NESSUN DORMA AND OTHER FAVOURITE ITALIAN TENOR ARIAS (Naxos: 8.554065)
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Twenty Favourite Italian Tenor Arias
Tenors have had a varied fate in operatic history and have not alwayshad the heroic identities they now generally possess, with fathers and villainssinging in a lower register, heroines as high-flying sopranos, and duennas,mothers, confidantes and nurses confined to mezzo-soprano or even contraltoregisters.
The tenor voice enjoyed early favour as opera developed, in the firstyears of the seventeenth century. By the 1640s, though, matters had started tochange. Now the principal heroic r??les were allotted to castrato singers, malesopranos or male altos, while the tenor all too often took character parts,comic servants or even pantomime dame nurses. The fortunes of the voice beganto revive in the eighteenth century, notably with the operas of Handel, whilethe French continued to use their own version of the high tenor, the haute-contre,with its tendency to falsetto in its highest range.>
The nineteenth century brought marked changes in society and culture.
While Mozart had tailored his arias to particular singers, with music that wasessentially occasional, designed for those very singers on a particularoccasion, later composers wrote more as they wished, providing a continuingrepertoire of operas that might be revived again and again, as they are today.
Nevertheless they remained fully aware of the voices for which they wereinitially writing, inspired and influenced by the great singers of their time.
Here the tenor voice won gradual pre-eminence, although singers might beclassified according to the type of music in which they specialised, with theheroic Heldentenor for Wagner, lyric tenors for Puccini or dramatictenors for Berlioz.
The present collection of favourite tenor arias includes, as it must, apreponderance of Verdi, almost equalled in quantity by Puccini, with anecessary modicum of Mascagni and Leoncavallo and a touch of Giordano andPonchielli, and more than a nod to the earlier composer Donizetti.
Gaetano Donizetti had a relatively short career. He was born in Bergamoin 1797, the year of Schubert's birth, and died in the same town in 1848. Hiscareer started in Rome in 1822 with Zoraida di Granata and ended in 1843with the production of Dam Sebastien, roi de Portugal ('Dom Sebastian,King of Portugal') at the Paris Opera. The comic opera L'elisir d'amore wasfirst staged in Milan in 1832 and deals with the love of the simple-mindedNemorino for Adina, which has notable assistance from the home-made aphrodisiacsupplied to him, for a price, by the quack doctor Dulcamara. In Una furtivalagrima ('A furtive tear') Nemorino realises that Adina loves him, seeingin her eyes the tears that she tries to hide.
Giuseppe Verdi dominated the second half of the nineteenth century inItalian opera, scoring his first great success with the opera Nabucco atLa Scala, Milan, in 1842. After that began his years in the galley, as he said,writing opera after opera. Rigoletto is the story of a hunchback jester,who helps his master the Duke to seduce women and is then tricked by having hisown daughter a victim of his master. The opera ends in tragedy, whenRigoletto's plan to have the Duke killed results, instead, in the murder of hisown daughter, Gilda. Questa o quella allows the Duke to express hisessential inconstancy, never to be confined in his amorous attentions to thisor that woman. La donna ?¿ mobile ('Woman is fickle') expresses hisphilosophy still more cynically, with particular dramatic effect whenRigoletto, thinking the Duke dead, his body in a sack at his feet, hears thesong and realises that another victim has died in his place.
Un ballo in maschera ('A Masked Ball') was originally set at the Swedishcourt, and then, through the complaints of the censors, transferred, with greatimprobability, to North America. In Di' tu se fedele ('Say if the floodawaits me') Riccardo Count of Warwick, or, in the original version, KingGustavns III of Sweden, consults the witch Ulrica, who tells him he will bekilled by the hand of a friend, a prophecy that comes true. In Ma se m'?¿farza perderti ('But if I must lose you') the King, or Riccardo, hasresolved to send his beloved Amelia and her husband away. His decision is toolate and he falls victim to the wronged husband's revenge.
La traviata is an operatic treatment of La dame aux cam?¿lias ('The Lady ofthe Camelias') by Alexandre Dumas. The courtesan Violetta unselfishly gives upher young lover Alfredo, at the request of his father, and is only reconciledto him in her final death from consumption. In De'miei ballenti spiriti ('Frommy fervent spirits') Alfredo sings of his happiness with Violetta, so soon tobe brought to an end.
The opera written by Verdi for the new Cairo Opera House, Aida, isset in Egypt, where the Egyptian general Radames is divided between his loyaltyto his country and his love for the captured princess Aida, who is instrumentalin his betrayal and joins him in death. In the testing aria Celeste Aida ('HeavenlyAida') Radames sings the praises of his beloved.
Verdi's Il trovatore is based on a complex story of fraternalenmity, gypsy revenge and the revelation of the identity of Manrico, thetroubadour of the title, as the long-lost son of the old Count di Luna, takenby the gypsy Azucena. In Ah, si, ben mia ('Ah, yes, my beloved') Manricoprepares for his marriage with Leonora, an event interrupted by news of theseizure of Azucena by the Count di Luna, Manrico's brother. With Di quellapira ('From that pyre') he rushes away, determined to save from death thewoman he has long regarded as his mother.
Leoncavallo's I pagliacci ('The Players') and Mascagni's Cavalleriarusticana ('Rustic Chivalry') are often coupled in a double bill. Both areexamples of late nineteenth century verisma, operatic realism. In thefirst a drama of love and jealousy presented in a play becomes reality, whenthe actor Canio, the jealous husband of the play, really kills his wife Neddaand her lover. With Vesti la giubba ('On with the motley'), Canioprepares to act out the comedy and its hidden tragedy. Love and jealousy in aSicilian village are the basis of Cavalleria rusticana, in whichSantuzza provokes a duel between her former lover Turiddu and Lola's rightlyjealous husband Alfio. Before going to his death, Turiddu, in Mamma, il vino?¿ generoso ('Mamma, the wine is too good') begs his mother to look afterSantuzza, when he is dead.
Giacomo Puccini also belonged to the school of operatic realism,although this he found sometimes in exotic or historical settings. ManonLescaut, the fallen heroine of the novel by the Abbe Prevost, is seduced bythe young Chevalier Des Grieux, leaves him for a rich older man and iseventually condemned to transportation, to die in the arms of her lover in thewild deserts of Louisiana. Des Grieux praises Manon's beauty, as he firstcatches sight of her, in Donna non vidi mai ('I never saw a lady sofair').
Puccini's Il trittico ('The Triptych'), a group of three shorteroperas, includes, in Gianni Schicchi, a story of greed and trickeryreminiscent of Ben Jonson's Volpone. By impersonating a dead man, at therequest of eager relatives, Schicchi writes a will in his own favour, somethingthey cannot contest. Firenze ?¿ come un albero fiorito (Florence is likea tree in fl