“Qual va speme?”
“Il Re!” and “Sotto una quercia parvemi”
Robert MacNeil with Brian Kim and the Chorus
“Allor che i flebili”
“Tu sei bella”
“Ai lari! Alla patria!”
The Men’s Chorus with Mauricio A. Palma II
“Questa rea che vi percuote” and “Franco son io, ma in core”
Joseph Lodato and the Men’s Chorus
“Qui! qui!” and “O fatídica foresta”
“Te, Dio, lodiam”
Act II Finale, Part 1
Ms. Schober, Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Lodato and the Chorus
Ms. Schober and the Chorus
“Wenn es Abend wird”
“Einmal möchte ich wieder tanzen”
Ms. Schober, Mr. MacNeil and the Chorus
“Ach ich var einst ein feiner Csárdáskavalier”
“Bitte sehr, das ist noch gar nix, nein!”
Ms. Schober, Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Lodato, VanNessa Hulme and the Chorus
“Gli aranci olezzano”
“Il cavallo scalpita”
Mr. Lodato and the Chorus
“A casa, a casa, amici” and “Viva il vino spumeggiante”
Mr. MacNeil and the Chorus
“Regina Coeli, laetare” and “Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto!”
Walter Fox Singers 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’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 the English will suffer for their sins.
Carlo (not yet actually crowned King of France due to the war with the English) joins his court (“Il Re!”), and they are shocked by the sorrow on his young face as Carlo tells his faithful subjects that Orleans seems doomed. Wracked by guilt over the suffering inflicted on his people, he intends to give up his throne to end the war. However, while he prayed for guidance and forgiveness, a vision of the Virgin Mary came to him, in which she told him of a shrine by a giant oak tree at which he must dedicate his helmet and sword (“Sotto una quercia parvemi”.) His subjects are aghast that he plans to enter the terrible forest as the bronze bells salute the waning day and the moon sails across the sky (“Allor che i flebili.”) 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 unless he joins the demonic forces.
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.
At the beginning of Act I, the French have reversed their losses thanks to Giovanna’s leadership. The English troops are camped outside of Reims, mourning their dead, tending to the wounded, and hoping their commander will let them retreat (“Ai lari! Alla patria!”). As they bemoan the loss of Orleans and their young compatriots, the English commander, Talbot, berates the cowardice that has allowed the destruction of a hundred earlier victories in one day. The soldiers protest that they have always fought ardently in spite of their wounds, but what chance do they have against the unholy army of demons that no human courage can prevail against? Talbot vainly tries to persuade them that it isn’t evil spirits but their own vile fear that defeats them.
Giovanna’s father Giacomo arrives at the English camp, disheveled and almost maddened by his belief that his daughter has been seduced by Carlo and sold her soul to the devil for the power to lead her king to victory. He tells the English that he will deliver up to them, as a prisoner, the wicked woman that has struck at them (“Questa rea che vi percuote”.) Giacomo says that he is French, but in his heart, his first allegiance is to honor (“Franco son io, ma in core”.) He has sworn death to anyone who dishonors him, and accuses Carlo of having disgraced him and brought shame on his white hair. The English soldiers eagerly goad him to tell why he is so angry, and Giacomo asks to join with them to fight against the hated Carlo.
In the following scene, Giovanna sits alone in a garden in the court at Reims, wearing armor over her now fashionable clothing and holding a helmet and sword. She is more comfortable here (“Qui! qui!”) under the open sky, where the air is pure. In the festive palace, her concentration vanishes and she is unsettled by the court’s applause. She wants only to be free of the court and back in the forest where she learned of her destiny (“O fatidica foresta”.) She misses her father, their hut, and the simple clothing with which she was content, and wonders if she can ever regain them.
In the Finale to Act II, a huge crowd has gathered at the Cathedral in Reims for Carlo’s coronation. They raise a hymn to God (“Te, Dio, lodiam”) in celebration of His greatness. Giacomo mingles with the crowd as he waits to confront the court, sure that his daughter’s face will betray her blasphemy as she leaves the holy place. Giovanna leaves the cathedral in agitation, followed by Carlo and his court. Carlo tells her she should not flee from the homage of her king and her people, and tells his court to join him in bowing before the rescuer sent by heaven. As the crowd acclaims Giovanna, Giacomo approaches them and curses her. Giovanna is shocked to see her father, who accuses her of renouncing her faith and deceiving the king when they met in the forest. Giacomo berates his calamitous daughter for surrendering to pride and earthly love, and giving herself to eternal destruction in a pact with demons. Carlo and his people are horrified by Giacomo’s accusations. Carlo refuses to believe that such an angel could really be hated by God, but the people are chilled by the horrible mystery as lightning rents the sky. Carlo begs heaven for help, but Giovanna believes she must submit to her bitter duty and cannot say anything to save herself because it is the will of heaven. Giacomo tells her that she must turn to heaven and repent if she is to save her soul, as the people begin to turn against their heroine.
Emmerich Kálmán was born in Hungary in 1882 and died in Paris in 1953. Early on he had planned on becoming a concert pianist, but neuritis ended that amibition. He joined composition classes in 1900 along with Bartók, Kodály and operetta composers Szirina and Jacobi. He also pursued law studies for a time and worked as a music critic for two years. His early work consisted of symphonic poems and won him the 1907 Franz Josef Prize in Budapest which included a trip to Bayreuth. He wrote his first operetta the next year, Tatárjárás or The Merry Hussars, a great success in the U.S. as well as throughout Europe. As a result, he moved to Vienna where he produced a number of successful works and was considered an equal of Franz Lehar as one of the leading exponents of Viennese-style operettas in the heady period after World War I. Best known were Die Cs.rd.sfürstin (The Gypsy Princess) in 1918 and Gräfin Mariza (The Countess Maritza) in 1924, which was produced around the world.
When Hitler invaded Austria, Kálmán fled to Paris in 1939, then to the United States where he collaborated with Lorenz Hart on an unsuccessful musical. He became a U.S. citizen when Hungary allied with Hitler, but returned to Europe in 1949 and settled in Paris. His last operetta, The Arizona Lady, was completed by his son Charles Emmerich Kálmán and produced posthumously in 1954. Kálmán chose his libretti carefully, often spending several years searching, and frequently drew on Hungarian tunes and motives in his works, as well as a wealth of Viennese waltzes. His most successful operettas are either set in Hungary or contain opportunities for Hungarian subplots and music. Even The Arizona Lady has a Hungarian heroine! Gräfin Mariza is set in 1924, the date of its premiere. It was first heard in the United States at the Shubert Theatre in New York with music interpolated from many other composers. Films of Gräfin Mariza have been made at least three times over a fifty year period, the most recent in 1974 with the great Ljuba Welitsch as Mariza and Rene Kollo as Tassilo.
Mariza spends most of her time in the city and at her many other properties, but owns a large estate which is being managed by Count Tassilo. He is posing as a commoner, Török, and has undertaken the position of estate bailiff in order to earn a large dowry for his sister Lisa, who is ignorant of the family’s impoverishment. In the first act, he learns that Mariza is returning to the estate to announce her engagement to one Baron Zhupan. The engagement announcement is a ruse, as Mariza has borrowed the name of the Count from Strauss’ operetta The Gypsy Baron to create her alleged “fiancé” in order to discourage her many suitors. Tassilo/Török despairs, as he believes that the marriage will spell the end of his position and thus any dowry for Lisa.
In Act 1, Mariza arrives with a large party of guests for her grand engagement party. She explains that her “fiancé” is detained on business, but they will celebrate anyway. The estate workers and some gypsy musicians extol “the happy gypsy melodies that proclaim the greatness of our patroness” (“Lustige Zigeunerweisen”) as they joyfully greet Mariza and her guests. Mariza thanks them and praises the gypsy music, delighting in its stirring passion, and urges the gypsies to play their violins and cembalos. Declaring that the Csárdás (an intricate Hungarian dance) weaves a spell like a dream, she hopes that one day love may be hers despite her protestations against the attentions of all the impoverished noblemen pursuing her for her wealth. Ready to enjoy themselves, her guests demand a good dose of lovely Hungarian wine as they praise Mariza’s beauty. Tasilo has been collecting the rents and sending them to the Countess, but he has never before met her. Although he has come to enjoy his work, as he sits with a glass of wine when evening falls (“Wenn es Abend Wird”), he remembers his old, carefree life and laments that his lonely heart will always remember the joys of Vienna.
Tassilo attempts to go over the estate’s books with Mariza, who is far more interested in other things. She asks him to suppose that they are in a ballroom and he is a gentleman, to which Tassilo gallantly replies that she would be the belle of the ball. Commanding Tassilo to pretend he’s the type of impoverished noblemen who are pursuing her, she then asks what he would say to her if he were speaking for himself, and he inadvertently reveals his love. They lose themselves in their fantasy, saying they would love to dance once more (“Einmal möchte ich wieder tanzen”) (“I would love to dance once more.”) The party of guests joins them, extolling the glories of dancing and thanking God for giving them the waltz.
To Mariza’s surprise, the real Baron Zhupan shows up after reading the announcement of his “engagement” in the paper. He and Mariza carry out the farce, and everyone goes off to celebrate. Mariza condescendingly sends a bottle of wine to her “steward” as he sits on the terrace. Tassilo is keenly aware of the change in his status, and reminisces that he was once a great Cavalier who danced the Csárdás (“Ach ich var einst ein feiner Csárdáskavalier”.) At the end of his song, he dances a fiery Csárdás, unaware that Mariza and her guests have been drawn by his song to the terrace. When Mariza asks him to repeat his song, Tassilo refuses. Mariza is not accustomed to anyone saying “no” to her, and she promptly fires him.
A gypsy named Manja arrives and offers to tell Mariza’s fortune, which her guests are eager to hear. Manja tells her that gypsies are children of the night. She says that Mariza will fall in love with a nobleman within the month, and that the man is nearby. The other characters go off to town to celebrate, but Mariza refuses to join them, saying that she will stay on her estate for a month so as not to meet any nobleman. She tells them to return in four weeks. Her friends are surprised but go off to “defeat the night, dance, augh, drink, and go to town with champagne” at the nightclub. (“Bitte sehr, das ist noch gar nix, nein!”)
Pietro Mascagni composed Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) in eight days when he was only twenty-six. He based it on a short story and play of the same name (Eleonora Duse scored a success as Santuzza in the play) by the popular Sicilian 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. 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 promised to marry. However, he takes up with Lola again, and Santuzza, feeling herself betrayed, reveals Lola’s affair with Turiddu to her husband. Alfio 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 as the soft air murmurs the tender song filling their hearts. The men return from the fields drawn by the sounds of their spinning wheels. Weary from their work, they rush back to the women as a bird returns to its nest.
To the sound of cracking whips and horse bells (“Il cavallo scalpita”), Alfio enters the square and exults in his carefree life. The villagers agree that he has a wonderful career, roaming far and wide. Alfio boasts that his Lola, who is “all loyalty”, waits for him at home to celebrate Easter.
After a bitter scene of recrimination in which Turiddu rejects Santuzza’s pleas to abandon Lola and reunite with her, Santuzza spitefully reveals their affair to Alfio, who vows that he’ll have revenge on them both. In a scene of calm following the storm, the village square is peaceful and deserted during Mascagni’s famous orchestral interlude Intermezzo, presented here in a choral transcription by Verdi Chorus member Diane Armstrong.
As the villagers leave the square for Easter Mass, we hear the chorus inside the church singing “Regina Coeli, laetare”. Santuzza remains behind, not daring to enter the church but joining the other villagers as they raise their voices in praise of their risen savior (“Inneggiamo al signor non è morto”.) (Although not made explicit in the opera, the original short story makes clear that Santuzza is carrying Turiddu’s child, and therefore believes she cannot attend Mass with the others.)