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Opera Quarterly – Opera discovery at its best!

14.03.2018

OPERA QUARTERLY – Opera discovery at its best!

Opera Quarterly is an ongoing adventure. The playlist is featuring a new topic every month. It presents the most famous opera scenes as well as new and almost forgotten pieces that are worth to discover. Curated and accompanied by a text on our homepage with insights to the dramaturgy of the playlist it gives everybody – from opera beginners to real opera freaks – the unique possibility to find out more about the passion of opera music and history.

Listen to it here!

MARCH MUSIC

„Oh, when the Saints, go marching in…” When this is happening, one thing could be assumed: It’s Easter time. And Easter time is marching time: Easter parades, processions, Easter marches etc. It seems like people love to go out with the first month in the year featuring a bit of warmer temperatures to show or even fight for their religion, own human rights, for peace, love and understanding – or for whatever they feel like. So, March is the month of marches. And it is the month of women’s rights, eked out by protesting on the street in women’s rights marches. For this reason, Opera Quarterly presents a playlist in March that can be seen as a clear commitment to diversity, different aspects of marching and procession music in opera history and of course to the importance of clerical operatic music as clear protest against the banishment of opera at Eastern from theatre stages.

Let’s dive into the March playlist – and into the grave mood of Easter – with one of the most famous and beloved orchestral pieces of opera history. It’s more of a flotation than a march. But it reflects a movement: In his Intermezzo Sinfonico of “Cavalleria Rusticana” Pietro Mascagni sketches the people going to church on Easter Sunday in a calm and introverted way.

Pietro Mascagni – “Cavalleria Rusticana” – Act I – Intermezzo Sinfonico
National Philharmonic Orchestra; James Levine, conductor

But it was a long way from opera banishment by the church on Easter time to the romantic presentation of religious ceremonies on opera stage. It was no other than Georg Frederic Handel who fought successfully for the right to stage opera also on Easter. Sonya Yoncheva shows us impressively, why it was worth struggling for the opera to get rid of its image of being impure, sinful and unbearable for the church. Although it may not have helped the composer to reach his goal, that his “Alcina” – like lots of other operas – mainly deals with love, betrayal, crossdressing and an enchantress. But anyway…

Georg Frederic Handel – “Alcina” (HWV 34) – Act I, Scene 15 – Tornami a vagheggiar
Sony Yoncheva, soprano; Academia Montis Regalis; Alessandro de Marchi, conductor

In the end, Handel found his own way to convince the clerical decision makers: He composed an operatic resurgence oratorio. “The Messiah” was born – and with it the freedom of presenting theatrical music pieces in operas and theatres all over the world. Hallelujah! 

Georg Frederic Handel – “The Messiah” (HWV 56) – Part II – Halleluja!
Tallis Chambre Choir; London Festival Orchestra; Ross Pople, conductor

Another epic musical piece that is connected deeply with Easter and especially Holy Friday is Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”. Due to the fact, that there is no resurgence without suffering, Bach gives us the most impressive, soulful and dramatically musical version of it in his entrance choir of his “St. Matthew Passion”. Listen to Gärchinger Kantorei Stuttgart with the Bach-Collegium. Well, even suffering can sound great, especially when you know how to do it!

Johann Sebastian Bach – “St. Matthew Passion” (BWV 244) – 1. Kommt ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen
Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart; Bach-Collegium Stuttgart; Helmut Rilling, conductor

The aria “Blute nur, Du liebes Herz” – also taken from “St. Matthew Passion” – proves, that suffering also has the possibility to sound easy, wonderful and thus totally liberating – especially when conducted by Bach expert Helmut Rilling and sung by soprano Aleen Auger.

Johann Sebastian Bach – “St. Matthew Passion” (BWV 244) – 12. Blute nur, Du liebes Herz
Aleen Auger, soprano; Bach-Collegium Stuttgart; Helmut Rilling, conductor

After having suffered in so many beautiful and charming ways, it’s enough for today and we come back to “Cavalleria Rusticana” finding ourselves in the middle of the Easter procession in a small village in Italy.

Pietro Mascagni – “Cavalleria Rusticana” – Act I – Regina coeli, laetare – Alleluja!
Renata Scotto, soprano; Ambrosian Opera Chorus; National Philharmonic Orchestra; James Levine, conductor

From the atmospheric procession music by one of the most important composers of so called Verismo showing the real life on stage let us proceed to one of the most famous marches in opera history hidden in an overture by Gioachino Rossini, the one to his opera “Guglielmo Tell”. Telling the story of the significant and successful fight for a free Switzerland, this march stands for freedom of speech, human rights and the uprising against oppression of any mankind like no other.

Gioachino Rossini – „Guglielmo Tell“ – Overture
Münchner Kammerorchester; Alexander Liebreich, conductor

Before listening to another famous march of French opera repertoire – the “March of the Toreadors” from George Bizet’s “Carmen” – no less then star-tenor Jonas Kaufmann confesses, that he wants Carmen right now in this playlist, too…

George Bizet – „Carmen” – Acte II – Je le veux, Carmen... La fleur que tu m'avais jetée
Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Bayerisches Staatsorchester; Bertrand de Billy, conductor

George Bizet – „Carmen” – Acte III – Les voici, les voici!
Anna Moffo, soprano; Franco Corelli, tenor; Jose van Damme, bass-baritone; Schöneberger Sängerknaben; Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin; Lorin Maazel, conductor

Marches were not only used in opera to describe religious movements or the entrance of glorious heroes but also to show ways of musical recruitment for military operations. Nowadays scenic reproductions of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” are struggling with the following scene of gipsy Preziosilla trying to find volunteers to go to war by promising them honour and glory. But her slogan “Rataplan” today appears more like the killing sound of submachine guns then a funny exclamation encouraging to go to war…

Giuseppe Verdi – „La Forza del Destino” – Act II – Nella Guerra è la follia
John Aldis Choir; London Symphony Orchestra; James Levine, conductor

Giuseppe Verdi – „La Forza del Destino” – Act II – Toh, toh, poffare il mondo
Gabriel Bacquier, baritone; John Aldis Choir; London Symphony Orchestra; James Levine, conductor

Giuseppe Verdi – „La Forza del Destino” – Act II – Lasciatelo ch’ei vada... Rataplan della gloria
Fiorenza Cossotto, mezzo-soprano; John Aldis Choir; London Symphony Orchestra; James Levine, conductor

Jacques Offenbach found his own special way to deal with Verdi’s musical advertisement for war action. In his one act operetta “Ba-ta-clan” he copies the character and sound of Verdi’s famous scene from “La Forza del Destino” caricaturing it by a satiric plot.

Fé-ni-han is Emperor of a small empire in Far East. He doesn’t know how to speak Chinese. To avoid his people to realise this, he invents his own language sounding like Chinese. This is the basis of the whole surreal libretto. With him are the young Mandarin Ké-ki-ka-ko and the Princess Fé-an-nichton. Ko-ko-ri-ko is the head of a conspiracy to dethrone the Emperor. He finds out, that the Mandarin and the Princess confess to each other that they are French – and have no bigger wish than returning to their home country. Ké-ki-ka-ko for real is the Viscount Alfred Cérisy, once shipwrecked on the coast of China and captured, tortured and brought to the palace. He is condemned to only repeat the rebels' song “Ba-ta-clan”. Fé-an-nich-ton is Mademoiselle Virginie Durand, a light soprano who was on a Far East tour to initiate the locals into the great French repertoire (“Les Huguenots”, “La Dame aux Camélias”, “La Juive”, “Les Rendez-vous bourgeois”, “Phèdre” and “Passé minuit”), when she was captured by the soldiers of Fé-ni-han. To cut a long story short: The Emperor wants to punish Ké-ki-ka-ko and Fé-an-nichtion for not being true and French, but finally also confesses, that he is French and misses France like hell. Ko-ko-ri-ko becomes the new Emperor – the others get on a ship that brings them home.

It is sorry fate and sad reality, that the entertainment establishment “Bataclan” in Paris named after Offenbach’s operetta became the main setting for the horrible terroristic attacks November 13th, 2015 – somehow building an additional terrifying connection between the ideas of two so very different works of opera history.

Jacques Offenbach – “Ba-ta-clan” – Le Ba-ta-clan e finale
Chorale Philippe Caillard; Orchestre Jean-François Paillard; Macel Couraud, conductor

Richard Wagner’s “Good Friday Music” appears in a much more peaceful way describing the holy atmosphere of Good Friday in his Bühnenweihfestspiel (Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage) “Parsifal”, one of the must-haves on Easter programmes of opera houses all around the world.

Richard Wagner – „Parsifal“ – Good Friday Music
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Metha, conductor

Before “Parsifal” entered the opera houses’ performance calendars killing everything that should get a chance to exist besides it, there was another piece played everywhere on Easter, which is almost forgotten today:  Étienne Nicolas Méhul’s “Joseph en Égypt” telling the well-known story of Joseph and his brothers. We listen to the Overture first before Robert Alagna sings the entrance aria of Joseph from the first act.

Étienne Nicolas Méhul – “Joseph en Égypte” – Overture
Orchestre de Bretagne; Stefan Sanderling, conductor

Étienne Nicolas Méhul – “Joseph en Égypte” – Act I, Scene 1 – Vainement Pharaon dans sa reconnaissance
Roberto Alagna, tenor; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Bertrand de Billy, conductor

Once we got there, we stay in Egypt coming back again to the composer who made all these operas happen on Easter opera programmes – Georg Frederic Handel. In his opera “Giulio Cesare in Egitto”, In her aria from the second act, Sonya Yoncheva as Cleopatra finds that she now loves Caesar instead of just pretending to love him. Good for her, because that makes her queen of Egypt in the end.

Georg Frederic Handel – “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” (HWV 17) – Act II, Scene 8 – Se pietà de me non senti
Sony Yoncheva, soprano; Academia Montis Regalis; Alessandro de Marchi, conductor

We stay in Egypt but move on approximately 150 years in opera history to the most famous operatic scene featuring march music: Giuseppe Verdi’s triumphal march from “Aida”, premiered 1871 in Cairo celebrating the opening of the Khedivial Opera House. Today, “Aida” continues to be a staple of the standard operatic repertoire and appears as number 12 on the list of the most-performed operas worldwide between 2009 and 2014. As of 2016, the Metropolitan Opera alone has given more than 1,100 performances of the opera, making it the second most frequently performed work by the company after “La bohème”. As important part of this success, the triumphal march is not only highly appreciated in opera houses and concert halls but also in stadiums e.g. at soccer games.

Giuseppe Verdi – “Aida” – Act II, Scene 2 – Gloria all’Egitto ed Iside
Aprile Millo, soprano; Plácido Domingo, tenor; Dolora Zajick, mezzo-soprano; James Morris, bass-baritone; Samuel Ramey, bass; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra; James Levine, conductor

Giuseppe Verdi – “Aida” – Act II, Scene 2 – Marcia
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; James Levine, conductor

Giuseppe Verdi – “Aida” – Act II, Scene 2 – Ballabile
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra; James Levine, conductor

Giuseppe Verdi – “Aida” – Act II, Scene 2 – Vieni, o guerriero vindice
Aprile Millo, soprano; Plácido Domingo, tenor; Dolora Zajick, mezzo-soprano; James Morris, bass-baritone; Samuel Ramey, bass; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra; James Levine, conductor

In his opera Lucia di Lammermoor, Gaetano Donizetti uses the contrast of march rhythms as expression of a clear mind with a will of moving forward and slow waltz rhythm as musical manifestation of insanity. In the final ensemble of Scene 2 in Act 3, Lucia slows down the tempo of the march first before starting a light and shining waltz picturing Lucia’s state of being not of this world any more. Pretty Yende is responsible for the magnificent showdown of our March playlist. Enjoy – and keep marching on!

Gaetano Donizetti – “Lucia di Lammermoor” – Act III, Scene 2– Spargi d’amore pianto
Pretty Yende, soprano; Mattia Olivieri, baritone; Carlo Lepore, bass; Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi; Giacomo Sagripanti, conductor

Gaetano Donizetti – “Lucia di Lammermoor” – Act III, Scene 2 – Spargi d’amore pianto
Pretty Yende, soprano; Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi; Giacomo Sagripanti, conductor

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