s Act II duet with his beloved Mathilde and his mournful Act IV aria ‘Asile héréditaire’, there are plenty of vocal delights for any tenor bold enough to take on the challenge. Arturo – Bellini ’s I puritani Luciano Pavarotti described the role of the heroic monarchist Arturo, caught between love and political duty during England’s Civil War, as ‘pure tightrope walking’. Particularly demanding episodes include the Act I aria ‘A te, o cara’ and the Act III ensemble ‘Credeasi misera’, in which the courageous Arturo has to sing some of the highest notes ever written for tenor. Aeneas (Enée) – Berlioz ’s Les Troyens Stamina and versatility are the key skills for interpreters of Berlioz’s Trojan hero. Aeneas bursts onto the stage in Act I with high, declamatory music – but the role also calls for a singer capable of delicate lyricism, particularly in the sublime Act IV duet with Dido, ‘Nuit d’ivresse’. Keeping back enough energy for Act V’s heroic and despairing aria ‘Inutile regrets’, with its huge vocal range, is also crucial. Siegfried – Wagner ’s Der Ring des Nibelungen Wagner’s Siegfried is arguably the hardest role in the dramatic tenor repertory. Episodes such as the Forging Song require immense vocal power, easy top notes and boundless energy. But it’s not all about decibels: the singer also has to convince as the tender, sympathetic lover of Act III of Siegfried and of Götterdämmerung ’s death scene. Most importantly, he needs the stamina to keep going throughout two five-hour operas and still sound fresh at the end! Otello – Verdi ’s Otello Otello is perhaps Verdi’s most challenging tenor role. It requires a wide vocal range, and the singer needs to project over a powerful orchestra. Otello also presents a host of dramatic challenges: his interpreter must convince as Act I’s heroic commander, and as the troubled, ultimately broken man of the later acts – and remain sympathetic despite his appalling actions. Gherman – Tchaikovsky ’s The Queen of Spades The role of Gherman not only requires a singer of great stamina – he’s rarely offstage – but also one with the acting skills to convey the character’s mental instability and obsessiveness, while making us sympathize with him in his love for Liza and his loneliness. The rewards for the tenor are great, though: Plácido Domingo described Gherman as ‘dramatically one of the most interesting characters I have ever played’. Rodolfo – Puccini ’s La bohème Rodolfo is a character that many singers find it easy to empathize with: his enthusiasm for life, youthful romantic passion and fun-loving, humorous streak. The role also contains much glorious music, including ‘Che gelida manina’, one of opera’s most beautiful lyric tenor arias. No wonder that great tenors including Enrico Caruso , José Carreras and Pavarotti have listed Rodolfo among their favourite roles. The Emperor – Strauss ’s Die Frau ohne Schatten Strauss never gave tenors an easy time of it, and the Emperor outdoes even the role of Bacchus from Ariadne auf Naxos in its vocal difficulty. He makes his first appearance with a heroic aria set fiendishly high in the voice, and further challenges await in Act II when he sings a 12-minute monologue of almost unbearable intensity. Fortunately, the music is as consistently glorious as it is difficult! Peter Grimes – Britten ’s Peter Grimes Peter Grimes’s ambivalent nature makes him one of opera’s most dramatically interesting roles. Is he a hero or a villain? A murderer or a visionary? And how much should we sympathize with him? Jon Vickers saw him as a Christ-like figure, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson as ‘a dangerous, violent, quixotic and very valuable person for whom things go wrong’. But whoever Grimes is, there’s no doubting his wonderful music, including the Act I aria ‘Now the Great Bear and Pleiades’. Otello runs 21 June–15 July 2017. Tickets are still available. The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 28 June 2017. Find your nearest cinema. The production is generously supported by Rolex and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne, John G. Turner and Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Martin and Jane Houston, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The American Friends of Covent Garden, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.




Royal Opera House

June 13

Verdi's Otello musical highlight: Desdemona’s Willow Song and Ave Maria

Maria Agresta as Desdemona and Jonas Kaufmann as Otello in rehearsal for Otello, The Royal Opera © 2017 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore The Willow Song and Ave Maria are connected arias sung by Desdemona, the heroine of Verdi ’s 1887 opera Otello , based on Shakespeare ’s play Othello . They are her only solo numbers in the opera, and testify to her goodness and her continuing love for her husband Otello, despite his despicable treatment of her. Where does it take place in the opera? The Willow Song and Ave Maria take place at the start of the final act of Otello. Desdemona sings the Willow Song – which she learnt as a girl – as she prepares for bed, occasionally breaking off to issue instructions to her maid Emilia, or to meditate on her own sad circumstances. She is overcome with sudden fear, and bids Emilia an emotional farewell. After Emilia has left, Desdemona prays to the Virgin Mary, then falls asleep. She will later be woken by Otello who, maddened by jealousy, murders her. What do the lyrics mean? The Willow Song describes how a girl deserted by her lover sang so sweetly that the birds gathered to hear her, and wept so bitterly that the very stones were moved to pity. The song’s title comes from the refrain: ‘Il salce funebre sarà la mia ghirlanda’ (the funereal willow will be my garland). Desdemona breaks off from her song three times: to tell Emilia that Otello will soon arrive, to take off her ring, and, agitatedly, to ask if someone is knocking at the door. Her Ave Maria begins with the words of the traditional Catholic prayer , then evolves into a personal appeal to the Virgin Mary to protect and help all people: the powerful as well as the persecuted. What makes the music so memorable? The opening of Act IV powerfully evokes melancholy. The Willow Song is remarkable for its intimate mood: its lyrical, at times almost improvisatory, vocal line, and delicate orchestration, in which woodwind instruments are prominent. Verdi deftly illustrates images from the song’s text, including a busy string figuration to depict the swirling stream by which the girl weeps, and flute flurries for the birds that fly to her side. Desdemona’s two passionate outbursts at the end of the song hint at how stoically she has been controlling her grief. The ensuing Ave Maria movingly depicts how Desdemona finds consolation in prayer. Its shimmering orchestration, beautifully simple melody and ethereal coda – with Desdemona soaring to a pianissimo high note – poignantly portray innocence and trust in a beneficent higher power: a welcome contrast to the mood of bitterness and sorrow the cruel Iago has created by poisoning Otello’s mind against Desdemona. Otello’s other musical highlights The devil often gets the best tunes – so it’s no surprise that Iago has some terrific music, including the jocular Act I drinking song ‘Inaffia l’ugola!’ and the chillingly malevolent Act II ‘Credo’. Verdi movingly charts Otello’s mental disintegration, from the heroism of his Act I entry ‘Esultate!’ to the anguished, fragmentary music of his Act III solo ‘Dio! mi potevi scagliar’, and moves us to pity with his heartrending final soliloquy ‘Niun mi tema’. Memorable ensembles include Iago and Otello’s thrilling Act II duet ‘Sì, pel ciel’. And there is plenty of wonderful choral music, including the serene Act II chorus sung by Cypriots and their children in praise of Desdemona, and the mighty Act III concertato as the chorus and all the principal singers react to Otello’s public attack on his wife. Classic recordings Plácido Domingo , an iconic Otello, made several recordings of the opera, of which the 1978 version under James Levine also features the superb Iago of Sherrill Milnes and Renata Scotto ’s radiant Desdemona. Domingo’s 1994 recording , conducted by Myung-Whun Chung , includes Sergei Leiferkus as a deliciously sinister Iago and Cheryl Studer as an impassioned Desdemona. Other fine recordings include Georg Solti ’s from 1977 , with Margaret Price ’s vocal beauty and Carlo Cossutta ’s heroic stamina ideal for Desdemona and Otello; and the 1960 recording conducted by Italian maestro Tullio Serafin , with Jon Vickers a passionate Otello and the great Tito Gobbi a jocularly macabre Iago. Among the multiple filmed offerings are the Metropolitan Opera’s 1996 recording with Domingo, Renée Fleming and James Morris and The Royal Opera’s 1992 recording with Solti, Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa and Leiferkus. Zeffirelli ’s dramatic film of the opera with Domingo is also well worth a watch – if you can cope with the absence of the Willow Song! Further listening Verdi’s other two Shakespeare operas are the next logical step: his Macbeth is full of theatrical intensity and energy, while his last opera Falstaff is one of the most hilarious and touching operatic comedies. Those who enjoy Verdi’s combination of quick-moving drama and wonderful melodies will find much to enjoy in his successor Puccini ’s operas – particularly La bohème , Tosca and Madama Butterfly . Otello’s dramatic intensity and beautiful orchestration also has much in common with Wagner ’s music dramas, such as Tristan und Isolde , Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Parsifal . And for Shakespeare fans there’s a variety of other Shakespearean operas to explore, including Britten ’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Reimann ’s Lear and Adès ’s The Tempest . Otello runs 21 June–15 July 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is generously supported by Rolex and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne, John G. Turner and Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Martin and Jane Houston, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The American Friends of Covent Garden, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.



Giuseppe Verdi
(1813 – 1901)

Giuseppe Verdi (10 October 1813 - 27 January 1901) was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture - such as "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto, "Va, pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from La traviata and the "Grand March" from Aida. Although his work was sometimes criticized for using a generally diatonic rather than a chromatic musical idiom and having a tendency toward melodrama, Verdi’s masterworks dominate the standard repertoire a century and a half after their composition.



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