Thursday, March 06, 2003

[3/6/2011] Special: Remembering Margaret Price, Part 3 -- as Mozart's Fiordiligi (continued)


Price with tenor Luigi Alva while they were recording Fiordiligi and Ferrando with Otto Klemperer in London's Kingsway Hall, 1971

I know last night I suggested we were going to cover Price's Fiordiligi and Pamina (in The Magic Flute), but I laid the whole thing out end to end and it stretched to infinity. So we've got that as a dangling piece, plus Price's non-Mozart repertory plus of course the song repertory that was so important to her. That will all have to await some future week.

Now for our quick tour of her Fiordiligi.

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; Yvonne Minton (ms), Dorabella; Luigi Alva (t), Ferrando; Geraint Evans (b), Guglielmo; Hans Sotin (bs), Don Alfonso; Otto Freudenthal, harpsichord; John Alldis Choir, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1971
AFTERTHOUGHT: I had it in mind to explain that the omission of the sisters' maid, Despina, from our quick tour wasn't premeditated. I was simply stripping the opera down to the excerpts I thought absolutely essential to a basic sense of Fiordiligi, and Despina just didn't come into any of those excerpts. In particular, no deprecation was intended of Klemperer's very solid Despina, Lucia Popp.

Regular readers should be used to the fact that whenever possible we start our peeks at operas where the operas themselves start, meaning in general the overture. So here goes.


In Scene 1, we've seen best buddies Ferrando and Guglielmo defending in the most extravagant terms the perfect fidelity of their cherished fiancées, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, to their cynical old friend Don Alfonso. Alfonso has challenged them to a test of their paragons' fidelity, and they have accepted his wager, with the condition that they have to go along with whatever he instructs them to do to set up the challenge. In Scene 2, we meet the sisters, who proclaim their lovers' perfection as resolutely as the men celebrated theirs.

Act I, No. 4, Duet, Fiordiligi and Dorabella,
"Ah, guarda sorella"
[A garden by the seashore. FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA are both gazing at miniatures hanging round their necks.]

FIORDILIGI: Ah tell me, sister,
If one could ever find
A nobler face,
A sweeter mouth.
DORABELLA: Just look,
See what fire
Is in his eye,
If flames and darts
Do not seem to flash forth!
FIORDILIGI: This is the face
Of a soldier and a lover.
DORABELLA: This is a face
both charming and alarming.
If ever my heart
changes its affection,
may love make me
live in pain.

Margaret Price (s), Yvonne Minton (ms)

Now Alfonso begins to put his plan in motion. Taking advantage of the fact that a regiment is sailing for battle, he brings the sisters breathless news that their sweethearts have been called up to join the fighting force. The women react as badly as might be imagined to this "news," and in this astonishing quintet the me, while concenaling their true reactions, have a very different take on the situation.

Act I, No. 7, Quintet, Guglielmo, Ferrando, Don Alfonso,
Fiordiligi, and Dorabella, "Sento, o Dio"
GUGLIELMO: O Heaven, I feel my steps falter
In their progress towards you.
FERRANDO: My trembling lips
Cannot utter the words.
DON ALFONSO: In moments of the greatest stress
A hero calls up all his strength.
FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA: Now that we have heard the news,
One detail remains for you to do;
Be brave, and plunge your blade
Into this heart.
FERRANDO and GUGLIELMO: My love, blame fate
If I must abandon you.
DORABELLA [to GUGLIELMO]: No, no, do not go!
FIORDILIGI [to FERRANDO]: Cruel one, do not leave me!
DORABELLA: I would sooner tear my heart out!
FIORDILIGI: I would sooner die at your feet!
FERRANDO [aside, to DON ALFONSO]: What did I say?
GUGLIELMO [aside, to DON ALFONSO]: Do you see now?
DON ALFONSO [aside]: Patience, friend;
We've not reached the end yet!
ALL: Thus destiny confounds
Our mortal hopes.
Ah who, amid such sorrow,
Can ever more delight in life?

Geraint Evans (b), Luigi Alva (t), Hans Sotin (bs), Margaret Price (s), Yvonne Minton (ms)

Just to pull things together, here's Scene 2 from the opening duet as far as the quintet we've just heard.

Act I, Scene 2 beg.: Nos. 4-7, from "Ah guarda, sorella" duet through "Sento, o Dio" quintet

At the sound of the offstage chorus singing of the beautiful military life, the lovers know that the time for separation has come, and Mozart tops the previous quintet with an even more beautiful one.

Act I, No. 9, Quintet, Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Ferrando,
Guglielmo, and Don Alfonso, "Di scrivermi ogni giorno"
FIORDILIGI and DORABELLA: I'm dying of breathlessness.
FIORDILIGI [weeping]: Swear that you'll write me
Every day, my love!
DORABELLA [weeping]: Write me twice as often, if you can.
GUGLIELMO: Never doubt me, my dear!
FERRANDO: Rest assured, my love!
DON ALFONSO [to himself]: I'll burst if I don't laugh!
FIORDILIGI: Be true to me alone!
DORABELLA: Remain faithful!
My heart is rent in twain, my love.
Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!

Margaret Price (s), Yvonne Minton (ms), Luigi Alva (t), Geraint Evans (b), Hans Sotin (bs)

Don Alfonso remains behind to "comfort" the women, and the three sing the trio we've already heard, invoking the kind agency of the forces of nature -- and Mozart ratchets up the sublimity level one more notch from the two sublime quintets.

Act I, No. 10, Trio, Fiordiligi, Dorabella, and Don Alfonso, "Soave sia il vento"
Gentle be the breeze,
Calm be the waves,
And every element
Smile in favour
On their wish.

Margaret Price (s), Yvonne Minton (ms), Hans Sotin (bs)

And again, to pull things together, here's the continuation of Scene 2, from the sound of the offstage chorus through the great trio.

Act I, Scene 2 continuation: Nos. 9-10, from "Bella vita militar" chorus through "Soave sia il vento" trio and Alfonso's recitative

Alfonso has enlisted the essential support of the sisters' independent- and practical-minded maid, Despina (an unmistakable forebear of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's and Richard Strauss's Zerbinetta in their Ariadne auf Naxos), to carry out his plan, which is to introduce their own fiancés to the women, disguised as Albanian travelers, under orders from Alfonso to do everything in their power to seduce their lovers, though for obvious reasons they switch targets -- Ferrando courting Guglelmo's beloved Fiordiligi, and Guglielmo courting Ferrando's beloved Dorabella (which by happy chance means that we now have the soprano and tenor and the mezzo and baritone paired). Despina, generously paid off by Alfonso, happily supports his plan by encouraging her mistresses to get over their lost loves, in accordance with her own belief that all men are pretty much interchangeable.

Fiordiligi, however, is having none of Ferrando's advances.

Act I, Recitative and No. 14, Aria, Fiordiligi,
"Temerari, sortite" . . . "Come scoglio"
Begone, bold creatures!
Leave this house!
Despina goes out, in a fright.
And with the unwelcome breath of base words
Do not profane our hearts,
Our ears and our affections!
In vain do you, or others, seek to seduce
Our souls; the unsullied faith which
We plighted to our dear loves
We shall know bow to preserve for them
Until death, despite the world and fate.
Like a rock standing impervious
To winds and tempest,
So stands my heart ever strong
In faith and love.
Between us we have kindled
A flame which warms
And consoles us,
And death alone could
Change my heart's devotion.
Respect this example
Of constancy,
You abject creatures,
And do not let a base hope
Make you so rash again!

Margaret Price (s)

In Act II Fiordiligi remains highly dubious about the whole subject of the sisters' new suitors, but allows herself to be drawn into a scheme to play along with them.

Act II, Recitative and No. 20, Duet, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, "Questo è ver" . . . "Prenderò quel brunettino"
FIORDILIGI: This is true.
FIORDILIGI: So you go ahead:
But I don't want to be involved
If there should be a scandal.
DORABELLA: How can there be a scandal
When we're taking such precautions?
However, listen, let's come to an agreement:
Which of these two Narcissi do you fancy for yourself?
FIORDILIGI: You decide, sister.
DORABELLA: I've already chosen.
DORABELLA: I'll take the dark one,
Who seems to me more fun.
FIORDILIGI: And meantime I'll laugh
And joke a bit with the fair one.
DORABELLA: Playfully I'll answer
His sweet words.
FIORDILIGI: Sighing, I'll imitate
The other's sighs.
DORABELLA: He'll say to me:
My love, I'm dying!
FIORDILIGI: He'll say to me:
My dearest treasure!
What sport and pleasure
I shall have!

Margaret Price (s), Yvonne Minton (ms)

Dorabella puts up a lot less resistance to Guglielmo's charms than Ferrando expected, and even Fiordilgi finds herself weakening.

Act II, Recitative and No. 25, Rondo, Fiordiligi, "Ei parte, senti, ah no!" . . . "Per pietà, ben mio, perdona"
He's left me, listen, ah no! Let him go.
Let my sight be free of the unlucky object
Of my weakness. To what a pass
This cruel man has brought me!
This is a just reward for my sins!
Was this the time
For me to heed the sighs
Of a new lover, to make sport
Of another's sighs? Ah, rightly
You condemn this heart, o just love!
I burn, and my ardour is no longer
The outcome of a virtuous love:
It is madness,
Anguish, remorse, repentance
Fickleness, deceit and betrayal!
In pity's name, my dearest, forgive
The misdeed of a loving soul;
Oh God, it shall evermore be hidden
Among these shady bushes.
My courage, my constancy
Will drive away this dishonourable desir
And banish the memory
Which fills me with shame and horror.
And who is it whom
This unworthy heart has betrayed?
Dear heart, your trust deserved
A better reward!

Margaret Price (s)


Since, rather to my surprise, I'm not necessarily entirely thrilled with Margaret Price's "Per pietà," I thought it might be nice to bring in some alternatives -- and then I was thinking that if you hear these ladies' "Per pietà" you're going to wonder about their "Come scoglio," so as long as I was making audio files . . .

Here then in no particular order (oh wait, the recordings are in chronological order; I swear, this is simply the order in which I made the files -- sometimes I just can't help thinking in orderly terms) are a number of fine singers, of diverse strengths and limitations which I'm not going to go into here, tackling these two twin heroic challenges.
"Ei parte" . . . "Per pietà"
"Temerari" . . . "Come scoglio"
Teresa Stich-Randall as Fiordiligi. Paris Conservatory Orchestra, Hans Rosbaud, cond. Melodram, live performance from the Aix-en-Provence Festival, July 26, 1957

"Ei parte" . . . "Per pietà"
"Temerari" . . . "Come scoglio"
Irmgard Seefried as Fiordiligi. Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

"Ei parte" . . . "Per pietà"
"Temerari" . . . "Come scoglio" Leontyne Price as Fiordiligi. New Philharmonia Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Aug.-Sept. 1967

"Ei parte" . . . "Per pietà"
"Temerari" . . . "Come scoglio"
Renée Fleming as Fiordiligi. Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded at concert performances in the Royal Festival Hall (London), May 3 and 5, 1994


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