Saturday, November 27, 2004

[11/27/2010 preview] "First events" in "Nabucco," "Il Trovatore," and "Aida" (continued)


Hey, somebody get Radamès a flashlight! Tenor Nicola Martinucci sings "Celeste Aida" in Parma, 1988.

Again, in last night's preview we heard how our three Verdi operas begin: Nabucco with its imposing Overture; Aida with its ethereal Prelude; and Trovatore, with that slashing martial orchestral introduction that leads us right into the captain Ferrando's midnight "ghost" story. In each case we're headed toward a "first event." We're jumping right to those musical "events," after which we're going to fill in the blank that got us there -- a full-fledged choral scene in the case of Nabucco, just a wisp of dialogue in the cases of Trovatore and Aida.


The Hebrew high priest Zaccaria offers his
beleaguered people a ray of hope

Act I, Scene 1, Zaccaria, "Sperate, o figli!" . . .
"Del Egitto là sui lidi"

The High Priest ZACCARIA enters the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, where the Hebrews are huddled awaiting doom at the hands of the Assyrian king Nabucodonosor. ZACCARIA is escorting FENENA, daughter of Nabucco.

ZACCARIA: Have hope, my children! God
in His power has given a sign;
He delivered into my power
a precious hostage: [indicating FENENA]
The enemy king's offspring
can bring us peace.
HEBREWS: The sun of a glad day
has perhaps risen for us!
ZACCARIA: Curb your fears! Place your trust
in God's eternal help!
Aria, Zaccaria
There on the shores of Egypt
He gave Moses life;
Gideon's hundred men
he rendered invincible one day.
Who, in the extreme moment,
believing in Him, has perished?
HEBREWS: The sun of a glad day etc.
ZACCARIA: Curb your fears! etc.

[In the continuation of the scene heard in the excerpt from the 1960 Met performance, a noise is heard which turns out to be the arrival of the young Hebrew Ismaele, nephew of Zedekiah, the king of Jerusalem, bearing the news that the Assyrian king is closing in on the temple with his army. ZACCARIA suggests that Heaven may put an end to his wicked doings, entrusts Fenena to Ismaele, and sings a vigorous cabaletta (soon joined by the Hebrews), "Come notte a sol fulgente": "As night before the streaming sun, as dust before the wind, thou shalt vanish in your great trial, false god of Baal! Thou, mighty God of Abraham, descend to fight with us."]
[without chorus] Nazzareno de Angelis, bass; orchestra, Lorenzo Molajoli, cond. Italian Columbia, recorded 1928
[continues through Zaccaria's cabaletta, "Come notte al sol fuggente"] Cesare Siepi (bs), Zaccaria; Eugenio Fernandi (t), Ismaele; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Thomas Schippers, cond. Live performance, Dec. 3, 1960

Il Trovatore:
The army captain Ferrando tells his men
a late-night tale of horror

Act I, Scene 1, Ferrando with retainers and soldiers,
"Di due figli" . . . "Abbietta zingara"

FERRANDO: There lived a happy father of two sons,
the good Count di Luna.
The second boy's faithful nurse
slept next to his cradle.
As dawn was breaking one fine morning,
she opened her eyes and whom did she find
next to that baby?
MEN: Who? Speak ... Who was it?
[Pasero: 0:39; Vinco: 0:38]
FERRANDO: A dark, despicable gypsy crone!
Wearing the symbols of a sorceress!
And with a sullen face, over the boy
she cast her bloody, baleful eye!
The nurse is seized with horror;
she utters a sharp cry in the still air;
and, in less time than it takes to tell,
the servants hasten into the room;
and with shouts, blows, threats,
they expel the wretch who dared enter.
MEN: Their hearts were moved by righteous scorn;
the crazy crone provoked it!
[Pasero: 1:53; Vinco: 1:51]
FERRANDO: She claimed that she wanted to cast
the boy's horoscope. The liar!
A slow fever began to destroy
the poor child's health!
Weak, covered with a strange pallor,
broken, he trembled at night,
and moaned piteously all day long;
he was bewitched!
[Pasero: 2:36; Vinco: 2:35]
The witch was pursued,
seized and condemned to the stake;
but her cursed daughter was left,
to administer a horrible revenge!
This criminal committed an unspeakable act!
The child disappeared,
and they found still glowing embers,
on the very same spot
where the witch had once been burned!
And, alas, a child's skeleton,
half-burnt, still smoking!
MEN: Ah! the wicked, unspeakable woman!
It fills me with both rage and horror!
[Vinco: 3:57] What about the father?
[Vinco: 4:01] FERRANDO: His remaining days were few and sad;
yet an undefined presentiment
at heart told him that his son
was not dead; and when he lay dying,
he desired that our master
should swear to him not to stop
his search. Ah! It was in vain!
[Vinco: 4:31] MEN: And was no news ever had of her?
FERRANDO: No news!
Oh! were it granted me
to track her down some day!
MEN: But, could you recognise her?
FERRANDO: Considering the years that have passed,
I could.
MEN: It would be time to send her
to her mother, in hell.
FERRANDO: In hell?
[Vinco: 5:06] FERRANDO: It's common belief that
the wicked witch's damned soul
still lives in the world, and when the sky
is black she shows herself in various shapes.
ALL: It's true! It's true!
[Vinco: 5:46] On the edge of the rooftops
some people have seen her!
Sometimes she changes into a hoopoe or an owl!
Other times, a raven; more often, a civet-owl,
flying through the dawn like an arrow!
FERRANDO:: One of the Count's men died of fear
because he had struck the gypsy's forehead!
He died, died of fear! He died, died of fear!
MEN: Ah! Ah! He died! Ah! Ah! He died!
FERRANDO: She appeared to him in the form of an owl,
in the deep calm of a silent room!
MEN: Of an owl!
FERRANDO: She looked with gleaming eye,
looked at the sky, sorrowing,
with a bestial cry!
MEN: She looked! She looked!
[Vinco: 6:17] FERRANDO: Midnight was just striking! Ah!
MEN: Ah!
[Midnight strikes.]
ALL: Ah! A curse on her, the infernal witch! Ah!
[A drum is heard. The soldiers run to the back. The servants gather at the door.]
[without chorus] Tancredi Pasero, bass; orchestral accompaniment. Odeon, recorded 1927
Ivo Vinco (bs), Ferrando; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. DG, recorded July 1962

Another high priest, this one Egyptian, has fanned
a flame of hope in a different army captain

Act I, Scene 1, Recitative and aria, Radamès,
"Se quel guerrier io fossi" . . . "Celeste Aida"

RADAMÈS: If I were
that warrior! If my dreams
were to come true! A valiant army
led by me… and victory… and the acclamations
of all Memphis! And to return to you, my sweet Aida,
crowned with laurels…
to tell you: for you I fought, for you I conquered!

Heavenly Aida, form divine,
mystical garland of light and flowers,
of my thoughts you are the queen,
you are the light of my life.

I would return to you your lovely sky,
the gentle breezes of your native land;
a royal crown on your brow I would set,
build you a throne next to the sun.

Heavenly Aida, form divine,
mystical gleam of light and flowers, etc.
Jussi Bjoerling, tenor; Stockholm Symphony Orchestra, Nils Grevillius, cond. EMI, recorded December 1936
Franco Corelli (t), Radamès; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, George Schick, cond. Live performance, Mar. 3, 1962


Act I, Scene 1, Chorus of Hebrews, "Gli arredi festivi"

The Hebrews assembled in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem await a dismal fate at the hand of the forces of the Assyrian king Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucodonosor, or Nabucco for short).
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Thomas Schippers, cond. Live performance, Dec. 3, 1960

Il Trovatore:
Act I, Scene 1, Ferrando and retainers, "All'erta! All'erta!"

FERRANDO: Look sharp there! The Count
must be served with vigilance;
sometimes, near the house of his beloved
he spends whole nights.
MEN: Jealousy's fierce serpents
are writhing in his breast.
FERRANDO: In the Troubadour, whose song
rises at night from the gardens,
he rightly fears a rival.
MEN: To drive off the sleep
that hangs heavy on our eyelids,
tell us the real story of Garzia,
our Count's brother.
FERRANDO: I'll tell you; gather around me.
SOLDIERS: We, too...
MEN: Listen then. Listen.
Ivo Vinco (bs), Ferrando; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. DG, recorded July 1962

Act I, Dialogue Ramfis-Radamès, "Sì, corre voci che l'Etiope"

A hall in the Palace of the King at Memphis. Left and right, a colonnade with statues and flowering shrubs. Rear, a great door beyond which can be seen the temples and palaces of Memphis and the Pyramids.

Dialogue, Ramfis and Radamès
RAMFIS: Yes, rumour has it that Ethiopia dares
to defy us again and to threaten the Nile Valley
and Thebes. Soon a messenger
will bring the truth.
RADAMÈS: Have you consulted
holy Isis?
RAMFIS: She has named
the Egyptian armies'
RADAMÈS: Oh happy man!
RAMFIS [looking intently at Radamès]: Youthful and valiant is he. Now I bear the divine
commands to the King. [Exits.]
Ezio Pinza (bs), Ramfis; Giovanni Martinelli (t), Radamès; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Ettore Panizza, cond. Live performance, Feb. 6, 1937


Really, that's quite enough for a "preview," don't you think? (Of course we haven't actually heard all that much music. It's just all those damned texts that sprawl out over so much online real estate.) Still, having come us this far in our three operas, it seems a shame to wait till tomorrow to put this much together. So here, opera by opera, is "our story thus far." (You'll note that I've cheated with Nabucco, stitching together an Overture and an opening scene that do feature the same conductor and orchestra, but from totally unrelated recordings, an LP of Verdi scenes by the bass Nicolai Ghiaurov and an LP of Verdi overtures and preludes conducted by Claudio Abbado made by different record companies nearly nine years apart.)

London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded 1978
Act I, Scene 1: "Gli arredi festivi" . . . Zaccaria, "Sperate, o figli!" . . . "D'Egitto là sui lidi" . . . "Come notte a sol fulgente"
Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), Zaccaria; Leslie Fyson (t), Ismaele; Ambrosian Singers, London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, cond. Decca, recorded January 1969

Il Trovatore:
Introduction and Act I, Scene 1
Giorgio Tozzi (bs), Ferrando; Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Orchestra of the Grand Théâtre, Geneva, Alberto Erede, cond. Decca, recorded July 1956

Prelude; Act I, Scene 1, Dialogue, Ramfis-Radamès, "Sì, corre voci che l'Etiope" . . . Recitative and aria, Radamès, "Se quel guerrier io fossi" . . . "Celeste Aida"
Tancredi Pasero (bs), Ramfis; Beniamino Gigli (t), Radamès; Rome Opera Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded July-Aug. 1946


And we fill in our quick musicodramatic sketches of them just a bit.



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