Rimini and Gradara | Francesca da Rimini | The epitome of a tragic love
The compelling power of Zandonai’s best opera Francesca da Rimini is the best known of Riccardo Zandonai’s opera, a work of musical richness and compelling dramatic power. D’Annunzio’s play, written in the years of his obsession for Wagner, has many parallels with Tristan und Isolde, as for instance the minstrel account of Isolde’s story at the beginning of the opera and the “goblet scene” in act two. The epitome of a tragic love The first act takes place in Ravenna: Francesca da Polenta, daughter of the lord of the city, is about to marry Guido Malatesta, called Gianciotto because of his deformity (he’s crippled): she’s led to believe that the groom to be is the handsome Paolo, Gianciotto’s brother. In the second act, the following winter, the Guelphs Malatesta, at war with the Ghibellines, are besieging their castle in Rimini. Francesca meets Paolo in the castle and blames him for deceiving her into marriage. Gianciotto arrives followed by their brother Malatestino, who is wounded. In act three, a few months later, Francesca is in her room reading when Paolo, back from a long journey, enters. After confessing each other their love, they go back to the reading which features the […]
Rigoletto in Mantua | Palazzo Te, the pleasure palace
What is Rigoletto it about? This sounds like a simple question, which could be answered by telling the story of the Duke of Mantua, the city of Mantua, his hunchback jester and the jester’s daughter, Gilda. A story of love, deception, revenge, and death. The story, of course, is so close to the one told by playwright and poet Victor Hugo in his play Le Roi s’amuse (The King has fun), that they could appear the same thing. But anyone who loves opera will not be satisfied by this explanation. In the best operas, music is much more than an accompaniment to the story: it is through the power of music that the story unfolds into the drama. Verdi fell literally in love with Hugo’s play and was determined to translate it into music; despite his librettist Francesco Maria Piave‘s concerns, particularly over the fourth act culminating in the deposition of a dying Gilda in a bag. In a letter dated June 1850, Verdi explains the reasons he suggested as a title for the opera Monterone’s curse or, by the short, The Curse. “The subject is the curse as a moral element: A distraught father who mourns the honor taken away from his daughter, a […]
Bologna | A setting for Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto
Giovanni Bertati sets The Secret Marriage in Bologna not without a reason: Bologna is historically a wealthy city, hometown for enterprising bourgeois engaged in commerce and industry. The city is famous for its towers and long arcades, for the beautiful well-preserved historic centre, one of the largest in Italy. Well renowned is also Bologna strong culinary tradition.
IL VIAGGIO DI ROBERTO | Roberto’s journey – from Ravenna to Auschwitz
On October 16, 1943 Roberto and his father were imprisoned in Milan. Two months later the 6th of December they were loaded like cattle in the same coach with other 64 people and left from the infamous platform 21 of Milan train station for a one way journey.
Verdi’s Falstaff | Triumph with a laughter
Verdi’s last opera Falstaff relates to Verdi’s late years when after the enormous success of Otello no one expected him to create yet another opera. A pleasant routine Verdi and Giuseppina had a pleasant life routine at that stage. They used to spend winters in Genoa; the beginning of spring in Milan attending music events; the end of spring and most part of summer in Sant’Agata, where the composer attended business such as the collection of rent payments, purchase of seeds, repairs, new buildings works. Yet his friend, librettist and composer Arrigo Boito noticed how much Verdi missed composing and for that reason started to insist in working together on something new, an opera that could end his career in an even better way than Otello, a “triumph with a laughter”. Triumph with a laughter The idea came out during a conversation between Boito and Verdi. By May 1889 Boito had already sketched the libretto from Shakespeare’s Henry IV (1597) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602). Verdi, who had considered a comic subject before, at that stage was worried for not being able to complete it: “What would happen if I won’t overcome my weakness…If I won’t be able to finish […]
I Pagliacci ¦ Leoncavallo’s Calabria
Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci is a opera of tremendous energy and impetus, up to the final scene, one of the most gripping of Italian opera. The aria”Vesti la giubba” “put on your costume” is one of the best-renowned tenor arias of the whole repertoire. It is in fact both an expressive and a vocal test for any lyric tenor.
Un Ballo in Maschera | Giuseppe Verdi
A troubled genesis Un Ballo in Maschera is arguably one of most popular opera by Giuseppe Verdi. Yet it had the most troubled genesis. Written for the San Carlo in Naples and never performed there Un Ballo in Maschera was originally composed to be staged in Naples as the last new opera written under the contract between the Teatro San Carlo and Verdi but was never performed there. The major changes imposed by the Bourbon censorship to the composer convinced Verdi to premiere it in Rome instead. Even the Papal censorship in 1859 allowed him more freedom than that of the Bourbons’. Last (missed) opportunity for a Verdi’s “King Lear” Initially, Verdi had suggested to the San Carlo management another subject: King Lear by William Shakespeare, a long-term project that this time seemed to finally have found a right opportunity. But a new problem came up. To stage King Lear 2 or 3 strong soloists were not enough: 5 at least were needed and the San Carlo couldn’t provide them. These circumstances convinced Verdi, after over 15 years, to finally abandon the project of staging a music version of King Lear. Verdi & Shakespeare Verdi was a great admirer of […]
Donizetti | Elisir d’Amore and the magic of Italian borghi
Elisir d’amore is Donizetti’s first opera to show his full mastery of the comic style. Arias like “Adina believe me” and the most famous “A furtive tear” are pieces in which Donizetti not simply suggests emotions but gives body to their very essence thanks to a music of universal, immortal power. The story is set at the end of eighteenth century, in a country village.
Vincenzo Bellini | La Sonnambula
La Sonnambula was a complete triumph, since its premiere. The newspapers wrote of “a melody that goes to the heart, an instrumentation always beautiful and well built” and reported of “endless applauses”. The story revolves around the character of Amina, the archetypal of the slandered innocent.
Bellini | A love and death story I Capuleti e i Montecchi
I Capuleti e i Montecchi is considered by many Bellini’s first masterpiece. It certainly recalls in many ways the great belcanto era, particularly in the way the roles are organized: the mezzo-soprano as male protagonist, the soprano as his lover, the tenor as the hero’s rival, bass and bariton respectively as the noble father and the tyrant. However, Capuleti is not strictly a belcanto opera because of its intimate and at times dramatic atmosphere. So much so that the many embellishments, counterbalanced by a well-defined melodic core, are not ornamentation anymore but start to take an expressive connotation.
The Servant turned Mistress | La Serva Padrona
La Serva Padrona, composed on a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico in 1733, is an intermezzo divided into two interludes. It was originally designed to be performed between the acts of the opera seria Il prigioniero superbo by Pergolesi himself, staged at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples on the occasion of the birthday of the empress Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick, wife of the emperor Charles VI and mother of the empress Marie Therese of Augsburg. That very same libretto had been used by almost every composer in Naples and therefore was already popular in a number of successful versions. The definition of believable characters and the solid realism of the short story, revolving almost entirely around the characters’ psychology made of the libretto a success. Pergolesi’s genius turned it into a masterpiece.
Siracusa | Rossini’s Tancredi
In Stendhal’s opinion Tancredi was Rossini’s best opera. In his biography he wrote: “there’s no bravery or grandeur in this opera but only the simple purity and virginity of genius”. The libretto by Gaetano Rossi was drawn from Voltaire’s tragedy Tancrede. For that libretto Rossini composed an innovative score, combining in an original way the baroque “extreme coloraturas” with the pre-Romantic simple melodies of the new belcanto.
Il Matrimonio Segreto by Domenico Cimarosa
Domenico Cimarosa’s most successful opera, The Secret Marriage, was composed on a libretto written by Giovanni Bertati, a Venetian employed as court poet in Vienna, on a subject very popular at the time. The story was in fact at the centre of a series of 6 paintings by William Hogarth, the Marriage in Fashion, le Mariage à la Mode, published in London between 1743 and 1745, depicting the bad consequences of a wedding between a penniless aristocrat and a rich bourgeois. Bertati the librettist turns the social satire into a mockery of bourgeois, eager to ennoble but happy to save half of the dowry when the opportunity arises.
Rome, the Domus Aurea | Monteverdi’s Incoronazione di Poppea
The libretto for Monteverdi’s Opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea was mainly drawn from the roman historians Tacitus. Its leading character is Poppea, the beautiful mistress who became wife to the Roman Emperor Nero, one of the most loved and, at the same time, hated emperor of the ancient Rome. Nero after the great fire of Rome, built on the Colle Oppio, the most lavish and vast villa of the ancient Rome, the Domus Aurea.
Moving forward from Baroque opera | Zeno, Metastasio, Gluck
Gluck finally estabilished an indissoluble link between music and words, with music becoming the main element for the success of an opera. As in the striking aria “What shall I do without Euridice?”. It is through to the incomparable beauty and expressiveness of the melody sung by Orpheus that Love is presuaded to bring Euridice back to life.
Claudio Monteverdi | A revolutionary composer
Monteverdi reinvents vocal music as a new relationship between the composer and his audience, using to that end his melodies of unprecedented expressivity. He creates modern opera as the public’s right to a performance he can understand, appreciate, being moved or laugh at.
Opera | Useful basic definitions of commonly used terms
Opera is a drama created through music. It is the result of the joint effort of some of the best poets and composers in music history who worked together in perfect synergy to create a work as a whole.