CHAPTER 5: Operatic Singing

 

LISTENING LIST 5.1

Listening Guide 5.1.1

Historical Background

Composer: Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
Lyricist: Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930)
Era of music history: Twentieth-Century
Nationality: American
Life and work: Bernstein was among the most successful musicians of his time and an enormously valuable spokesman for classical music.  He was an internationally famous conductor and his musicals (On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story) received—and continue to receive—frequent productions.

“Tonight” from West Side Story (1957)

Instrumentation: soprano, tenor, and orchestra
Duration: 3 minutes and 30 seconds
Mode: major
Synopsis: Maria and Tony fall in love, but are from different ethnic groups who do not get along.  Modeled on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “Tonight” finds its parallel with the famous balcony scene.

Listening Guide 5.1.2

Historical Background

Composer: George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Lyricists: DuBose Heyward (1885-1940) and Ira Gershwin (1896-1983)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: American

Life and work: Born to non-musical parents who nonetheless encouraged his musical studies, Gershwin started music lessons at age ten and by age twenty was a hit songwriter.  He started composing more classically-oriented works in the 1920s and was surely headed for new musical horizons at the time of his early death.  His music has always been popular.

“Bess, You Is My Woman Now”

from Porgy and Bess (1934)

Instrumentation: baritone, soprano, and orchestra

Duration: 6 minutes and 40 seconds

Mode: major

Synopsis: Porgy, a poor, crippled man, has always been kind to Bess, a woman of low repute.  Here, they confess their love for each other.

Listening Guide 5.1.3

Historical Background

Composer: Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)

Lyricist: Giovacchino Forzano (1884-1970)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: Italian

Life and work: Born into a deeply musical family, Puccini’s operatic success began during his thirties, and he became perhaps history’s most successful opera composer.  While critically he is not taken as seriously as other opera composers, his operas have remained staples of the world’s operatic stages and beloved by audiences.

“O mio babbino caro” (“O my dear papa”)

from Gianni Schicchi (1918)

Instrumentation: soprano and orchestra

Duration: 2 minutes and 30 seconds

Mode: major

Synopsis: Lauretta is in a love with a man from a family whom her father does not approve of.  Here, in an effort to win her father’s approval, she expresses the ardor of her love and asks for his mercy.

Translation:

Oh my dear papa,

I love him, he is handsome, handsome.

I want to go to Porta Rossa

To buy the ring!

Yes, yes, I want to go there!

And if my love were in vain,

I would go to the Ponte Vecchio

And throw myself in the Arno!

 I am anguished and tormented!

Oh God, I'd like to die!

Papa, have pity, have pity!

Papa, have pity, have pity!

 --copied from Wikipedia, 4/15/16

Listening Guide 5.1.4

Historical Background

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

Lyricist: Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: Italian

Life and work:  Born to non-musical parents who nonetheless encouraged their son’s passion for music, Verdi became the dominant composer of nineteenth-century Italian opera and an outspoken proponent of Italian unification, the “Risorgimento.”  As such, he became kind of a national symbol of Italy and an honorary member of parliament.  His operas have been performed steadily since his death.

“Caro nome” (“Dear name”) from Rigoletto (1851)

Instrumentation: soprano and orchestra

Duration: 6 minutes and 45 seconds

Mode: major

Synopsis: Gilda sings of her love for a poor student she has just met.  Unknown to her, however, the student is actually the evil Duke in disguise.  (Gilda’s father, Rigoletto, is the Duke’s court jester.)

Translation:

Walter Maldè...name of the man I love,
be thou engraved upon my lovesick heart!
Beloved name, the first to move
the pulse of love within my heart,
thou shalt remind me ever
of the delights of love!
In my thoughts, my desire
will ever fly to thee,
and my last breath of life
shall be, beloved name, of thee.
In my thoughts, etc.

 --copied from YouTube, 4/15/16

LISTENING LIST 5.2

Listening Guide 5.2.1

Historical Background

Composer: Richard Rodgers (1902-1979)

Lyricist: Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: American

Life and work: Widely regarded as developing the “book” musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein were both very successful in their own right before teaming up for their first musical, Oklahoma!, in 1943.  Its success began almost two decades of collaboration that resulted in many of the most famous shows in Broadway history, including South Pacific and The Sound of Music.

“Climb Ev’ry Mountain”

from The Sound of Music (1959)

Instrumentation: mezzo-soprano and orchestra

Duration: 2 minutes and 5 seconds

Mode: major

Synopsis: Sung by the Mother Abbess at the end of the first act, this song expresses her desire that Maria remain outside the convent and face honestly the love she and Captain Von Trapp share for one another.

Listening Guide 5.2.2

Historical Background

Composer: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Lyrics: Tchaikovsky and his collaborator Konstantin Shilovsky adapted closely the original novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837).

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: Russian

Life and work: Born into a military family, Tchaikovsky became a music theory professor and music critic before gaining fame as a composer and conductor.  He eventually went on the conduct the inaugural concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City and received a generous annual pension from the czar.  Many of his compositions have been beloved ever since his death.

Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin (1879)

Instrumentation: soprano and orchestra

Duration: 3 minutes and 25 seconds

Mode: major

Synopsis: A classic adaptation of a scene that is itself a classic of Russian literature, a young woman, Tatiana, having met Eugene Onegin earlier that evening, pours out her love for him in a letter.

Listening Guide 5.2.3

Historical Background

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Lyrics: Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812)

Era of music history: Classical

Nationality: Austrian

Life and work: Born to a musical family, Mozart became a famous child prodigy and, under the guidance of his father, toured Europe with his sister, also a brilliant pianist. Eventually, Mozart settled in Vienna, Austria, where he was a freelance musician.  Though he had some notable public successes, he often struggled financially.  His posthumous fame has far exceeded anything he experienced in his lifetime.

“Vengeance Rages in my Heart”

from The Magic Flute (1791)

Instrumentation: soprano and orchestra

Duration: 3 minutes

Mode: minor

Synopsis:  The Queen of the Night gives Pamina a knife and orders her to kill Sarastro, a benevolent king who is trying to help Tamino, with whom Pamina is in love.

LISTENING LIST 5.3

Listening Guide 5.3.1

Historical Background

Composer: Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)

Lyricist: W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: English

Life and work: Over the course of a quarter-century of collaboration, the famous duo Gilbert and Sullivan produced some of the best-loved operettas in all the repertory.  Known for their sardonic wit and catchy tunes, the two men were an enormous success, despite a sometimes rocky relationship.

“The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze”

from The Mikado (1885)

Instrumentation: soprano and orchestra

Duration: 3 minutes and 5 seconds

Mode: major

Synopsis:  Yum-Yum sings this song about her beauty just before she is about to marry Nanki-Poo.  Meanwhile, Katisha, an elderly lady who is in love with Nanki-Poo, is scheming to disrupt the marriage.

Listening Guide 5.3.2

Historical Background

Composer: Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Lyricist: Jaroslav Kvapil (1868-1950)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: Czech

Life and work: The son of an innkeeper who was also a musician, Dvořák was an organist and violist before turning to composition full-time in his early thirties.  He eventually became an internationally famous composer, who even taught in United States for a short while.  His music has had a steady presence in the repertoire since his death.

“Song to the Moon” from Rusalka (1901)

Instrumentation: soprano and orchestra

Duration: 6 minutes and 50 seconds

Mode: major

Synopsis:  Rusalka, a water nymph, has fallen in love with a human prince.  In this song, she asks the moon to reveal to him her love.

Listening Guide 5.3.3

Historical Background

Composer: George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Lyricist:  Unknown.  Adapted from an earlier libretto by Silvio Stampiglia.

Era of music history: Baroque

Nationality: German

Life and work: Born into a non-musical family, Handel’s talent and determination saw him to the top of the London musical world, where he made his name writing Italian opera.  After competition bankrupted his opera company, he reinvented himself by pioneering the oratorio, a composition that resembles an unstaged opera with a prominent chorus.  His music has been a staple of the repertory ever since his death.

“Raw Fury” from Serse (1738)

Instrumentation: soprano and orchestra

Duration: 3 minutes and 50 seconds

Mode: major

Form: ternary, “da capo aria” (A, 0:00; B, 1:36, A, 2:06).

Synopsis:  Serse, the king of Persia, was intending to marry Romilda.  But the marriage plans have been unexpectedly dashed.

Translation:

 Raw fury from the terrible abysses,

Attacks me with its grim venom!

The world falls

And the son is eclipsed

At this ire that arises in my breast.

 --original translation