The present collection of soprano arias from Italian opera takes its general title from a popular aria in Giacomo Puccinis 1918 Gianni Schicchi, part of a trilogy of contrasting short operas first staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Based on an episode in Dantes Inferno, it deals with the frustration of attempts by the relatives of Buoso Donati to effect a posthumous alteration of his will in their favour by allowing the rogue Gianni Schicchi to impersonate him. His impersonation is successful enough to allow him to make himself Buoso Donatis heir. His daughter Lauretta, in O mio babbino caro ('My dear father'), pleads with her father to intervene in the affairs of Buoso Donatis relatives and her new dowry finally enables her to marry Rinuccio, nephew of a cousin of the dead man.
La bohème is one of the most romantic of all operas. A group of young artists lives in poverty in a garret in the Latin quarter of Paris. There the poet Rodolfo meets their neighbour, the little seamstress Lucia, known to her fiends, as she explains at their first meeting, as Mimi, Sì, mi chiamano Mimì ('They call me Mimi'), when she comes to seek a light for her candle. Their love founders, however, in subsequent privation and they are only finally re-united when Mimi is dying of consumption. Musetta, in contrast to Mimi, is a stronger character and in the second act of the opera, set outside a neighbouring café, accompanied by her elderly admirer, she outlines her own charms in a waltz-song, Quando men vo (When I go alone along the street, people stop and look at me), aiming her remarks at her former lover Marcello, the painter friend of Rodolfo. Puccinis opera was first staged in Turin in 1896.
Alfredo Catalani is best remembered for his 1892 opera La Wally. In a Tyrolean village the heroine of the title refuses to marry the man her father has chosen for her, preferring, instead, the young huntsman Haghenbach. Misunderstandings arise between them, as the story unwinds, and in jealousy she seeks to have Haghenbach killed, before relenting and saving him from the ravine where he has been propelled. As they return, Haghenbach is killed by an avalanche and Wally leaps down to her own death. In Ebben, ne andrò lontana ('Well, I shall go far away from here'), in the first act, Wally expresses her intention of leaving home, to avoid marriage to the man of her fathers choice.
In Nagasaki Cio-Cio-San, the central figure in Puccinis opera Madama Butterfly, marries the visiting American naval officer, Pinkerton, who regards the arrangement as a temporary one, to suit his own convenience. In his absence Cio-Cio-San bears him a son,
and in innocent hope awaits his return. Un bel dì vedremo (One fine day we shall see a plume of smoke), she tells her servant Suzuki of her hopes, as she waits. When Pinkerton returns he brings with him his new American wife, prepared to adopt the son Cio-Cio-San has born him, leaving the latter to take her own life. The opera was first mounted in Milan in 1904.
Giuseppe Verdis powerful drama of 1851, Rigoletto, brings irony after irony, as the court jester of the title unwittingly aids the abduction of his own daughter by courtiers of the philandering Duke that he serves. Gilda has already been wooed by the Duke, disguised as a student and it is his false name on which Gilda muses in Caro nome ('Dear name'). In spite of her abduction and seduction by the Duke, she still loves him and dies in his place at the hands of an assassin that her father has paid to kill the Duke. In a nocturnal scene the murdered body, in a sack, is given to Rigoletto, who thinks it is the body of the Duke, until he hears the latters carefree song and finds that it is his own daughter that has been killed.
Umberto Giordanos Andrea Chénier is set in the French revolution, in which the poet of the title, originally sympathetic to the revolutionary cause, eventually suffers death, together with his beloved Maddalena, whom he had met in earlier times and who takes the place of another at the guillotine. In La mamma morta (Mother dead) Maddalena tells the former family servant turned revolutionary official, Gérard, who is also in love with her, of the death of her mother and the destruction of the family château. The opera was the only significant success of the controversial 1896 season at La Scala, Milan.
Tosca, the eponymous heroine of Puccinis opera of 1900, a famous singer, becomes involved in revolutionary activity through her lover, the painter Cavaradossi. The latter is taken prisoner by the villainous chief of police, Baron Scarpia, who promises to release him in return for Toscas favours. She murders Scarpia and awaits Cavaradossis escape after the mock execution that Scarpia had promised. In death, however, Scarpia triumphs. Cavaradossi is shot and Tosca leaps to her own death from the prison battlements. In Vissi darte ('I lived for art, I lived for love') Tosca must decide on a course of action that may, she thinks, win release for her tortured lover.
Verdis La traviata, first unsuccessfully mounted in Venice in 1853, soon won an important place in Italian operatic repertoire. Based on the work of Dumas and set in Paris and its neighbourhood, it centres on the relationship between the young Alfredo and the courtesan of the title, Violetta, who is persuaded by Alfredos father to end their affair, while not revealing to her lover the reason for her action. Alfredo re-acts angrily and the two are only re-united as Violetta dies of consumption. In Ah, forsè lui ('Ah, perhaps it is him my heart desires') Violetta, after their first meeting, wonders whether at last Alfredo has aroused true love in her heart. In Sempre libera ('Always free') she puts such thoughts out of her head.
La rondine ('The Swallow'), first performed in Monte Carlo in 1917, enjoys less popularity than many of Puccinis operas. In Chil bel sogno di Doretta ('The fine dream of Doretta') Magda takes up the tale of love started by the poet Prunier in her
Paris salon. The swallow of the title, Magda leaves her lover Rambaldo to live in happy innocence with Ruggero, who is ignorant of her past, to which she eventually returns, unable to deceive the young man any longer.
Gioachino Rossinis Il barbiere di Siviglia ('The Barber of Seville') followed earlier operas based on the play by Beaumarchais, with which it had to compete on its first production in Rome in 1816. Figaro, the barber of the title, helps his master, the disguised Count Almaviva, to woo and win the hand of Rosina, ward of the