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ANA MAR?ìA MART?ìNEZ: Soprano Songs and Arias

O mio babbino caro Vilja-Lied Ba?»lero

The present set of soprano arias opens with the popularsetting of Alfred de Musset's evocation of Spain by LeoDelibes. The French composer is particularly known forhis ballet Coppelia, based on a story by E.T.A.

Hoffmann, first staged in Paris in 1870. His FlowerDuet from his opera Lakme has, for various reasons,won contemporary popularity. In common with otherFrench composers of his generation, Delibes exploredthe exotic, in Lakme an Indian setting. His setting of deMusset's poem, Les filles de Cadix, with its celebrationof the bolero, conjures up the spirit of Spain.

Shakespeare may have at first seemed primitive anduncouth in a French theatrical tradition that had drawnheavily on the principles of Aristotelian classicism. Bythe nineteenth century, however, tastes were changing,thanks to the advocacy of writers like Victor Hugo.

Gounod's version of Romeo and Juliet, first staged inParis in 1867, uses a libretto inevitably reduced from theoriginal play. The opera opens with old Capulet, Juliet'sfather, welcoming guests to his house to a masqued ballinto which Romeo and his friends will intrude. Juliet,intended as the bride of Count Paris, in her waltz-songJe veux vivre confides in her nurse her feelings, soon tobe turned towards Romeo.

The short opera Gianni Schicchi forms part of atrilogy by Giacomo Puccini, first seen in New York in1918. Based on an episode in Dante's Inferno, the plot,like that of Ben Jonson's Volpone, revolves round adeception in which Gianni Schicchi is invited by greedyrelatives of a man recently dead to take the dead man'splace and write a new will in their favour. He acceptsthe imposture, but making sure that everything will goto him, an outcome that the dead man's family dare notdispute for fear of the law. Gianni Schicchi's daughterLauretta is in love with the gallant young Rinuccio, amember of the dead man's family, and in her famousaria O mio babbino caro she pleads with her father toallow her to marry the man she loves, an outcomeeventually achieved, before the opera ends.

The Austrian composer Franz Lehar's famousoperetta The Merry Widow has a plot that also revolvesaround the search for wealth, in this case for patrioticreasons, as the Pontevedrin ambassador to Paris tries toensure that the rich banker's widow Hanna Glawaridoes not marry abroad, removing her money from herown country. In her Vilja-Lied Hanna evokes thePontevedrin spirit, recounting the legend of a forestmaiden and a lovelorn huntsman. All ends happily, as itshould in operetta, when Hanna marries the youngPontevedrin diplomat Danilo, who has for long secretlyresponded to her love for him.

Pablo Luna was a prolific writer of Zarzuelas. HisEl Nino Judio concerns Samuel, the Jewish boy of thetitle, whose poverty prevents his marriage to his belovedConcha. On his supposed father's deathbed it is revealedthat Samuel is in fact the son of a rich merchant fromAleppo, kidnapped by the man he had supposed to behis father. Together with Concha and her father, he setsout to find his true father. In Aleppo, however, theylearn that Samuel's real father was in fact an IndianRajah, with whom his mother had eloped. In India theRajah welcomes his long-lost son and is enchanted byConcha's Spanish song, De Espana vengo. The jealousyof the Rajah's wife nearly leads to disaster, from whichthe Rajah rescues them, sending them back to Madridwith a substantial supply of gems.

Violetas imperiales, based on a French original byHenry Roussell, after earlier cinematic treatment,appeared in 1952 as a film directed by Richard Pottier, aFranco-Spanish production. The relevance of the title isfound in a plot in which a violet-seller tells the fortuneof the future Empress Eugenie of France, the SpanishEugenia de Montijo. The setting is by Francis Lopez andthe song, which has a charm of its own, has wonconsiderable popularity, not least through itscommercial use.

Puccini's opera La Rondine has at its heart Magda,who lives with her protector Rambaldo. She was andstill is in love with Ruggero, but their attempt atestablishing a sure relationship in marriage isimpossible, and Magda eventually returns to Rambaldo.

In the first act a young poet, Prunier, the lover ofMagda's maid Lisette, sings of the story of Doretta'sdream of marrying a king, but cannot end the song.

Magda takes it up and provides her own conclusion inChi il bel sogno. The opera was first staged in MonteCarlo in 1917.

The French composer Joseph Canteloube, a pupil ofVincent d'Indy, won a particular reputation for hismusical depictions of the life of his native region, theAuvergne. He published four volumes of arrangementsof songs from the Auvergne for voice and orchestra, andhis fine arrangement of the pastoral Ba?»l?¿ro is amongthe most effective.

Madama Butterfly, an excursion by Puccini into theexotic world of Japan, was first staged at La Scala,Milan, in 1904. Described as a Japanese tragedy, it isbased on an American play, derived from an earlierstory, itself having its source in a work by the Frenchwriter Pierre Loti. Cio-Cio-San, the Madama Butterflyof the title, marries an American naval officer, hersincere intentions not matched by his view of thearrangement as purely temporary. She retains her faithin him, believing that one fine day he will return to her,but when he does it is to bring with him his new,American wife, and to take away the child she has bornhim. Co-Cio-San, like her father before her, killsherself. The aria Un bel d?¼ vedremo is of particularpoignancy, as the girl herself, a child-bride, is alone inher trust in a man whose intentions have long beenobvious to all those around her.

The Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos broughttogether in his series of Bachianas brasileirasinspiration derived from Bach and from his owncountry. The fifth of these, for soprano and at least eightcellos, is the best known. The opening aria, with anextended vocalise, is a setting of a poem by RuthValadares Corr?¬a, while the second part offers anenergetic version of a poem by Manoel Bandeiro,characterized by the agility of its sometimes angularvocal line.

Keith Anderson
Disc: 1
Bachianas brasileiras No. 5 for Soprano and Cello
1 Les filles de Cadix
2 Romeo et Juliette, Act I: Je veux vivre (Juliette)
3 Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro (Lauretta)
4 Die lustige Witwe, Act II: Vilja-Lied (Hanna Glawa
5 El nino judio: De Espana vengo (Concha)
6 Violettes imperiales
7 La rondine, Act I: Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (Ma
8 Chants d'Auvergne, Series I: II. Bailero
9 Madama Butterfly, Act II: Un bel di vedremo (Cio-C
10 I. Aria (Cantilena)
11 II. Danca (Martelo)
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