Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ariadne and Fiordiligi: Real people and feelings vs. ideas about people and feelings

[This isn't the full post yet, but it's closer than I was expecting. Stay tuned. UPDATE: Okay, this is pretty much the post. I scaled down the intended scope, so that we still have some Così business to pursue along with making the connection to Ariadne. -- K]
[LATER UPDATE: There's now a linked list of "The Ariadne Posts" at the end of this post.]


In pity's name, my dearest, forgive
the misdeed of a loving soul;
amid this shade and these plants
forever hidden, oh God, let it be.

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan.-Feb. 1971

Montserrat Caballé (s), Fiordiligi; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded c1973

by Ken

Yes, we're still talking about Strauss and Hofmannsthal's Ariadne auf Naxos, and we're getting nearer to dealing directly with its supposed musico-dramatic split personality, between the "Italian buffo manner" (as the Music Master refers to it) of Zerbinetta and her commedia dell'arte companions and the tragic world of Ariadne herself, abandoned by Theseus on the isle of Naxos.

If you look at early reviews of Ariadne, whether in its original 1912 format as an entertainment within Hofmannsthal's adaptation of Molière's Le bourgeois gentilhomme, or in the 1916 revision with the added Prologue that made the opera free-standing, you frequently encounter the criticism that the two musico-dramatic worlds that the creators so gleefully moosh together simply don't go together, that they're incompatible. Which is odd, because you'd think that one of the first things an audience member might want to puzzle out is why they've been mooshed together. And you'd think it would be rather obvious that they give us two quite different ways of looking at the same set of circumstances, each of which has something important to show us.

And somewhere along the line this week that got me to thinking about Mozart's Così fan tutte, the last of the three operas he set to librettos by his great librettist Lorenzo da Ponte -- and the only one of the three that on da Ponte's part wasn't an adaptation of existing material. And it occurred to me that the very different understandings of the characters of Così between the start and finish of the opera have a lot in common with the different ways of looking at Ariadne's bust-up with Theseus and subsequent hookup with Bacchus.

And that difference is embedded in the markedly different character of Fiordiligi's two great, hugely difficult showpiece arias, which we've heard before -- and we're now going to hear again. Starting, naturally, backwards. (Isn't that how we usually do things around here?) Just as I've been burbling on about the depth of beauty of Ariadne's music, I would venture that Fiordiligi's Act II aria, "Per pietà," might be the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote. I'm not going to say that it is the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote, because there are probably a dozen or two others to set alongside it. But the mere fact that it might be so considered tells us that we're dealing with one of the supremely beautiful creations of the human mind.

And this time I thought we might begin by breaking down just the very opening. In part this is useful because the aria is in the form of a rondo, meaning that we're going to be hearing this "A" section again, and again. And in part this is useful because it allows us to trail along as Mozart puts these musical materials together.


LET'S GET OUR GRAPHIC UP AGAIN AND GET STARTED

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Act II, Recitative and rondo, Fiordiligi, "Ei parte" ("He's left") . . . "Per pietà, ben mio, perdona" ("In pity's name, my dearest, forgive")



(1) "Per pietà, ben mio, perdona"
("In pity's name, my dearest, forgive")


Margaret Price (s); New Philharmonia, Otto Klemperer, cond.

Montserrat Caballé (s); ROH Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond.

Note first that Mozart, never at a loss for a glorious orchestral introduction to an aria, plunges directly from the dramatic accompanied recitative into the rondo. (He doesn't provide much of an intro to Fiordiligi's "Come scoglio" either, after its dramatic accompanied recitative, but there he doesn't plunge directly in.) Then note that he starts the singer on her midrange B, then sends her gently downward to the B an octave below, which is low ground for a soprano.

(2) "all'error d'un alma amante;"
("the misdeed of a loving soul;")


Margaret Price (s); New Philharmonia, Otto Klemperer, cond.

Montserrat Caballé (s); ROH Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond.

As Fiordiligi proceeds to the direct object of the imperative "forgive" from the preceding line, she drops back down to the B, on the second syllable of "error." Then, as she makes the exculpatory reference to herself as "a loving soul," she rises all the way to E, at the upper end of the soprano's midrange, automatically introducing a noticeably different vocal color.

(3) "fra quest'ombra e queste piante"
("amid this shade and these plants")


Margaret Price (s); New Philharmonia, Otto Klemperer, cond.

Montserrat Caballé (s); ROH Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond.

Not much surprise here, as Fiordiligi prepares to hide her shame -- we're back in that B-to-B octave, with only a brief eighth-note dip to the lower B. If you're of a suspicious nature, you might suspect that Mozart has something up his sleeve.

(4) "sempre ascoso, oh Dio, sarà,"
("forever hidden, oh God, let it be,")


Margaret Price (s); New Philharmonia, Otto Klemperer, cond.

Montserrat Caballé (s); ROH Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond.

Wow! If you must note something, note that pitchwise we're now locked in that upper-midrange sector from B to E. But hold onto your hat.

(5) "sempre ascoso, oh Dio, sarà." [yes, again!]
("forever hidden, oh God, let it be.")


Margaret Price (s); New Philharmonia, Otto Klemperer, cond.

Montserrat Caballé (s); ROH Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond.

Wow!!! First note the horns leading the way, except that they're going down while Fiordiligi is going up. (The horns are going to play an increasingly important role in the aria -- for example, in the embellished first repeat of this "A" section.) Note that she still doesn't go really high, but that long-held G-sharp on the middle syllable of "ascoso" gets us squarely but comfortably in the soprano's upper range, a radiant effect (and on the word "hidden"!) -- followed immediately by that octave-and-a-fifth plunge down to C-sharp.

And here's the opening of the aria all put together again:
In pity's name, my dearest, forgive
the misdeed of a loving soul;
amid this shade and these plants
forever hidden, oh God, let it be.

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan.-Feb. 1971

Montserrat Caballé (s), Fiordiligi; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded c1973


NOW LET'S HEAR THE WHOLE RECIT. AND RONDO

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Act II, Recitative and rondo, Fiordiligi, "Ei parte" ("He's left") . . . "Per pietà, ben mio, perdona" ("In pity's name, my dearest, forgive")
Accompanied recitative
He's left, listen, ah no! Let him go.
Let my sight be free of the unlucky object
of my weakness. To what a pass
this cruel man has brought me!
This is a just reward for my sins!
Was this the time
for me to heed the sighs
of a new lover, to make sport
of another's sighs? Ah, rightly
you condemn this heart, o just love!
I burn, and my ardour is no longer
the outcome of a virtuous love:
It is madness,
anguish, remorse, repentance,
fickleness, deceit and betrayal!
Rondo
In pity's name, my dearest, forgive
the misdeed of a loving soul;
amid this shade and these plants
forever hidden, oh God, let it be.
My courage, my constancy
will drive away this dishonourable desire
and banish the memory
which fills me with shame and horror.
And who is it whom
this unworthy heart has betrayed?
Dear heart, your trust deserved
a better reward!

Ina Souez (s), Fiordiligi; Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra, Fritz Busch, cond. EMI, recorded June 25-28, 1935

Teresa Stich-Randall (s), Fiordiligi; Paris Conservatory Orchestra, Hans Rosbaud, cond. Live performance from the Aix-en-Provence Festival, July 26, 1957

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

Leontyne Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded Aug.-Sept. 1967

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan.-Feb. 1971

Montserrat Caballé (s), Fiordiligi; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded c1973

Renée Fleming (s), Fiordiligi; Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, from concert performances in the Royal Festival Hall (London), May 3 and 5, 1994

UPDATE: Some notes on the performances

Margaret Price's Fiordiligi seems to me one of the great recordings of an operatic role, fulfilling this extraordinariliy demanding music with an equally extraordinary array of vocal resources, and singing it all with such melting beauty and depth of feeling. Note in particular the handling of all those vocal skips and leaps, like that octave-and-a-fifth drop in the opening of "Per pietà"; I've never heard anyone making them sound as humanly believable. At a certain point in her career Price sensibly retired this role to move on to other things, but while she sang it, she sang it supremely.

And I would say pretty much the same for Caballé's Fiordiligi. We were just discussing her in the context of Strauss's Four Last Songs, wondering at the beautfy, mobility, and size of the voice, and also venting frustration about the way the careless voice was often used. She was an unexpected choice as Philips's Fiordiligi, and, as it turned out, a spectacular choice. All the vocal virtues are here in abundance, giving us the special thrill of hearing this music sung by a voice of this size, beauty, and range of color.

We didn't hear the Caballé performances, which I finally broke down and dubbed from LP, in our earlier survey of "Come scoglio" and "Per pietà," along with a generous helping of Fiordiligi's other music (as part of a March 2011 remembrance of Margaret Price), and at that time we didn't hear Ina Souez either, from the famous old Glyndebourne Così. Her Fiordiligi is pretty wonderful too in terms of embracing the abundant challenges of the music. Perhaps not quite at this level but still impressive is Teresa Stich-Randall's Fiordiligi.

Leontyne Price doesn't have the vocal flexibility of a natural Fiordiligi, or the really full bottom range one might hope for, but she sings the music gorgeously -- and more individually, to my ears, than Renée Fleming, who certainly sings well. In such company it's surprising that Irmgard Seefried, with a much more limited voice, holds her own, but I'd say she more than holds her own. I think she gives a genuinely memorable performance. The Jochum-DG remains easily my favorite Così, and I have to think it had something to do with the conductor that all of the singers in this iffy-looking cast contribute so positively.


NOW LET'S GO BACK TO FIORDILIGI'S ACT I ARIA

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Act I, Recitative and aria, Fiordiligi, "Temerari, sortite" ("Audacious ones, leave") . . . "Come scoglio immoto resta" ("As a rock remains impervious")
Accompanied recitative
Bold creatures! Begone!
Flee from this place!
And with the unwelcome breath of base words
do not profane our hearts,
our ears, and our affections!
In vain do you or others seek to seduce
our souls; the unsullied faith that
we plighted to our dear lovers
we shall know how to preserve for them
until death, despite the world and fate.
Aria
Like a rock standing impervious
to winds and tempest,
so stands my heart ever strong
in faith and love.
Between us we have kindled
a flame that warms
and consoles us,
and death alone could
change my heart's devotion.
Respect this example
of constancy,
you abject creatures,
and do not let a base hope
make you so rash again!
-- English translation mostly by Lionel Salter

Ina Souez (s), Fiordiligi; Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra, Fritz Busch, cond. EMI, recorded June 25-28, 1935

Teresa Stich-Randall (s), Fiordiligi; Paris Conservatory Orchestra, Hans Rosbaud, cond. Live performance from the Aix-en-Provence Festival, July 26, 1957

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

Leontyne Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded Aug.-Sept. 1967

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan.-Feb. 1971

Montserrat Caballé (s), Fiordiligi; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded c1973

Renée Fleming (s), Fiordiligi; Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, from concert performances in the Royal Festival Hall (London), May 3 and 5, 1994

This is different, wouldn't you say?

I suppose we should go over the situation. In Act I, Fiordiligi and her sister, Dorabella, are faced with the sudden absence of their beloved fiancés, Guglielmo and Ferrando, who they are led to believe are going off to war. It's all a trick, of course, but the sisters don't know it. And they are quite unprepared when they become the recipients of amorous intentions by a pair of suitors from Albania, who are of course their fiancés in disguise, determined to prove their fiancées fidelity to the cynical old philosopher Don Alfonso.

In Act I, then, Fiordiligi is announcing in "Come scoglio," with all the vocal bravado Mozart can supply, her impregnable-fortress-like fidelity, which is proof against all challenges. Midway through Act II, however, the fortress is in some disarray. And Fiordiligi doesn't know what to what's happening to her, or what to make of it.


THIS IS RECOGNIZABLY THE SAME PERSON, ISN'T IT?
BUT SHE'S UNDERGONE A TRANSFORMATION OF SORTS


And the nature of that transformation is very much the point we need to get at. We should get closer next time.

THE ARIADNE POSTS

Sunday Classics snapshots: Meet the composer, Richard Strauss-style (10/11)
Why won't everyone just let poor abandoned Ariadne die in peace? (11/1)
Richard Strauss: "Music is a holy art," sings Strauss's Composer -- plus Two (out of Four) Last Songs, part 1 (11/8)
Richard Strauss: "Music is a holy art," sings Strauss's Composer -- plus Two (out of Four) Last Songs, part 2 (11/15)
Richard Strauss in the twilight (12/6)
Ariadne is "the symbol of human solitude" -- which is "just why she needs company" (says the Dance Master) (12/13)
Ariadne and Fiordiligi: Real people and feelings vs. ideas about people and feelings (12/20)
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