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The Best of Opera Vol.1

The first volume of the Naxos selection of operatic excerpts includes musicranging from Mozart to Puccini. The first of these composers is represented bythe famous aria of the Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute. Mozarthad settled in Vienna, independent of a patron and of his father's guidance, in1781. Ten years later, after variable successes, his fortunes seemed about totake a turn for the better. In 1791, the year of his death, he w rote twooperas, the coronation opera La clemenza di Tito for Prague and theGerman Singspiel Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) for a suburbantheatre in Vienna. The latter was still running at the time of his death inearly December. The opera, imbued with masonic symbolism and with a libretto bythe actor-manager Emanuel Schikaneder, who took a leading comic r??le in thework, deals with the ordeals and initiation of Tamino and his earthiercompanion, the bird-catcher Papageno, into the mysteries of enlightenment andhis final union with Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night. In the firstact of the opera the latter appears to Tamino, seeking his help in the rescue ofher daughter from Sarastro, whom she brands as evil, although it latertranspires that he is the leader of the enlightened band into which Tamino iseventually admitted. In Der Holle Rache she declares, in brilliantcoloratura, her enmity to her former consort Sarastro.

Giuseppe Verdi dominated Italian opera in the second half of the nineteenthcentury. For many he seemed a symbol of national unity, at a time when this wasa matter of great moment, his very name an acronym for Vittorio Emanuele, r?¿d'Italia (Victor Emanuel, King of Italy). His first great success came in 1842with the production in Milan of the opera Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar). Thesubject, the captivity of the Jewish people under Babylon, had obvious politicalsignificance in an Italy partly dominated by foreign powers. The chorus ofHebrew slaves, Va pensiero (Fly, my thoughts, on golden wings), toilingby the waters of Babylon, struck a necessarily patriotic note, particularly atthe words O mia patria, si bella e perduta (O my country, so fair and yetlost).

Rigoletto, first staged in Venice in 1851, is based on Victor Hugo' s Leroi s' amuse. The opera deals with the fate of the court jester Rigoletto,who abets the lascivious Duke of Mantua in his amorous exploits only to have hisown beloved daughter Gilda seduced by his master. He seeks revenge through theagency of the hired assassin Sparafucile, but his scheme misfires, resulting,instead, in the murder of Gilda. Bella figlia dell'amore, a quartet forthe Duke, Maddalena, Rigoletto and Gilda, comes at the climax of the opera. TheDuke, whom Rigoletto has planned to have killed, is in the house of his proposedmurderer, dallying with Sparafucile's sister, Maddalena, who is to lure him tohis death. Rigoletto secretly observes the scene, to the distress of Gilda, whostill loves her seducer.

Two years later La Traviata was staged, also in Venice and based on aFrench original, this time the play La dame aux camelias of the youngerAlexandre Dumas. Violetta, the heroine, a fashionable courtesan, is loved by theyoung Alfredo, but is induced by the latter's father to renounce him in favourof her old life, so as not to damage the honour of Alfredo' s family and themarriage prospects of his sister. Alfredo knows nothing of Violetta'sself-sacrifice, and only learns the truth as she lies dying of consumption. Thedrinking-song, Libiamo ne'lieti calici, is introduced by Alfredo atVioletta's house, which he is visiting for the first time, invited by her to areception there.

La forza del destino was written for performance in Russia in 1862. It isbased on the Spanish play Don Alvaro o la fuerza delsino by AngelSaavedra, Duke of Rivas, which recounts a complex tale of the working of fate inthe love of Leonora and Don Alvaro, unwitting cause of her father's death andtherefore the object of vengeance from her brother. The overture sets the scenefor the sombre tragedy that follows.

The leading composer in Italian opera after Verdi was Giacomo Puccini, anexponent of dramatic realism. He won success in 1896 with his opera LaBoh?¿me, based on a French novel by Henri Murger that deals with life in theLatin Quarter of Paris in the 1830s. A group of young artists share anattic apartment. The poet of the group, Rodolfo, is alone when a timid knock atthe door introduces a neighbour, the poor little seamstress Mimi, who seeks alight for her candle. She and Rodolfo fall in love as their hands meet,searching for the key she has dropped, and timidly she reveals the name by whichshe is known, Mi chiamono Mimi (They call me Mimi). Their love cannotlast, and after various vicissitudes is renewed only on her death-bed.

Puccici's La Tosca followed in 1900, based on a French play byVictorien Sardou. The heroine of the title loves the painter Cavaradossi, who isimplicated in revolutionary activity, assisting a fugitive to escape, and isimprisoned and condemned to death by the wicked Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia.

Tosca, a singer, seeks to secure his release, which she can only do at the priceof her honour. She secures what she thinks is a pardon and laissez-passer fromScarpia, whom she then murders. Scarpia, however, has deceived her, since he hasplanned not a mock-execution of Cavaradossi, as he had assured her, but theman's real death by firing-squad. Tosca, Scarpia's murder undiscovered, believesuntil the end that Cavaradossi will escape with her. When she realises that heis dead and that Scarpia's murder is now known, she leaps from the prisonbattlements to her own death. Cavaradossi, in prison in Castel San Angelo,reflects in E lucevan le stelle on happier times.

In Madama Butterfly Puccini turned for his plot to an American play byDavid Belasco on a Japanese subject, the betrayal of the heroine of the title,the young Japanese girl Cio-Cio-San, by a visiting American naval officer,Pinkerton, who goes through a form of marriage with the girl, having no seriousintention of remaining true to her. He leaves and Cio-Cio-San patiently awaitshis return, watching for his ship with her loyal servant Suzuki and the boy thatPinkerton has fathered. When the latter eventually returns he brings with himhis American wife and Cio-Cio-San, Madama Butterfly, kills herself. On herwedding-day Cio-Cio-San has been cursed by her uncle, the Bonze, and as eveningfalls she is comforted by Pinkerton in a love duet, Bimba dagli occhi, whichends the first act.

Gianni Schicchi formed part of an operatic triptych by Puccini, firststaged in New York in 1918. Gianni Schicchi himself helps the family of BuosoDonati, who has just died, to frustrate the intentions expressed in his will toleave his money to a monastery. Schicchi impersonates the dead man and makes anew will, but secures much of the property for himself, to the anger of BuosoDonati's family, who remain powerless. Omio babbino caro is sung bySchicchi's daughter Lauretta, who wants to marry Rinuccio, a relative of BuosoDonati who is instrumental in bringing in Schicchi to solve the family' sdifficulties and his own.

Puccini's last opera, Turandot, was left unfinished at the time of hisdeath in 1924. It is based on the eighteenth century play by Gozzi dealing withthe cold- hearted Chinese princess Turandot, who sets her suitors three riddles.

Those unsuccessful are put to death. Ca
Disc: 1
1 La forza del destino: Overture
2 E lucevan le stelle
3 Rusalka: O, Silver Moon
4 Les persheurs de perles: Au fond du temple saint
5 Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro
6 Votre Toast (Toreador Song)
7 I Pagliacci: Recitar! ... Vesti la giubba
8 Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo
9 Tanhauser: Begluckt darf nun dich (Pilgrims Chorus
10 Madama Butterfly: Bimba dagli occhi
11 Der Holle Rache... (Queen of the Night)
12 La Traviata: Libiamo ne'lieti calici
13 La Boheme: Si, Mi chiamano Mimi
14 Turandot: Nessun dorma
15 Bella figlia dell' amore (quartetto)
16 Va, pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves)
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