Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: One's a peasant and one's a governor's wife, but both are adored by the locals

Desdemona receives an outpouring of love from the adoring Cypriots in Act II of Cape Town's 2013 Otello.

by Ken

Last week we listened to the opening scene of Verdi's Luisa Miller, as I tried to make my case about the kinship between Luisa and her Verdian cousin Desdemona in Otello, heroines who (to quote myself yet again) --
who are genuinely and all but universally loved because of their basic uncompromised decency and humanity, living exemplary practitioners of the Golden Rule. Naturally they are crushed -- easy pickings in a world that talks a good game about the Golden Rule but truly doesn't believe in it.

One problem in making the connection is that the music in which the relationship between our heroines and the people who love them so tends to be performed as generic, saccharine mush, and so we're not often prompted to consider the effect it would have on us if Luisa's villagers or Desdemona's adoring Cypriots really meant it. It seems to me pretty clear in the music that they do.


VERDI: Otello: Act II, Chorus of Cypriots, "Dove guardi splendono raggi"
In Act II, JAGO is just introducing the first dose of poison into the mind of OTELLO regarding the (wholly non-existent) relationship between DESDEMONA and CASSIO when DESDEMONA reappears in the garden. She is surrounded by inhabitants of the island -- women, boys, and Cypriot and Albanian sailors -- who offer her flowers and other gifts." We come in near the end of this brief lovefest between the Cypriiots and Cypress's First Lady, with OTELLO and JAGO observing.

CYPRIOTS: Wherever you look rays shine,
hearts are enflamed.
Wherever you pass, descend showers
of flowers -- here among lilies and roses,
like before a chaste altar, fathers,
children, wives come singing.
DESDEMONA [deeply touched, very sweetly]:
The heavens shine, the breeze dances,
flowers perfume the air.
Joy, love, hope
sing in my heart.
OTELLO: That song overcomes me.
If she be false, then heaven mocks itself!
JAGO [to himself]:
Beauty and love united in sweet harmony!
I shall shatter your sweet accord.
CYPRIOTS: Live happily! Live happily!
Here love reigns.
OTELLO: That song overcomes me.
[When the singing ends, DESDEMONA kisses some of the children, and some of the women kiss the hem of her gown. She bestows a purse on the sailors.]

Gwyneth Jones (s), Desdemona; James McCracken (t), Otello; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Jago; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded Aug., Oct., and Nov. 1968

Leonie Rysanek (s), Desdemona; Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Tito Gobbi (b), Jago; Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1960

Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Desdemona; Luciano Pavarotti (t), Otello; Leo Nucci (b), Jago; Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded live in concert, April 1991


VERDI: Luisa Miller: Overture and Opening scene

The 1964 RCA recording, which as I noted last week is 50 years old this month, still seems to me by a healthy margin the best recorded performance of Luisa. Not that it couldn't be bettered; it just hasn't been -- really not in any particular, it seems to me. So even though we heard the key parts last week, I thought we should start by hearing the performance straight through, though with the CD track breaks.

The other two performances I've scrounged up run straight through. I thought of making separate tracks for the Overture, then decided why not let them just run straight through, as they would in the theater (allowing for applause)? Actually, before making that decision, I did make a separate clip of the Maazel-DG Overture, but that was before I discovered the little skip in it. By that time I was much too tired to redo the clip, which would have meant not just rerecording it, but also redoing all the declicking.
UPDATE: Okay, I've corrected the Maazel Luisa Overture, I think, and here it is on its own:

VERDI: Luisa Miller: Overture

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Lorin Maazel, cond. DG, recorded 1979

The audio clip below of the Overture and opening scene should be OK now.
The DG and Turin Radio performances aren't awful and even add some things. For one, Katia Ricciarelli's Luisa for DG seems to me one of her nicer recordings. For another, in the Turin broadcast Luciano Pavarotti seems to me in noticeably better shape than in the all-around disappointing Decca recording made later that year, also with Peter Maag conducting, with Montserrat Caballé a lot less persuasive than in the 1968 Met performance we sampled last week.
A pleasant village. On one side MILLER's humble house, on the other side a little country church; in the distance, through the trees, the towers of COUNT WALTER's castle. A bright spring day is dawning on the horizon; the villagers are gathering to celebrate LUISA's birthday.

LAURA and VILLAGERS: Awake, Luisa, queen of our hearts.
The mountains are already touched by a gleam of light.
On such a happy day, sweet friendship
brings us to you at daybreak.
This April dawn is beautiful,
but not as beautiful as your face.
This gentle breeze is pure and sweet,
but not so pure, so sweet as you.

MILLER: Here is my daughter!
LUISA: Oh dear friends!
VILLAGERS: May heaven smile upon you!
LAURA: Shortly we'll go to church together to invoke it.
MILLER: Your affection presses tears
of tenderness from my eyelids.
The dawning day is sacred
to this father's heart.
[Embracing LUISA] It gave me Luisa!
LUISA [looking around anxiously]: He still hasn't come!
Away from him there's no joy for me!
MILLER: Daughter, love, barely awakened in you,
already spreads such vivid flames!
Oh, may such love not be ill-placed!
[As LUISA begins to speak]
This Carlo who has come here
in the court of the new lord,
is unknown to everyone.
I am afraid.
LUISA: Don't be afraid: a nobler spirit,
a soul warmer with virtue,
never assumed human form.
He fell in love with me; I fell in love with him.
I saw him, and my heart
felt its first pulse of love;
he barely saw me, and the heart
of my true love leapt up.
As they met here below,
our souls recognized each other;
God has created them in heaven
to love each other! Ah!
I saw him, and my heart etc.
VILLAGERS [presenting bouquets of flowers to LUISA]:
Luisa, accept a simple token
of our friendship.
LUISA: My soul is grateful,
o my tender companions.

[LUISA catches sight of a young huntsman who steps out of the crowd, also offering her flowers.]
"CARLO": My beloved!
MILLER [to himself, disturbed]: It's him.
"CARLO" [turning toward MILLER]: Good father!
LUISA [to "CARLO"]: Embrace him!
He loves you like a son.
"CARLO" [to the VILLAGERS]: Friends!
VILLAGERS: Love makes you completely happy.
LUISA and "CARLO": Completely happy!
It's true! It's true!
Near you, my heart
lives only in delight,
only in delight.
LUISA: I love you with a love
that words would try to express badly!
The chill of death cannot extinguish
such ardent love.
God has bound our hearts
with an eternal knot,
and when we are dead on earth,
we will love each other in heaven!
"CARLO": I love you with a love etc.
LUISA: We will love each other in heaven!
MILLER [to himself]: I know not what ominous voice
is speaking in my heart.
Wretched me, if she were
the victim of a seducer!
VILLAGERS: One soul, a single desire,
animates the breasts of both!
Never was seen a love
more ardent and more faithful!
MILLER [to himself]: Ah, dear God, do not will
that she succumb to such a fate.
Such cruel suffering
would open the grave for me.
[All repeat, until the church bell sounds.]

[track 1: Overture; tracks 2-4: Opening scene] Gabriella Carturan (ms), Laura; Cornell MacNeil (b), Miller; Anna Moffo (s), Luisa Miller; Carlo Bergonzi (t), Rodolfo ("Carlo"); RCA Italiana Chorus and Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded June 1964

[Opening scene begins about 5:26] Audrey Michael (ms), Laura; Renato Bruson (b), Miller; Katia Ricciarelli (s), Luisa Miller; Plácido Domingo (t), Rodolfo ("Carlo"); Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Lorin Maazel, cond. DG, recorded 1979

[Opening scene begins about 5:34] Anna di Stasio (ms), Laura; Matteo Manuguerra (b), Miller; Gilda Cruz-Romo (s), Luisa Miller; Luciano Pavarotti (t), Rodolfo ("Carlo"); RAI Turin Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Peter Maag, cond. Broadcast peformance, Jan. 25, 1975

It would be interesting to hear the whole of the Otello Act II scene in which Desdemona is fêted by her local admirers, which has the additional interest of allowing us to hear the beginning of Jago's active poisoning of Otello's mind against his wife. But that would require some really careful screening of performances, so that the choral part isn't allowed to drag and the Jago-Otello exchanges are also appropriately done. Who knows? It could happen.

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