A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (Andre Gauthier/ Charles Rosekrans/ Indra Thomas/ Kristine Jepson/ Mariusz Kwiecien/ Matthew Polenzani/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Valerian Ruminski) (Naxos: 8.557309)
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A Night At The Opera
Based on Victor Hugo's Le Roi s'amuse, Verdi'sRigoletto centres on the curse of a father on the father ofthe title, the court jester to the Duke of Mantua. Theclimax of the action comes in the third act. Gilda, thebeloved daughter of Rigoletto, has been abducted byRigoletto's enemies at court and seduced by the Duke,for whose murder Rigoletto has hired an assassin,Sparafucile. The scene is by the banks of the RiverMincio, where Rigoletto and Gilda wait outside a twostoreyhouse. The Duke appears, disguised as anordinary officer, and enters the house, askingSparafucile for wine and for a room. He is joined bySparafucile's sister Maddalena, while Sparafucileleaves them together, going out into the street to askRigoletto if this is the man. In the quartet the Dukedeclares his love for Maddalena, while Gilda, observingthe scene from outside, is heart-broken at her lover'sfaithlessness, to which Rigoletto draws her attention. Inwhat follows Rigoletto tells his daughter to go homeand disguise herself in man's clothes, ready to leave thecity. Sparafucile is persuaded by Maddalena to spare theDuke, killing instead the first man to enter. In the eventthis is Gilda, willing to sacrifice herself for her lover.
Rigoletto returns, ready to receive the body of hisvictim, and takes the murdered body in a sack, preparedto throw it into the nearby river. At this moment hehears the voice of the Duke from within the house, andrealises he has been tricked. He opens the sack and in aflash of lightning sees the face of his daughter Gilda.
Mozart wrote his opera La clemenza di Tito (TheClemency of Titus) in 1791 for the coronation in Pragueof Leopold II as King of Bohemia. The libretto wasadapted from Metastasio and deals with the beneficenceof the Roman Emperor Titus, whose friend Sextus ispersuaded by Vitellia, jealous of Titus, to attempt hismurder, a plan from which she later relents, when itseems that she herself may marry the Emperor. Sextusmakes his attempt, Vitellia admits her complicity, andboth are pardoned. In his first-act aria Parto, parto,Sextus agrees to Vitellia's demands, to theaccompaniment of a basset clarinet, in the originalscoring, a part for the Vienna court clarinettist AntonStadler, for whom Mozart wrote other works in the lastyears of his life.
Perhaps the best known operatic transformation ofGoethe's drama Faust is the 1858 opera by the Frenchcomposer Charles Gounod. In his third-act CavatinaFaust, left alone outside the house of his belovedMarguerite by his satanic guide Mephistopheles, singsof her innocence, but Mephistopheles is soon to returnwith a casket of jewels, a temptation for Marguerite.
She is later to give way to Faust, in his transformedguise as a young man, and bears a child, which she kills.
In the final scenes she is imprisoned, condemned todeath. Faust, assisted by Mephistopheles, tries topersuade her to escape with him, but she turns instead tothe angels, who will assure her salvation in spite of themachinations of the Devil.
Puccini's popular opera of 1895, La Boh?¿me, set inthe artists' quarter of Paris, is based on Henri Murger'snovel Sc?¿nes de la vie de boh?¿me. The impoverishedyoung poet Rodolfo falls in love with Mim?¼, aseamstress, a neighbour. Their love fails and Mim?¼seeks other protectors, before her poignant death fromconsumption, united once more with Rodolfo. AtMim?¼'s return Rodolfo's friends try to raise money tohelp her and Colline, the philosopher of the group, goesout to pawn his old coat, Vecchia zimarra, to buymedicine for her.
Mozart's 1787 collaboration with the poet LorenzoDa Ponte, Don Giovanni, was written for Prague, whereit was first performed. It deals with the escapades andfate of the ruthless philanderer of the title, eventuallydragged down to Hell by the stone statue of the oldCommendatore he has killed in his attempt on thehonour of the old man's daughter. In L?á ci darem lamano (Give me your hand) Don Giovanni exercises hispowers of seduction on the peasant girl Zerlina, whosemarriage to Masetto is about to be celebrated.
Verdi's 1867 opera Don Carlo has a plot of somecomplexity, derived from Schiller. Written with aFrench libretto it was revised in an Italian version in1884. The Infante Don Carlos is in love with Elisabethde Valois, who, it is decided, shall marry his father,Philip II of Spain. Matters are complicated when DonCarlos declares his love to one he thinks to be Elisabeth,but is in fact the Princess Eboli, who determines onrevenge, when she learns of his true feelings. DonCarlos is implicated in disaffection in Flanders andimprisoned, while his friend Rodrigo, also involved, iskilled. Don Carlos meets the Queen by the tomb of theold Emperor, whose voice is heard, allowing the youngman to escape death and find refuge in the monastery.
Rodrigo, in the two arias included, gives his life for hisfriend Don Carlos, having sought to take the blame forthe apparent implication of his friend in treachery.
Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales ofHoffmann) was completed and staged in 1881, a yearafter the composer's death. It links separate stories bythe German writer of the title. In the fourth act (the thirdin earlier versions of the opera) Hoffmann's friendNicklausse is heard approaching by gondola on theGrand Canal in Venice, with the courtesan Giulietta,later to be persuaded to help the villainous Dapertutto inhis attempt to acquire Hoffmann's reflection. TheBarcarolle is one of the best known elements in theopera.
Handel's early reputation rested in good part on hisItalian operas, one of which had brought his firstintroduction to London, where he was to live and workuntil his death in 1759. His opera Orlando was stagedthere in 1733 and centres on the dilemma of Orlando,torn between love and the glory to which the magicianZoroastro urges him. Love for Angelica drives himmad, but he is finally brought to his senses byZoroastro, while Angelica is united with her loverMedoro. In his splendid aria Sorge infausta unaprocella (Rise, ill-omened storm) Zoroastro, in the thirdact, intervenes, in his allotted r??le as deus ex machina,written for the great bass Antonio Montagnana.
In Restoration London it became the fashion toadapt the plays of Shakespeare to suit modern taste, inaddition to a further current repertoire of plays with aconsiderable musical element. The Tempest wasadapted by various writers and staged in these revisedforms. The version with music attributed to HenryPurcell, who died in 1695, is only certainly known tohave been staged in 1712, and the greater part of themusic is now generally attributed to John Weldon, acontribution that includes the famous aria Arise yesubterranean winds, sung by a devil.
Verdi's Il trovatore (The Troubadour) was firststaged in Rome in 1853. The troubadour of the title,Manrico, is the long-lost son of the old Count di Luna,abducted and brought up by the gypsy Azucena. Theplot revolves around the conflict between Manrico andhis brother, the young Count di Luna, both in love withLeonora. Manrico and Azucena are eventually takenprisoner by the Count, the former to be released inexchange for Leonora's capitulation to the Count, foiledby her suicide. Manrico is put to death, while Azucenacan now reveal to the Count that he has killed his ownbrother, her revenge for the killing of her own mother.
Leonora sings her moving D'amor sull'ali rosee (Love,fly on rosy wings) as she hears the Miserere from thecastle where her beloved Manrico is held prisoner.
Les p?¬cheurs de perles (The Pearl-Fishers), anopera by Bizet, first staged in Paris in 1863, is set inCeylon (Sri Lanka), where two fishermen, Zurga andNadir, are in love with the beautiful Leila, a priestess ofBrahma. Threatened with death for sacrilege, Nadir iseventually allowed to escape