Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Lucia's last happy snap

Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti at the Met in 1987
LUCIA: Ah! On the breezes
will come my ardent sighs.
You will hear in the murmuring sea
the echo of my grieving
Thinking that I feed on sighs and grief,
shed a bitter tear then on this ring.
Ah, on this ring then!
Ah, on this ring then!
Ah, on that ring then!

Joan Sutherland (s), Lucia; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tullio Serafin, cond. Live performance, Feb. 26, 1959

by Ken

I know we're making microscopic progress toward our goal, that other Verdian musical dramatization of the aging process (besides Germont's aria "Di Provenza" in La Traviata, by way of the "double aria" format Verdi inherited from the Italian bel cantists. And this week we're slowing down even further.

Last week we heard Lucia di Lammermoor's great Scene 2 double aria as she awaited her secret lover, Edgardo, near the fountain on his family's ruined Scottish estate. I thought this week we would move on, or rather back, to the Scene 1 double aria of Lucia's brother, Lord Enrico Ashton and maybe get as far as the way he treats his sister. But even though we left Lucia singing rapturously of her love for Edgardo, a rare moment of unbridled happiness for her, I don't think we can leave her there. We really need to "see" her meeting with Edgardo. Here are four musical snapshots.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: A fountain, a harp, and a mind in distress

No, this isn't the fountain of "The Siren" referred to in the stage direction, but it's a reasonable guess that the Ravenswood fountain might have been based on the Fontana della Sirena in the Piazza Sannazaro in Naples. Just imagine it on a lonely Scottish estate fallen nearly to ruins, like so --
A park in the ground of the Scottish castle of Ravenswood. We see the fountain called "The Siren." Once it was covered by a beautiful structure decorated with all sorts of Gothic details; now only the ruins of this structure remain. It is nightfall.
[All translations in today's post by William Ashbrook]

RAI Turin Symphony Orchestra, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Broadcast performance, Oct. 10, 1967

RCA Italiana Orchestra, Georges Prêtre, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded July-Aug. 1965

Orchestra of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Richard Bonynge, cond. Live performance, Nov. 12, 1975

by Ken

Here we hear three takes on a lovely 2½-to-3-minute musical snapshot -- Molinari-Pradelli decisive and sympathetically straightforward; Prêtre similarly decisive but a little more individual in some of his phrasing choices and, surprisingly (at least to me), turning out to time out a little quicker; and Bonynge more romantically discursive.

The music, which is sometimes described as an "interlude" between the scene preceding and the one about to take place, is pretty clearly indicated in the score as an orchestral lead-in to what follows -- though of course it's up to the stage director to decide where exactly to raise the curtain on Scene 2. In the meantime, I'm delaying identifying this piece of musical mood-setting (in the event that you don't know) to give you a chance to just allow it to wash over you and maybe sink in a little, to maybe set a mood. It's clearly the harp that dominates the music, and the fountain that dominates the scene, but I don't think anyone can say how exactly they're expected to relate.

And here I think we can jump ahead just a bit to our next snapshot, to add this vivid response to mention of the aforementioned fountain. In fact, since it's only 11-12 seconds, we're going to hear it three times.
That fountain! Ah! never
do I see it without trembling.

I think we clearly have three interesting, and interestingly, different renderings of this extraordinary moment, but one thing I think we can also say is that, from the purely vocal standpoint, singer B handles it with greater assurance, and singer C handles it with astonishing assurance -- producing a sound of amazing fullness that doesn't strain or curdle at all on the upward leap for the "Ah!" in "Quella fonte! Ah! mai."


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: LIfe among the Druids

The first page of Bellini's Norma autograph score

BELLINI: Norma (1831): Overture

Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala (Milan), Antonino Votto, cond. Live performance, Dec. 7, 1955

Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala (Milan), Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded Nov. 5-12, 1960

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlo Felice Cillario, cond. RCA, recorded September 1972

National Philharmonic Orchestra, James Levine, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded 1979
About the performances: I really admire the weight that Votto brings to the Overture without stretching or padding it, as Serafin and Cillario do with varying degrees of success. If you want just the notes, Levine's your guy.

by Ken

The plan was different. We've been poking around the 19th-century Italian opera format of the aria-and-cabaletta or "double aria" -- a contrasting pair of arias, usually the first slowish and the second fastish, which with an adjustment of circumstances producing the change allows the singer to show off a wide range of vocal and dramatic capabilities.

We started with Verdi struggling with the format in La Traviata, producing pedestrian or worse cabalettas for the tenor and baritone in Act II, Scene 1, but then last week pointed out that to end Act I he had produced for Violetta what is surely the greatest double aria of them all, her "Ah, fors'è lui" and "Sempre libera."