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Spring 2015

I VESPRI SICILIANI
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

“A te, ciel natìo”
The Chorus with Christian Quilici and Carson Gilmore

“Si celebri al fine”
The Chorus

UN GIORNO DI REGNO
Giuseppe Verdi

Mai non rise, non rise un piu bel dì”
The Chorus

“Così sola, o Marchesina?”
Rebecca Sjöwall and Museop Kim

“Si, scordar saprò l’infido”… Si mostri a chi l’adora”
Ms. Sjöwall, Mr. Kim and the Men’s Chorus

OTELLO
Giuseppe Verdi

Brindisi
Robert MacNeil, Mr. Kim, Joseph Gárate, and the Chorus

Garden Scene Dove guardi splendono
The Chorus with Ms. Sjöwall, Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Kim

IL CORSARO
Giuseppe Verdi

“Come liberi”
The Men’s Chorus

“Tutto parea sorridere”
Mr. MacNeil

Act II Finale:“Si risparmi quell’uom”
Ms. Sjöwall, Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Kim, Mauricio A. Palma II, and the Chorus

INTERMISSION

LA GIOCONDA
Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886)

*

“Feste! Pane! Feste!”
The Chorus and Mr. Kim

“Ho! he! ho! he! Issa artimone!”
The Chorus

“Pescator, affonda l’esca”
Mr. Kim and the Chorus

ANDREA CHÉNIER
Umberto Giordano (1867-1948)

*

“O Pastorelle, addio”
The Women’s Chorus

“Come un bel dì di Maggio”
Mr. MacNeil

LA WALLY
Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893)

“S’ode un corno echeggiar”
The Chorus

“Ebben? Ne andrò lontana”
Ms. Sjöwall

“Entro la folla che intorno s’aggira”
The Chorus

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA
Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945)

“Gli aranci olezzano”
The Chorus

“Il cavallo scalpita”
Mr. Kim and the Chorus

“A casa, a casa, amici” … Viva il vino spumeggiante”
Mr. MacNeil and the Chorus

“Regina Coeli … Inneggiamo il Signor”
The Walter Fox Singers, Ms. Sjöwall, Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Kim and the Chorus

Rebecca Sjöwall

Soprano

Robert MacNeil

Tenor

Museop Kim

Baritone

HIDDEN GEMS

Why do some works of art virtually disappear after initial popularity, while others may lay fallow for decades or centuries, and only a select few never leave the limelight? Certainly it is not only because of lack of merit. The painter Caravaggio was a star in his own time but in virtual eclipse for almost 300 years before being “rediscovered” in the early 20th century. Although he never completely vanished from the stage and concert hall, much of Mozart’s work was pushed aside by Beethoven and the Romantics for decades. Even Shakespeare was bowdlerized or given happy endings (in the case of the tragedies) to suit popular tastes and Victorian sensibilities. The reasons are compounded in the worlds of theater and especially of opera. Public and critical tastes in music, literature, and drama can change drastically, some temporarily (witness the return of bel canto in the mid-20th century and the operas of Handel a short time after that) and some not. In addition, changing political and social values can render many works unacceptable due to racist and/or sexist world views. Lastly, more demanding audiences will no longer settle for a painted backdrop and flats to create seas and mountains that characters are supposed to struggle with, as in several of the works in this concert. Few companies have the resources to effectively mount these works. Fortunately for opera lovers, many pieces live on in fragments for the concert stage. However, many superb choruses are unfairly neglected and we’re delighted to provide a chance to hear some of these exciting pieces. Of course, Cavalleria Rusticana and Otello are not “hidden” gems, but it has been several years since we presented the brilliant scenes from them that we offer in this concert.

I VESPRI SICILIANI

Giuseppe Verdi’s I vespri siciliani (The Sicilian Vespers) followed his astonishing 1851-1853 triumvirate of Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata. Premiered in 1855 at the Opéra in Paris, it was Verdi’s first fully realized effort to compose a grand opera in the French style (his initial foray into Parisian grand opera, Jerusalem, having been an adaptation of I Lombardi). Verdi was wary of the requirements of grand opera in Paris, which usually lasted five hours and demanded huge choruses, great spectacle, and lengthy ballets, all of them diametrically opposed to the artistic direction of believable characters and economy of drama to which Verdi had been directing his efforts. He nonetheless felt that he couldn’t reject the prestigious commission for the Great Exhibition of 1855, a decision which he was soon to regret. The libretto was assigned to the prolific French dramatist Eugène Scribe (whose plays numbered almost 400, some in collaboration with others, and along with his dozens of opera libretti fill 76 volumes). Unbeknownst to Verdi or virtually anyone else, Scribe’s libretto was simply a rehash of one Scribe had provided Donizetti (whose version was not to be performed until 1882, at which time Scribe’s double dealing became painfully clear). Verdi already knew not to expect much from Scribe, but the final libretto by Scribe and Charles Duveyrier was even shoddier than he’d expected. Worse, Scribe refused all requests to rewrite the opera or to attend rehearsals to solve some of its many problems. Verdi finally attempted to have the production canceled, but the Opéra refused to release him from his contract and the composer soldiered on in spite of problems with the libretto, the cast, and the musical staff he was forced to work with. Much to his surprise, Les vêpres siciliennes, as it was titled in Paris, was a striking success, both with the public and with critics. Verdi rapidly set to work on an Italian translation by Ettore Caimi. Given the fraught situation under which the Austrians ruled a large section of Italy, Verdi knew that the Italian censors would never approve the piece if it were set in Sicily and featured a rebellion against foreign overlords. Hence Verdi and Caimi transferred its location to Portugal in 1640 when it was under Spanish control and renamed it Giovanna de Guzman. However, upon the unification of Italy in 1861, it reverted to its original Italian name and it is as I vespri siciliani that is is most often presented since the initial French production.

I vespri siciliani is based on a true incident in which Sicilians rebelled against their French rulers. The choice of subject was a curious one both for Paris and for Verdi, as it not only showed the triumph of the Sicilians over their French overlords, but portrayed the Italian rebels in a hackneyed and less than favorable light. The rebellion, which began at a church outside Palermo as Vespers (evening prayers) were ending, was the first step in Sicily’s successful rebellion against the French king who had been imposed on them by the Vatican and initiated the end of the Anjou empire outside of France. As he did so often, Verdi focuses on the personal relationships of his characters against the background of more expansive historical and political concerns.

In Palermo in 1282, the Sicilians resent the rule of their French masters and secretly hope to overthrow them. The Duchess Elena is the sister of the Duke of Austria, who was executed by the French for treason. She tries to rouse her countrymen to rebel against the French Governor of Sicily, Guido di Montforte. The young Sicilian Arrigo has just been released from prison and his fiery rhetoric impresses Montforte, who tries to enlist him on the French side. Arrigo angrily refuses and Montforte warns him to stay away from the rebellious Elena. Arrigo ignores the warning and goes to profess his love for Elena, who returns his love and promises to marry him if he will avenge her brother. Having determined that Arrigo is actually his long-lost son, Montforte again tries unsuccessfully to win him over. However, in spite of refusing to recognize Montforte as his father, Arrigo finds that he can’t see him murdered and steps between him and Elena as she is about to stab Montforte. Montforte refuses to pardon her and her fellow conspirator Procida unless Arrigo will call him father, which the young man grudgingly does in order to spare his beloved Elena. Thinking to join the two sides and eliminate the threat of rebellion, Montforte arranges their marriage. Elena tries to withdraw when she realizes that their wedding bells have been set as the signal for the Sicilians to revolt. Even though she is unwilling to celebrate her wedding at the expense of Montforte’s life, the Governor goes ahead and declares them married and, as the church bells ring out to celebrate their union and the beginning of Vespers, the Sicilians attack and massacre the French.

In the opening scene of the opera, the French soldiers lounge in the great square in Palermo, carousing and ogling the women of the town. They long for the sky of their native land (“A te, ciel natio”), and with sweet desire their thoughts return to it amid their songs and drinking. The French hope for laurel wreaths, wine, and gold as the reward for their bold gallantry.  Meanwhile the hostile Sicilians grumble that the French insult their native land with their wicked desires and their songs and drinking. They want revenge, and the day of revenge must hasten itself. They pray for it to waken valor in the hearts of the conquered.

Act V begins with the guests arriving at the Governor’s palace for the wedding of Elena and Arrigo. In contrast to the bitter conflict which imbues most of the opera, the guests are full of joy. The French knights exclaim that at last they can celebrate their union and the end of so many sorrows (“Si celebri alfine”) with songs and flowers. They rejoice in the rainbow of peace and the pledge of love which have kindled the torch in the lover’s hearts. The French ladies of the court who are dressing Elena tell her that she has all the splendor of a bright star and that she is as pure and beautiful as a snow-white flower.  The love that she inspires seduces every heart! Long live the glory of love!

UN GIORNO DI REGNO

Of Un giorno di regno, Verdi’s second opera and his only comic opera until Falstaff a half-century later, Verdi wrote, “I was forced in the middle of terrible sorrow to compose and see through to its production a comic opera!” In the two years leading up to its production, Verdi and his beloved wife had lost both of their young children to illness within a year of each other. Verdi himself was suffering from the ill health that plagued him sporadically throughout his life, and the final straw was the death of his young wife as he was preparing the new opera. Verdi begged to be released from his contract, but the impresario Bartolomeo Merelli refused and the young composer returned to Milan to fulfill his commitment. The first night at the Teatro alla Scala in 1840 was a failure and all further performances were cancelled. (It was, however, revived in Venice in 1845 and in Naples in 1849 as Il finto Stanislao (The False Stanislaus), achieving a modest success.) The story is loosely drawn from an actual incident involving Stanislas Lescinski, who was the King of Poland during two different periods during the wars of Polish succession in the 18th century, when Stanislas traveled in disguise from France to Warsaw to win back the throne and left one of his cavaliers in France to pose as the king and throw his rivals off his track. Based on a French comedy, the libretto by Felice Romani follows “one day’s reign” of Belfiore, a cavalier posing as the King of Poland and visiting the castle of the Baron Kelbar in Brest in 1733. Belfiore arranges a complicated series of plots, romantic and otherwise, manipulating the Baron into letting his daughter Giulietta marry the impoverished Edoardo instead of his rich uncle, the Treasurer of Britanny, before Belfiore reveals his true identity and secures the hand of the beautiful widow, the Marchesa di Poggio.

At the opening of the opera, the Baron’s household is aflutter with the impending arrival of the “king.” Baron Kelbar’s servants exult that a more beautiful day has never shone (“Mai non rise, non rise un più bel dì”) on the house of Kelbar. A king staying here and a double wedding! Such feasts and such honors! And what tips for the servants! What sumptuous banquets, what lavish balls! No more beautiful day could shine on them. 

The Baron’s widowed niece, the Marchesa di Poggio, has come to the castle ostensibly to be married to the Count Ivrea as part of the double wedding, but really for the purpose of helping Giulietta to marry Edoardo.  The Marchesa is actually in love with her old flame the Cavaliere di Belfiore. In spite of his disguise, the Marchesa is sure that the king is really her Belfiore and is determined to bring him to heel … and to the altar. Belfiore has managed to avoid being alone with her in the first act, but in Act II she finally corners him, hoping to unmask him and discover why he has abandoned and deceived her.

Belfiore expresses surprise to find the Marchesa alone (Così sola, o Marchesina?”) and she coolly says she has her thoughts for company. When he remarks that she must be thinking of the Cavaliere, she responds that she is thinking of how to punish that fickle man. Belfiore says she won’t do it and that anger is temporary in the heart of a woman in love, but she firmly replies that she has decided – she doesn’t want him as a husband. Belfiore expresses disbelief, but she is resolute. As he murmurs to himself that she is pretending, she is sure he is close to surrendering, and they both are sure they are as cunning as the other. 

If, as the “king” says, the Cavaliere will fight for her, the Marchesa wonders why he doesn’t come? What is he doing, and what does he hope? If he would show himself to the one who adores him (“Si mostri a chi l’adora”), implore her pardon, she could be placated even though she is angry. To herself she says that if he doesn’t reveal himself now, if he isn’t yet conquered, then the wiles of the fair sex are powerless. She wonders why his highness is silent, and he replies that he doesn’t know what to say. She says that in that case the Count Ivrea shall have her hand. The servants of the Baron rush in to say that they should come quickly – the Count is arriving and his retinue is approaching the castle. The Marchesa says that she will go to meet her groom. Yes, she’ll learn to forget the unfaithful one (“Si, scordar saprò l’infido”) and flee from his presence. Such cold indifference will cost him dearly. At this the Cavaliere is confused and observes that she has made him tremble, but the servants rush in to tell them to hurry – the Count is near and all must gather to meet him.

OTELLO

Following Aïda’s successs in 1871, at the age of 68 Verdi claimed to be retired from writing for the stage and resisted all attempts to change his mind. Knowing that only a great libretto would entice the composer, his long-time publisher Giulio Ricordi took advantage of Verdi’s enduring love of Shakespeare. Rather than trying to revive Verdi’s interest in the long-abandoned libretto of King Lear with which he had struggled for years, Ricordi planted the idea of Shakespeare’s Othello (by shrewdly initiating a conversation blaming a librettist for ruining Rossini’s operatic version of the same play). Ricordi suggested that Arigo Boito, considered an Italian authority on Shakespeare and a notable composer himself, was interested in writing the libretto. In spite of his demurs, Verdi was clearly intrigued, and the seed for what is perhaps his dramatic masterwork was sown – although it was slow to grow. Boito’s successful reworking of the libretto of Simon Boccanegra encouraged Verdi to consider him as a collaborator. (Remarkably, Boito was preparing the premiere production of his own Mefistofele simultaneously with his work on Otello.) Boito would not only write the libretti of Otello and of Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff, but become a close friend who was with him during his last illness and death. It took 16 years from Aïda’s premiere (eight years after Ricordi’s suggestion and Boito’s initial scenario) until Otello’s triumphant premiere at La Scala in Milan in 1887. Verdi had completed his last tragic opera and supervised its production at the age of 72.

Verdi had always been interested in “la parola dramatica” – the dramatic word – as a crucial part of his work, and not just a frame on which to hang splendid melodies. As both his fame and his skills increased, he became a consummate man of the theater and developed a firm hand in all matters having to do with his work. (For Otello, he dispatched the proposed designer to Venice to study the works of Bellini and Carpaccio in order to properly prepare the sets and costumes.) As with Aïda, Verdi was very demanding of his librettist in matters that affected not just the verse, but atmosphere, dramatic structure, everything that made an opera a piece of theater rather than concertizing. Verdi and Boito adhered to the major plot points of Shakespeare’s original, and Verdi, called the “father of the chorus,” heightened the effect of the soldiers, courtiers, and Cypriot populace to great dramatic effect. George Bernard Shaw puckishly claimed, “The truth is that instead of Otello being an Italian opera written in the style of Shakespeare, Othello is a play written by Shakespeare in the style of Italian opera.” Regardless, there is no doubt that Shakespeare’s great tragedy was a brilliant match for Verdi’s mature genius.

In the first act, Otello and his company have survived the raging seas and landed safely in Cyprus, where he will serve as governor after having conquered the Turks. Otello goes into the castle to be reunited with Desdemona as the soldiers and townspeople gather to celebrate their successful mission. Iago hates both Otello, for having passed him over for promotion, and Cassio, the lieutenant who has taken the post he believes should be his. Iago vows to help Roderigo, a foppish Venetian gentleman who is in love with Desdemona, to win her love from Otello. As part of his plot to destroy both his rivals, Iago plies Cassio with drink, knowing that Cassio is unable to hold his liquor. Proposing a toast to Otello and Desdemona which Cassio can’t refuse, Iago continues to refill their glasses for multiple toasts (Brindisi). Iago proclaims that all must drink with him, and the crowd eggs Cassio on by joining Iago in multiple toasts. As the toasts become ever more fantastic and Cassio ever drunker, the soldiers and townspeople laugh at his stumbling condition.

Iago has encountered Otello in the gardens of the castle and begun to plant the seeds of jealousy in his mind. As they talk, Desdemona comes into the garden surrounded by local women, children, and sailors. They serenade her warmth and beauty and present her with flowers and gifts (“Dove guardi splendono”). She radiates light and clouds of flowers bloom where she walks. Among the roses and the lilies, the fathers, children, and wives have come to sing to her and play their mandolins. Desdemona is delighted with their tribute and the shining skies, the soft air, the scent of their flowers. Joy, love, and hope sing in her heart. Otello is moved by her innocent song – if she is deceiving him, then heaven itself derides him. The people wish her happiness and love, but Iago vows to shatter their sweet accord.

IL CORSARO

Verdi was drawn early in his career to the work of Romantic writers such as Schiller and Byron as sources and had already fashioned one opera, the 1844 I due Foscari, from Lord Byron’s play The Two Foscari. When the opportunity to create an opera for the London season of 1845 arose, he thought it appropriate to choose Lord Byron’s popular 1814 epic poem The Corsair. Verdi engaged his frequent collaborator Francesco Maria Piave to fashion the libretto. Due to a lengthy illness which severely depleted his strength and his many other commitments, Verdi didn’t begin work on Il corsaro until late 1847. It followed a work with a very similar plot, Schiller’s The Robbers, which became I masnadieri, also to a libretto by Piave. The leading characters of both (like that of the title character in Ernani) were of a type very attractive to Verdi: Ernani, Carlo in I masnadieri, and the corsair Corrado are all heroic men who have turned to lives of crime after a romantic loss or some injustice. However, by the time he began writing, Verdi was no longer enthusiastic about Il corsaro and wished only to complete his contract with the publisher to whom it was committed. Unusually for Verdi, he accepted Piave’s libretto without demanding any revisions, and the weakness of its dramatic structure may account for its having remained largely unproduced after the initial tepid reception at its premiere in 1848 in Trieste. Still, it is easy to see its initial appeal to the composer, not only in its antiheroic leading character, but in Corrado’s desire to overthrow the Turkish rulers who occupied Greece.

Piave’s libretto was largely faithful to Byron’s original. The corsairs (buccaneers or pirates) live a life of liberty, but their leader Corrado is isolated and haunted by his unexplained past. He loves the beautiful Medora, but leaves her yet again to attack the Turkish stronghold overseen by the Pasha Seid. The corsairs are successful, but Corrado is captured and sentenced to death. Seid’s chief odalisque Guinara saves Corrado by stabbing the hated Seid and they escape together to his Aegean isle, but Medora has despaired of his survival and has taken poison. Medora breathes her last in Corrado’s arms and he throws himself off the cliff into the sea.

In the opening scene of Il corsaro, the corsairs are found at sunset in their lair on an island in the Aegean. As the winds fly free (Come liberi”) over the plains of the sea, so do the daring corsairs race over the waves to search for battle and plunder. Their fatherland and kingdom is the foaming wave; their scepter is the red banner. They know how to confront danger and death with proud spirits. Corrado enters and observes that the song of his comrades is fierce. The corsairs understand that theirs is a life of changing fortune, now mockery, now a welcome smile. Death is an infinite rest, a boundary between joy and sorrow, so they should enjoy themselves. Let the joy in their cups drown the curse of the dying pilot. They must enjoy themselves! 

Corrado is agitated by his men’s views. It’s true that life is war, perpetual, atrocious, relentless war against all men. Corrado recalls that in the eyes of the world, he was evil, and he abhors them all. Feared and execrated by all of those people, he is unhappy but avenged! His thoughts turn to his youth: Everything seemed to smile (Tutto parea sorridere) on his first love – the breeze, the light, the sky, and the whole universe. But an inexorable fate snatched every happiness from him. Never will he see the days of innocence rise again.

In the second act, Corrado has disguised himself as a dervish who has escaped from the corsairs. He appears at the Pasha Seid’s palace to distract him and his soldiers while the other corsairs set fire to Seid’s fleet. As the alarm is raised and the flames spread to the harem, Corrado reveals his true identity and some of his corsairs enter the palace and overwhelm the Turks. However, hearing the voices of Guinara and the other odalisques begging to be saved, Corrado calls on his men to help rescue them. They save Guinara and the other harem slaves, but their escape route has now been cut off. The Turks seize Corrado and those of his corsairs who have remained.

The enraged Seid orders that Corrado be brought to him (“Si risparmi quell’uom”) and mocks his valor, saying Corrado is only an abductor of women. He sneeringly professes his admiration for the corsair because his idea was great, but fortune was against him. Corrado tells him to shut his arrogant mouth – he doesn’t want words, but only awaits death from Seid. The Pasha replies that such a proud man will see if in his final hour he can meet his drastic fate with a calm face. Corrado retorts that to cowards like Seid, death appears horrifying, but his stout heart is closed to terror. Seid will see whether his torture will tear a cry from Corrado – that infernal joy Seid will never taste. Guinara has listened to her rescuer in wonder. Is he a demon or a god? Observing his handsome countenance, she realizes he has kindled in her heart the flame of love which Seid never aroused. Corrado’s fellow corsair Giovanni questions whether there is any value in a strong man’s daring if propitious fortune doesn’t smile on him. He muses that Corrado has challenged fate too greatly and now must bend his neck to it. The other odalisques wonder who doesn’t feel pity for the valiant when fortune becomes his enemy. Fighting through fire and blood he scorned life and honor to save them from danger. The triumphant Turkish soldiers of the Pasha cry victory at completing their endeavor. They gloat that the head of the hydra is cut off; with the corsairs destroyed and the seas now free, they can safely unfurl their sails.

LA GIOCONDA

Verdi was drawn early in his career to the work of Romantic writers such as Schiller and Byron as sources and had already fashioned one opera, the 1844 I due Foscari, from Lord Byron’s play The Two Foscari. When the opportunity to create an opera for the London season of 1845 arose, he thought it appropriate to choose Lord Byron’s popular 1814 epic poem The Corsair. Verdi engaged his frequent collaborator Francesco Maria Piave to fashion the libretto. Due to a lengthy illness which severely depleted his strength and his many other commitments, Verdi didn’t begin work on Il corsaro until late 1847. It followed a work with a very similar plot, Schiller’s The Robbers, which became I masnadieri, also to a libretto by Piave. The leading characters of both (like that of the title character in Ernani) were of a type very attractive to Verdi: Ernani, Carlo in I masnadieri, and the corsair Corrado are all heroic men who have turned to lives of crime after a romantic loss or some injustice. However, by the time he began writing, Verdi was no longer enthusiastic about Il corsaro and wished only to complete his contract with the publisher to whom it was committed. Unusually for Verdi, he accepted Piave’s libretto without demanding any revisions, and the weakness of its dramatic structure may account for its having remained largely unproduced after the initial tepid reception at its premiere in 1848 in Trieste. Still, it is easy to see its initial appeal to the composer, not only in its antiheroic leading character, but in Corrado’s desire to overthrow the Turkish rulers who occupied Greece.

Piave’s libretto was largely faithful to Byron’s original. The corsairs (buccaneers or pirates) live a life of liberty, but their leader Corrado is isolated and haunted by his unexplained past. He loves the beautiful Medora, but leaves her yet again to attack the Turkish stronghold overseen by the Pasha Seid. The corsairs are successful, but Corrado is captured and sentenced to death. Seid’s chief odalisque Guinara saves Corrado by stabbing the hated Seid and they escape together to his Aegean isle, but Medora has despaired of his survival and has taken poison. Medora breathes her last in Corrado’s arms and he throws himself off the cliff into the sea.

In the opening scene of Il corsaro, the corsairs are found at sunset in their lair on an island in the Aegean. As the winds fly free (Come liberi”) over the plains of the sea, so do the daring corsairs race over the waves to search for battle and plunder. Their fatherland and kingdom is the foaming wave; their scepter is the red banner. They know how to confront danger and death with proud spirits. Corrado enters and observes that the song of his comrades is fierce. The corsairs understand that theirs is a life of changing fortune, now mockery, now a welcome smile. Death is an infinite rest, a boundary between joy and sorrow, so they should enjoy themselves. Let the joy in their cups drown the curse of the dying pilot. They must enjoy themselves! 

Corrado is agitated by his men’s views. It’s true that life is war, perpetual, atrocious, relentless war against all men. Corrado recalls that in the eyes of the world, he was evil, and he abhors them all. Feared and execrated by all of those people, he is unhappy but avenged! His thoughts turn to his youth: Everything seemed to smile (Tutto parea sorridere) on his first love – the breeze, the light, the sky, and the whole universe. But an inexorable fate snatched every happiness from him. Never will he see the days of innocence rise again.

In the second act, Corrado has disguised himself as a dervish who has escaped from the corsairs. He appears at the Pasha Seid’s palace to distract him and his soldiers while the other corsairs set fire to Seid’s fleet. As the alarm is raised and the flames spread to the harem, Corrado reveals his true identity and some of his corsairs enter the palace and overwhelm the Turks. However, hearing the voices of Guinara and the other odalisques begging to be saved, Corrado calls on his men to help rescue them. They save Guinara and the other harem slaves, but their escape route has now been cut off. The Turks seize Corrado and those of his corsairs who have remained.

The enraged Seid orders that Corrado be brought to him (“Si risparmi quell’uom”) and mocks his valor, saying Corrado is only an abductor of women. He sneeringly professes his admiration for the corsair because his idea was great, but fortune was against him. Corrado tells him to shut his arrogant mouth – he doesn’t want words, but only awaits death from Seid. The Pasha replies that such a proud man will see if in his final hour he can meet his drastic fate with a calm face. Corrado retorts that to cowards like Seid, death appears horrifying, but his stout heart is closed to terror. Seid will see whether his torture will tear a cry from Corrado – that infernal joy Seid will never taste. Guinara has listened to her rescuer in wonder. Is he a demon or a god? Observing his handsome countenance, she realizes he has kindled in her heart the flame of love which Seid never aroused. Corrado’s fellow corsair Giovanni questions whether there is any value in a strong man’s daring if propitious fortune doesn’t smile on him. He muses that Corrado has challenged fate too greatly and now must bend his neck to it. The other odalisques wonder who doesn’t feel pity for the valiant when fortune becomes his enemy. Fighting through fire and blood he scorned life and honor to save them from danger. The triumphant Turkish soldiers of the Pasha cry victory at completing their endeavor. They gloat that the head of the hydra is cut off; with the corsairs destroyed and the seas now free, they can safely unfurl their sails.

ANDREA CHÉNIER

The verismo composer Umberto Giordano was the son of a pharmacist and went into music against his family’s wishes. After his studies at the Naples Conservatory, he wrote primarily for the opera house. His best known works today are Fedora and, by far his most enduring success, Andrea Chénier. At its premiere at La Scala in Milan in 1896, its great success established his status as one of the leading hopes of Italian opera following Verdi’s last opera in 1893, along with Puccini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and Cilea. Luigi Illica was one of the leading librettists of the time, whose works included La Wally as well as Puccini’s La bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly. Illica loosely based his libretto on the life of the French poet André Chénier, a historical figure in Paris who supported some of the aims of the French Revolution but was himself executed during the Reign of Terror.

In Act I, a chorus dressed as shepherdesses (à la Marie Antoinette) appears at a grand ball in Paris, oblivious to the social ferment going on outside the walls. The “shepherdesses” sadly sing farewell to each other (“O Pastorelle, addio)” as they set out for strange and unknown shores. Alas! They will be far away, and once they abandon their home, they will have no joy in their hearts until they return. 

In real life, Robespierre signed the death warrant for André Chénier with the single sentence, “Even Plato banned poets from his Republic.” Condemned to death for treason, in the last act of the opera Chénier is found on his final night in St. Lazare Prison, where he finishes his last poem before his execution. He reads the poem to his friend Roucher who has come to bid him goodbye. Like a beautiful day in May (“Come un bel dì di Maggio”), with a kiss from the wind and a caress from the rays fading in the firmament, so with the kiss of a rhyme and the caress of poetry he climbs to the summit of his existence. The sphere that moves the fate of every human already is bringing him close to the hour of his death, and perhaps before his final verse is finished, the executioner will announce the end of his life. Let it be so! Poetry, ultimate goddess, still give to your poet the blazing idea, the familiar flame, and while she flows vivid into his heart, to her he will give for her rhyme the cold breath of a dying man.

LA WALLY

Alfredo Catalani was born in Lucca, also the birthplace of Puccini, with whose uncle Catalani studied before continuing his education in Paris and Milan. He achieved some success with a number of operas as well as becoming professor of composition at the Conservatory in Milan. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 39, a year after reaching the height of his success following the premiere of La Wally at La Scala in 1892. La Wally is Catalani’s most famous work. Based on the German novel Die Geyer-Wally (The Vulture Wally) by Wilhelmine von Hillern, it is set to a libretto by Luigi Illica.

The story is set in a Tyrolean village and opens on the birthday of Stromminger, the father of La Wally (known in the novel as “the vulture” because she rescued a vulture chick from the mountains and gave it to her father – a symbol of the young woman’s fierce, independent spirit). Wally has fallen in love with the hunter Hagenbach, unaware of her father’s enmity for Hagenbach’s family. Attempting to thwart their romance, Stromminger orders Wally to marry his friend Gellner. Defying her father, she decides to run away. Upon her father’s death a year later, Wally returns to the village. She insults Hagenbach’s new fiancée and in turn is insulted by Hagenbach. Persuading Gellner to kill Hagenbach in return for her promise of marriage, Wally is stricken by conscience. Singlehandedly rescuing Hagenbach from the ravine into which Gellner has pushed him, Wally sends him back to his fiancée. However, Hagenbach returns and admits that Wally is the woman he loves. Seemingly on the verge of happiness, their idyll is shattered when an avalanche carries Hagenbach into an abyss. Wally throws herself after him into the abyss, and to her death.

At the opening of La Wally, the villagers have gathered in the piazza to celebrate Stromminger’s birthday. Horns in the distance announce the return of the hunters (“S’ode un corno echeggiar”) who are led by Hagenbach. As the sun falls on the horizon and the sunset colors the Alps, the hunters (“cacciatori”) exult in their successful day as the other villagers hail them. 

La Wally averts a near-brawl between her slightly tipsy father and the arrogant Hagenbach. When she refuses to marry Gellner, Stromminger tells her to leave his house. Well, then, she will go far away (“Ebben? Ne andró lontana”), like the echo of the church bell, among the white snow and clouds of gold, where hope becomes regret and sorrow. Leaving her mother’s cheerful house, La Wally is going to go away, perhaps never to return nor to see it again. Never again, never again! 

A year later, the villagers gather for a festival. As the young women parade back and forth across the town square (“Entro la folla che intorno s’aggira”), they twitter about one young man who longs for them, and for another who is staring. Observing them, the young gentlemen scoff that if they have to get married, it won’t be to fickle flirts such as these. Meanwhile, the village matrons complain that the young women aren’t thinking about God, but laughing and fluttering about frivolous pleasures and clothes, and the village elders joke that it has been so long since the old women committed any sins that even God has forgotten what they were. Enjoying themselves thoroughly in their own ways, all are summoned by the church bells to celebrate the holy day.

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

Pietro Mascagni composed Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) in eight days when he was only twenty-six. He based it on an 1880 short story and play of the same name (Eleonora Duse scored a success as Santuzza in the play) by the popular Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga (one of the leading exponents of the verismo movement). Set to a libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, the opera was an immediate success following its premiere in Rome in 1890. Within the space of 18 months, it had been performed in most of the major cities of Europe and the Americas. None of Mascagni’s later operas achieved comparable success, but his career as a conductor and director of important music conservatories in Italy assured his life-long musical prominence.

In the opera, a young soldier, Turiddu, has returned to his village in Sicily to discover that his former love, Lola, has married Alfio, the prosperous village carter. Turiddu then became involved with Santuzza, whom he has promised to marry. However, he takes up with Lola again, and Santuzza, feeling herself betrayed, reveals Lola’s affair with Turiddu to Alfio, who challenges Turiddu to a duel. After entrusting the care of Santuzza to his mother, Turiddu dies in the conflict.

The one-act opera takes place on Easter Sunday in a Sicilian village square in front of the church. The peasants and villagers welcome the spring – the women sing of the sweet smell of oranges (“Gli aranci olezzano”) and the singing of the larks in the flowering myrtles. Now time murmurs to everyone the tender song that quickens the beat of every heart. The men return from the fields of golden corn, where the sounds of the spinning wheels came to them. Resting weary from their work, they thought of the women’s sun-filled eyes and rushed back to them as a bird returns to its nest. The women say that it’s time to cease their rustic work.

To the sound of cracking whips and horse bells, the carter Alfio enters the square and exults in his carefree life. His horse paws the ground (“Il cavallo scalpita”), its collar jingles, and he cracks the whip. Let the colds winds blow, let the rain or snow fall, he doesn’t care. The villagers agree. What a fine job he has being a carter, roaming here and there! Alfio says that waiting for him at home is Lola, who loves and consoles him, who is fidelity itself. It’s Easter and he’s home! 

After Mass, the villagers drift out of church. They bid farewell to their friends as they turn toward home (“A casa, a casa, amici”) where their spouses await them. Turiddu, unaware that Santuzza has betrayed him to Alfio, invites Lola and his neighbors to his mother’s tavern and raises the first toast. Hurrah for the foaming wine (“Viva il vino spumeggiante”) that sparkles in the glass like the laugh of a lover and inspires joy. Hurrah for wine, which is honest and lightens every thought, which drowns every black humor in gentle exhilaration! Turiddu, Lola, and the villagers join in repeated toasts. To your lovers! To your good fortune! Let’s drink! Another round!

As the villagers leave the square for Easter Mass, we hear the chorus inside the church singing “Regina Coeli, laetare” (“Queen of Heaven, Rejoice”). Santuzza remains behind, not daring to enter the church. (Although not made explicit in the opera, the original short story makes clear that Santuzza is carrying Turiddu’s child, and therefore feels she cannot attend Mass with the others.) She joins the other villagers as they raise their voices. Let us rejoice that our Lord is not dead (“Inneggiamo al signor non è morto”). Resplendent, he has opened the tomb and today has risen to the glory of heaven.

NOTES BY TONY ARN. For further information about these works and their composers, click on THE CHORUS tab, then click on “Past Concerts.”