FAMOUS TENOR ARIAS (Thomas Harper) (Karol Kopernicky/ Michael Halasz/ Slovak Philharmonic Chorus/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Thomas Harper) (Naxos: 8.550497)
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Famous Tenor Arias
Giuseppe Verdi became the leading Italian composer of his generation, dominating Italian opera in the second half of the nineteenth century, from the success of Nabucco in 1842 to his final opera Falstaff in 1893. Aida, with a libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni from a scenario by the French egyptologist known as Mariette Bey, was written for the opening of the Cairo Opera House, where it received its first performance on Christmas Eve 1871. The drama concerns the love of the Egyptian general Radames for the Ethopian captive Aida, who is induced to betray him into divulging military plans against her country. Radames has been rewarded by the King for his victory in battle with the hand of the Princess Amneris, who loves him, and, learning of his love of Aida and his breach of military security, ensures his condemnation and death, in which he is joined by his beloved Aida. In his great aria Celeste Aida Radames, before the battle and victory, sings of his beloved Aida, whom he hopes to marry when he returns.
Un ballo in maschera, with a libretto by Antonio Somma based on a French libretto by Scribe, was first staged in Rome in 1859. The opera had been banned by the censors in Naples, who found a royal assassination a politically inappropriate subject. Historically based on the murder of King Gustavus of Sweden in the eighteenth century, the story of the opera was transferred to Boston for the Roman production, with a further transmogrification for Paris. The aria Di'tu se fedele is given to the protagonist, whether Gustavus III of Sweden, or Riccardo, Governor of Boston. In the first act of the opera he consults a fortune-teller, Mam'zelle Arvidson in the original version and the black fortune-teller Ulrica in the Rome version, overhears his beloved Amelia, wife of his secretary, declare her love for him, for which she seeks a remedy, and demands, disguised as a fisherman, his own fortune, in his aria. The woman reluctantly tells him that he will soon die, killed by one who will be the next to shake his hand. This turns out to be the secretary of the King, a loyal subject until, in the second act, he discovers his master's love for his wife. By the third act the hero has resolved to renounce his guilty love, declaring his intention in his aria Ma se m'e forza perderti, but his secretary has now joined a conspiracy against his master and friend and kills him. As he dies the King assures his secretary of Amelia's innocence.
Il trovatore, The Troubadour, with a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, was first performed in Rome in 1853. The hero Manrico, apparently the son of the gypsy Azucena, is in reality the lost son of the old Count di Luna, pitted in the opera against his real brother, the Count, his rival in love for the hand of Leonora, lady-in-waiting at the court of Aragon. In the aria Ah, si, ben mio, Manrico, who has rescued Leonora from the Count and his men and has now taken refuge in a castle besieged by the Count, sings of his love for the one who will soon be his bride. His joy is interrupted by the news that his supposed mother, the gypsy Azucena, has been taken prisoner by the Count and condemned to death for the murder of the infant Manrico himself. Manrico is determined to save Azucena, and with the virtuoso aria Di quella pira, declares his intention of saving her from burning. Leonora finally dies by her own hand, in an attempt to trick the Count into releasing Manrico, who is executed in his turn, at which Azucena reveals his true identity.
The opera Don Carlos has a libretto derived from Schiller and was first produced in Paris in 1867. The story is set in sixteenth century France and Spain and deals with an unhistorical rivalry between the Infante Don Carlos and his father, Philip II of Spain, for the love of Elisabeth de Valois, daughter of the King of France. In his first act aria lo la vidi e il suo sorriso, Don Carlos expresses his love for Elisabeth, with whom he has fallen in love at first sight.
Rigoletto, based on Victor Hugo's drama Le roi s'amuse, was transferred by the librettist Piave to sixteenth century Mantua, to avoid the predictable objections of censors in Venice, where the work was first staged in 1851. The plot deals with the fate of Gilda, daughter of the hunchback court jester Rigoletto, seduced by the disguised Duke. Rigoletto seeks to have his master murdered, but his plot goes awry, leading instead to the murder of his beloved daughter, a fact that dawns on Rigoletto when he hears his master singing again his characteristic song, La donna e mobile, Woman is fickle.
Shakespeare exercised his own fascination over the romantic imagination. Verdi turned to his work on a number of occasions, above all in his final operas Otello and Falstaff. His version of Macbeth, with a libretto by Piave, is a much earlier work, first mounted in 1847 in Florence. Macduff, a Scottish nobleman, learns of the murder of his wife and children on the orders of the regicide Macbeth, and laments their fate in the romanza Ah, la paterna mano.
Giacomo Puccini may be seen as the successor to Verdi in Italian opera. He won his first success in 1884 with the opera Le villi, his second opera, Edgar, was not well received, but his third, Manon Lescaut, was greeted with the greatest enthusiasm. La Bohème followed in 1896, based on Henry Murger's Scenes de la vie de Bohème. The first staging in Turin was directed by the conductor Toscanini to a mixed reception. Set in the artists' quarter of Paris, in a garret shared by an impecunious group of young men, the story deals with the love of the poet Rodolfo for a young seamstress, Mimi, their neighbour, a love that ends in tragedy. At their first meeting the hands of the couple meet, and Rodolfo tries to warm Mimi's hand in his, with his aria Che gelida manina, popularly translated as Your tiny hand is frozen.
Puccini's last opera, left unfinished at the time of his death, was Turandot, based on a subject treated by the eighteenth century Venetian Gozzi and later by Schiller. The Chinese Princess Turandot will only marry the suitor who can solve the three riddles she propounds, failure being rewarded by execution. Prince Calaf, son of the deposed King Timur, solves the riddles but agrees to release Turandot from her promise if she can find out his name before morning. None shall sleep tonight, the Princess commands, words that Calaf echoes in his famous aria Nessun dorma.
The opera Tosca was first performed in Rome in 1900 and is based on a play by Victorien Sardou dealing with political intrigue, love and persecution by the vicious chief of police, Baron Scarpia. The artist Cavaradossi is seen at work on a church painting of Mary Magdalene, based on the beautiful singer Tosca, with whom he is in love. In Recondita armonia, Strange harmony of contrasts, he compares his painting with a miniature of Tosca herself. As the tragedy unwinds, Cavaradossi is imprisoned for his complicity in a liberal political plot and is condemned to death, a fate from which Tosca seeks to save him. In E lucevan le stelle, The stars were shining, Cavaradossi, with one hour to live, recalls the past.
In La fanciulla del west, The Girl of the Golden West, Puccini turned to the American writer David Belasco, whose play on the subject of Madame Butterfly had earlier impressed him. The story deals with the love of Minnie and Dick Johnson, alias Ramerrez, a bandit, rescued from hanging i