Friday, March 8, 2013

Preview: Every day is a good day for an auto-da-fé

In the course of his travels, Candide finds himself in Lisbon just in time for both an earthquake and an auto-da-fé, the "act of faith" that was the Inquisitorial Church's patented mode of festivity built around the burning of heretics. Composer Leonard Bernstein conducts the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra in this famous July 1982 concert performance of Candide, with Clive Bayley (Bear-Keeper), Neil Jenkins (Cosmetic Merchant), Lindsay Benson (Doctor), Richard Suart (Junkman), John Treleaven (Alchemist), Adolph Green (Dr. Pangloss), and Jerry Hadley (Candide). We're going to hear the start of a less jolly theatrical auto-da-fé.

by Ken

Lately we've heard some orchestral introductions that not only set the scenes for the memorable operatic scenes they introduce, but grab the listener's imagination unforgettably. For example, in February 24's "In Boris Godunov, the Russian people do just as they're told" we heard the introductions to the two scenes of the Prologue to Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov (heard here in Rimsky-Korsakov's edition).

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov (ed. Rimsky-Korsakov):

Opening of the Coronation Scene

Alexei Maslennikov (t), Prince Shuisky; Sofia Radio Chorus, Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded November 1970

Here are three equally vivid and equally contrasting musical introductions, to consecutive events:



Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded 1965-66


We heard it many times over (though not in this particular performance) in the January 27 post "Verdi's King Philip -- a man in crisis." It's the introduction to the king's stunning pre-dawn monologue in his study (Act IV, Scene 1 of the five-act version).


which would be Act III, Scene 2, a considerably less jolly auto-da-fé than the Candide one. It's going to end in the burning of a bunch of heretics. Here's more of the opening.

VERDI: Don Carlos: Act III, Scene 2 (Auto-da-fé scene): Opening choruses
A large square before Valladolid Cathedral. Right, the church, approached by a flight of steps; left, a palace; at the back, another flight of steps leads to a lower square; large buildings and distant hills form the background. The crowd, which the halberdiers can scarcely restrain, surges onto the square. Bells ring out.

THE PEOPLE: This happy day is filled with joy!
Honor to the mightiest of kings!
The world addresses its prayer to him.
The world bows beneath his laws.
Our love accompanies him wherever he goes.
Never was love more deserved;
his name is the pride of Spain;
it will live in eternity!
[A funeral march is heard. Monks cross the square, leading the men condemned by the Inquisition.]
MONKS: This day is a day of wrath,
a day of mourning, a day of terror!
Woe! Woe betide the rash one
who defies heaven's law!
But pardon follows the curse
if the dismayed sinner
repents in is dying moment
on the threshhold of eternity!
[The MONKS and the condemned men go down to the lower square, where the pyres are prepared.]
THE PEOPLE: Honor to the mightiest of kings.
Our love accompanies him wherever he goes, &c.
Honor to the king!
[The procession comes out of the palace; all the officers of state, all the court, deputies from every province of the empire, the grandees of Spain, RODRIGO among them; the QUEEN, surrounded by her ladies; TEBALDO, bearing ELISABETH's train; pages; etc. The procession comes to a halt before the steps of the church.]
THE PEOPLE: This happy day is filled with joy! &c.
Honor to the king!
ROYAL HERALD [before the doors of the church, which remain closed]: Open, o sacred portals!
House of the Lord, open!
O venerable edifice,
render to us our king!
THE PEOPLE: Open, o sacred portals! &c.
[The doors of the church reveal as they open KING PHILIP, crowned, advancing beneath a canopy, with monks around him. The lords bow, and the people kneel.]

John Wakefield (t), Royal Herald; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded 1965-66


Again, here's a slightly fuller version, picking up with the end of Philip's monologue.
KING PHILIP, alone in his study and clearly not having slept all night, has been obsessing, in the great monologue that began before dawn and continued through daybreak, over his knowledge that Queen Elisabeth has never loved him.

KING PHILIP: She never loved me.
No, that heart is closed to me.
She doesn't love me, she doesn't love me.
[He falls back into his reverie.]
COUNT OF LERMA [entering]: The Grand Inquisitor!
[LERMA exits. The GRAND INQUISITOR, blind, nonagenarian, enters supported by two Dominican friars.]
GRAND INQUISITOR: Am I before the king?
KING PHILIP: Yes, I had you called, father. I am in doubt.

Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), King Philip II; Kenneth MacDonald (t), Count of Lerma; Martti Talvela (bs), Grand Inquisitor; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded 1965-66


Yes, it's the king vs. the Grand Inquisitor -- get your bets down, ladies and gentlemen.

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