“Qual v’ha speme?”
“Allor che i flebili”
“Tu sei bella”
“Percorrette le spiage vicine”
The Men’s Chorus with Manfred Anaya
“Qui di sposa eterna fede” ... “Verrano a te sull’aure”
Nathan Granner and Jamie Chamberlin
“Per te d’immenso giubilo”
The Chorus with Thomas Hollow
“Piange la madre estinta”
Ms. Chamberlin, Mr. Lowe, Danielle Corella, Mr. Hollow, David Childs, and the Chorus
Sextet: “Chi mi frena in tal momento?”
Ms. Chamberlin, Mr. Granner, Mr. Lowe, Ms. Corella, Mr. Hollow, Mr. Childs, and the Chorus
“Cessi, ah cessi quel contento!”
Raed Saade and the Chorus
“Spargi d’amaro pianto”
Ms. Chamberlin, Mr. Lowe, Mr. Saade, and the Chorus
The Chorus and Sarah Salazar, Tiffany Ho, and Judy Tran Gallego
“Voici les élégantes”
“Je marche sur tous les chemins” … “Obéissons quand leur voix” (The Gavotte)
Ms. Chamberlin and the Chorus
“Je suis seul”
“Magnificat” … “Pardonnez-moi, Dieu”
Ms. Chamberlin, Mr. Granner, and the Chorus
“Che vuol dire” … “Udite, udite, o rustici”
Mr. Lowe with Alex Norwick on trumpet and the Chorus
The Women's Chorus
Mr. Granner, Mr. Lowe, and the Chorus
Italian Street Song
Ms. Chamberlin and the Chorus
Mr. Lowe, Mr. Granner, Ms. Chamberlin, and the Chorus
By 1845, when Giovanna d’Arco premiered at La Scala in Milan, Giuseppe Verdi had already achieved success with Nabucco, I Lombardi, Ernani, and I Due Foscari. For his seventh opera, Verdi and his librettist Temistocle Solera (the librettist of Nabucco and I Lombardi) chose to adapt Friedrich von Schiller’s play about Joan of Arc, Die Jungfrau von Orleans (the first of a number of Schiller’s works which Verdi would use as the basis for operas). The libretto reduced the number of solo roles to five, only three of which are significant: Giovanna (Joan), her father Giacomo, and Carlo VII, King of France. Giovanna d’Arco provided another opportunity for Verdi to focus his attention on a country attempting to free itself from the thrall of a foreign overlord, which resonated strongly, as had Nabucco and I Lombardi, with an Italy bitterly resentful of its Austrian occupiers. Although not well received by critics, Giovanna was a popular success in Milan and elsewhere in Italy and Europe. Verdi himself remained very fond of Giovanna but bitterly disappointed in its initial production, and refused to allow another premiere of his work at La Scala for 38 years.
Giovanna d’Arco differs notably from the familiar story of Joan leading her country to victory, then being betrayed by her people and burned on a pyre as a heretic by the English. Significantly, the libretto introduces a love story between Giovanna and King Carlo of France. Another distinctive change is Giovanna’s condemnation as a heretic by her own father. Believing that Giovanna has sinned by becoming Carlo’s mistress, he accuses her of being in league with the devil and incites the French people to hand her over to the enemy. Giacomo later overhears Giovanna’s prayer in her English prison cell renouncing her (unrequited) earthly love for the king. Realizing he has wrongly condemned her, Giacomo frees her to fight once more for France. Giovanna again leads her people to victory, but ultimately dies on the battlefield, not at the stake.
In the Prologue, the French burghers gather to ask the officials of the French court if there is any hope (“Qual v’ha speme?”) of beating back the English troops that have invaded France and driven King Charles into refuge. The courtiers despair of stopping the horde of barbarian thieves from destroying their wretched country. The French troops at Orleans remain loyal but will soon succumb to starvation. The citizens curse the invaders that God has afflicted them with, and pray that someday the English will be driven away to suffer for their sins.
Carlo (not yet actually crowned King of France due to the war with the English) has told his courtiers and loyal subjects of his intention to go into the woods to a shrine that he has seen in a vision. His subjects are aghast that he plans to enter the forest as the bronze bells salute the waning day (“Allor che i flebili.”) and the moon sails across the sky. They warn him that a storm is always raging in the horrible forest and in the midst of the lightning and thunder, demons and witches gather with sorcerers and witches to make their pacts and their poisonous potions. Woe to the man who, unaware, surprises them at their wicked revels. If he is caught by the demons, he will never again see the morning.
Giovanna has also been summoned by a vision to the shrine in the forest. Weary from her difficult journey, she falls asleep while praying. In a dream, she is visited by a chorus of evil spirits, who try to tempt her from her mission. Telling her that she is beautiful (“Tu sei bella”), the demons ridicule her as a crazy girl and warn her that the joys of love will never come again if she avoids them now. Telling her to rise and look around her, they admonish her to enjoy the pleasures of youth. What good is her virtue? The clouds part and the moon illuminates the forest as another chorus, this one of angels, encourages Giovanna in her noble yearning to save her country. They tell her that she has been chosen by the Lord to liberate France at the head of its troops, and warn her not to succumb to earthly love.
Verdi suffered mightily under the censorship restrictions prevalent throughout the kingdoms and provinces of Italy during his career, but no work was as fraught with ridiculous demands by the censors as Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball), written to be performed at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1858. Based by librettist Antonio Somma on Gustave III, a play by the prominent French playwright Eugène Scribe, the original story tells of the assassination of Gustave III, the King of Sweden, in 1792. Political conspiracy and regicide were always explosive issues in such a tightly controlled society as the Kingdom of Naples, but numerous versions of the story had already been performed in the form of plays and ballets throughout Italy.
Verdi had suffered at the hands of the Neapolitan censors in the past, notably in the case of Rigoletto, which he felt had been mangled out of all recognition. Initially, a number of revisions to Un ballo were demanded, most of which Verdi had expected, and to which he felt he could accede. Unfortunately, it was not until he arrived in Naples to supervise the production that he was informed the censors had refused the libretto entirely and demanded wholesale changes which Verdi refused to countenance. (Among numerous and ludicrous demands, the censors not only insisted that the locale be moved from Sweden and that the protagonist not be a royal figure, but demanded the elimination of the masked ball entirely, as well as a crucial scene in which the conspirators drew lots to determine who would have the honor of being the assassin – two of the most important scenes in the entire work.) Verdi stood on his artistic honor and refused any further concessions, in spite of a lawsuit by the president of the Teatro San Carlo and official threats to imprison him in his hotel room and refuse him passage from Naples until he had agreed to permit a totally different script devised according to the censors’ wishes to be foisted onto Verdi’s score. Verdi countersued and was finally allowed to leave with his score in return for returning to Naples to supervise a new production of Simon Boccanegra later in the year.
Having determined that a stage version of Gustave III was already approved for production in Rome that year, Verdi proceeded to make arrangements for Un ballo to premiere there the following year. Censorship issues again became problematic, especially since Rome was still part of the Papal states and hence usually presented both religious and political problems. However, Verdi pressed on and made changes that were considered absolutely necessary. (For this reason, many productions of the opera still adhere to the libretto as premiered in Rome, which changed the Swedish king Gustave to Riccardo, the Count of Warwick, “son of England.” As governor of colonial Massachusetts, apparently the Count of Warwick was distant enough in time and place to quell any fears of sparking a revolution in Rome.) In spite of the changes and a rehearsal process that left Verdi fretful and anxious about the production, Un ballo in maschera was a stunning success at its premiere in Rome in February, 1859, and Verdi himself was called to the stage for more than 20 bows.
The basic structure of Verdi and Somma’s work remained the same: Gustave/Riccardo is a much-loved and effective ruler, but he is warned by his faithful secretary Renato that there is a conspiracy against his life among disgruntled enemies. Riccardo refuses to live in fear and ignores the warnings. Riccardo is also secretly in love with Renato’s wife Amelia, who returns his love, but neither of them is willing to betray Renato. However, Renato becomes aware of their love and mistakenly believes that Amelia and Riccardo have already betrayed him. Confronting Amelia, he refuses to believe her fidelity, and he joins with the conspirators in their plot to assassinate Riccardo. Drawing lots to see who will have the honor to strike Riccardo first, Renato is grimly satisfied that he is the lucky one, and they resolve to fulfill the plot at the masked ball which Riccardo is to give that night. Amelia attempts to warn Riccardo to leave the ball, but it is too late. As he is dying from wounds inflicted by Renato, Riccardo informs him that Amelia had remained faithful and tells his court that he forgives Renato and his co-conspirators.
Riccardo’s chief aide Renato had discovered his wife Amelia in a compromising rendezvous with Riccardo, unaware that they have agreed to part because they won’t betray Renato. In spite of Amelia’s protestations of innocence, Renato prepares to kill her but submits to her plea to embrace her son once more before he does so. As he sends her from his study to their child, his fury grows as he gazes at a portrait of Riccardo that hangs in the room. He realizes it isn’t his wife whom he should stab in the heart. Much better the blood of another to wipe away the offense. His dagger will draw blood from Riccardo’s heart to avenge his tears. Gazing at the portrait, he says, “It was you” (“Eri tu,”) you who stained the soul of the one who was the delight of Renato’s spirit, who in one execrable stroke poisoned the universe. Traitor! that repays in such a fashion the faithfulness of his closest friend. Oh, her lost sweetness, the memories of her embrace when Amelia, so beautiful and innocent, shone with love for him. It is finished! Nothing remains but hatred, hatred and death in his widower’s heart.
Domenico Gaetano Donizetti was born in Bergamo to a poor family with no musical background, but he went on to become one of the most successful of 19th Century Italian bel canto composers. Early in his career, he wrote an extensive variety of music that included church music, string quartets, and orchestral works. However, interest in one of his early operas led to his devoting himself almost exclusively to composing operas, of which he wrote an astonishing number (over 70) between 1816 and 1845. The kings of bel canto composers, Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini, dominated the world of Italian opera in the first half of the 19th century up to and including the entrance of Giuseppe Verdi on the operatic scene. However, whereas Bellini is now represented mainly by dramatic operas such as Norma, and Rossini by his comic masterpieces such as Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola, Donizetti continues to shine on the world stage in both serious operas such as his tragic masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor and comic works such as Don Pasquale, La fille du regiment, and L’elisir d’amore. He wrote an extraordinary number of operas in the 1810’s and 20’s (over 30 of them) and achieved a fair measure of success in Italy, but it was the Milan premiere of Anna Bolena in 1830 that brought him international fame.
Lucia di Lammermoor’s libretto was the first of the eight libretti that Salvatore Cammarano was to write for Donizetti, not to mention four for Verdi (including the majority of Il trovatore) plus the scenario for Verdi’s long-planned but never realized King Lear. Cammarano retains the original setting of Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor, but drastically changes the plot and numerous characters, retaining only the barest bones of Scott’s work. The opera was an immediate success at its premiere in Naples in 1835 and its fame quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe. It has remained Donizetti’s most enduring dramatic opera as well as providing an important career springboard for numerous sopranos because of the musical and dramatic challenges of the title role. Lucia cemented Donizetti’s importance in the world of opera at a crucial time in its development, its premiere following Bellini’s death by just three days and Rossini’s retirement a few years before.
Walter Scott was already an established poet with a worldwide following when he began publishing novels under a pseudonym in 1814. Scotland’s culture and history were of great interest throughout Europe at the time and Scott was to remain one of the most popular writers of fiction throughout Europe for almost 100 years. Numerous operas were based on his novels and poetry by composers ranging from Bizet to Rossini to Sir Arthur Sullivan (sans Gilbert). Prior to Donizetti’s taking it up, there had been at least three prior operas based on Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor (including one with a libretto in Danish by Hans Christian Andersen).
The opera is set during the political turmoil in Scotland before and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that overthrew James II (also King James VII in Scotland). However, James continued to fight for his throne from exile, and the turmoil between his loyalists and those who supported William and Mary continued in Scotland and elsewhere for several years until the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Among the combatants who sided with James in Scotland are Edgardo of Ravenswood and Enrico Ashton. However, they are bitter enemies because Enrico killed Edgardo’s father and seized control of Edgardo’s inheritance, and Edgardo has sworn eternal enmity to the Ashtons. The title character, Lucia Ashton, is a young woman already in a fragile emotional state due to the recent death of her mother and the demands by her brother Enrico that she marry the wealthy Lord Arturo Buckwood, whose support Enrico needs both for financial and political reasons. Edgardo had saved Lucia from a rampaging wild bull as she walked near her mother’s grave and they have fallen deeply in love with each other. She and Edgardo swear their eternal love and exchange rings before he leaves for France to attempt to help restore the deposed James. Over the months of his absence, Enrico and his henchman Normanno intercept Lucia’s letters to Edgardo and his letters to her. In order to persuade her to marry the wealthy and powerful Lord Arturo Bucklaw, who can prevent Enrico from being executed for his former support of James, they provide Lucia with a forged letter purporting to show that Edgardo has betrayed her for another love. The distraught Lucia is further urged by her teacher and confidant, Chaplain Raimondo, to sacrifice herself to save Enrico’s life and their family’s future. Lucia unwillingly gives her consent. On the wedding day, Edgardo bursts into the ceremony and is outraged at what he considers Lucia’s betrayal of their vows. He and Enrico vow to meet later to settle their dispute and Lucia is left devastated by the turn of events. On her wedding night, the fragile Lucia loses her mind and kills Arturo with his own sword in their bedchamber. She appears bloody and delirious before the shocked wedding guests and imagines that she is about to be married to her Edgardo before collapsing, almost lifeless after her ordeal. Edgardo has meanwhile decided that he cannot live without Lucia, whom he believes happily married, and has decided to throw himself on Enrico’s sword when they meet. However, when Raimondo brings Edgardo the tragic news that Lucia has died of a broken heart, Edgardo vows to join her in heaven as he stabs himself in the heart.
The captain of the guard at Ravenswood Castle orders his soldiers to search around the castle for a mysterious man who has been seen each morning before dawn. It is feared that it is Edgardo Ravenswood, the former heir of Ravenswood and the mortal enemy of the Ashtons. They must scour the nearby shore (“Percorrete le spiagge vicine”) and the vast ruins of the tower. They must throw off the veil of this vile mystery – their honor demands it! The execrable truth will shine like a flash of lightning amidst the clouds of horror.
Lucia has a secret rendezvous with Edgardo in the gardens of the castle, and he reveals that he must leave immediately for France to negotiate for Scotland’s future. He tells Lucia that he will first ask her brother Enrico for her hand and bring peace to their families. Lucia is terrified that Enrico will reject his offer, and Edgardo cannot contain his wrath at her family – first for depriving him of his father and inheritance, and now for keeping Lucia from him. He had vowed to revenge himself on the entire family, but then fell in love with Lucia. She begs him to calm himself and let love alone rule his heart. Edgardo entreats her to swear her faith as a bride (“Qui di sposa eterna fede”) before him and heaven. God sees and hears them – a loving heart is their temple and altar. Placing a ring on her finger, he says he unites his destiny with hers – he is her husband. Lucia responds that she is his wife as she gives him her own ring. They pledge that only the chill of death can extinguish the fire of their love. Edgardo says that for now they must part, and Lucia replies that her heart goes with him. She entreats him to send her his thoughts in a message from time to time, and she will nurture her fugitive life with hope.
Her ardent sighs will come to him on the breeze (“Verrano a te sull’aure.”) He will hear her laments echo from the murmuring sea and think that she subsists on her cries and grief. Then he should cry a bitter tear over the ring she has given him as her pledge. Edgardo repeats her pledge and they bid each other farewell, as Edgardo reminds her that heaven has joined them together.
In Act II, Scene II, wedding guests have gathered for the wedding of Lucia and Lord Arturo Bucklaw. They greet Arturo with enormous jubilation (“Per te d’immenso giubilo.”) In him they see reborn the day of hope, to which love and friendship have guided them like a star on a treacherous night, laughter amidst sorrow. Arturo declares to Enrico and his relatives that for a time their star disappeared in the darkness, but he will make it rise again, brighter and more beautiful. He gives his hand to Enrico, saying he will draw him to his heart, coming to him as his friend, brother, and protector.
The despairing Lucia enters, supported by Raimondo and her companion Alisa. Ricardo reassures Arturo that she is crying only because of the loss of her recently deceased mother (“Piange la madre estinta.”) She shrinks away when her brother attempts to present her to her bridegroom, and her brother cautions her that he is doomed if she is careless. Arturo offers her the vows of his tender love as Raimondo presents them with the marriage contract. Arturo gladly signs as Lucia cries out to God, and Raimondo prays that God will strengthen the afflicted woman. Lucia says she goes to be sacrificed as Enrico urges her to sign. Having done so, she exclaims that she has written her own death sentence. Enrico sighs in relief, as Lucia feels icy, then burning up, crying she feels faint.
Suddenly the guests wonder at the tumult outside, then all exclaim in shock as Edgardo bursts into the room. Lucia practically swoons and Edgardo and Enrico can barely restrain their rage as the guests hold them back from each other. Edgardo asks who dares restrain him or thwart his anger (“Chi mi frena in tal momento?”) Lucia’s grief and fright prove her remorse! He sees that she is between life and death, like a wilting rose. He is defeated but moved – ingrate though she is, he loves her still! Enrico tries to break free of the guests restraining him from drawing his sword. Anguish rises in his heart for his miserable sister. She is of his blood and he has betrayed her! As she hangs between life and death, he can’t extinguish the remorse in his heart. Reviving, Lucia tells Alisa that she hoped that her fright would have ended her life, but death has not aided her – she still lives, to her torment. Heaven and earth have both betrayed her. She wants to weep but cannot; even tears have abandoned her. Raimondo is stunned by this terrible moment, as if dense clouds of terror hide the sun’s rays, and Alisa and the guests murmur that she hangs between life and death like a rose left unwatered – anyone not moved by Lucia’s plight must have the heart of a tiger in their breasts.
At the end of Act II, Edgardo has been shown the signed marriage certificate confirming that Lucia has already married Arturo and has left in a rage, having sworn to be avenged as Lucia completely collapses before the horrified wedding guests. As Act III begins, the celebration after the wedding by the Cavaliers and their ladies as well as the inhabitants of Lammermoor is at its height. They celebrate the cries of enormous joy (“D’immenso giubilo”) that spread throughout Scotland from shore to shore and avert the treachery of their enemies now that the stars once again smile on them. Their revelry is interrupted by Raimondo, who orders them to cease their celebration (“Cessi, ah cessi quell contento!“) The guests are shocked by his pallor and demand the reason. He tells them a savage event has taken place and the guests are filled with horror. He recounts how he heard from Lucia’s room where she had retired with her husband a wailing cry, like a man close to death! Rushing into the room, he saw a terrible disaster – stretched out on the ground lay Arturo, mute, cold, spattered with blood. In her hand Lucia clutched the blade with which she had just slaughtered him. Raimondo says she fixed her eyes on him, asking,”My husband – where is he?”and on her pale face there flashed a smile. Wretched girl! She has lost her mind. The guests are shocked at the tragic event and beg night to cover the vile misfortune with her dense, dark veil. As they see the disheveled Lucia descend the stairs in her nightgown, they pray that the sight of her bloodstained hand will not call down the wrath of heaven on them all. As Lucia approaches, they murmur that she looks as if she has escaped from the grave.
As her brother Enrico enters, Lucia prays that bitter tears will be shed over her earthly garment (“Spargi d’amaro pianto”), while in heaven above she will pray for Edgardo. Only when he joins her will heaven be beautiful for her. Raimondo and the guests are unable to refrain from tears, while Enrico realizes remorse will bring him days of bitter tears.
Manon, Massenet’s greatest triumph, was adapted from Abbé Prévost’s 18th century novel L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut. Banned from publication in Paris in 1731, the novel was nevertheless very popular, widely distributed and adapted in a number of forms. Massenet and his librettists Henri Meilhac (also a librettist for Offenbach and Bizet) and Philippe Gille concentrated their attention on the character of Manon rather than des Grieux, as in the novel. (Massenet completed the opera in The Hague, in the same rooms in which Prévost had lived after leaving the priesthood.) Premiering in Paris on January 19, 1884 at the Opéra Comique, Manon was an immediate, continuing success, and quickly received productions in Europe and North America. By the time of Massenet’s death in 1912, Manon had received an astounding 740 performances at the Opéra Comique alone.
The young country girl Manon is sent to a convent by her family, who mistrust her devotion to pleasure and frivolity. On a stop in her journey to join her cousin Lescaut who is to accompany her to the convent, she meets and enchants the young nobleman Chevalier des Grieux and elopes with him to Paris. Des Grieux hopes to persuade his father to let him marry Manon, unaware that Lescaut and the rich old tax collector Brétigny have entered a plot with des Grieux’s father to abduct the young man – and install Manon in a life of luxury with Brétigny (with only fleeting reluctance on Manon’s part). Although she revels in the jewels and fashionable life that Brétigny provides her, when Manon learns from des Grieux’s father that her former lover intends to enter the priesthood, she seeks him out in the seminary and persuades him to renounce his vows and rejoin her in a life of pleasure. Soon running out of money, des Grieux reluctantly takes up gambling and is falsely arrested for cheating, as is Manon as his accomplice. His father obtains des Grieux’s release, but Manon is sentenced to exile in Louisiana. Des Grieux attempts to rescue Manon during the long march to her deportation at Le Havre, but the trial and her journey have been too much for her. Telling him that she truly loved him in spite of her selfish behavior and begging his forgiveness, Manon dies in his arms (although not, as in Prévost’s novel and Puccini’s opera several years later, in the “deserts” of Louisiana).
The first scene of Act III, after des Grieux has been abducted and Manon installed with Brétigny, is set during a carnival at the Cours-la-Reine in Paris. Vendors and merchants, songwriters and cooks, vie for the attention of the strolling visitors. Shoes and ribbons! (“Voyez mules!”) Scarves! Lottery tickets! Ribbons, canes, and hats! Stomach medicine! The latest songs! It’s a holiday on the Cours-la-Reine and they laughingly drink the King’s health. They’ll laugh and drink for the whole week!
The young actresses Poussette, Javotte and Rosette –a part of Manon and Lescaut’s somewhat dubious circle of friends – come out of the dance hall to rendezvous with some handsome young men. Melting into the throng and exclaiming over the charm of the promenade (“La charmante promenade,”) the young women rejoice in the fine day and their happy escapade, far from the jealous eyes of their protector Guillot (a friend of Brétigny’s). They flirt with two young clerks in the crowd as they warn them – and each other – to behave themselves and not compromise them – Guillot must know nothing about it.
As the townspeople wander through the fair, they acclaim the elegant ladies, (“Voici les élégantes,”) the indolent beauties who are mistresses of every heart with their conquering glance., Manon arrives in a carriage with Brétigny. The townspeople wonder who that princess can be…she must be a duchess at least. The vendors are surprised that they don’t know her name – it’s Manon! The beautiful Manon, the ravishing Manon. Manon asks if she is really so pleasing, and Brétigny and his entourage of young lords tell her she is adorable – she is divine!
Manon says she goes everywhere, as good as any sovereign (“Je marche sur tous les chemins.”) Everyone bows to her and kisses her hand, for she’s like a queen because of her beauty! In the face of her adventurous life, great men advance towards her with their hats off. She is beautiful and she is happy! Everything around her should flower. She goes to everything that attracts her, and if Manon should ever die, it will be in a burst of laughter!
She advises her admirers to obey when voices call one to tender love (“Obéissons quand leur voix,”) always, always, always. As long as you are beautiful, use up your days without counting them, all of your days! Take advantage of youth, the days that spring brings. Let’s love, laugh, sing without stopping while we’re still only twenty! Bretigny and the young lords join in her credo, and Manon says that alas, even the most faithful heart forgets love in a day. Youth spreads its wings to disappear, never to return. Love, sing, and laugh, for we’ll never be twenty again!
Having been abandoned by Manon, des Grieux has decided to take holy orders. His father tries to persuade him to give up the church, but des Grieux refuses. Left alone (“Je suis seul!”), finally alone, dse Grieux declares that there is nothing he loves more than the sacred peace that his faith brings him. Yes, he wants to put God between the world and himself. Ah, fly away, sweet image too dear to his soul. Respect the peace he has earned so cruelly and imagine that if he has drunk from a bitter cup, that his heart would fill it with the blood that it spilled. Oh, fly, fly, far from him! What do life and so-called glory matter to him? He wants only to drive from the depths of his memory a cursed name, this name that obsesses him – and why? He prays that the Lord will purify his soul with His flame! By its light dispel the shadow which again passes through the depths of his heart. Ah, fly, sweet image! Fly far away!
As the church choir sings the Magnificat during the service which des Grieux is conducting, Manon has come to the rectory looking for him. Listening to the sound of the church choir, she wishes that she were able to pray. Forgive me, all-powerful Father (“Pardonnez-moi, Dieu,”) if I entreat you, imploring your mercy, and if my voice from so far below can rise to heaven, it is to beg for the heart of des Grieux. Des Grieux enters the sanctuary after the service and is shocked to see Manon, asking what she is doing there and telling her to go away. Manon admits she was cruel and to blame, but ah! remember how much they were in love. Can’t he pardon her, for a day? No! he replies, he wrote on sand this foolish dream of love that heaven only allowed to last for an instant, for a day. Ah, faithless Manon! Manon asks if she repented…wouldn’t he feel some pity? Des Grieux responds that he doesn’t want to believe her…She has finally been removed from his memory as well as from his heart. Manon pleads that the bird that flees captivity often returns at night and desperately beats against the glass. She begs him to forgive her – she is dying at his feet. He must give her back his love if he wants her to live, but he responds that his love for her is dead. Manon wonders if nothing can bring it back to life. Listen! Remember! Is this not her hand that touches his? Is it not her voice? Is it no longer for him a caress as it used to be? And her eyes, which once were full of charm for him, do they no longer sparkle through her tears? Is she no longer herself? Look at her! Is she no longer Manon? Des Grieux prays that God will sustain him. He tells Manon not to talk of love – in this place, it is blasphemy! It is the hour of prayer, but Manon vows she will not leave him. He cries that he can no longer struggle against himself and Manon exclaims “At last!” Des Grieux admits that even if heaven should crash down on him, his life is in her heart! It is in her eyes! He loves her!
Donizetti’s rise to fame with Anna Bolena in 1832 was closely followed by the great success of L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), which also had its premiere in Milan in the same year. Donizetti dedicated L’elisir to “the fair sex” of Milan in a letter to his publisher. The libretto is by Felice Romani, based on a libretto by the prolific French playwright Eugène Scribe for Daniel Auber’s 1831 opera Le philtre. Along with Don Pasquale, L’elisir has remained one of the most enduring and popular opere buffe.
L’elisir d’amore is set in a small village in Basque country, circa 1830. The bashful and inept young peasant Nemorino is hopelessly in love with a wealthy young widow, Adina, who appears unmoved by his passion. The elixir of love named in the title is first introduced as a theme in the opening scene, in which Adina, the owner of a large farm, mockingly reads the story of Tristan and Isolde (long before its serious treatment by Wagner) to her workers as they celebrate the harvest. Adina doesn’t believe in such potions, but Nemorino does. A troop of soldiers headed by the handsome and conceited Sergeant Belcore arrives in town, and Belcore immediately sets out to win Adina, who is amused and flattered by his attentions. The arrival of the soldiers is closely followed by that of “Doctor” Dulcamara, who extolls the virtues of his medications to all the assembled soldiers and villagers. Nemorino begs him for a love potion that will make Adina love him, and Dulcamara obliges with what he says is the same elixir as that used by Isolde (in reality, a bottle of ordinary wine). Having drained the bottle at once, the now confident (not to mention tipsy) Nemorino pretends to be indifferent to Adina. Vexed by his new attitude, she impulsively agrees to marry Belcore. To her and Nemorino’s dismay, however, the troops are ordered to return to their garrison immediately, and Belcore demands that Adina honor her promise of marriage at once before the soldiers must depart. Nemorino frantically begs her to delay for at least a day (at which time he has been assured the elixir will work its magic.) Still annoyed with Nemorino, Adina consents to the marriage. On the following day, as everyone is gathered for the wedding and Adina now strives to put off signing the marriage contract, Nemorino entreats Dulcamara for another bottle of the elixir. As he has no money, Nemorino’s only recourse to pay for it is to enlist with Belcore’s troop in order to earn a signing bonus. Adina soon realizes that Nemorino has acted out of love for her and her heart is softened. Realizing that she loves Nemorino, she buys back his enlistment papers and admits that she returns his love. Belcore philosophically accepts his loss of Adina and her property (recognizing that, of course, thousands of women still await his pleasure). Dulcamara informs the astonished Adina and Nemorino that the young man is now the heir to his uncle’s considerable fortune, and all ends happily – with none happier than the good doctor, as Nemorino’s success in love causes great demand for his wonderful elixir.
In the first act after the arrival of Belcore’s troops, rustics in the village square are busily engaged when they hear a trumpet call. Residents rush out from their houses to find out what the ruckus is. What’s all that noise? (“Che vuol dire.”) Ah…great news! Come on, come to see it! A foreign gentleman has arrived in a golden carriage. See how noble looking! What a suit! What a brilliant coach! Surely he’s a great personage – a baron or a marquis on a journey. Some grand person that is racing, perhaps a duke or perhaps even greater. Look, he’s coming toward us – off with your hats and caps!
Dulcamara arrives, standing up in his gilded coach, papers and bottles in his hands, followed by his servant blowing the trumpet, as the villagers surround his carriage. Listen, listen, you country folk (“Udite, udite o rustici.”) Attention – don’t even breathe. I assume and imagine that you already know as well as I that I am that great physician, that encyclopedic doctor, named Dulcamara, whose illustrious virtue and infinite wonders are noted throughout the universe…and…and…and in other places. Benefactor of mankind, mender of ills, in a few days I evacuate the hospitals and travel to sell health for all the world. Buy it, buy it, I’ll give it to you for very little. Here’s this admirable toothache remedy, and a powerful destroyer of mice and bedbugs, whose certificates are authentic and stamped for everyone to touch, see, and read. By this remedy, a 70-year old, sickly man became the grandfather of ten babies, well, ten or twenty. By my touch in one short week, an afflicted widow ceased her crying. O, you stiff matrons – do you yearn to be rejuvenated? Your troublesome wrinkles will be erased with this. Do you damsels want soft skin? You young gallants, want to always have lovers? Buy my specialty, I’ll give it to you for just a little. You fine young men and little widows, buy my specialty, for just a little. It dispatches the paralytics, the asphyxiated, the hysteric, the diabetic, cures tympanitis, scrofula and rickets, and even liver maladies, which have become the fashion. Come, come, widows and children, to buy my special medicine for a very low price. I’ve carried it by coach from a thousand miles away. You ask me how much it costs? How much is this bottle? 100 scudi? No. Thirty? No. Twenty? No – let no one be dismayed. To prove to them his pleasure to be welcomed as a friend, he wants the good people to give him just one scudo. The people are amazed and declare that at one scudo, truly a greater man no one could ask for. Dulcamara says to behold this stupendous thing, this balsamic elixir. All of Europe knows that he sells it for nothing less than nine lira, but since he’s from around there, he’ll give it to them for three lira. He asks for only three lira. It’s as clear as the sun that for everyone who wants it, he’ll put one scudo, beautiful and clean, in his pocket. The crowd agrees that it’s very true – give it to me! What a great doctor you are! They’ll long remember his arrival, and Dulcamara responds that his great affection for his fatherland can do great miracles!
Born in Hungary in 1887, Sigmund Romberg moved in his youth to Vienna, the city that was to have the most lasting influence on his work. After years of engineering training at his family’s behest, he finally moved to the U.S. in 1909 and was able to work exclusively as a musician, beginning as a pianist and conductor in cafes and restaurants, then becoming the staff composer for the Shubert brothers in charge of all the music for their numerous productions. Becoming one of Broadway’s most successful composers, his career reached its heights with Maytime, The Student Prince, The Desert Song, and The New Moon in the 1920s. He moved to Hollywood in the 1930s and had a number of successes with film adaptations of his stage works as well as new compositions. Realizing he needed to move on from his Viennese roots, he returned to New York and scored another success with the Broadway musical Up in Central Park in 1945.
A musical note: The baton used by Ms. Ketchum to conduct the Romberg selections in this concert actually belonged to Sigmund Romberg himself. Presented to Romberg on the occasion of Sigmund Romberg Week in 1935 by a noted conductor of the time named Frank Black “on behalf of his fellow musicians,” the baton has been generously loaned to Ms. Ketchum by Chorus member Peter Kahn.
Following the great success of The Student Prince in 1924, Romberg had another hit in 1929 with The New Moon (whose librettists and lyricists included Oscar Hammerstein II, soon to revolutionize the American musical theater with Show Boat and his work with Richard Rodgers). Set in 1792 in French-ruled New Orleans and the Caribbean, it was a romantic combination of a pirate story and Les Misérables, with its noble French revolutionary hero pursued to New Orleans by a villainous but determined French vicomte. Boasting such enduring songs as Stouthearted Men and Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise, it also produced the timeless ballad Lover, Come Back to Me. The heroine Marianne and her friends agree that in spite of the changing times in 1792, they still long for one true romance and One Kiss.
Of Romberg’s numerous operettas, notably Maytime, The Desert Song and The New Moon, the most famous remains The Student Prince. With book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly, the original New York production ran for a stunning 608 performances after its premiere in 1924. The story is simple (but was so appealing that The Student Prince was made into a silent film by Ernst Lubitsch before the advent of sound films). Prince Karl-Franz leaves his kingdom of Karlsberg to attend the University in Heidelberg, where he falls in love with the innkeeper’s daughter Kathi. Upon the death of his grandfather, Karl must return to his kingdom and assume his role as king. He unwillingly accepts his fate and agrees to marry someone of his own noble rank, as he and Kathi recognize that their love must be denied in honor of duty.
As he excitedly prepares to leave for the university, Prince Karl tries to persuade his tutor Dr. Engel to join him, reminding the tutor of the many stories he’s told of his happy younger days in Heidelberg. As Engel reminisces about the students singing by the River Neckar, he realizes he cannot resist joining Karl in Heidelberg and reliving his Golden Days.
The Irish-born and German-educated musician Victor Herbert was a prolific and successful composer of light operas and musical comedies from the 1890’s to the 1920’s, producing over 40 musical theater scores, among them Babes in Toyland, The Red Mill, and Sweethearts. The score for Naughty Marietta is one of the high points of his career and the production provided his greatest success. Herbert attempted to create an American form of musical theater, in contrast to the European settings of most operettas prior to his. Although Naughty Marietta is, like The New Moon, set in French-ruled New Orleans, and boasts a villainous French pirate and a runaway French countess (the Marietta of the title), its hero is the stalwart American soldier Dick Warrington and his band of rugged woodsmen and farmers from the United States and Canada.
In the midst of a complicated plot involving assumed and mistaken identities, the French countess Marietta (who has stowed away with a shipful of poor French girls who have been brought to Louisiana to marry the colonists), assumes a new disguise as the missing son of Rodolfo, an Italian singer and puppeteer. The puppeteer brings his newfound “son” to sing in the square, and Marietta delights the townspeople with her rendition of the Italian Street Song.
Returning to the Student Prince, as the weeks pass in Heidelberg, Karl-Franz and Kathi have grown increasingly close. On a beautiful spring evening, Karl-Franz (with the assistance of his fraternity brothers) woos Kathi beneath her window with a heartfelt Serenade.