Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Classics: The old minor-to-major switcheroo as practiced by Schubert, Mahler, and Donizetti


Luciano Pavarotti as Nemorino sings "Una furtiva lagrima" in Act II of Donizetti's Elixir of Love, with Nicola Rescigno conducting at the Met in 1981. The first-stanza major-mode switcheroo -- on the line "M'ama, sì, m'ama" ("She loves me, yes, she loves me") -- comes at 1:50.
A furtive tear
welled up in her eye.
Those carefree girls
she seemed to envy.
Why should I look any further?
She loves me, yes, she loves me.
I can see it, I can see it.

To feel for just one moment
the beating of her dear heart!
To blend my sighs
for a little with hers!
Heavens, I could die;
I ask for nothing more.
I could die of love.
-- English translation by Kenneth Chalmers

by Ken

If you were here for Friday night's preview, you know what we're up to: three celebrated instances of composers -- specifically, Schubert ("Gute Nacht," the opening song of the cycle Winterreise), Mahler ("In diesem Wetter," the last of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder), and Donizetti (the tenor aria "Una furtiva lagrima" from The Elixir of Love) -- making strategic use of an unexpected switch from minor to major mode.

Yes, I'll have a little something to say about each of our selections, but really we're not going to hear any music we didn't hear Friday night. Basically we're hearing an interesting (I hope) assortment of performances.

But first, I think we can still use a little curtain-raiser, and since we've already jumped ahead to L'Elisir d'amore, I can hardly think of a more inspiriting starter than its adorable little prelude. (Note that it doesn't have a formal ending since it leads directly into the opening chorus.) As with great comedies generally, L'Elisir seems to me worth taking seriously, a lot more seriously than it usually is. But that's a story for another time (possibly including the opera's connection to the spring term in college when I just plain stopped going to classes for what turned out to be the rest of the trimester).

We're hearing the Prelude from a Covent Garden L'Elisir that's also the source of the performance of "Una furtiva lagrima" by José Carreras which we'll be hearing in the click-through.

DONIZETTI: L'Elisir d'amore: Prelude

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, John Pritchard, cond. Live performance, Jan. 7, 1976 [audio link]


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