100 bästa operorna – 44 Orfeo ed Euridice av Gluck

28 september 2010

44 -Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck

Orfeo ed Euridice (French version: Orphée et Eurydice; English translation: Orpheus and Eurydice) is an opera composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck based on the myth of Orpheus, set to a libretto by Ranieri de’ Calzabigi.

Synopsis

Act 1

A chorus of nymphs and shepherds join Orfeo around the tomb of his wife Euridice in a solemn chorus of mourning; Orfeo is only able to utter Euridice’s name. Orfeo sends the others away and sings of his grief. Amore (Cupid) appears, telling Orfeo that he may go to the Underworld and return with his wife on the condition that he not look at her until they are back on earth. As encouragement, Amore informs Orfeo that his present suffering shall be short-lived. Orfeo resolves to take on the quest.

Act 2

In a rocky landscape, the Furies refuse to admit Orfeo to the Underworld, and sing of Cerberus, its canine guardian. When Orfeo, accompanied by his lyre (represented in the opera by a harp), begs for pity he is at first interrupted by cries of ”No!” from the Furies, but they are eventually softened by the sweetness of his singing in the arias and let him in.

The second scene opens in Elysium with the four-movement ”Dance of the Blessed Spirits” (with a prominent part for solo flute. This is followed by a solo which celebrates happiness in eternal bliss, sung by either an unnamed Spirit or Euridice, and repeated by the chorus. Orfeo arrives and marvels at the purity of the air in an arioso. But he finds no solace in the beauty of the surroundings, for Euridice is not yet with him. He implores the spirits to bring her to him, which they do.

Act 3

On the way out of Hades, Euridice is delighted to be returning to earth, but Orfeo, remembering the condition related by Amore in Act I, lets go of her hand and refuses to look at her, does not explain anything to her. She does not understand his action and reproaches him, but he must suffer in silence. Euridice takes this to be a sign that he no longer loves her, and refuses to continue, concluding that death would be preferable. She sings of her grief at Orfeo’s supposed infidelity. Unable to take any more, Orfeo turns and looks at Euridice; again, she dies. Orfeo sings of his grief.

Orfeo decides he will kill himself to join Euridice in Hades, but Amore returns to stop him. In reward for Orfeo’s continued love, Amore returns Euridice to life, and she and Orfeo are reunited. After a four-movement ballet, all sing in praise of Amore.

Roles
Orfeo – castrato/mezzo-soprano/counter tenor
Euridice – Soprano
Amore – Soprano
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Gluck basically reinvented the opera in the middle of the 18th century. Up until this opera the opera seria had basically petrified into a formualic and pretty boring thing. With Orfeo ed Euridice Gluck tried to make the drama once more the important part of the opera, instead of the singers. His work with tying everything together without clear breaks between arias and recitatives points the way towards the German opera, and especially Wagner. Now to be honest though many consider Gluck’s later opera Iphigénie en Tauride to be a better opera, but I guess Orfeo is being helped by having a musical piece that is more well known. I’m thinking about the Dance of the Blessed Spirits]. Otherwise one of the more famous arias is Orfeo’s Che faro senza Euridice.

I also must say that I think Euridice is stupid that thinks that Orfeo doesn’t love her anymore, when he’s just walked to Hades to get her back to earth.

 

100 bästa operorna – 45 Don Carlos av Verdi

22 september 2010

44 – Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi

Don Carlos is a five-act Grand Opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi to a French language libretto by Camille du Locle and Joseph Méry, based on the dramatic play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (”Don Carlos, Infante of Spain”) by Friedrich Schiller.

Synopsis
[This synopsis is based on the original five-act version composed for Paris and completed in 1866. Important changes for subsequent versions are noted in indented brackets]

Act 1

[This Act was omitted in the 1883 revision]

The Forest of Fontainebleau, France in winter

A prelude and chorus of woodcutters and their wives is heard. They complain of their hard life, made worse by war with Spain. Elisabeth, daughter of the King of France, arrives with her attendants. She reassures the people that her impending marriage to Don Carlos, son of the King of Spain, will bring the war to an end, and departs

[This was cut before the Paris première and replaced by a short scene in which Elisabeth crosses the stage and hands out money to the woodcutters]

Carlos, coming out from hiding, has seen Elisabeth and fallen in love with her. When she reappears, he initially pretends to be a member of the Count of Lerma’s delegation, but then reveals his identity and his feelings, which she reciprocates. A cannon-shot signifies that peace has been declared between Spain and France, and Thibault informs Elisabeth that her hand is to be claimed not by Carlos but by his father, Philip II. Lerma and his followers confirm this, and Elisabeth feels bound to accept, in order to consolidate the peace. She departs for Spain, leaving Carlos devastated.

Act 2

[This Act is Act 1 in the 1883 revision]

Scene 1: The monastery of Saint-Just (San Jerónimo de Yuste) in Spain

Monks pray for the soul of the Emperor Charles V. His grandson Don Carlos enters, anguished that the woman he loves is now married to his father.

[In the 1883 revision, he sings an aria, salvaged from the omitted first Act]

A monk resembling the former emperor offers him eventual consolation of peace through God. Carlos’s friend Rodrigue, Marquis of Posa, has just come from the oppressed land of Flanders.

[This was cut during the pre-première rehearsals]

He asks for the Infante’s aid on behalf of the suffering people there. Carlos reveals that he loves his stepmother. Posa encourages him to leave Spain and go to Flanders. The two men swear eternal friendship. King Philip and his new wife, with their attendants, enter to do homage at Charles V’s tomb, while Don Carlos laments his lost love.

Scene 2: A garden near Saint-Just

Princess Eboli sings the Veil Song about a Moorish King and an alluring veiled beauty that turned out to be his neglected wife. Elisabeth enters. Posa delivers a letter from France (and secretly a note from Don Carlos). At his urging, Elisabeth agrees to see the Infante alone. Eboli notices Don Carlos’ agitation and infers that she, Eboli, is the one Don Carlos loves.

When they are alone, Don Carlos tells Elisabeth that he is miserable, and asks her to request Philip to send him to Flanders. She promptly agrees, provoking Carlos to renew his declarations of love, which she piously rejects. Don Carlos exits in a frenzy, shouting that he must be under a curse. The King enters and becomes angry because the Queen is alone and unattended. He orders her lady-in-waiting, the Countess of Aremberg, to return to France, prompting Elizabeth to sing a sorrowful goodbye-aria. The King approaches Posa, whose character and activism have impressed him favorably. Posa begs the King to stop oppressing the people of Flanders. The King calls Posa’s idealistic request unrealistic, and warns him that the Grand Inquisitor is watching him.

[This duologue was revised three times by Verdi]

Act 3

[This Act is Act 2 in the 1883 revision]

Scene 1: Evening in the Queen’s garden in Madrid

Elisabeth is tired, and wishes to concentrate on the following days’s coronation of the King. To avoid the divertissement planned for the evening, she exchanges masks with Eboli, assuming that thereby her absence will not be noticed, and leaves

[This scene was omitted from the 1883 revision]

[The ballet, (choreographed by Lucien Petipa and entitled ”La Peregrina”) took place at this point in the première]

Don Carlos enters. He has received a note suggesting a tryst in the gardens, which he thinks is from Elisabeth, but which is really from Eboli, to whom he mistakenly declares his love. The disguised Eboli realizes that he thinks that she is the Queen, and Carlos is horrified that she now knows his secret. When Posa enters, she threatens to tell the King that Elisabeth and Carlos are lovers. Carlos prevents Posa from stabbing her, and she exits in a vengeful rage. Posa asks Carlos to entrust to him any sensitive political documents that he may have, and, when Carlos agrees, they reaffirm their friendship.

Scene 2: In front of the Cathedral of Valladolid

Preparations are being made an ”Auto-da-fé”, the public parade and burning of condemned heretics. While the people celebrate, monks drag the condemned to the woodpile. The royal procession follows, and the King addresses the populace, but Don Carlos brings forward six Flemish deputies, who plead with the King for their country’s freedom. The people and the court are sympathetic, but the King, supported by the monks, orders the deputies’ arrest. Carlos draws his sword against the King. The King calls for help but the guards will not attack Don Carlos. Posa steps in, and persuades Carlos to surrender his sword. The King then promotes Posa to Duke, the woodpile is fired, and, as the flames start to rise, a heavenly voice can be heard promising peace to the condemned souls.

Act 4

[This Act is Act 3 in the 1883 revision]

Scene 1: Dawn in King Philip’s study in Madrid

Alone, the King, in a reverie, laments that Elisabeth has never loved him, that his position means that he has to be eternally vigilant, and that he will only sleep properly when he is in his tomb in the Escorial. The blind, ninety-year-old Grand Inquisitor is announced. The King asks if the Church will object to his putting his own son to death, and the Inquisitor replies that the King will be in good company: God sacrificed His own son. In return, the Inquisitor demands that the King have Posa killed. The King refuses to kill his friend, whom he admires and likes, but the Inquisitor reminds the King that the Inquisition can take down any king; he has destroyed other kings before. The King admits that he is powerless to save his friend and begs the Grand Inquisitor to forget about the whole discussion. The Grand Inqusitor replies ”We’ll see,” and leaves. Elisabeth enters, alarmed at the apparent theft of her jewel casket, but the King produces it and points to the portrait of Don Carlos which it contains, and accuses her of adultery. She protests her innocence, and, when the King threatens her, she faints. He calls for help. Eboli and Posa appear, and a quartet develops. The King realises that he has wronged his wife. Posa resolves to save Carlos, though it may mean his own death. Eboli feels remorse for betraying Elisabeth; the latter, recovering, expresses her despair.

[This quartet was revised by Verdi in 1883]

The two women are left together. A duet was cut before the première. Eboli confesses not only that she stole the casket because she loved Carlos and he rejected her, but, worse, she has also been the mistress of the King. Elisabeth tells her that she must go into exile or enter a convent, and exits. Eboli, alone, curses the fatal pride that her beauty has bestowed on her, chooses the convent over exile, and resolves to try to save Carlos from the Inquisition.

Scene 2: A prison

Don Carlos has been imprisoned. Posa arrives to tell him that he will be saved but that he himself will have to die, incriminated by the politically sensitive documents which Carlos had entrusted to him. A shadowy figure shoots Posa in the chest. As he dies, Posa tells Carlos that Elisabeth will meet him at Saint-Just on the following day, and says that he is content to die if his friend can save Flanders and rule over a happier Spain. After his death, Philip enters, offering his son freedom. Carlos repulses him for having murdered Posa. The King sees that Posa has been killed, and cries out in his sorrow.

[A duet included at this point for Carlos and the King, cut before the première, was later re-used by Verdi for the Lacrimosa in his Requiem]

Bells ring, and Elisabeth, Eboli and the Grand Inquisitor arrive, while a crowd demands the release of Carlos and threatens the King. In the confusion, Eboli escapes with Carlos. The people are brave enough to threaten the King, but they are terrified by the Grand Inquisitor, and they instantly obey his angry command to quiet down and bow to the King.

[After the première, some productions ended this Act with the death of Posa; however, in 1883 Verdi provided a much shortened version of the insurrection, as he felt that otherwise it would not be clear how Eboli had fulfilled her promise to rescue Carlos]

Act 5

[This Act is Act 4 in the 1883 revision]

The moonlit monastery of Saint-Just

Elisabeth kneels before the tomb of Charles V. She is committed to help Don Carlos on his way to fulfil his destiny in Flanders, but she herself longs only for death. Carlos appears and they say a final farewell, promising to meet again in Heaven.

[This duet was twice revised by Verdi]

Philip and the Grand Inquisitor enter: the King declares that there will be a double sacrifice, and the Inquisitor confirms that the Inquisition will do its duty. A short summary trial follows.

[The trial was omitted in 1883]

Carlos, calling on God, draws his sword to defend himself against the Inquisitor’s guards, when suddenly, the Monk emerges from the tomb of Charles V. He grabs Carlos by the shoulder, and loudly proclaims that the turbulence of the world persists even in the Church; we cannot rest except in Heaven. Philip and the Inquisitor recognize the Monk’s voice as that of the King’s father, former-Emperor Charles V himself. Everyone screams in shock and terror, and the Monk/former-Emperor drags Carlos forcefully into the tomb and closes the outlet. The curtain falls.

Roles
Philip II, (Filippo) King of Spain – bass
Don Carlos (Don Carlo), Infante of Spain – tenor
Rodrigue (Rodrigo), Marquis of Posa – baritone
The Grand Inquisitor – bass
Elisabeth of Valois – soprano
Princess Eboli – mezzo-soprano
A monk (Charles V) – bass
Thibault (Tebaldo) page – soparno
A voice from heaven – soprano
The count of Lerma – tenor
Royal Herald – tenor
Countess of Aremberg – silent
****************************************

********

As noted when reading the synopsis there are very many versions of this opera, in both French and Italian. I haven’t seen it, but it seems to have one of the strangest endings I’ve heard about, not exactly logical. The opera has been pretty popular the last few years, I’ve heard of quite a few productions of it, and for example it’s going to be digicast by the Met in December. Here’s a clip of the Grand Inquisitor, a bit unexpected, but not surprised.

 

100 bästa operorna – 46 l’Orfeo av Monteverdi

15 september 2010

46 – l’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi

L’Orfeo (L’Orfeo, favola in musica, SV 318, or La Favola d’Orfeo, or The Legend of Orpheus) is one of the earliest works recognized as an opera, composed by Claudio Monteverdi with text by Alessandro Striggio.

Synopsis

The actions take place in two contrasting locations: the fields of Thrace (Acts 1, 2 and 5) and the Underworld (Acts 3 and 4). An instrumental toccata (English: ”tucket”, meaning a flourish on trumpets)[41]  precedes the entrance of La Musica, who sings a prologue of five stanzas of verse. After a graceful welcome to the audience she announces herself as the spirit of music who can, through sweet sounds, ”calm every troubled heart.” She sings a further paean to the power of music, before introducing the drama’s main protagonist, Orfeo, who ”held the wild beasts spellbound with his song”.

Act 1

After La Musica’s final request for silence, the curtain rises on Act 1 to reveal a pastoral scene. Orfeo and Euridice enter together with a chorus of nymphs and shepherds, who act in the manner of a Greek chorus, commenting on the action both as a group and as individuals. A shepherd announces that this this the couple’s wedding day, and the chorus celebrates, first in a stately invocation and then in a a joyful dance. Orfeo and Euridice sing of their love for each other, before leaving with most of the group for the wedding ceremony in the temple. Those left on stage perform a brief chorus, commenting on how Orfeo has been changed by love from one ”for whom sighs were food and weeping was drink” to a state of sublime happiness.

Act 2

Orfeo returns with the main chorus, and together they sing of the beauties of nature. In a reflective four-verse aria Orfeo muses on his former unhappiness, but proclaims: ”After grief one is more content, after pain one is happier”. The mood of contentment is abruptly ended when the Messagiera enters, bringing the news that, while gathering flowers, Euridice has receved a fatal snakebite. The chorus expresses its anguish, while the Messagiera castigates herself as the bearing of bad tidings. Orfeo, after venting his grief and incredulity, declares his intention of descending to the Underworld and persuading its ruler to to allow Euridice to return to life. Otherwise ”I shall remain with thee in the company of death”. He departs, and the chorus resumes its lament.

Act 3

Orfeo is guided by Speranza to the gates of Hades. Having pointed out the words inscribed on the gate Speranza leaves. Orfeo is now confronted with the ferryman Caronte, who addresses Orfeo harshly and refuses to take him across the River Styx. Orfeo attempts to persuade Caronte by singing a flattering song to him, but the ferryman is unmoved. However, when Orfeo takes up his lyre and plays, Caronte is soothed into sleep. Seizing his chance, Orfeo steals the ferryman’s boat and crosses the river, to enter the Underworld while a chorus of spirits reflects that nature cannot defend herself against man: ”He has tamed the sea with fragile wood, and disdained the rage of the winds.”

Act 4

In the Underworld Proserpina, Queen of Hades, pleads with Plutone, her husband the King. She has been deeply affected by Orfeo’s singing, and petitions the king for Euridice’s release. Plutone is moved by her pleas, and agrees, subject to the condition that, in leading Euridice back to the world, Orfeo must not look back. If he does, ”a single glance will condemn him to eternal loss”. Proserpina expresses her gratitude, blessing the day that she was abducted by Plutone and brought to Hades. Orfeo now enters, leading Euridice and singing that on his wife’s white bosom he will rest that day. But a note of doubt creeps in: ”Who will assure me that she is following?”. Perhaps Plutone, driven by envy, has imposed the condition through spite? Suddenly distracted by an off-stage commotion, Orfeo looks round; immediately, the image of Euridice begins to fade. She sings, despairingly: ”Losest thou me through too much love?” and disappears. Orfeo attempts to follow her but is drawn away by an unseen force. The chorus of spirits sings that Orfeo, having overcome Hades, was in turn overcome by his passions.

Act 5

Back in the fields of Thrace Orfeo, in a long soliloquy, laments his loss, praises Euridice’s beauty and resolves that his heart will never again be pierced by Cupid’s arrow. An echo repeats his final phrases. Suddenly, in a cloud, Apollo descends from the heavens and chastises him: ”Why dost thou give thyself up as prey to rage and grief?” He invites Orfeo to leave the world and join him in the heavens, where he will recognise Euridice’s likeness in the stars. Orfeo replies that it would be unworthy not to follow the counsel of such a wise father, and together they ascend. A sheperds’ chorus sings and dances a brief finale, which concludes that ”he who sows in suffering shall reap the fruit of every grace”.

Roles
La Musica (Music)- soprano, originally castrato
Orfeo (Orpheus)- tenor
Euridice (Eurydice)- soprano, originally castrato
Mesaggiera (Messenger) – soprano
Speranza (Hope) – soprano
Caronte (Charon)- bass
Proserpina (Proserpine)- soprano
Plutone (Pluto)- bass
Apollo – tenor
Ninfa (Nymph)-     soprano
Eco (Echo) – tenor

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This is the first ”real” opera, combining music and acting into the format we know still today. As the first one it differs a bit from later baroque operas as well, the recitatives are much more interesting, they haven’t settled into the formula so to say. I’ve seen the opera many years ago in a TV broadcast from the [link=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drott

ningholm_Palace_Theatre]Drottningholm Palace theatre[/link], meaning that it was all done just as it would have been perfomed in the 17th century. This performance, as well as what I know of the operas of the time period, makes me wary of the voice list here. Orfeo for example I’ve found more performances by a mezzo-soprano or baritone, indicating that it was a castrato originally. Also tenors were mostly used as old women in those days, not as heroes or gods.

Anyway I’ve picked two pieces from the opera. The first one is the wedding of Orfeo and Eurydice in a very classical production, the second one is the finale between Orfeo and Apollo, in a totally contrasting modern production. Apollo can’t have had an easy time singing in that costume.

 

100 bästa operorna – 46 Friskytten av Weber

7 september 2010

46 – Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber

Der Freischütz is an opera in three acts by Carl Maria von Weber with a libretto by Friedrich Kind. It is considered the first important German Romantic opera.

Synopsis

Act 1

The young gamekeeper Max loves Agathe and is to become the successor to Kuno, the head ranger and Agathe’s father. But a test of skill in marksmanship is required, the trial to be held the following day.

At a target shooting, Max loses to the young peasant Kilian, who is proclaimed ”King of marksmen.

Because Max has had ill luck for several days he easily falls under the influence of Kaspar, who persuades Max to cast seven magic bullets to be used in the contest. Kaspar, whose soul on the morrow is to be forfeited to the devil, hopes to obtain three more years of grace by substituting Max in his place.

Left alone, Max sinks into deep melancholy at the thought of losing Agathe through failure at the shooting contest. Kaspar with weird incantations tries to imbue him with courage.

He hands Max his gun loaded with a magic bullet, and to his own astonishment Max kills an eagle soaring at a great height. He resolves to go with Kaspar at midnight to the terrible Wolf’s Glen to cast the magic bullets, which will kill anything the shooter wants, in order to win the prize. Kaspar, left alone, triumphs.

Act 2

Agathe’s chamber

Agathe is filled with sad forebodings. She sings of her meeting with a hermit in the forest, who told her that in some danger which menaced her, she would be protected by her bridal wreath. At the moment when Max shoots the magic bullet, the picture of Agathe’s ancestor hanging against the wall falls to the floor, slightly wounding her. Agathe’s cousin and companion Ännchen replaces it. Agathe is still more disturbed, but Ännchen endeavours to cheer her with jests.

Agathe left alone awaits Max with the news of his success, which she decides to interpret as a favourable omen.

Max arrives; he acknowledges that he has not been the victor, but explains that he has killed a deer, which he will bring this evening from the Wolf’s Glen. Notwithstanding the prayers of Agathe and Ännchen, Max departs.

The Wolf’s Glen at night

Kaspar calls upon Zamiel, the black ranger, for assistance, and prepares the casting of the magic bullets. Max arrives and is warned by the spirit of his mother to abandon the project. Zamiel conjures up the shape of Agathe, representing her as drowning herself in despair at Max’s ill success, whereupon he plunges into the glen and with demoniacal noise the casting of the bullets is begun.

Act 3

Agathe’s chamber

Agathe is praying. Her doubts have returned, owing to a dream of ill omen, but Ännchen again cheers her with laughter and song. The bridesmaids arrive with the bridal wreath. When Ännchen opens the box, however, she finds within a funeral wreath, which still further increases Agathe’s misgivings. She is somewhat comforted by the memory of the hermit’s promise that she shall be protected by her bridal wreath.

The meeting of the marksmen

Having split the seven bullets between them, Max has used four and Kaspar has used three. Max demands Kaspar give him his last bullet to use in the final shooting contest, but Kaspar refuses. As Max leaves, Kaspar shoots a fox, thus making Max’s bullet the seventh and controlled by the Evil One.

The prize shooting

Duke Ottokar awaits Max at his tent. Max is now to shoot a dove. As he takes aim, Zamiel, the black huntsman, appears to guide the bullet, and causes Max to fire at Agathe, who is apparently wounded. Agathe falls, but her bridal wreath has deflected the bullet, which struck Kaspar. Agathe revives from her faint. Kaspar, seeing a holy hermit by her side, realizes that he has failed. Zamiel grasps him instead of Max, whereupon Kaspar expires with a curse upon his lips. Duke Ottokar orders the corpse to be thrown into the Wolf’s Glen, then demands and receives an explanation from Max. In spite of pleas from Kuno, Agathe, peasants, and huntsman, the infuriated duke pronounces the sentence of banishment. Before this can be carried out, however, the hermit enters into their midst. The duke acknowledges the holy man, and asks for his counsel. The hermit explains that the combined effects of love for Agathe, and fear of losing her should he fail the shooting trial are what caused Max to stray from a life that was formerly without fault. The hermit goes on to condemn the trial shot, suggests a probationary year as penalty, and asks who among the assembled has looked into their own heart and would be willing to cast the first stone. If Max lives a faultless life, he will gain forgiveness and be permitted to marry Agathe. The Duke commends the hermit for his wisdom saying a higher power speaks through him. The duke ends his pronouncement by saying he, himself, will place the hand of Agathe in that of Max when the probation is over. The opera ends with the ensemble singing prayers of thanks.

Roles
Ottokar, duke of Bohemia – tenor
Kuno, head gamekeeper – bass
Agathe, daughter of Kuno – soprano
Ännchen, a cousing of Agathe – soprano
Kaspar, a gamekeepr – bass
Max, gamekeeper – tenor
a hermit – bass
Kilian, a rich peasant – tenor
Zamiel, the dark hunter – spoken

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Der Freischütz is probably most known today as a stepping stone. It is the opera between the Magic Flute and Wagner in German opera history, building upon the same Singspiel tradition, but adding a lot of romantic influences, and not the least letting nature play a large part, just like Wagner would later do. Agathe is also a common ”first” for a dramatic soprano, if singer debuts with a good Agathe it’s quite probable that she will end up as Brünnhilde or Isolde in some years.

The most famous scene is the Wolf’s glen (ok, this is a strange production but I chose it since it had English subtitles) and the Hunters’ chorus

 

100 bästa operorna – 47 Samson et Delila av Saint-Saëns

1 september 2010

47 – Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns

Samson and Delilah (French: Samson et Dalila), Op. 47, is a grand opera in three acts and four scenes by Camille Saint-Saëns to a French libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire. It was first performed in Weimar at the Grossherzogliches (Grand Ducal) Theater (now the Staatskapelle Weimar) on 2 December 1877 in a German translation.

Synopsis

    Place: Gaza
    Time: ca. 1150 BC

Act 1 : A square in Gaza at night

In a square outside the temple of Dagon, a group of Hebrews beg Jehovah for relief from their bondage to the Philistines in a melancholy chorus, which leads into a fugue (Nous avons vu nos cités renversées). Samson tries to revive the Israelites’ morale and faith in God in a rousing aria set against the chorus’s continuous prayer. Abimelech, the Philistine governor, appears and taunts the Israelites, saying that they are helpless because their god has abandoned them. He further states that his god, Dagon, is far superior. The Hebrews cower in fear before Abimelech until Samson incites them into defiant action. Enraged, Abimelech attacks an unarmed Samson with his sword. Samson manages to wrest the sword from Abimelech and kills him.

Afraid of what might now happen, the Hebrews flee, abandoning Samson. The High Priest of Dagon comes from the Philistine temple and curses the Hebrews and Samson’s prodigious strength. A messenger arrives and informs the High Priest that the Hebrews are destroying the harvest. He responds with a further curse that alludes to his plot to utilize Delilah’s beauty to outwit Samson’s strength.

As dawn breaks the Hebrews lift up a humble prayer to God in a style reminiscent of plainchant. Out of the temple emerges Dalila along with several priestesses of Dagon. As they walk down the temple steps, they sing of the pleasures of spring. Dalila engages seductively with Samson proclaiming that he has won her heart and bids him to come with her to her home in the valley of Sorek. As she tries to charm him, a trio forms as an old Hebrew warns of the danger this woman presents and Samson prays for God’s protection from Dalila’s charms. In an attempt to seduce Samson away from his leadership of the Israelite uprising, Dalila and the priestesses begin a sexually charged dance for him accompanied by a tambourine. After the dance, Dalila sings how spring is blossoming all around her yet, in her heart, she feels like it is still winter. As Samson struggles with his desire for Dalila, the old Hebrew repeats his cautionary plea. His warning, however, is made in vain and the curtain closes as Samson meets Delilah’s gaze with every intention of going to her nearby dwelling.

Act 2 : Delilah’s retreat in the Valley of Sorek

Dalila knows that Samson is entranced with her and will come to her instead of leading the revolution against the Philistines. Sitting on a rock outside the entrance to her retreat, she sings triumphantly about her power to ensnare Samson. She says that all of his strength is hopeless to withstand love’s onslaught (Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse).

Distant lightning is seen as the High Priest arrives to report that Samson and the Hebrews have conquered the Philistines. He attempts to achieve Samson’s capture by offering Dalila gold, but she refuses saying she cares not for money but only for revenge. Her desire to hurt Samson is motivated solely by her loyalty to her gods and her hatred for the Hebrews. Dalila and the High Priest sing a duet expressing their mutual abhorence for Samson and the Hebrews. Dalila vows to discover the secret of Samson’s strength.

Now alone, Dalila contemplates her chances of success. Samson, intent on taking his place as the leader of the Hebrew revolt, emerges to say his last farewell as distant lightening is once again seen. In an attempt to close the trap which she has set for Samson, Dalila tells Samson seductively that she is completely his if he wants her. She begs him to respond to her caresses, hoping that he will finally let go of all other things and concentrate completely on her. His admission Je t’aime! introduces her main aria. which becomes a duet on the second verse when Samson joins her in song. Now that Dalila has him in her power, she feigns disbelief in his constancy and demands that he show his love by confiding in her the secret of his strength. Samson hears rolling thunder again which now seems like a warning from God and refuses. Dalila weeps and scorns Samson and runs into her dwelling. Samson is momentarily torn but then follows Dalila inside. Not long afterward, having finally learned that the secret of Samson’s strength is his long hair, she calls to hidden Philistine soldiers, who rush in to capture and blind Samson.

Act 3: the City of Gaza

Scene 1: In a dungeon at Gaza

His hair shorn and now blind and shackled, Samson is turning a mill-wheel and praying for his people, who will suffer for his sin. He hears their voices, echoing the Hebrews’ lament from Act I. Overcome with remorse, Samson offers his life in sacrifice, while the Hebrews are heard in the distance lamenting his fate.

Scene 2: In the Temple of Dagon

A musical interlude is played as the scene changes to the temple of Dagon, where the Philistines are preparing a sacrifice to commemorate their victory. The priests and priestesses of Dagon sing softly, reprising the song to spring from Act I. The music turns savage as the priests dance a wild Bacchanale. Following the dance, Samson enters led by a boy. He is ridiculed by the High Priest and the crowd. Dalila taunts Samson further by recounting to him the details of her devious plot in a variant of her love song. When the priests try to force him to kneel before Dagon, he asks the boy to lead him to the two main pillars of the temple. Samson prays to God to restore his strength, and pulls down the pillars and the temple with them, crushing himself and his enemies. The curtain falls

Roles
Dalila – mezzosoprano
Samson – tenor
High priest of Dagon – baritone
Abimélech – bass
first Philistine – tenor
second Philistine – bass
Philistine messenger – tenor
Old Hebrew – bass
Hebrews and Philistines
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Samson et Dalila was not an immediate success, in fact it would take more than 10 years from its creation until it was regularly performed. It is a regular, but not one of the most played operas around the world. It’s also quite the essential French grande opera. Today it’s, of course, pretty popular to set the opera in 20th century Israel/Palestine. The opera has served as a bit of step to fame for many singers. Dalila is also one of the quite few leading roles for a darker female voice, it’s written for a mezzo-soprano but quite a few contraltos have sung it as well.

Both of Dalila’s arias are so beautiful. I usually try to find stage versions of the arias, but this is an exception, since I just love this version of Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix. Here is also Samson’s aria Arrêtez, ô mes frères from the beginning of the first act.

100 bästa operorna – Hoffmanns äventyr av Offenback

17 juli 2010

48 – Les Contes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach

The Tales of Hoffmann (Les contes d’Hoffmann) is an opera  by Jacques Offenbach. The French libretto was written by Jules Barbier, based on short stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann, who is the main protagonist in the opera (as he is in the stories).

Roles
Hoffmann, a poet – tenor
Olympia, a mechanical doll – soprano
Antonia, a young girl – soprano
Giulietta, a courtesan – soprano
Stella, a singer – soprano
Lindorf, Coppelius, Miracle – bassbaritone
Dapertutto – bass-baritone
Andrès, Cochenille, Frantz – tenor    
Pitichinaccio –    tenor        
Crespel, Antonia’s father – bass    
Hermann, a student – bass     
Wolfram, a student – bass    
Wilhem, a student – bass    
Luther – bass
Nathanaël, a student- tenor    
Nicklausse – mezzo-soprano
The Muse – mezzo-soprano
Peter Schlémil, in love with Giulietta – bass        
Spalanzani, an inventor – tenor    
Voice of the mother of Antonia – soprano

Synopsis
Prologue

A tavern in Nuremberg. The Muse appears and reveals to the audience that her purpose is to draw Hoffmann’s attention to herself, and to make him abjure all other loves, so he can be devoted fully to her: poetry. She takes the appearance of Hoffmann’s closest friend, Nicklausse. The prima donna Stella, currently performing Mozart’s Don Giovanni sends a letter to Hoffmann, requesting a meeting in her dressing room after the performance. The letter, and the key to the room, are intercepted by Councillor Lindorf, who is the first of the opera’s incarnations of evil, Hoffmann’s nemesis. Lindorf intends to replace Hoffmann at the rendezvous. In the tavern students are waiting for Hoffmann. He finally arrives and entertains them with the legend of Kleinzach the dwarf, and is coaxed by Lindorf into telling the audience about his life’s three great loves.

Act 1

Hoffmann’s first love is Olympia, an automaton created by the scientist Spalanzani. Hoffmann falls in love with her, not knowing that Olympia is a mechanical doll. Nicklausse, who knows the truth about Olympia, sings a story of a mechanical doll that looked like a human to warn Hoffmann but is ignored by him. Coppélius, Olympia’s co-creator and this act’s incarnation of Nemesis, sells Hoffmann magic glasses which make Olympia appear as a real woman.

Olympia sings one of the opera’s most famous arias in which she periodically runs down and needs to be wound up before she can continue. Hoffmann is tricked into believing that his affections are returned, to the bemusement of Nicklausse, who subtly tries to warn his friend. While dancing with Olympia, Hoffmann falls on the ground and his glasses break. At the same time, Coppélius appears and tears Olympia apart, in retaliation for having been tricked out of his fees by Spalanzani. With the crowd laughing at him, Hoffmann realizes that he was in love with an automaton.

Act 2

Venice. Hoffmann falls in love with the courtesan Giulietta and thinks his affections are returned. Giulietta is not in love with Hoffmann but only seducing him under the orders of Captain Dapertutto, who has promised to give her a diamond if she filches Hoffmann’s reflection from a mirror. The jealous Schlemil, a previous victim of Giulietta and Dapertutto (he gave Giulietta his shadow), challenges the poet to a duel, but is killed. Nicklausse wants to take Hoffmann away from Venice and goes looking for horses. Meanwhile, Hoffmann meets Giulietta and cannot resist her, he gives her his reflection, only to be abandoned by the courtesan, to Dapertutto’s great pleasure. Hoffmann tells Dapertutto that his friend Nicklausse will come and save him. Dapertutto prepares a poison to get rid of Nicklausse, but Giulietta drinks it by mistake and drops dead in the arms of the poet.

Act 3

After a long search, Hoffmann finds the house where Crespel and his daughter Antonia are hiding. Hoffmann and Antonia loved each other, but were separated when Crespel decided to hide his daughter from Hoffmann. Antonia has inherited her mother’s talent for singing, but her father forbids her to sing because of the mysterious illness from which she is suffering. Antonia wishes that her lover would return to her. Her father also forbids her to see Hoffmann, who is encouraging Antonia in her musical career, and is therefore a danger to her without knowing it. Crespel tells Frantz, his servant, to stay with his daughter and when he leaves, Frantz sings.

When Crespel leaves his house, Hoffmann takes advantage of the occasion to sneak in, and the lovers are reunited. When Crespel comes back, he receives the visit of Dr Miracle, the act’s Nemesis, who forces Crespel to let him heal Antonia. Still in the house, Hoffmann listens to the conversation and learns that Antonia may die if she sings too much. He returns to her room to make her promise to give up her artistic dreams. Antonia reluctantly accepts her lover’s will. Once she is alone, Dr Miracle enters Antonia’s room and tries to persuade her to sing and follow her mother’s path to glory, stating that Hoffmann is sacrificing her to his brutishness and loves her only for her beauty. With mystic powers, he raises a vision of Antonia’s dead mother and induces Antonia to sing, causing her death. Crespel arrives just in time to witness his daughter’s last breath. Hoffmann enters the room and Crespel wants to kill him, thinking that he is responsible for his daughter’s death. Nicklausse saves his friend from the old man’s vengeance.

Epilogue

The tavern in Nuremberg. Hoffmann, drunk, swears he will never love again, and explains that Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta are three facets of a same person, Stella. They represent, respectively, the young girl’s, the musician’s, and the courtesan’s side of the prima donna. When Hoffmann says he doesn’t want to love any more, Nicklausse reveals himself as the Muse and reclaims Hoffmann: ”Be reborn a poet! I love you, Hoffmann! Be mine!” The magic of poetry reaches Hoffmann: ”Beloved Muse, I am yours.” At this moment, Stella, who is tired of waiting for Hoffmann to come to her rendezvous, enters the tavern and finds him drunk. The poet tells her to leave, and Lindorf, who was waiting in the shadows, comes forth. Nicklausse explains to Stella that Hoffmann does not love her any more, but that Councillor Lindorf is waiting for her. Some students enter the room for more drinking, while Stella and Lindorf leave together.

Different versions of the opera

Offenbach did not live to see his opera performed, since he died on October 5, 1880, just over four months before its premiere. Before his death, Offenbach had completed the piano score and orchestrated the prologue and the first act. Since he did not entirely finish the writing, many different versions of this opera emerged, some bearing little resemblance to the original work. The version performed at the opera’s premiere was that by Ernest Guiraud, who completed Offenbach’s scoring and wrote the recitatives.

The main modifications often encountered are:

    * Addition of extra music not written by Offenbach for the work

        Commonly directors choose among two arias in the Giulietta act:
        ”Scintille, diamant”, based on a tune from the overture to Offenbach’s operetta ”Journey to the Moon” and included by André Bloch for a Monaco production in 1908.
        The Sextet (sometimes called Septet, counting the chorus as a character) of unknown origin, but containing elements of the Barcarolle.

    * Changing of the order of the acts

        The three acts, telling different stories from the life of Hoffmann, are independent (with the exception of a mention of Olympia in the Antonia act) and can easily be swapped without affecting the overall story. Offenbach’s order was Prologue–Olympia–Antonia–Giulietta–Epilo

gue, but during the 20th century, the work was usually performed with Giulietta’s act preceding Antonia’s. Only recently has the original order been restored, and even now the practice is not universal. The general reason for the switch is that the Antonia act is more accomplished musically.

    * Naming the acts

        Also the designation of the acts is disputed. The German scholar Josef Heinzelmann, among others, favours numbering the Prologue as Act One, and the Epilogue as Act Five, with Olympia as Act Two, Antonia as Act Three, and Giulietta as Act Four.

    * Changing the story itself

        This opera was sometimes performed (for example during the premiere at the Opéra-Comique) without the entire Giulietta act, though the famous Barcarolle from that act was inserted into the Antonia act, and Hoffmann’s aria ”Amis! l’Amour tendre et rêveur” was inserted into the Epilogue. In 1881, when the opera was first performed in Vienna, the Giulietta act was restored, but modified so that the courtesan does not die at the end by accidental poisoning, but exits in a gondola accompanied by her servant Pitichinaccio. This ending has been the preferred one since then almost without exception.

    * Changing the spoken dialogue to recitative, resulting in the removal of some acts

        Due to its opéra-comique genre, the original score contained many dialogues that have sometimes been replaced by recitative that so lengthened the opera that some acts were removed (see above).

    * Changing the number of opera singers performing

        Offenbach intended that the four soprano roles be played by the same singer, for Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia are three facets of Stella, Hoffmann’s unreachable love. Similarly, the four villains would be performed by the same bass-baritone, because they are all manifestations of Evil. While the doubling of the four villains is quite common, most performances of the work use multiple sopranos for the heroines. This is because different skills are needed for each role: Olympia requires a skilled coloratura singer with stratospheric high notes, Antonia is written for a more lyric voice, and Giulietta is usually performed by a dramatic soprano or a mezzo-soprano. When all three roles (four if the small but important role of Stella is counted) are performed by a single soprano in a performance, it is considered one of the largest challenges in the lyric-coloratura repertoire. Famous sopranos who have attempted all three roles include Karan Armstrong, Dame Josephine Barstow, Ninon Vallin, Beverly Sills, Anja Silja, Joan Sutherland, Edita Gruberová, Carol Vaness, Catherine Malfitano, Ruth Ann Swenson, and Virginia Zeani. Josephine Barstow has performed all four roles

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I’ve never seen the opera, but I must say that I really wish to do it one day. It’s quite an intrigueing story, and it doesn’t make it worse that E.T.A Hoffmann himself was an interesting person. (for example the A in the name is for Amadeus, he changed the original Wolfgang because he didn’t think that was romantic enough). Of course going to see it on stage, you can never really be sure of which version you are going to see. The music of the opera is fairly lighthearted, but beautiful. The most famous pieces are: The Doll song and the wonderful Barcarolle.

 

100 bästa operorna – 49 Hänsel und Gretel av Humperdinck

24 juni 2010

49 – Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck

Hänsel und Gretel is an opera by nineteenth-century composer Engelbert Humperdinck, who described it as a Märchenoper (fairy tale opera). The libretto  was written by Adelheid Wette (Humperdinck’s sister), based on the Grimm brothers’ Hansel and Gretel. It is much admired for its folk music-inspired themes, one of the most famous being the Abendsegen (”Evening Benediction”) from Act 2.

Synopsis

Act 1

Scene 1: At home

Gretel stitches a stocking, and Hänsel is making a broom. Gretel sings to herself as she works. Hänsel mocks her, singing to the same tune a song about how hungry he is. He wishes for Mother to come home. Gretel tells him to be quiet and reminds him of what Father always says: ”When the need is greatest, God the Lord puts out his hand.” Hänsel complains that one can’t eat words, and Gretel cheers him up by telling him a secret: A neighbor has given Mother a jug of milk, and tonight she’ll make a rice pudding for them to eat! Hänsel, excited, tastes the cream on the top of the milk. Gretel scolds him and tells him he should get back to work. Hänsel says that he doesn’t want to work, he’d rather dance! Gretel agrees, and they begin to dance around.

Scene 2

Mother enters, and she is furious when she finds that Hänsel and Gretel have not been working. As she threatens to beat them with a stick, she knocks over the jug of milk. Mother sends Hänsel and Gretel to the Ilsenstein forest to look for strawberries. Alone, she expresses her sorrow that she is unable to feed her children, and asks God for help.

Scene 3

From far off, Father sings about how hungry he is. He bursts into the house, roaring drunk, and kisses Mother roughly. She pushes him away and scolds him for being drunk. He surprises her by taking from his pack a feast: Bacon, butter, flour, sausages, fourteen eggs, beans, onions, and a quarter pound of coffee! He explains to her that beyond the forest, it is almost time for a festival, and everyone is cleaning in preparation. He went from house to house and sold his brooms at the highest prices. As Father and Mother celebrate, he suddenly stops and asks where the children are. Mother changes the subject to the broken jug, and after she finishes telling him the story, he laughs, then asks again after the children. She tells him that they are in the Ilsenstein forest. Suddenly scared, Father tells her that the forest is where the evil Gingerbread Witch (literally, ”Nibbling Witch”) dwells. She lures children with cakes and sweets, pushes them into her oven, where they turn to gingerbread, and then eats them. Father and Mother rush to the forest to search for their children.

Act 2

Humperdinck wrote music to connect act one to act two, and they are often performed together with no intermission.

Scene 1: In the forest. Sunset.

Gretel weaves a crown of flowers as she sings to herself. Hänsel searches for strawberries. As Gretel finishes her crown, Hänsel fills his basket. Gretel tries to put the crown on Hänsel, but, saying that boys don’t play with things like these, he puts it on her head instead. He tells her that she looks like the Queen of the Wood, and she says that if that’s so, then he should give her a bouquet, too. He offers her the strawberries. They hear a cuckoo calling, and they begin to eat the strawberries. As the basket empties, they fight for the remaining strawberries, and finally, Hänsel grabs the basket and dumps the leftovers in his mouth. Gretel scolds him and tells him that Mother will be upset. She tries to look for more, but it’s too dark for her to see. Hänsel tries to find the way back, but he cannot. As the forest darkens, Hänsel and Gretel become scared, and think they see something coming closer. Hänsel calls out, ”Who’s there?” and a chorus of echoes calls back, ”He’s there!” Gretel calls, ”Is someone there?” and the echoes reply, ”There!” Hänsel tries to comfort Gretel, but as a little man walks out of the forest, she screams.

Scene 2

The little Sandman, who has just walked out of the forest, tells the children that he loves them dearly, and that he has come to put them to sleep. He puts grains of sand into their eyes, and as he leaves they can barely keep their eyes open. Gretel reminds Hänsel to say their evening prayer, and after they pray, they fall asleep on the forest floor.

Scene 3

Fourteen angels come out and arrange themselves around the children to protect them as they sleep. They are presented with a gift. The forest is filled with an intense light as the curtain falls.

Act 3

Scene 1: In the forest.

The little Dew Fairy comes to wake the children. She sprinkles dew on them, sings of how wonderful it is to be alive in the morning with the beauty of the forest surrounding her, and leaves as the children stir. Gretel wakes first, and wakes the sleepy Hänsel. They tell each other of their mutual dream, of angels protecting them as they slept.

Scene 2

Suddenly they notice behind them an enormous gingerbread house. On the left side is an oven, on the right side is a cage, and around it is a fence of gingerbread children. Unable to resist temptation, they take a little bit of the house and nibble on it.

Scene 3

As the children nibble, a voice calls out, ”Nibbling, nibbling, little mouse! Who’s nibbling on my little house?” Hänsel and Gretel decide that the voice must have been the wind, and they begin to eat the house. As Hänsel breaks off another piece of the house, the voice again calls out, ”Nibbling, nibbling, little mouse! Who’s nibbling on my little house?” Hänsel and Gretel ignore the voice, and continue eating. The witch comes out of the house and catches Hänsel with a rope. As Hänsel tries to escape, the witch explains that she is Rosine Leckermaul (literally, ”Rosina Tastymuzzle”), and that she likes nothing better than to feed children sweets. Hänsel and Gretel are suspicious of the witch, so Hänsel frees himself from the rope and he and Gretel begin to run away.

The witch takes out her wand and calls out, ”Stop!” Hänsel and Gretel are frozen to the spot where they stand. Using the wand, the witch leads Hänsel to the cage. The witch leaves him stiff and slow of movement. She tells Gretel to be reasonable, and then the witch goes inside to fetch raisins and almonds with which to fatten Hänsel. Hänsel whispers to Gretel to pretend to obey the witch. The witch returns, and waving her wand, says, ”Hocus pocus, holderbush! Loosen, rigid muscles, hush!” Using the wand, the witch forces Gretel to dance, then tells her to go into the house and set the table. Hänsel pretends to be asleep, and the witch, overcome with excitement, describes how she plans to cook and eat Gretel.

The witch wakes up Hänsel and has him show her his finger. He puts out a bone instead, and she feels it instead. Disappointed that he is so thin, the witch calls for Gretel to bring out raisins and almonds. As the witch tries to feed Hänsel, Gretel steals the wand from the witch’s pocket. Waving it towards Hänsel, Gretel whispers, ”Hocus pocus, holderbush! Loosen rigid muscles, hush!” As the witch turns around and wonders at the noise, Hänsel discovers that he can move freely again.

The witch tells Gretel to peek inside the oven to see if the gingerbread is done. Hänsel softly calls out to her to be careful. Gretel pretends that she doesn’t know what the witch means. The witch tells her to lift herself a little bit and bend her head forward. Gretel says that she’s ”a goose” and doesn’t understand, then asks the witch to demonstrate. The witch, frustrated, opens the oven and leans forward. Hänsel springs out of the cage, and he and Gretel shove the witch into the oven. They dance. The oven begins to crackle and the flames burn fiercely, and with a loud crash it explodes.

Scene 4

Around Hänsel and Gretel, the gingerbread children have turned back into humans. They are asleep and unable to move, but they sing to Hänsel and Gretel, asking to be touched. Hänsel is afraid, but Gretel strokes one on the cheek, and he wakes up, but is still unable to move. Hänsel and Gretel touch all the children, then Hänsel takes the witch’s wand and, waving it, calls out the magic words, freeing the children from the spell.

Scene 5

Father is heard in the distance, calling for Hänsel and Gretel. He and Mother enter and embrace Hänsel and Gretel. Meanwhile, the gingerbread children pull out from the ruins of the oven the witch, who has turned into gingerbread. Father gathers the children around and tells them to look at this miracle. He explains that this is heaven’s punishment for evil deeds and reminds them, ”When the need is greatest, God the Lord puts out His hand.”

Roles
Father, broom-maker – baritone
Mother – mezzo-soprano
Hänsel – mezzo-soprano
Gretel – soprano
The Gingerbread witch – mezzo-soprano or tenor
Sandman – soprano
Dewman – soprano
chorus
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The opera is based on the classic folktale, and is pretty popular when operahouses wants to produce ”children’s opera”. I haven’t seen it myself though. The most famous piece is the Abendsegen, or lullaby. It’s also one of the more famous soprano/mezzo-soprano duet, not quite as famous as the flower duet, but almost. I think it’s really sweet.