Sunday, November 28, 2004

[11/28/2010] Great choruses (and more) from Verdi's "Nabucco," "Il Trovatore," and "Aida" (continued)


Yes, our middle chorus is the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore. Here it is at the Hungarian State Opera, conducted by Géza Török, Mar. 12, 2009.


After all this buildup, maybe we should go straight to the recordings of our three choruses which got this whole thing started.

Nabucco: Act III, Scene 2, "Va, pensiero sull'ali dorate"
On the banks of the Euphrates, the captive Hebrews are in chains, at forced labor.

HEBREWS: Go, my thought, on golden wings;
go and alight on the slopes and hills,
where, warm and gentle, waft
the sweet breezes of our native earth!

Greet the banks of the Jordan,
the toppled towers of Zion . . .
O homeland, so lovely and lost!
O memory, so beloved and fatal!

Golden harp of the prophetic bards,
why do you hang silent on the willow?
Rekindle memories in our breasts!
Speak to us of the age that was!

Like the fate of Jerusalem,
you heave a sigh of cruel lament.
O, may the Lord inspire you a note
that teaches virtue to endure!

Il Trovatore: Act II, Scene 2, Anvil Chorus
A broken-down hovel on the side of a mountain in Biscay. At the back, practically in the open, a large fire burns. It is early dawn. A group of Gypsies is gathered around.

GYPSIES: See! the heavens' great vault
removes its gloomy, night-time tatters;
it seems a widow who takes off at last
the dark clothes that enfold her.
To work! To work! At it, hammer!
Who brightens the Gypsy man's days?
The Gypsy maid!
MEN [to the women, pausing in their work]:
Pour me a draught; strength and courage
the body and soul draw from drinking.
ALL: Oh, look, look! A ray of the sun
sparkles brighter in my (your) glass.
To work! To work! At it, hammer!

Aida: Act II, Scene 2, Triumphal Scene
PEOPLE: Glory to Egypt and to Isis,
who protects the sacred land;
to the King who rules the delta
we raise our festive hymns.
WOMEN: Let lotus be twined with the laurel
on the victors' brows;
let a gentle cloud of flowers
spread a veil over their arms.
Let us dance, maids of Egypt,
our mystic dances,
as, around the Sun,
dance the stars in the sky.
PRIESTS: To the supreme judges
of victory raise your eyes'
render thanks to the gods
on this auspicious day.
[The troops march past. At last Radamès arrives under a canopy.]
PEOPLE: Come, o conquering warrior,
come and rejoice with us,
in the heroes' path,
let us throw laurel and flowers.
PRIESTS: To the supreme judges
raise your eyes;
render thanks to the gods
on this auspicious day.

Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro all Scala, Lovro von Matačić, cond. EMI, recorded 1960


This was always supposed to be part of today's program, but I couldn't help myself in last night's preview; since we had established all the elements, I couldn't refrain from putting them together. Well, here they are again -- in different performances, of course.

Nabucco: Overture and Opening scene
In the opening choral scene, 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).

The High Priest ZACCARIA enters, 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, 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."
Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), Zaccaria; Gianni Raimondi (t); Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond. Live performance, Dec. 7, 1966

Il Trovatore: Opening scene
A hall in the Aliaferia palace; a door on one side leads into the Count di Luna's apartments. FERRANDO and a number of the Count's retainers are resting near the door; some soldiers are pacing back and forth in the background.

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.
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?
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!
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!
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!
What about the father?
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!
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?
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!
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!
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.]
Bonaldo Giaiotti (bs), Ferrando; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded 1970

Aida: Prelude and Opening scene
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 commander?in?chief
of 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.]

Recitative and aria, Radamès
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.
James McCracken (t), Radamès; Jerome Hines (bs), Ramfis; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Kazimierz Kord, cond. Live performance, Dec. 25, 1976

Performance note: I wasn't going to use this 1976 Aida, even though there's a lot I like about Kord's conducting, with its capacity for sweetness and lyricism (I have fond memories of his performance with a different cast), and, for all his pitch and other technical oddities, about McCracken's gutsy Radamès as well. Still, there are those pitch and other technical oddities, and the years had definitely taken their toll on Hines's bass. So I'm going back in time to offer an alternative -- well, two alternatives:

Ramón Vinay (t), Radamès; Jerome Hines (bs), Ramfis; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Emil Cooper, cond. Live performance, Mar. 11, 1950
Mario del Monaco (t), Radamès; Jerome Hines (bs), Ramfis; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Jan. 24, 1953

Again, after the 1871 Cairo premiere of Aida, as Verdi prepared for the Italian premiere the following year he decided that the opera needed a full-fledged Overture, and duly added a selection of additional material from it. But before the premiere took place he thought better of it and left the original Prelude in place, leaving the Overture unperformed until it was resurrected in 1940. Eventually it had the distinction of receiving not one but two "first" recordings. We heard the second one earlier in this post; now here's the earlier "first recording," credited as "reconstructed and revised" by Piero Spada.

Aida: Overture (1872 version, withdrawn by the composer)
London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded 1978

It's a perfectly decent piece, this Overture, but now that we've developed some familiarity with the opera's opening sequence as we know it -- simple short Prelude (with just two basic tunes, the "Numi, pietà" section of Aida's opening-scene aria "Ritorna vincitor," and what we can now recognize from the Triumphal Scene as the stately, vaguely ominous theme associated with the Egyptian priests -- can you imagine how disruptive the full Overture would be in place of the Prelude? Clearly Verdi came to this conclusion.


The thing is, I don't know whether you'll be outraged or relieved to learn that I just can't do this to you. We really haven't heard all that much music, but what with all these confounded texts, which I really don't feel right about leaving out, it's simply overwhelming. It's all done, or just about, but when I looked at it all strung together, it was just too much. So we're going to have to put our bits of operatic add-ons till next week. I'll just leave you with these teases:

Il Trovatore: Act III, Scene 2, Aria, Manrico, "Di quella pira"
MANRICO: The horrible blaze of that pyre
burns, enflames all of my being!
Monsters, put it out; or very quickly
I'll put it out with your blood!
Before I loved you, I was yet her son;
your suffering cannot restrain me...
Unhappy mother, I hasten to save you,
or at least hasten to die with you!
Unhappy mother, I hasten to save you,
or at least hasten to die with you! etc.
To arms! To arms! To arms!

Jussi Bjoerling, tenor; orchestra, Nils Grevillius, cond. EMI, recorded 1939

Nabucco: Act II, Scene 2, Recitative and prayer, Zaccaria: "Vieni, o Levita!" . . . "Tu sul labbro"
A faintly lit hall in the palace of the king, Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucodonosor, or Nabucco), in Babylon. The high priest of the exiled Hebrews, Zaccaria, enters accompanied by a Levite carrying the Tables of the Law.

Come, o Levite! Give me
the Tables of the Law! Of a new miracle
God wishes me to be the agent! He sends me a servant
for the glory of Israel
to tear apart the darkness of an unbeliever.

Thou on the lips of the prophets
hast fulminated, o almighty God!
To Assyria in strong accents
now speak Thou with my lips!
And with songs sacred to Thee
every temple will resound;
over the shattered idols
Thy laws will rise.
over the shattered idols etc.

Nazzareno de Angelis, bass; orchestra, Lorenzo Molajoli, cond. Italian Columbia, recorded 1928



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