Tenor Opera Arias
Verdi Glinka R. Strauss Rossini Adam Giordano Puccini
It was at the initial request of the tenor EnricoTamberlick, the first Alvaro, that Giuseppe Verdi was persuaded to return towork to write his opera La forza del destino for the Russian Imperial Theatre.This was given its first performance in St Petersburg in November 1862, but isnow generally heard in a revised version that was first staged at La Scala,Milan, in 1869. The plot, later modified, is one of some complexity, derivedfrom a play by the Duke of Rivas. Don Alvaro is in love with Leonora, butaccidentally kills her father, leading to a long search for revenge by herbrother, Don Carlo. Leonora, believing her lover dead, retires to a hermitage,and Don Alvaro to a neighbouring monastery, the revelation of their finalmeeting coinciding with the appearance of Don Carlo, his death at the hands ofa reluctant Don Alvaro and his final murder of Leonora, as he dies. The Act IIIrecitative and aria, Qual sangue sparsi, from the first version of the opera,is heard after Don Alvaro, on campaign with Don Carlo, where the two havehitherto failed to recognise each other, engages in a duel with the latter,apparently killing him, an outcome that he can only bitterly regret.
Thelibretto of Verdi's opera Il Trovatore was also derived from a Spanish play, thework of Antonio Garcia Gutierrez. It was first staged in Rome in January 1853.The plot again concerns love and revenge. Manrico, the troubadour of the title,supposed son of the gypsy Azucena and in the service of Count Urgel, is in lovewith Leonora, who is also loved by the young Count Di Luna, a supporter of thePrince of Aragon. Their rivalry ends in the defeat and capture of Manrico bythe Count. Leonora offers herself to the Count in return for Manrico's life,taking poison, in order to outwit him. In the event she dies and Manrico is putto death, leaving Azucena, from her prison, to reveal that Manrico was in factthe Count's brother. In the third act Manrico is in possession of the fortressof Castellor, where he plans to marry Leonora, although the place is likely tobe attacked by the Count Di Luna. Something of this threat is inherent inLeonora's ominous Di qual tetra luce, a light that is actually and figurativelygloomy. Manrico assures her that if he must die, he will die with her name onhis lips.
Aperiod of six years followed Verdi's Egyptian opera, Aida, and it was only thenthat he turned his attention again to Shakespeare in Otello, first staged at LaScala in February 1887. By Act III Iago has succeeded in arousing Othello'sjealousy. In Datemi ancor l'eburnea mano, Othello takes Desdemona's hand,anxious to find out whether Iago's story of the handkerchief that he had givenher is true. His jealousy can only increase and in Act IV he murders his wifein her bed-chamber, only to learn that his suspicions of her were groundless.When all is revealed, it is only left for him to die by his own hand, sealinghis love of his dead wife with a kiss.
Setoriginally in Sweden and dealing with the murder of Gustav III, Un ballo inmaschera, first performed in Rome in February 1859, was transferred, thanks tothe censors, to America. There Riccardo, Governor of Boston, falls in love withAmelia, the wife of his mulatto secretary, Renato, who kills him, in spite oftheir friendship and his earlier unswerving loyalty and unwillingness toconspire against him. The third Finale opens in Riccardo's study, where hedrafts an order for Renato, with Amelia, to return to England, a paper that,ironically, he will show to Renato only after the latter has stabbed him duringthe masked ball with which the opera reaches a final climax.
MikhailGlinka's heroic tragedy A Life for the Tsar was the first nationalist Russianopera, staged in St Petersburg in 1836. Set in Russia and Poland in 1613, itcentres on the heroic exploits of Ivan Susanin in the aftermath of the defeatof Boris Godunov by the so-called false Dmitry, with Polish support. Thepeasant Susanin succeeds in diverting the Polish forces, who are in pursuit ofthe newly elected Tsar, Mikhail Romanov, leading them astray until the youngTsar has been able to escape. In the fourth act Sobinin, who is to marrySusanin's daughter, leads a band of peasants in the forest at night, andencourages them in Brothers, into the snow-storm. Susanin is finally successfulin his protection of the Tsar, but is killed for it, his heroism to beremembered by the Tsar and by future generations.
Thenostalgic Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss is set in the first years of theEmpress Maria Theresia. The opera was first performed in Dresden in 1911. Theplot centres on the Feldmarschallin, her love for the young Octavian, later theknight of the rose of the title, and the sacrifice she makes when she allowsand encourages Octavian's love for Sophie, daughter of a rich parvenu, on whosemoney the Feldmarschallin's uncouth cousin, Baron Ochs, has set his heart. Ather levee the Princess is attended by a number of people, including an Italiansinger, whose song of love, Di rigori armato il seno has a charm of its own andsome relevance to the plot.
GioachinoRossini's last opera was Guillaume Tell, written for Paris, where he hadsettled, and also familiar in an Italian version. It was first performed at theParis Opera in August 1829. The action is set in thirteenth-centurySwitzerland, where the young Swiss patriot Arnold, in love with the Austriannoblewoman Matilde, seeks revenge for the death of his father through a risingagainst Austrian domination of his country. In Act IV Arnold, standing outsidehis father's house, laments his father's fate and realises that, with WilliamTell captured by the enemy, it is he who must lead the conspirators.
AdolpheAdam's opera Le postillon de Lonjumeau had its first performance at the ParisOpera-Comique in October 1836. The unlikely story deals with the rise of thecoachman, Chapelou, to the position of principal tenor at the Paris Opera,after the Marquis de Corcy, director of the Opera, has overheard his remarkablesong about the postilion of Lonjumeau, Mes amis, ecoutez l'histoire, with itstop Ds in imitation of the post-horn. Chapelou deserts his new wife, Madeleine,on their wedding night to embark on his new career, leading her to take herrevenge ten years later, when she inherits money and appears under a verydifferent guise in Paris.
Setin revolutionary Paris, Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chenier, first given at LaScala in March 1896, centres on the poet of the title, his association beforethe Revolution with the noble family of Madeleine de Coigny and their loveduring the Terror, to which Chenier falls victim through the actions of hisrival in love, Gerard, a former family servant. He sings his new poem, Come unbel d?¼ di maggio, in prison, as he awaits execution.
GiacomoPuccini's last opera, Turandot, unfinished at the time of his death in 1924,had its first performance at La Scala in 1926. The Chinese princess of thetitle poses riddles to her suitors, who suffer death when they fail to solvethem. Calaf, son of the exiled King of Tartary, answers Turandot's riddles, butthen offers to stake his life on the discovery