3pm, Saturday 31 October
For performer information, click here
PURCELL, Dido and Aeneas (1689) : Wayward sisters... Harm’s our delight
Dido and Aeneas is Henry Purcell’s only true opera. It was composed around 1688, and is loosely based on an episode of Virgil's Æneid. It was originally composed for a school for young ladies from London high society, and apart from Aeneas, the roles were exclusively female.
The opera tells of the love of Queen of Carthage, Dido, for the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair when, misled by the evil machinations of the Sorceress and her witches, he abandons her. An interesting metaphor introduced by Nahum Tate, the librettist, suggests that the witches could represent Roman Catholicism, Aeneas James II, and Dido the British people.
The Sorceress: “Wayward sisters, you that fright the lonely traveller by night. Who, like dismal ravens crying, beat the windows of the dying, appear! Appear at my call, and share in the fame of a mischief shall make all Carthage flame. Appear!
Witches chorus: “Harm's our delight and mischief all our skill!”
Giacomo MEYERBEER, Robert le Diable (1831) : Nonnes qui reposez
Robert le diable is an opera in five acts composed by Giacomo Meyerbeer to a libretto written by Eugène Scribe and Germain Delavigne, that premiered in 1831 at the Paris Opera. The plot is based upon a 13th Century legend. A Norman knight discovers that he is the son of Satan, his mother having asked for evil help to obtain a son.
Robert, mortal son of Satan (who is called Bertram in the opera), is desperately looking to escape from his evil father, who keeps tempting him and leads him to fail everything he undertakes. This scene happens in Act 3, in the ruined closter of a convent. Bertram summons from their graves the nuns who, during their lives, had been unfaithful to their vows. He promises Robert that if he seizes a mystic cypress branch from the grave of St. Rosalie, whatever he wishes for will come true. The ghostly nuns, led by their Abbess, then dance around Robert, enticing him with gambling, drink and love.
“Here are the remains of the ancient monastery, consecrated by Saint Rosalia to the Lord’s daughters; these priestesses of heaven, whose unfaithful ardour, burning an indecent incense for other gods, brought pleasure where virtue used to rule! The heavenly wrath, attracted by the saint, came to punish you in the midst of joy, imprudent beauties!... Here, in this precincts, you are sleeping! Your pale forehead, just like in your beautiful days, is still girded with the flowers that Love used to strip. Nuns, who rest under this cold stone, can you hear me? Leave your funeral bed just for one hour. Are you getting up? Fear no more the terrible wrath of an immortal saint ! King of Hell, it is I who call you, I’m damned like you!”
Richard STRAUSS: Drei Lieder der Ophelia: “Wie erkenn ich mein treulieb”
Drei Lieder der Ophelia is the first cycle of Strauss’s opus 67 song collection, composed in 1918. The songs are a German translation of Shakespeare texts taken from Hamlet’s act IV. Ophelia, the ill-fated character who ultimately drowns after being rejected by Hamlet, enters the castle singing strange songs, while Gertrude and Horatio blame her madness for the death of her father.
In these songs, Strauss doesn’t indulge in his famously known lush romantic musical language. The vocal line is bare, almost whispered, and the harmonies tensely chromatic, stretching the tonality to the breaking point. This contributes well to capture Ophelia’s upset psychological state, and provides a dramatic and chilling sound colour against which the bard’s lyrics become even more haunting and disturbing.
“How shall I know my true love
From others now?
By his cockle hat and staff
And his sandal shoes.
He is dead and long gone,
Dead and gone, lady!
At his head green grass,
At his feet a stone. O, ho!
On his shroud white as snow
Many sweet flowers mourn.
They’ll go wet to the grave, alas,
Wet with love’s showers.”
Benjamin BRITTEN, On this Island Op. 11 (1936-1937) : “Now the leaves are falling fast”
Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden first met in the summer of 1935, when the General Post Office Film Unit hired them to write music and text to their documentaries. Auden was twenty-seven and had received recognition for his first volumes of poetry; Britten was twenty-one and had just left the Royal College of Music. His training had been very conservative, whereas Auden was aware of cultural avant-gardes; and Auden’s circle, committed to the political left, lived homosexuality as naturally as circumstances allowed it to, so Britten found himself at home. Musician and poet recognized each other’s value and also became friends, so a professional relationship began soon that lasted until 1942.
One of the first works of this fruitful collaboration is the song cycle On this Island, op. 11, which includes songs composed in May and October 1937. Four out of five songs are taken from poems from a collection published by Auden in 1936. Some people recognise in the first poem the cliffs of Dover, so the island in question would be Great Britain; other authors suggest it would be the Isle of Wight. There is a strong feeling of isolation translated into the music. It is interesting to note that On This Island comes from a particularly sombre time in Britten’s young adulthood, with the pain of his parents’ deaths – especially his mother – still fresh, and the unexpected death of his close friend Peter Burra. "Now the leaves are falling fast" has been interpreted by Humphrey Carpenter, Britten’s biographer, as being laced with sexual frustration.
“Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse’s flowers will not last;
Nurses to the graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.
Wisp’ring neighbours, left and right,
Pluck us from the real delight;
And the active hands must freeze
Lonely on the sep’rate knees.
Dead in hundreds at the back
Follow wooden in our track,
Arms raised stiffly to reprove
In false attitudes of love.
Starving through the leafless wood
Trolls run scolding for their food;
And the nightingale is dumb,
And the angel will not come.
Cold, impossible, ahead
Lifts the mountain’s lovely head
Whose white waterfall could bless
Travellers in their last distress.”
Jules MASSENET, Grisélidis: duo Le Diable / Grisélidis
Grisélidis is an opera by Jules Massenet with libretto by Armand Silvestre and Eugène Morand. It premiered in 1901 in Paris. It is based on the play by the same authors, which itself is drawn from a medieval tale. The story is set in 14th century Provence, and recounts the story of a virtuous shepherdess, Grisélidis, and the number of attempts by the Devil to lure her into infidelity. Grisélidis' loyalty to her husband, the Marquis, is strong, however, and the devil is eventually vanquished.
Grisélidis and her husband have a son and, as the Marquis departs on a crusade, his servants offer to lock up his wife in order to preserve her fidelity. Having complete trust in her, he rejects this suggestion. The devil overhears all this and, as he is unhappily married, appears to the Marquis, explaining to him that he and his wife get pleasure from deceiving husbands. The Marquis accepts the challenge and gives the Devil his ring as a pledge, then taking leave of his wife and son.
Grisélidis dreams sadly of her absent husband. The Devil and his wife approach her, disguised as a slave-trader and a Persian slave, showing her the ring to prove that the Marquis has rejected her. The Devil takes Loÿs, her child, away, and in this funny duet (at the end, the Devil gets burned by the holy water Grisélidis keeps throwing at him), now disguised as an obsequious old man, he tells Grisélidis that a pirate is holding Loÿs, describes the terrible things that might be happening to him, and says that this pirate will only release the child in exchange for a kiss from her. When the Marquis comes back, he sees Grisélidis running to the shore, but also the ring on the Devil’s finger, and realizes that he is now once and for all assured of the loyalty of his wife. The husband and wife are reunited and Loÿs is restored to them, to the song of a heavenly chorus.
[Illustration from the creation of the opera in 1901]
Gian Carlo MENOTTI, The Medium: The Black Swan
The Medium is a one-act opera written and composed by Gian-Carlo Menotti, which premiered in 1946 in New York.
Madame Flora (also called Baba), with the help of her daughter Monica and Toby, a mute servant, tries to cheat her clients through faked séances. During one of them, she is touched by a hand, an occurrence she cannot explain, and which drives her to insanity and anger. In an effort to calm Baba's drunken rage toward Toby, Monica sings to her this dark lullaby.
“The sun is falling and it lies in blood, the moon is weaving bandages of gold. Oh Black Swan, where oh where has my lover gone? I had given him a kiss of fire and a golden ring. With silver needles and with silver thread the stars stitch a shroud for the dying sun. Oh Black Swan, where oh where has my lover gone? Torn and tattered is my bridal crown, and my lamp is lost. Don't you hear your lover moan? Eyes of glass and feet of stone, shells for teeth and weeds for tongue, deep deep down in the river bed he's looking for the ring. Eyes wide open, never asleep, he's looking for the ring. The spools unravel and the needles break, the sun is buried and the stars weep. Oh black wave, oh black wave, take me away with you. I will share with you my golden hair and my bridal crown. Take me down with you, take me down to my wondering lover with my child unborn!”
Jacques OFFENBACH, Barbe-Bleue: duo Barbe-Bleue / Boulotte
Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard) is an operetta by Jacques Offenbach to a French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on Charles Perrault's 1697 tale. It was first performed in Paris in 1866, and it was a success, playing for 5 months!
Bluebeard has recently lost his fifth wife and sends his alchemist Popolani to the village to find a virginal young peasant girl who will become his next wife. Popolani decides to choose a wife by holding a raffle, but the winner turns out to be the anything but virginal Boulotte. However, Bluebeard is delighted with his new wife. This very funny duet happens in the cemetery, with Bluebeard joyously introducing Boulotte to his 5 buried former wives, explaining to her that she is going to be the sixth, and trying to show her how cool it is. Boulotte doesn’t really mind marrying him, but of course doesn’t want to die! Bluebeard then suggests her to recall a bad behaviour that she might have been ashamed of in the past, to find a “good reason” for her to die. Boulotte then enumerates all the lovers she has had before, and Bluebeard is astonished because he wasn’t really expecting that from his innocent wife! They finally end up both singing the advantages of changing lovers frequently.
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU, Dardanus: Monstre affreux (Dreadful monster)
Dardanus is an opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau, with libretto by Charles-Antoine Leclerc de La Bruère, which premiered at the Paris Opera in 1739. It was a mixed success, mainly because of the dramatic weakness of the libretto. This caused Rameau and La Bruère to rework the opera, completely rewriting the last three acts. Only when Dardanus was again performed in 1760 did it win acclaim as one of Rameau's greatest works.
The story is loosely based on the legend of Dardanus, the son of Zeus and Electra, an ancestor of the Trojans. Dardanus is at war with King Teucer, who has promised to marry his daughter Iphise to King Anténor. Dardanus and Iphise meet through the intervention of the magician Isménor and fall in love. Dardanus attacks a monster ravaging Teucer's kingdom, saving the life of Anténor who is attempting, unsuccessfully, to kill it. Teucer and Dardanus make peace, and Dardanus can marry Iphise.
Dardanus: “Here are the sad lands ravaged by the monster. Alas! If it were only myself who feared his fury, I would await on this shore to be his victim and not his vanquisher. Dreadful monster, fearsome monster, ah! How kind fate would be to me if he exposed me to no blows but yours! Dreadful monster, fearsome monster, ah! Love is much more terrible than you. At least against your fury there are weapons, but against his attacks one looks in vain for support; all efforts to destroy him only gives him new life and the very heart that tears him apart is in league with him.
What a noise! What a horrible storm! The waves rise up to the heavens; I hear the terrible voice of vengeful thunder; night wraps this place in a thick veil! Come forth from your deep caverns, cruel monster, come forth. Let your hideous face add to the horror that reigns over these waves. Nothing can daunt an unhappy lover. I see this fearsome monster. Come on!”
Charles GOUNOD, La Nonne sanglante: Rodolphe’s aria
La Nonne sanglante (The Bloody Nun) is a five-act opera by Charles Gounod that was premiered in 1854 at the Paris Opera. The libretto is loosely adapted by Eugène Scribe from an episode of The Monk, Matthew Lewis’s famous gothic novel.
Agnès is in love with Rodolphe, although the two families are perpetually at war with each other. Agnès’s castle is said to be haunted by the spectre of a bloody nun. The lovers agree that to escape, Agnès should disguise herself as the ghost of the nun and they will elope together at midnight. In this key aria, Rodolphe is waiting for her at their rendezvous, and describes the apparition of the nun, wondering why Agnès is so silent. He walks off with her, believing her to be his lover; but eventually it will turn out to be the ghost of the Bloody Nun.
“Now is the hour! Soon my Agnès shall appear, a white nun, carrying the lamp and the dagger! And yet! ... This spectre!... If it was real! Pale bride, if you hear me imploring the Lord for assistance, let your ashes forever icy, Nun, protect our love! Perhaps just like us, slave of the tyrants, your heart must have known love and its torments! But the bell rings... and from the immense vault a distant step has disturbed the silence. It’s Agnès!... Yes!... it’s Agnès!... It’s her! But whence... that suddenly... a feeling of mortal terror causes my heart to leap? I tremble and succumb to the horror that I feel and the coldness of the grave has chilled my senses! Just as the fateful legend was announcing it, behold, here’s the dagger...the sepulchral lamp and the blood staining her long white veil! Let’s go!... It’s Agnès!... It’s her! How long did the time seem to me, Agnès! Agnès, at last I’m seeing you again! You’re not answering! Immobile and trembling, are you afraid of following me? Ah! Calm your fear! Agnès, you are dear to me, and I assure you of my faith! By heaven and earth, I swear to be faithful to you!”
Giuseppe VERDI, Non t’accostare all’urna (text by Iacopo Vittorelli, 1835)
“Do not approach the urn which contains my bones; this compassionate earth is sacred to my sorrow. I refuse your flowers, I do not want your weeping; what use to the dead are a few tears and a few flowers? Cruel one! You should have come to help me when my life was ebbing away in slight and suffering. With what futile weeping do you assail the woods? Respect a sad shade, and let it sleep.”
Giuseppe VERDI, Un Ballo in maschera: Re dell’ abisso
Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball) is an opera composed in 1859 by Giuseppe Verdi, with libretto by Antonio Somma. It takes its inspiration from a French opera composed in 1833 by Daniel-François Esprit Auber to a libretto by Eugène Scribe, Gustave III ou Le Bal masqué. The plot is loosely based on a historical anecdote, the assassination in 1792 of King Gustav III of Sweden, who was shot, as the result of a political conspiracy, while attending a masked ball. He died of his wounds thirteen days later. The libretto was first refused by the Naples censors because a king was not supposed to be murdered on stage. Verdi turned the king into a Pomeranian duke, but it was not enough to satisfy the Italian censors, which led to the version we know: the action was transposed in Boston during the British colonial period, and the main character became the governor. As the United States is a democracy, they can kill whoever they want!
Riccardo, the governor of the town, reviews the list of the guests who are going to attend his forthcoming masked ball. He is delighted when he sees the name of the woman he is secretly in love with: Amelia, the wife of his friend and advisor, Renato, who is desperately trying to warn Riccardo about the growing conspiracy against him. Riccardo refuses to listen. He is then presented with a complaint against Ulrica, a fortune-teller accused of witchcraft. A magistrate calls for her banishment, but Oscar the page defends her. Riccardo resolves to investigate for himself and asks some members of the court to disguise themselves and to meet him at Ulrica's dwelling later in the day to check her activity. When he arrives with his companions, she summons Lucifer and gathers her magical powers in front of the assembly.
“King of the Abyss, hasten, fall across the heavens; without soaring, the flash comes through my roof. Now, three times the hoopoe has sighed from the heights; the fire-eating salamander has hissed three times… And the moaning from the graves has spoken to me three times! It's him! It's him! In my heartbeat I feel so deeply, now the intense pleasure being relighted in his terrible embrace! The shape of the future he holds in his left hand… Satisfied with my spell, he makes it shine brightly: nothing, nothing will be able to hide from my penetrating gaze!”
Rebecca CLARKE, The Seal Man
Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) was a composer and viola player who studied under Stamford at the Royal College of Music. She was selected by Sir Henry Wood to play in the Queen's Hall Orchestra in 1912, thereby becoming one of the first female professional orchestral musicians. Early in her career, she entered composing competitions, notably suffering in 1919 from reporters’ sexist assumptions that her music must have been written by a man, Ernest Bloch, under a pseudonym, such was its beauty. She became an active musician who toured internationally with a number of different ensembles (primarily all-female). She felt discouraged by the response to her composing, and suffered from depression, especially later in life, but there was a renewed interest in her work as she got older. Many of her works have only recently been published. Her style has been compared to Ravel and Debussy, although the influences are numerous.
Clarke wrote ‘The Seal Man’ in 1922 for the British baritone John Goss, with whom she was in a relationship for several years. It is now one of her most popular songs. The text comes from John Masefield’s A Mainsail Haul, first published in 1905. John Masefield was Poet Laureate for over 30 years (1930-1965), and is well-known for his poem ‘Sea-Fever’ which was famously set to music by John Ireland.
“And he came by her cabin to the west of the road, calling.
There was a strong love came up in her at that,
and she put down her sewing on the table, and "Mother," she says,
"There's no lock, and no key, and no bolt, and no door.
There's no iron, nor no stone, nor anything at all
will keep me this night from the man I love."
And she went out into the moonlight to him,
there by the bush where the flow'rs is pretty, beyond the river.
And he says to her: "You are all of the beauty of the world,
will you come where I go, over the waves of the sea?"
And she says to him: "My treasure and my strength," she says,
"I would follow you on the frozen hills, my feet bleeding."
Then they went down into the sea together,
and the moon made a track on the sea, and they walked down it;
it was like a flame before them. There was no fear at all on her;
only a great love like the love of the Old Ones,
that was stronger than the touch of the fool.
She had a little white throat, and little cheeks like flowers,
and she went down into the sea with her man,
who wasn't a man at all.
She was drowned, of course.
It's like he never thought that she wouldn't bear the sea like himself.
She was drowned, drowned.”
Felix MENDELSSOHN, 12 Gesänge, Op. 8 : “Hexenlied” (1870)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was admired and revered by many of the great musicians of his time. Robert Schumann called him “the Mozart of the nineteenth century”. A virtuoso pianist and an innovative, brilliant conductor with a phenomenal memory, he was a source of wonder for those who knew him. The poetry in Mendelssohn’s songs reflects the literary preferences of the period. Hexenlied (Witches’ Song) was one of Mendelssohn’s successful forays into the world of spirits. This fiery, rhythmic piece is the song of witches celebrating the pagan rite of spring. The dramatic piano introduction and bold text make this a very dramatic song and illustrates Mendelssohn’s ability to capture the mysterious and exotic world of the supernatural.
“The swallow soars, the spring outpours, her flowers for garlands entrancing ! Soon shall we glide away and ride, hey-day, to the spirited dancing! A buck that's black, a broomstick o' back, the prangs of a poker will pitch us; we'll ride a steed with light'ning speed direct to the mountain of witches ! The dancing bands all kiss the hands like claws that belong to the devil, while other swarms have grabbed our arms and brandish their torches in revel! Old Satan swears to make repairs with promise of marvellous pleasure : all spirits glad in silk are clad, unearthing great chestfuls of treasure. A dragon flies now down from the skies with presents of food for the table. The neighbours sight the sparks in flight and cross themselves as fast as they're able. The swallow soars, the spring outpours her flowers for garlands entrancing; soon shall we glide away and ride, hey-day, to the spirited dancing!”
4.30pm, Saturday 31 October
For performer information, click here
Charles GOUNOD, Faust : Le Veau d’or
Faust is an opera by Charles Gounod to a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré from Carré's play Faust et Marguerite, which in turn is loosely based on the first part of Goethe’s Faust. It premiered in 1859 in Paris.
Faust, an ageing scholar, realizes that his studies have come to nothing and have only caused him to miss out on life and love. He curses hope and faith, considers suicide and eventually asks for infernal guidance. Méphistophélès appears and, with a tempting image of Marguerite at her spinning wheel, persuades Faust to buy his services on Earth. Faust's goblet of poison is magically transformed into an elixir of youth, turning the aged doctor into a handsome young gentleman. Later on, in a tavern where students and soldiers are drinking, they meet Valentin, Marguerite’s brother, who entrusts the care of his sister to his friend Siébel. Méphistophélès appears, provides the crowd with wine, and sings this rousing, irreverent song about the golden calf, symbol of idolatry.
“The golden calf is still standing, his might is celebrated from one end of the world to the other! Nations and kings mix together to hail the infamous idol and to the sinister clink of coins, they whirl in a frenzied ring, round and round his pedestal! And Satan leads the dance! The golden calf triumphs over the gods; basking in his preposterous glory, the monster insults Heaven! He looks down ? O strange madness! On the human race at his feet sallying forth, sword in hand, through blood and filth, where the burning metal is shining! And Satan leads the dance!”
Robert PLANQUETTE, Rip ( 1882): Légende des Katskills
Rip Van Winkle is an operetta by French composer Robert Planquette, premiered in 1882 in London. The English libretto by Henry Brougham Farnie is loosely based on two short stories by Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. This extract comes from the French version, simply renamed Rip, on a libretto by the famous Henri Meilhac, and premiered in Paris in 1884 to less success than in London.
Easygoing Rip Van Winkle enjoys nothing better than relaxing at the inn with his friends. But finding himself one day in difficulties with the authorities, he flees to the nearby mountains, pursued by soldiers and townspeople. His loving wife (called Nelly in the French version), is also looking for him. In this duet, Rip tries to reassure Nelly that they will be rich one day, telling her the legend of the Old Sleepy Dutchman.
“In the Katskill Mountains you can see, when the night gets dark, a dwarf with a barrel who wants to offer you a drink! Tra la la ah! Trala la ah! And voices can be heard, murmuring in the huge woods. Come to us, and you’ll see, the fire and the radiance of gold and diamonds, of the pearls from Golkonda, of treasures that all the kings in the world would envy. Turn a deaf ear, run away, conjure fate, beware! It takes nothing to wake up the old Dutchman who sleeps! Death has sent them all to sleep: the sailors, the Captain, heaps of gold are hidden in their funeral territory. Tra la la ah! Trala la ah!”
Gaston SERPETTE, Le Carnet du diable: duo Belphégor / Sataniella
A rather forgotten composer, Gaston Serpette (1846-1904) was active during the second half of the 19th Century. English critic Andrew Lamb stated that “Serpette was destined to remain, with Varney, Vasseur, Roger and Lacome, in the shadow of composers such as Planquette, Audran and, later, Messager.” He studied with Ambroise Thomas in Paris, and a significant number of his operas were either translated into English, or directly created from English librettos for the West End. He was very charismatic and his works were famous for being too salacious for the English audience! Le Carnet du Diable (The Devil's Notebook), premiered in 1895, was even the subject of an article entitled “Indecency in Paris.”
In this funny duet, Sataniella and Belphégor, two devilishly comical creatures, tell how they travel around the world, having booked their tickets at the Thomas Cook travel agency.
“SATANIELLA: Kings of a transatlantic island between Corsica and Timbuktu,
BELPHEGOR: In order to observe politics, we travel everywhere across the globe.
S: Changing our manners and customs, curious but not astonished,
B: We steal along with its costumes the pure chic of each and every country.
Both: And not by calculation, but according to our fancy, for the Belphegors are more covered in gold than any Asian king, to see Paris, we bought in Pernambuco our tickets at the Cook Agency.
S: But this morning our translator asked us, what are your plans for tonight?
B: The Vespétros are having a party, and they’d be so happy to see you.
S: A bunch of haunting beauties will resurrect Paphos there,
B: So let’s start at the botanical garden, and we’ll end up at Vespétros.”
Charles GOUNOD, La Nonne sanglante (1854) : Mon fils me fuit en vain (Luddorf)
La Nonne sanglante (The Bloody Nun), is a five-act opera by Charles Gounod that premiered in 1854 at the Paris Opera. The libretto is loosely adapted by Eugène Scribe from an episode of The Monk, Matthew Gregory Lewis’s famous gothic novel.
Agnès is in love with Rodolphe, although the two families are perpetually at war with each other. Agnès’s castle is said to be haunted by the bloody figure of a nun. The lovers agree that to escape, Agnès should disguise herself as the ghost of the nun and they will elope together at midnight. But Rodolphe ends up walking off with the ghost of the nun, believing it to be the real Agnès. From now on, he is haunted every single night by the nun who reminds him of his vows. She eventually reveals that he can only break the spell by killing the man who murdered her, who turns out to be Rodolphe’s own father, Luddorf. At the end of the opera, Luddorf is consumed by guilt, and expresses in this aria his will to accept punishment for his crime.
“My son flees from me in vain... Ah! Towards this guilty son I want to be terrible, inexorable! Me, speaking of punishment! No! Heaven pursues me, it is I who should tremble. The memory of the crime haunts my mind, Agnès will strike us down. I can already feel her blows! Twenty years of remorse haven’t appeased her! She lays her wrath on me, on all my family! Deplorable victim of my fury, you, who once perished by my hand, have mercy! Grant that I may conceal my crime; may my punishment be enough to satisfy you. My noble son must remain ignorant of it; strike, I’m ready to die! But before dying, may I at least be able to see my son one last time to embrace him!”
Joaquín TURINA (1882 – 1949) Canto a Sevilla (1925) : V - “El Fantasma”
Turina studied music in Seville, Madrid and Paris, where he took composition lessons from Vincent d'Indy. Most of his work shows the influence of traditional Andalusian music. Canto a Sevilla is a poem for voice and orchestra composed in 1926, and is a rich and contrasted tribute to Seville, his birthplace and one of his main sources of inspiration. It is composed of seven pieces. “El Fantasma” is the fifth song of the cycle, and the most mysterious. It evokes a vision that really happened to an eyewitness at one of the crossroads of the neighbourhood of Santa Cruz.
“Along the mysterious streets, at night, a ghost is prowling around, leaving a rumour of sighs and chains, when it passes by. At his sight, the dogs bark and the crows are frightened, tearing the tulle of the shadows with the edge of their wings. Like a wretched prophecy, its arrival is expected and even the bravest young man flinches when he feels it. Where is it going and where is it from? For sure we know nothing; but it is said that it is Love, who wanders masked.”
Igor STRAVINSKY, The Rake's Progress: Come, master, observe the host of mankind (Nick Shadow)
The Rake’s Progress is an English opera by Igor Stravinsky, which premiered in Venice in 1951. The libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman is based upon the famous 18th Century painting series of the same name by William Hogarth. The story tells the decline and fall of Tom Rakewell, who leaves Anne Trulove for the delights of London in the company of Nick Shadow, who turns out to be the Devil. After several misadventures, all initiated by the evil Shadow, Tom ends up in Bedlam, a hospital for the insane. The moral of the tale is: "For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds work to do."
In this aria, Nick Shadow is trying to convince Tom, who is bored of his dissolute life and expresses his wish to find happiness, to marry the bearded lady Baba the Turk. Only thus will he be able to prove himself that he is the own master of his destiny, and therefore find freedom.
“Come, master, observe the host of mankind. How are they? Wretched. Why? because they are not free. Why? because the giddy multitude are driven by the unpredictable "Must" of their pleasures. And the sober few are bound by the inflexible « Ought" of their duty. Between which slaveries there is nothing to choose. Would you be happy? Then learn to act freely. Would you act freely? Then learn to ignore those twin tyrants of appetite and conscience. Therefore, I counsel you, master: take Baba the Turk to wife. Consider her picture once more, and, as you do so, reflect upon my words.
In youth the panting slave pursues the fair evasive dame. Then, caught in colder fetters, woos, wealth, office, or a name. Till, old, dishonoured, sick, downcast and failing in his wits, in virtue's narrow cell at last the withered bondsman sits. That man alone his fate fulfills. For he alone, for he alone is free who chooses what to will, and wills his choice as destiny. No eye his future can foretell, no law his past explain, whom neither passion may compel, nor reason can restrain.”
Franz SCHUBERT, Erlkönig, text by Goethe
This song was composed by Schubert in 1815, when he was only 18, to a poem by Goethe. Set as a dialogue, it recounts the tale of the Erlking, an evil creature from German mythology that haunts the forests and leads the travellers to death.
“Who rides so late through the night and wind?
It is the father with his child. He has the boy in his arms; he holds him safely, he keeps him warm.
‘My son, why do you hide your face in fear?’
‘Father, can you not see the Erlking? The Erlking with his crown and tail?’
‘My son, it is a streak of mist.’
‘Sweet child, come with me. I’ll play wonderful games with you. Many a pretty flower grows on the shore; my mother has many a golden robe.’
‘Father, father, do you not hear what the Erlking softly promises me?’
‘Calm, be calm, my child: the wind is rustling in the withered leaves.’
‘Won’t you come with me, my fine lad? My daughters shall wait upon you; my daughters lead the nightly dance, and will rock you, and dance, and sing you to sleep.’
‘Father, father, can you not see Erlking’s daughters there in the darkness?’
‘My son, my son, I can see clearly: it is the old grey willows gleaming.’
‘I love you, your fair form allures me, and if you don’t come willingly, I’ll use force.’
‘Father, father, now he’s seizing me! The Erlking has hurt me!’
The father shudders, he rides swiftly, he holds the moaning child in his arms; with one last effort he reaches home; the child lay dead in his arms.”
(Translation by Richard Wigmore).
Louis CLAPISSON, Les Mystères d’Udolphe: Ô vision épouvantable
Louis Clapisson is another forgotten 19th Century French composer. He was influenced by Gounod, Meyerbeer and Halévy, and was highly praised in his time by Berlioz, although they were rivals; but he was rather conformist, represented the old school of composers, and was mocked by composers of the young generation, such as Bizet and Paladilhe. He was often inspired by gothic themes and has composed a collection of gothic songs. Les Mystères d’Udolphe - with a libretto by Eugène Scribe and Germain Delavigne, the most famous librettists of the time - was premiered in 1852 in Paris.
The action is set in Denmark, at the Udolpho castle, in 1718. Eva is the niece of the keeper of the castle, and also the gossip of the neighborhood. The castle is haunted and Eva sees ghosts appearing virtually everywhere.
Christine shows up at the castle late at night and presents herself as a young embroiderer, who had to leave Copenhagen and has just been recruited to be Suzanne’s lady in waiting. Suzanne is the daughter of the count of Udolpho, and a young widow, having lost her husband at war three months ago. Eva takes Christine’s coat to put it into a wardrobe, and when she opens it, a young man appears, dressed as a sailor. Both ladies shout, thinking that he is one of the numerous ghosts of the castle. During the trio, Christine discovers that he is Arved, the son of the admiral of Norby (and also, we’ll find out later, coincidently Suzanne’s brother in law), her former lover, who she had to reject in Copenhagen because, despite being from noble lineage, she is an orphan and too poor, thinking therefore that she could never become his wife.
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908 – 1992) Poèmes pour Mi : IV - Epouvante (“Terror”)
Olivier Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi (1936) stands as his first major song cycle and his first vocal work to be orchestrated. Originally written for soprano and piano, the work appeared in an orchestral version in 1937. It was dedicated to the composer's first wife, violinist Claire Delbos ("Mi" was his nickname for her, as the highest string on a violin).
The cycle was written during a time of experimentation in which Messiaen began to explore different rhythmic systems. Greek and Indian metres and rhythmic patterns are in evidence, and foreshadow the significance that rhythm was to have in all of his later music. The piano version is free of a time signature and bar lines, allowing the performers a greater rhythmic flexibility for shaping the floating melodic lines, resulting in subtle colourings.
Poèmes pour Mi is a sentimental and deeply personal work that explores the spiritual aspects of marriage. The cycle consists of two books containing nine songs, four in the first book, five in the second. The theme of the first book is the preparation for marriage whilst the second book is concerned with marriage as a sacrament, a spiritual union. The text for the cycle, as with all of Messiaen's vocal works, was written by the composer. Throughout the work, dramatic declamations depicting the trials and terrors of the natural world (“Epouvante” is one of those) are balanced by brief and quiet forays into the intimacies of the couple's relationship.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha! Do not bury your memories in the ground, you would not find them anymore. Do not pull, do not crease, do not tear.
Bloody scraps would follow you in the darkness as a triangular vomit, and the noisy shock of rings on the irreparable door would give rhythm to your despair, to satisfy the powers of the fire. Ha, ha, ha, ho!”
Gian-Carlo MENOTTI, The Medium: Afraid, am I afraid?
The Medium is a one-act opera written and composed by Gian-Carlo Menotti which premiered in 1946 in New York.
Madame Flora (also called Baba), with the help of her daughter Monica and Toby, a mute servant, tries to cheat her clients through faked séances. During one of them, she is touched by a hand, an occurrence she cannot explain, and which drives her to insanity and anger, especially towards Toby. In this scene, whilst pouring herself another drink, she reflects on her own sanity, slowly becoming completely wild with drink, and eventually passing out.
“Afraid, am I afraid? Madame Flora afraid! Can it be that I'm afraid? In my young days I have seen many terrible things! Women screaming as they were murdered, and men's hands dripping with blood, and men haunted by knives. And little grotesque children drained white by the voraciousness of filth, and loathsome old men insane with vice, and young men with cankers crawling on their flesh like hungry lizards. This I've seen, and more, and never been afraid. O God Forgive my sins, I'm sick and old. Forgive my sins and give me peace! What ill wind shakes my hand? What unseen ghost stands by my side? No, no, it cannot be the dead! The dead... the dead.
The dead never come back. They sink down in the dust with no eyes to dream and no silence to keep, a secrets to hide, gone, empty, nothing, nothing.
"O black swan, where, oh, where is my lover gone?”
Who is there?
"O black swan, O black swan. "
Nothing, but then if there is nothing to be afraid of why am I afraid of this nothingness? I must forget about it, laugh at it, yes, laugh at it! O God, forgive my sins, I'm sick and old.”
POLDOWSKI, Nocturne des cantilènes, (Nocturne of the Cantilenas)
Poldowski was the professional pseudonym of Belgian-born British composer and pianist Régine Wieniawski (1879 – 1932), daughter of the Polish violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski. Some of her early works were published under the name Irène Wieniawska. Her mother, Isabelle Bessie Wieniawski, was the niece of Irish pianist and composer George Alexander Osborne (who was a close friend of Frédéric Chopin and Hector Berlioz) and a member of a London family that had had connections with Rossini, Meyerbeer, Jenny Lind, Michael William Balfe and Anton Rubinstein. The text of this gripping song about a carpenter who builds coffins is by famous symbolist poet Jean Moréas.
“Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock! He nails in a hurry, knock! Knock! The carpenter of the dead.
Good carpenter, good carpenter, in the fir tree, in the walnut tree, cut a very big and heavy coffin, so that can I bury my love in it. Let it have white satin, just like his teeth; and put also blue ribbons, just like his eyes.
Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock! He nails in a hurry, knock! Knock! The carpenter of the dead.
There, by the creek, under the elm, at the time when the the cuckoo sings, another one kissed her in the neck».”
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 - 1921), Danse macabre Op. 40
The Danse Macabre (the Dance of Death) is an allegory from the late Middle Ages on the universality of death. It consists of a personification of death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave. It was produced as a memento mori, to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life.
The dance begins at the stroke of midnight (perhaps Halloween) in a graveyard. Listen for the 12 strokes of the distant bell quietly tolling right at the beginning. The skeletal dancers are represented by the brittle chords as they mimic back to the melody as a response to the theme. Soon the skeletons arise from their graves and begin dancing to the devil’s unearthly tune. The knowledgeable listener may be able to hear the “dies irae” chant (a melody from the traditional requiem about the “Day of Wrath” that has often been used in musical personifications of Death), lightheartedly played in a major key. The devil does his work and the frenetic and frenzied dancing goes faster and faster until it stops abruptly when we hear the rooster crow. So effectively did the composer capture the rattle of bones and devilish playfulness of the poem, that “Danse Macabre” was initially rejected by the public as too dark and demonic when it was premiered in 1875.
“Zig and zig and zig, death rhythmically taps upon a tomb with its heel; death at midnight plays a dance song, zig and zig and zig on its violin! The winter wind blows and the night is gloomy, a groan comes from the lime trees; white skeletons move through the shadows, running and jumping under their large shrouds.
Zig and zig and zig, everyone is moving, one can hear the bones of the dancers banging! A lascivious couple sits upon the moss as if to taste old pleasures again.
Zig and zig and zag, death continues, scraping forever its harsh-sounding violin. A veil has fallen! The dancer is naked! Her partner squeezes her amorously. It is said that the lady would be a marchioness or a baroness, and the crude gallant a poor wheelwright! Horror! And look, she gives herself to him as if the boor was a baron!
Zig and zig and zig, what a saraband! What circles of the dead, all holding hands!
Zig and zig and zag, one can see in the crowd a king frolicking with a peasant! But shh! Suddenly the dance is over, one makes way, another one flees: the rooster has crowed; oh! What a beautiful night for the poor world! And long live Death and Equality !”
Haunted by my love
6pm, Saturday 31 October
For performer information, click here
Piotr Illitch TCHAIKOVSKY, The Queen of Spades (1890): Tomsky’s aria
The Queen of Spades is a Russian opera by Tchaikovsky written to a Russian libretto by his brother, Modest Tchaikovsky, itself based on the 1834 short story by Pushkin. It premiered in 1890 in St. Petersburg.
During the reign of Catherine the Great in St Petersburg, Herman, a young officer, tells his old friend Tomsky that he is in love with a mysterious girl. Prince Yeletsky introduces them to his fiancée, Liza, who has just appeared with her grandmother, the old Countess. Herman realizes that Liza is his unknown beloved. When Yeletsky and the women leave, Tomsky tells the story of the Countess: known as the Queen of Spades and formerly as the Muscovite Venus, due to her beauty, she succeeded at gambling in her youth by trading amourous favours for the Count St. Germain in Paris. Tomsky says only two men, her husband and, later on, her young lover, ever learned the secret of the winning sequence of three special cards, because she was warned by an apparition to beware of a third suitor who would kill her trying to force it from her.
“Then listen to me! Many years ago, in Paris, the Countess was a famous beauty. All the young men were mad about her, and she was known as "the Moscow Venus". Count Saint Germain, who was then still a handsome man, was one of her admirers, but his sighs for the Countess were unavailing! The beauty spent her whole nights gaming and alas! preferred Pharaon to love. Once at Versailles at the "Jeu de la Reine" the Moscow Venus had lost her last penny. Count Saint Germain was among the guests; following her from the tables, he heard her murmur in despair.
“O heaven! O heaven. I could recoup all my losses, if I could only have once more those three cards, three cards, three cards"!
The Count, cleverly choosing his moment, when, as she left unnoticed the crowded hall, the beauty was sitting silent and alone, whispered amorously into her ear words sweeter than the sweetest Mozart:
"Countess, in return for a single rendez-vous, I am ready, if you will, to name you those three cards, three cards, three cards"!
The Countess blazed "how dare you?" but the Count was no coward. And when a day later the beauty was seen once again, alas! Without a penny in her pocket at the "Jeu dc la Reine" She already knew the three cards... Playing them boldly, one after the other, she won back her fortune, but at what a price! O cards, cards, cards!
Once she told her husband those cards, on another occasion a handsome boy learned them, but on that very night, no sooner was she alone than an apparition warned her threateningly "You will receive your death-blow from the third who, impelled by burning passion, comes to force from you the knowledge of those three cards, those three dread cards!”
Hector BERLIOZ, La Damnation de Faust (1846): Chanson gothique
La damnation de Faust is a “dramatic legend” by French composer Hector Berlioz that was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1846. The libretto, by Almire Gandonnière and Berlioz himself, is based on Goethe’s play.
The aging scholar Faust is depressed; even the search for wisdom no longer inspires him. Tired of life, he is about to commit suicide when suddenly Méphistophélès appears. He offers to take him on a journey, promising him the restoration of his youth, knowledge, and the fulfillment of all his wishes. Faust accepts. Amongst other adventures, Méphistophélès shows Faust a dreamy vision of a beautiful woman named Marguerite, causing Faust to fall in love with her. He promises to lead Faust to her. When Marguerite sings this ballad about the King of Thule, who always remained sadly faithful to his lost love, she is not aware that Faust and Méphistophélès are hiding in her bedroom, observing her.
“Once there was a king of Thule, who was faithful until death. He received, on his loved one’s death, a carved cup of gold. As it never left him in the happiest suppers, a light tear always moistened his eyes. This prince, at the end of his life, bequeathed his land and his gold, except the dear cup that he still kept in his hand. He made his barons and peers sit at his table, in the middle of the ancient hall of a castle bathed by the sea. The drinker stands and goes to an old gilded balcony; he drinks, and suddenly his hand throws the sacred cup into the waves! The cup falls; the water bubbles, then it is calm again. The old man grows pale and shudders; he will not drink again.”
Arrigo BOITO, Mefistofele (1868) : L’altra notte in fondo al mare
Arrigo Boito was an Italian composer and librettist, mostly remembered for having been one of Verdi’s most prolific librettists. Mefistofele, a large metaphysical fresco that combines many influences, is his only completed opera. It premiered in 1868, and is one of many pieces of classical music based on the Faust legend.
Mefistofele bets that he will manage to corrupt the old scholar Faust, an example of virtue and wisdom. He suggests a pact to him: Faust will give him his soul in exchange for a moment of happiness of a unique intensity. Miraculously rejuvenated, the philosopher meets the young and innocent Marguerite, and after participating in a witches’ Sabbath with his evil companion, abandons her. Marguerite, distressed, is thrown in prison and accused of poisoning her mother and drowning her own child.
“Last night into the bottom of the sea they threw my little boy. In order to drive me mad, they are saying that I have drowned him. The air is cold, the cell is gloomy, and my sad soul, like the sparrow in the woods, flies, flies away. Ah! Pity me! Into a funeral lethargy my mother is sleeping, and, horror of horrors, they are saying that I have poisoned her.”
Michael KELLY, Bluebeard or Female curiosity: When pensive I thought of my love
The music of this dramatic play by George Colman the younger was written by Irish composer Michael Kelly, better known as a leading Mozart tenor of the age, and it premiered in 1798 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. It is based on the French folktale of the same name by Charles Perrault, and French 18th Century composer Grétry’s Raoul Barbe-Bleue.
The lovers Selim and Fatima are betrothed to marry each other, but Fatima’s father Ibrahim forces her to marry Abomelique (Bluebeard), to improve his class standing and for money. They get married, and before the wedding night, Abomelique says he has to leave, giving her all the keys to the rooms in the castle for her to explore and have access to. He includes keys to the Blue Chamber, telling her she can enter all rooms except this one, under death punishment. While this is happening, Selim tries to find a way to get her back by forming an army. Meanwhile, Fatima is encouraged by her sister, Irene, to enter the Blue Chamber. There, she finds a tomb and the corpses of Bluebeard’s dead wives. When Bluebeard comes back and sees the broken key of the Blue Chamber, he knows she opened the room. He threatens to kill her, but she asks for some time to pray. Selim arrives in time to save her and kill Bluebeard. Selim and Fatima are reunited.
“When pensive I thought of my love, the moon on the mountains was bright and Philomel down in the grove broke sweetly the silence of night: oh I wish that the teardrop would flow, but felt too much anguish to weep. Till warm with the weight of my woe, I sunk on my pillow to sleep. Me thoughts that my love, as I lay, his ringlets all clotted with gore, in the paleness of Death, seemed to say, alas, we must never meet more. Yes, yes, my beloved, we must part, the steel of my rival was true; the assassin has struck on that heart which beats with such fervour for you.”
Benjamin BRITTEN, The Turn of the Screw: Mrs Grose’s aria
The Turn of the Screw is a 20th-century English opera composed by Benjamin Britten, based on the short story of the same name by Henry James. It premiered in Venice in 1954.
A young governess has been hired by their uncle to take care of two children at Bly House. He lives in London and is too busy to care for them. After hiring her, he lays three stipulations on the Governess: never to write to him about the children, never to inquire about the history of Bly House, and never to abandon the children. The Governess is apprehensive about her new position, but when she arrives at Bly House, Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, and the children Miles and Flora greet her welcomingly and lead her off to explore the beautiful land around the house. But suddenly the Governess is troubled by a pale-faced man perched on a tower of the house. When he disappears, she is frightened and starts wondering if she has seen a ghost. When she tells Mrs. Grose about it, the latter recognizes that it is the valet and the former governess, Quint and Miss Jessel, who had an evil influence on both children and who have been haunting the house and grounds since their death.
Mrs. Grose: “Dear God, is there no end to his dreadful ways? Dear God, dear God, is there no end? Dear God, dear God! Quint, Peter Quint! The Master’s valet. Left here in charge. It was not for me to say, Miss, no indeed, I had only to see the house. But I saw things, elsewhere, I did not like, when Quint was free with ev'ry one, with little Master Miles! Hours they spent together. Yes, Miss. He made free with her, too, lovely Miss Jessel, governess to those pets, those angels, those innocent babes. And she a lady, so far above him. Dear God, is there no end? But he had ways to twist them round his little finger. He liked them pretty, I can tell you, Miss, and he had his will morning and night.”
Governess: “But why did you not tell your master? Write to him? Send for him to come?”
Mrs. Grose: “I dursn’t. He never liked worries. ’Twas not my place. They were not in my charge. Quint was too clever. I feared him, fear’d what he could do… No, Mr. Quint, I did not like your ways! And then she went. She couldn’t stay not then. She went away to die.”
Governess: “To die? And Quint?”
Mrs. Grose: “He died too. Fell on the icy road, struck his head lay there, till morning, dead! Dear God, is there no end to his dreadful ways?”
Robert PLANQUETTE, Rip van Winkle (1882): Now the twilight
Rip Van Winkle is an operetta by French composer Robert Planquette, premiered in 1882 in London. The English libretto by Henry Brougham Farnie is loosely based on the short stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving.
Easygoing Rip Van Winkle enjoys nothing better than relaxing at the inn with his friends. But finding himself one day in difficulties with the authorities, he flees to the nearby mountains, pursued by soldiers and townspeople. His loving wife, Gretchen, is also looking for him, as she expresses in this aria. Later, exhausted by the chase, Rip falls into a deep sleep and has a dream, in which he is met by a mountain spirit who transforms himself into a huge snake, and then into three more spirits. After that, Rip is confronted by a gathering of apparitions, who tell him that he must sleep for 20 years.
“Now the twilight shadows are stealing over the village more and more, but yet a deeper shadow I’m feeling, darkening around my cottage door! Ah, how eagerly I would listen till his familiar voice I’d hear! And my glad eyes with joy drops would glisten, but now with a tear... Where so ever thou may’st roam, far from the loved ones, far from thy home, may hope return with morning light, Heaven give thee good night, my own, good night! Now the peaceful vespers are ringing, good will to earth from heaven above, this is the hour that should now be bringing heart close to heart in perfect love! But the sacred litany stealing, Requiem like, over the parting day, to my spirit, alas! rings no healing, for he is away!”
Pietro MASCAGNI, Guglielmo Ratcliff (1895): D’indole dolce e mansueta
Guglielmo Ratcliff is an italian opera by Pietro Mascagni composed directly from a translation by Andrea Maffei of a German play by Heinrich Heine. It was premiered in 1895 in Milan. The huge success of his previous opera Cavalleria rusticana (1890) gave Mascagni the motivation to complete this opera. It looked back to the principles of the Scapigliatura movement in vogue in Italy between 1870 and 1890. This brotherhood of young artists attempted to revitalise Italian culture through foreign influences, notably from German Romanticism (Heine, Goethe, Hoffmann), French Bohemians (Théophile Gautier, Gérard de Nerval, Baudelaire), and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The group also helped with the introduction of Wagner’s music into Italy.
North Scotland, 1820. In her room, Maria is preparing for her wedding to Count Douglas. She tells her nurse the circumstances in which she fell in love with him, and it reminds her nurse of the sinister story of Maria’s mother, Elisa. Before she married MacGregor (Maria’s father), Elisa had been in love with Edward, (Guglielmo Ratcliff's father), but both married others. Edward and Elisa later realized their mistake and became lovers. When MacGregor found out, he murdered Edward, and Elisa died from grief.
Gugliemo Ratcliff, haunted by the ghost of his father, then bursts into Maria's room covered in blood from his unsuccessful duel with Douglas and begs Maria to run away with him. With her mother's story still on her mind and thinking that she might be doing the same mistake, Maria at first feels pity for Guglielmo, but then asks him to leave. Her refusal drives Guglielmo mad. He kills both Maria and her father who rushes into the room after hearing her calls for help. Ratcliff then commits suicide.
“At a first glance, he seemed to be of a sweet and gentle nature. It seemed that I had noticed his face. The sound of that voice was gentle, and there was almost a sense of wellness on my cheek, produced by his breath. And his eyes, o how dear, how sweet, they used to look at me cheerfully! But suddenly I saw him changing into a ghost; astonished, suffused with the pallor of an extinct man, and so furious, like this, like this, so, and so threatening, as if he wanted to pierce me. He seemed to me that he was almost the same as that male-faced ghost that I often see in my dreams, who stretches his arms out to me, and who keeps his eyes fixed for a long time; and with such ardor of love, I feel transformed into a vain aerial form, and I open and stretch my nebulous arms to him, like this, like this, I open and stretch my nebulous arms to him.”
VERDI, Cupo è il sepolcro e mutolo (1843)
This song was composed by Verdi in 1843 on an Italian translation of a German poem ("Das Grab ist tief und stille" by Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis) that had been already set to music several times by Schubert.
“The tomb is dark and silent; its edges infuse fear; it hides through a dark veil an unknown territory. There, the singing of the nightingale is silent; its grassy soils don’t touch the roses of friendship. In vain the sorrowful widow damages her chest and pulls her hair: the cry of the young orphan girl doesn’t reach its depth. And yet there is ultimate peace, that man desires; only that dark road takes to the true homeland. Poor heart! Continuously shaken by sufferings down here, it finds finally peace when it stops beating.”
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK, Orphée et Eurydice: Spectre chorus and Amour, viens rendre à mon âme
Orphée et Eurydice is an opera composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck, based on the myth of Orpheus. It was first performed to an Italian libretto in Vienna in 1762, in the presence of Empress Maria Theresa. In 1859, Hector Berlioz revised it with a French libretto to adapt the role of Orpheus, initially composed for a counter-tenor, for mezzo-soprano (he had Pauline Viardot in mind).
This scene happens when Orpheus arrives in the Underworld to get Eurydice, and is greeted by the Furies and Cerberus, who refuse to admit him. He then sings this impressive aria to give himself courage.
Spectre chorus : “Who is this who draws near to us, through the gloom of Erebus, in the footsteps of Hercules and of Pirithous? May the savage Eumenides overwhelm him with horror, and the howls of Cerberus terrify him if he is not a god.”
Orpheus: “Love, come and give back to my soul your most ardent flame; for the one that sets me on fire, I will brave death. Hell in vain separates us, all the Tartare monsters don't scare me. I feel my flame grow, I will brave death.”
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848), Maria de Rudenz (1838) : “Sì, del chiostro penitente... Sulla mia tomba gelida”
Maria de Rudenz is an opera in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti with libretto by Salvadore Cammarano. It premiered in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice in January 1838. The opera derives its title, imagery and some motifs from the very popular Gothic novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Monk, while straying from that book’s explicit plot line. The selection of the French play as their main source (La Nonne sanglante), with its extreme Gothic sensibility, and the use of the figure of the bleeding nun, shows just how au courant Donizetti and his librettist really were with the Romantic movement in music and literature.
The action is set in Switzerland in 1400. Maria de Rudenz falls in love with Corrado against her father's wish and flees with him to Venice. After a few months, Corrado suspects that Maria is unfaithful to him, abandons her, returns to the Rudenz Castle area and falls in love with Maria's cousin Mathilde. Maria manages to return to her ancestors’ castle, discovers that her lover is not only going to marry her cousin, but that he also is the son of a murderer. She offers him to keep this secret safe if he returns to her, but Corrado refuses, and with rage injures her with his sword, leaving her for dead. On Mathilde and Corrado's wedding day, Maria appears again, unveils his secret to everybody, murders Mathilde and commits suicide.
In this aria, at the beginning of the opera, Maria has just returned home from Venice to her castle of Rudenz, seeking Corrado. She expresses her desire to retire into the convent to pray for forgiveness. She tells her cousin Rambaldo that she will soon die unseen to the world, and urges him to tell Corrado that she will have died whilst still loving him.
“Yes, I will forever embrace the veil of the penitent cloister: only the ardent yearning of my heart is able to calm the heavens. I will ask, lamenting, to God, the forgiveness of this error! My whole existence will be a cry of pain.
Upon my icy grave, too late, but pious, in his crying remorse, he will then come at the sound of my sorrows. From my last rest will only remain my ashes, and they will exhale love. If you see again the cruel one who prepared my grave, you will tell him : she is gone, but she died faithful to you.”