This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Although I’ve been to quite a number of opera performances over the years, I must admit that I prefer to put on my CDs and listen that way.
I know I miss the spectacle but it’s the music for me. Besides, I can get a cup of tea or coffee, or more likely, a glass of wine, stretch my legs when needed, read a book during the boring bits. I’ll be scoffed at by purists because I’ll miss the live music but that’s the way it goes.
These will be mostly arias as they are the most entertaining bits of operas but there will be other things as well. I’m not going for obscure pieces today; if you are even vaguely familiar with opera you will know all these. That’s because they are good and have stood the test of time.
Also, you needn’t worry that I’ll slip in something challenging like “Lulu,” “Einstein on the Beach” or “Nixon in China”. Even I can’t get through those in one sitting, even with several glasses of wine. Also, there’s no Wagner.
Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, says her favorite opera is "Norma" by VINCENZO BELLINI. It’s not just because of the name she says, but anyway “I’ve got an opera named after me and you haven’t. Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah.”
Be that as it may, this is a fine piece of work - that final act especially; just when you thought it had finished, it gets even better (and does that yet again, and again).
Anyway, it gives me an excuse to play the great MARIA CALLAS singing Casta Diva.
Nessun Dorma has to be present. This is from "Turandot" by GIACOMO PUCCINI.
I have several versions of this so I thought I might play someone other than Luciano Pavarotti as he pretty much made it his own and everyone knows what he does with it. So, instead of the great man we have JUSSI BJOERLING.
This is from the actual opera rather than a concert recording. I chose it because there’s more going on in the background than you get in a stand-alone piece. I prefer it because the chorus singing is quite lovely.
WOLFGANG MOZART has to be present but picking something of his took some time. I would normally have selected something from "Don Giovanni" or "Ideomeneo," as they’re the ones I listen to most. However, in the interest of variety, and besides I got to listen to others of his for a change, I’ve gone for "Le Nozzi di Figaro" (The Marriage of Figaro, of course).
Here is Cherubino, sung by YVONNE MINTON warbling away at Voi che sapete. The great Jessye Norman is part of this recording but she missed the cut this time. Darn.
LÉO DELIBES produced quite a few well known operas, several of which are still in the canon today. However, due to its use in all sorts of other areas, this piece of music has made sure that "Lakme" is the opera that first springs to mind when his name is mentioned.
The piece of music I’m talking about is Dôme épais le jasmin à la rose s'assemble. This may well be familiar to you, it’s often called The Flower Song. The singers are MADY MESPLÉ and DANIELLE MILLET.
This one is mandatory as well because it may be the most famous aria in opera history. Okay, Nessun Dorma has probably overtaken it these days but it’s still very popular, and very good.
It is Un Bel Dì Vedremo, or One Fine Day or something similar, from "Madama Butterfly" by PUCCINI.
I know I’ve used Puccini up above but he deserves a second go. Here we have poor Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) lamenting about that cad and bounder Pinkerton, who put her up the duff (and she was only 15), wondering if he’ll return to her.
Of course he did, bringing his wife and son along for the ride. Things ended badly for Cio-Cio-San. She is sung by RENATA SCOTTO.
I’m going overboard on Butterfly because it’s the one I play most often so there’s going to be something else from it. That something is Coro A Bocca Chiusa, known generally as the humming chorus.
I’m not a fan of GIOACCHINO ROSSINI but I seem to have acquired some of his music over the years, mostly due to it having been recorded by the marvelous CECILIA BARTOLI.
I like this one as it doesn’t sound much like Rossini. It’s from "Otello," and he’s not the only composer who’s made this into an opera – Verdi did, and certainly better, but we have him elsewhere.
Here is the aria, Assisa a piè d'un salice.
GIUSEPPE VERDI had to be in here somewhere and here he is. Instead of one of his many arias, I’ve gone for a general piece that’s pretty familiar anyway. This is Le Fosche Notturne Soglie from "Il Trovatore." It’s more generally known as The Anvil Chorus.
"La Wally" by ALFREDO CATALANI is an okay opera but not one to write home about. It’s worth a listen but maybe not too many times.
However, it does contain one terrific aria and that is Ebben? Ne andrò lontana. This version is by RENATA TEBALDI. You can find another version by Wilhelmenia Fernandez in ELDER MUSIC: Divas.
I’ll end with almost certainly the best duet in opera. This is from GEORGES BIZET’s "Les Pecheurs de Perles" (The Pearl Fishers). The duet is Au fond du temple saint.
I have several versions of this opera including one as Bizet originally conceived it. He later changed it considerably and that altered one is the version that’s generally played these days. I thought it’d be interesting - well interesting for me - to go with the original.
Fortunately for us, this piece wasn’t altered too much although you can hear the differences if you’re familiar with the standard one. I’ve also included a bit of a lead up to that duet as well as the bit after it.
The tenor is ALAIN VANZO and the baritone GUILLERMO SARABIA, two gentlemen of whom I’ve not heard apart from this recording. The revamped version is better than this one, but not by much.
I’ve just scratched the surface here; there’s a lot more out there. Another time.