“Qual v’ha speme?”
Scena Racconto e Cavatina
Mr. Wisk and the Chorus
“Tu sei bella”
“Sur la greve en feu”
“Au fond du temple saint!”
Mr. Wisk and Mr. Kim
“Sois la bienvenue”
“O Dieu Brahma”
Ms. Maldjian and the Chorus
Act II Entr’acte
“Comme autre fois”
Act II Finale
Ms Maldjian, Mr. Wisk, Mr, Kim, Sang Wook Kwon and the Chorus
Act II Excerpts
Ms, Maldjian, Mr. Wisk, Mr. Kim, VanNessa Hulme, Robert Norman, Mauricio A. Palma II, Mike Davis and the Chorus
“O Mimi, tu piu non torni”
Mr. Wisk and Mr. Kim
The Drinking Song
The Verdi Chorus
Mr. Wisk and the Chorus
Lover Come Back to Me
Italian Street Song
Ms. Maldjian and the Chorus
Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life
Mr. Wisk with Ms. Maldjian, Mr. Kim 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 differs notably from the familiar tale 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 Joan and King Charles of France. Another distinct change in this version is Joan’s condemnation as a heretic by her own father. Initially believing that Joan has sinned by becoming Charles’ mistress, he accuses her of being in league with the devil and incites a French mob to hand her over to the enemy. Giacomo later hears Joan’s prayer in prison renouncing earthy love. Realizing his error, he frees her to fight once more for France. Joan 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’s any hope (“Qual v’ha speme?”) of beating back the English troops that have invaded France. 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 they will suffer for their sins.
Charles (not yet crowned King of France due to the war with the English) has described to his court a vision of the Virgin Mary, in which she told him of a shrine by a giant oak tree at which he must dedicate his helmet and sword. (Scena Racconto e Cavatina). His subjects are horrified that he plans to enter the forest as the day is waning and the moon sails across the sky. They warn him that this forest is a horrible place, haunted by demons and witches. Woe to the man who, unaware, discovers them in their wicked revels. If he is caught by the demons, he will never again see the morning. Charles is unmoved by their pleas and resolves to carry out his plan. He expresses his longing to throw off his royal position, calling his crown a lethal burden and a torment (“Pondo è letal”). He longs for freedom, for the peace that is given to the poorest of his subjects, for a time when he will no longer be king. The courtiers ask heaven to restore Charles to them, and swear that they will follow their king, faithful and uncomplaining.
Joan 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 Joan 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.
Georges Bizet was born into a world of music and remained immersed in it throughout his brief life. Bizet’s father was a sometime singing teacher and composer, and his mother was herself a talented pianist and the sister of a famous singing teacher. Both parents noted Bizet’s talent as early as the age of four, and he was groomed to become a composer. In spite of being too young to be officially admitted (at the age of nine) to the Paris Conservatory of Music, his talent so impressed the faculty that he was granted admittance in short order, just before he turned ten. Among the faculty under whom he studied, he became particularly close with Charles Gounod and Jacques Halévy (best known today for his opera La Juive), whose daughter he would later marry and whose nephew was one of the librettists for Carmen. Following three years of study and composition in Italy after winning the prestigious Prix de Rome at age 19, Bizet returned to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Bizet was also noted for his superb skills as a pianist, once astonishing Franz Liszt by playing at sight a piece Liszt thought no other pianist but himself capable of performing. Bizet feared that his instrumental skills would interfere with his composing, however, and he usually refused to play in public except for charity concerts. The young composer was as drawn to literature and theater as he was absorbed in music (his parents hid his books so that precious practice time would not be wasted in reading), and he always had a keen eye, as well as an ear, for theatrical possibilities. He was said to have told his friend Saint-Saëns that he required the theater to fulfill his talents. Since, at the time, composing for the opera was far better paid than other forms of music, he had an extra incentive to follow his natural inclination. However, the world of Parisian opera was rife with mismanagement, greed, and a fear of the unconventional, all of which caused Bizet no end of professional problems, up to and including his final masterpiece, Carmen.
Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers), produced when Bizet was merely 24, was his first major opera, and proved no exception as far as the difficulties of dealing with opera impresarios and librettists with which he had always to contend. Originally set in Mexico, the setting was changed to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and the libretto by Michel Carré and Eugène Cormon fluctuated wildly well into the rehearsal period. Even one of the librettists later admitted that had they recognized Bizet’s genius, they would have been embarrassed to have submitted their work to him. The opera suffered other production problems as well, and its reception by the audience on the first night was only moderate. As would happen repeatedly, the mainstream music critics sniffed at Bizet’s musical experimentation, and alternately assailed Bizet for attempting to imitate Wagner, and for not following in Wagner’s footsteps. One notable exception, however, was the composer and critic Hector Berlioz (who endured the same critical resistance to his innovations as did Bizet). In his last article as a paid critic, Berlioz praised the opera warmly, noting that it was replete with rich, colorful scenes and beautiful, expressive music.
The opera opens on the shore of Ceylon as a group of fishermen prepares for a voyage to dive for pearls. The entire village has gathered on the beach, lighting bonfires and pitching tents (“Sur la greve en feu”). They will dance and sing until night falls, hoping to drive away evil spirits. The departing pearl fishers honor their courageous tradition and the danger of death when they plunge into the depths of the ocean in search of the white pearls.
Zurga is chosen to lead the expedition of pearl fishers. His old friend Nadir has returned to the village after a long absence, and the two men recall their love for an unknown priestess years ago. In the cool evening air, she had entered a holy temple years ago (“Au fond du temple saint”). As the worshippers in the temple knelt before her, imagining they were seeing an actual goddess, her veil had parted briefly. Zurga and Nadir can remember her face as if it was yesterday. Each had recognized that love had taken their hearts by force, and would turn them into enemies. Vowing that nothing would part them and neither would pursue her in order to preserve their friendship, they had sworn to remain friends until death, united by their love of the goddess.
The villagers welcome Leila (“Sois la bienvenue”), the veiled priestess who has been appointed to pray at the temple for the safe voyage of the pearl fishers. The people offer her gifts and urge her to sing so that storms and tempests will be appeased and the spirits of the waves will obey her words. They beseech her to watch over and protect them.
Leila entreats the god Brahma (“O Dieu Brahma”), the master of the world, and the white goddess Siva, as well as the spirits of the air, the waves, the rocks and the forest, for protection. She prays for the sky to stay clear and sparkling with stars, and asks that her voice, her heart, and her song fly to the gods like a bird. The villagers echo her, and ask her to continue her song so that her beautiful voice will chase away all danger. Leila briefly lifts her veil, and Nadir recognizes her as the unknown priestess whom he and Zurga had loved long ago. He promises that he will give his life to defend her. Leila also recognizes Nadir, with whom she had fallen in love when she saw him in the temple years ago. She whispers that her song is for her beloved and lifts her voice to the gods.
In the Entr’acte to Act II, the villagers wait outside the temple and greet the night as it descends from the sky (“L’ombre descend des cieux”), and the white stars bathe in the blue tide. Unknown to them, Nadir and Leila are meeting inside the temple to declare their love for each other.
The high priest Nourabad demands that Leila repeat her vow of chastity under pain of death before she enters the temple to pray for the pearl fishers. Left alone before the temple, Leila is afraid, aware of the presence of the goddess Siva. As she prays for sleep, to dream in peace, she realizes that Nadir is watching over her in the dark night (“Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre”), deep in the nearby foliage. She is ecstatic that he is guarding her and assured of his love for her.
In the Finale to Act II, Nadir has persuaded Leila to abandon her vow of chastity and run away with him. Discovering them, Nourabad summons the villagers to denounce the illicit lovers. As a sudden storm breaks, the villagers cry out in fear of the dark night and the raging ocean. Nourabad reveals that Leila and Nadir have desecrated the sacred temple. The people join in condemning the pair and demanding their deaths. Neither pity nor mercy are to be shown. As Nadir tries to comfort the terrified Leila, the crowd menaces them with drawn knives, and Nadir flings himself in front of Leila to protect her.
Zurga appears and commands the crowd to stop, saying that he will judge Leila and Nadir’s guilt. Reminding the fishermen that they have sworn allegiance to him as their leader, he decides to free his friend Nadir and the unknown priestess. Nourabad tears Leila’s veil from her face, revealing her identity. Infuriated at their betrayal of their vows, Zurga condemns both to death. As the storm redoubles in fury, Nourabad says it is the angry god Brahma. Falling to their knees, the terrified villagers call on the god to punish the sacrilegious lovers as they are led away by the priests and fishermen.
Born to a long line of musicians, Giacomo Puccini’s father and an uncle were his early teachers. The family had a tradition of playing church music, but the younger Puccini turned to opera after entering the conservatory in Milan, encouraged by the professor and composer Ponchielli. Although Puccini’s first two operas, the one act Oberto and the full-length Edgar, were not successful, he persevered. His first great success was Manon Lescaut, first performed in 1893. The playwright and exacting music critic George Bernard Shaw proclaimed Puccini the heir to Verdi.
When La Bohème premiered in 1896 (under the baton of the young Arturo Toscanini), Puccini was widely known in Italy. Although the opera did not achieve great success at its first performances in Torino and Rome, the production in Palermo in the same year was a wild success, and it reached as far as London and Los Angeles within another year. Along with Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot, La Bohème remains one of Puccini’s best-loved and most frequently-performed operas.
The libretto was the combined work of two well-known librettists, Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica (also the librettists of Tosca and Butterfly.) The source was the French author Henri Murger’s novel, Scenes of Bohemian Life. In Act I, we are introduced to the young poet Rodolfo, the painter Marcello, and their young friends: the philosopher Colline and the musician Schaunard. As the young artists and intellectuals prepare to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the Café Momus, Rodolfo stays behind to finish a piece. The young seamstress Mimi, who lives in the garret above Rodolfo’s, introduces herself and asks for his help in finding her key. Attraction soon turns to declarations of mutual love, and the young couple go off to join Rodolfo’s friends.
As the curtain opens on Act II, it is still Christmas Eve, in the Latin Quarter of Paris. In spite of the bitter cold, it appears that every Parisian is out in the streets to celebrate. Street vendors hawk their wares, from clothing and jewelry to hot chestnuts and oranges. A huge crowd of soldiers, students, gendarmes, shopgirls and sightseers throng in the streets, exclaiming over the noisy mob, some urging others to stay close and not get lost or separated. Street urchins pipe up with their own offerings. The action centers on the busy Café Momus (an actual café that attracted such figures as Murger and Courbet during its heyday). The interior of the café is so full that waiters set up tables and rush in and out as customers shout their orders and demand their attention.
Schaunard complains that a vendor’s horn is out of tune and bargains with him, purchasing the horn and a pipe. Rudolfo and Mimi enter a hat shop and he buys her a pink bonnet. Mimi admires a coral necklace, but Rodolfo tells her he will buy her a more beautiful one when his rich uncle dies and he inherits money. Colline finds a seamstress to mend his ancient coat. He tells her that it is a bit old but of good quality and proceeds to distribute his many books among the pockets. Marcello states that he’s in the mood to enjoy himself and find someone. He begins to flirt with a young girl, but she runs away laughing. Schaunard is the first to arrive at the Café Momus. When Colline arrives, he shows Schaunard a rare book he has bought. They enter the café with Marcello, then emerge carrying a large table which they set up outdoors. Rodolfo and Mimi join the party, and Rodolfo introduces Mimi to his friends, saying he is a poet and she is poetry. Marcello asks her what Rodolfo has bought her, and she shows him her pink bonnet. As they each place orders with the waiter, the toy seller Parpignol arrives, crying out for all to see his wares. As the children crowd around him, admiring and clamoring for his toys, their mothers run after them, taking them by the hands and scolding. As the children continue to beg, their mothers tell them it’s time to leave and go to bed.
Suddenly all eyes turn to watch Musetta, a beautiful coquette, entering with an older admirer, Alcindoro, in tow. Noticing Marcello, her ex-lover, Musetta decides she wants him back and engages in shameless behavior to get his attention. She insists on taking the table near the Bohemians, although Alcindoro finds it cold outside. Musetta teases and chastises her elderly admirer as if he were a puppy. Smelling her plate, she tells the waiter it stinks of fried food and throws it on the ground. Alcindoro begs her to be quiet. Mimi admires Musetta’s lovely clothes and asks who she is. Telling Mimi that her name is Musetta, Marcello adds that her surname is Temptation. The others comment on Musetta’s antics, enjoying the stupendous comedy. Musetta becomes increasingly angry that Marcello pretends to ignore her.
Determined to catch Marcello’s eye, Musetta launches into a portrayal of the effect she has on people when she walks alone in the street (“Quando m’en vo”). She describes how people stop and admire her beauty wherever she goes. The desire that escapes from their eyes makes her happy. Marcello bitterly tells the others to “tie me to the chair,” as Rodolfo explains the situation to Mimi. Taunting Marcello, Musetta says that she knows someone is in anguish wanting her. When Marcello still doesn’t respond, Musetta emits a shriek and tells Alcindoro that her shoe is painful and orders him to go buy others for her. Musetta and Marcello fall into each others’ arms . . . until the café bill arrives, and no one has enough money to pay. Musetta blithely tells the waiter to add it to Alcindoro’s bill, and the Bohemians rush off together to join the throng as a military band comes into view. The hapless Alcindoro is astonished to find that Musetta has disappeared – and stuck him with a large bill.
At the beginning of the last act, Rodolfo and Marcello are back at work in the garret apartment of the first act. As they talk about Mimi and Musetta, both of whom have been seen with new, rich lovers, they pretend to each other that they don’t care. Trying unsuccessfully to pursue their creative endeavors as poet and painter, Rodolfo throws down his pen and Marcello does the same with his paintbrush. Rodolfo admits his pain that Mimi won’t return to him (“O, Mimi, tu piu non torni”), lamenting their beautiful days, her little hands, her fragrant hair. Marcello confesses that no matter what he paints – skies or landscapes, winter or summer – he ends up drawing Musetta’s face. Rodolfo takes out the bonnet he had given Mimi and mourns the loss of their love, which weighs on his dead heart. As Marcello recalls the charms (and deceptions) of Musetta’s lovely face, his heart calls her and calls her . . . and waits.
Of the numerous operettas composed by the Hungarian-born Sigmund Romberg, notably 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.
Karl-Franz has been accompanied to the University by his tutor Dr. Engel, who warmly remembers his own student days in Heidelberg. The young prince (incognito) is enthusiastically invited to join Engel’s former fraternity. Karl-Franz joins his new comrades in The Drinking Song (a notable favorite in the premiere American production, during the height of Prohibition).
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.
Following the great success of The Student Prince, 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 Miserables, 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.
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.
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.
Marietta had dreamed that she would give her heart only to the man who could complete the song that has come to her in her dream. Although Captain Dick has steadfastly refused to consider having a woman in his life, he is no match for Marietta. Having heard the story of the song from her when they first met, and after rescuing her yet again from pirates and an unwanted marriage, he proceeds to complete the song for her. As he sings Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life to proclaim his surrender, Marietta recognizes that she has found the man of her dreams.
Elisabeth Clark and Tony Arn