Intermezzo: Intermezzi from Operas (Naxos: 8.554703)
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The lights are dimmed and from the pit the sound of the orchestra rises.
For a moment, the action of the operatic stage comes to a pause and theorchestra alone is given the commentary on what has passed or what is yet tocome. This is the world of the Operatic Intermezzo and our selection presentssome of the best known of these short pieces together with one or two that areless well known.
The busy and colourful opening piece is the Prelude to Bizet'sopera Carmen. Full of the local colour of a hot day in Seville, it setsthe scene for the opening act where Carmen, the gypsy cigarette girl, willseduce the hapless soldier Don Jose. Later, when she has tired of him and is onthe look out for a new lover, the Toreador Escamillo, she and her friends go ona night-time smuggling excursion and the Entr'acte to the third act ofthe opera sets the scene for the encampment in the mountains where Carmen willfinally rid herself of Jose's unwanted attentions - or so she thinks, untilfinally he will search her out at the Bullring in Seville and kill her.
Mascagni's short and brutal opera Cavalleria Rusticana is usuallypaired with Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, both tales of jealousy and murder.
The Intermezzi from the two operas are moments of calm before the stormand are justifiably popular items from the Italian operatic repertoire.
Schmidt and Humperdinck represent German late Romantic opera at its mostluscious. The story of Notre Dame is that of Victor Hugo's famoushunchback and the gypsy girl Esmeralda. As an opera it is hardly ever stagedtoday but it contains this marvellously lush orchestral gem. Far more popularwith young and old alike is Humperdinck's setting of the legend of the twochildren lost in the woods who meet a wicked witch and manage to dispatch herbefore she makes a meal out of them. The Dream Pantomime pictures thetwo children's vision of heaven as they fall asleep, frightened and alone inthe forest.
Puccini's opera Manon Lescaut was his first great success. Basedon Prevost's racy novel, it tells the story of the young girl Manon and herlover Des Grieux. At this stage she has been arrested for immorality and issent to Le Havre with a group of common prostitutes to await transportation toAmerica and her ultimate death.
The Waltz KingStrauss's little known 1001 Nights is an Arabian fantasy with adistinctly Viennese feel quite different from the sentimental picture of theancient Egyptian courtesan Tha?»s, who finds God through her unrequited love ofa holy man depicted in this miniature violin concerto.
The following threepieces leave the world of the opera house for that of the concert platform;Faure's lilting Sicilienne from his music to Maeterlinck's symbolist,tragic love story of Pelleas et Melisande, the Interlude from theSwedish Romantic Stenhammar's final major choral work, The Song andthe popular Intermezzo from Sibelius's evocation of the northern Lappregion of Karelia.
Far away from the icy wastes of northern Finland, Jacques Offenbach'sfantastic opera on the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann takes us to the cellars ofLeipzig's taverns, the surreal dolls of the mad Doctor Coppelius and thedecadence of Venice. The Barcarolle is perhaps the best known of all theopera's hit tunes and often appears in a sung version and as an Intermezzo ashere, framing the diabolical temptations of the courtesan Giulietta out to winthe body and soul of the disillusioned poet.
Mascagni is far from being a one-off composer although the popularity ofhis Cavalleria Rusticana sometimes suggests that is the case. L'AmicoFritz is an altogether gentler subject set in the Alpine regions andtelling of the love of a young couple. Highlights are aplenty and include the CherryDuet and this superbly melodic Intermezzo.
Verdi's adaptation of Dumas's Lady of the Camelias is one of thegreatest successes of nineteenth century Italian opera, although amazingly itwas a failure at its first performance. The two excerpts which follow are themarvellously scored Preludes to the first and third acts of the opera,tinged as they are with melancholy and the presentiments of tragedy. Seldomdoes even Verdi's orchestral genius rise to the emotional pull of these intensetone pictures of the doomed courtesan and her tragic fate.
After such depth of sorrow in music, something more flippant is neededto clear the air and that is exactly what Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours managesto do. The scene is a grand ball at Venice's C?á d'Oro on the Grand Canal;potions, exiled nobles, a jealous spy, the cruelty of the Doges and the devotedballad singer, Gioconda herself, reach a point of crisis as the Doge's wife hasbeen drugged by her husband, apparently dead, the time for an Interlude ofa spectacular ballet to break the tension for a few moments, although manylisteners might just get the whiff of satire that Walt Disney gave to the samemusic in his Fantasia.