Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste Dept. -- Two operatic heroines, part 1


In Act II of Verdi's La Forza del destino, Leonora (Jennifer Maines) meets the kindly but ineffectual Padre Guardiano (Marek M. Gasztecki), at Innsbruck's Landestheater, September 2013.

by Ken
Another ghost-of-a-post idea, and one that may require some eventual fleshing-out. It was born of conjoined images from two different operas that suddenly started playing together in my head. And the "ghost" theme is actually appropriate, since it happens that both of the operatic heroines of our post title is that both have been seeing, er, fantastmi, as our Heroine No. 1, Verdi's Donna Leonora di Vargas from La Forza del destino, puts it.


We've actually heard this before, at some length. in the May 2011 post "Verdi's Forza demonstrates from start to finish what only opera can do." Donna Leonora, held responsible for the death of her father, the Marquis of Calatrava, the night she attempted to elope with her beloved Don Alvaro, has fled her home in Seville, eventually winding up at the mountain monastery of Hornachuelos, where she throws herself at the mercy of its superior, the kindly Padre Guardiano. When he finds out who she is, he recoils at first, then shows her the first human kindness she has received since her father's death, and what we hear from her in this release of pent-up tension rather terrifies me.

VERDI: La Forza del destino, Act II, Scene 2: Leonora, "Più tranquillo l'alma sento" ("I feel my soul more tranquil")
LEONORA: I feel my soul more tranquil
since I tread this ground.
The fearful phantasms
I no longer feel making war against me.
No longer does my father's shade
rise bleeding before me,
nor do I hear him, terrible,
cursing his daughter.

Maria Caniglia (s), Donna Leonora di Vargas; EIAR Turin Symphony Orchestra, Gino Marinuzzi, cond. Fonit Cetra, broadcast performance, 1941

Renata Tebaldi (s), Donna Leonora di Vargas; Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Decca, recorded summer 1955

Leontyne Price (s), Donna Leonora di Vargas; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Live performance, March 9, 1968

In that May 2011 Forza post we also met Leonora's father, the Marquis of Calatrava, and in fact witnessed the events of that fateful night.

Meanwhile Leonora's beloved Alvaro, who believes his angel dead, has hardly had an easy time of it himself. As we hear him reflect in Act III, in one of Verdi's great tenor monologues (which we also heard in that May 2011 Forza post):
I was born in prison, educated
in the desert; I live only because my royal birth
is known to none! My parents
dreamed of a throne; the axe awakened them!
Oh, when will my misfortunes end?


In Act I we hear young Lucy of Lammermoor confide to her only confidante, Alisa, that she too is seeing phantasms. It's not surprising that no one else in her ancestral Scottish home, least of all her brother Lord Henry, has any idea what's going on in her head. Especially since the recent death of her mother, she has been left with no buffer, no protection at all, against her brother's machinations, with the exception of her faithful Alisa.

The only thing in life young Lucy of Lammermoor wanted was to be married to the man of her dreams, Lord Edgar Ravenswood, whose family is sworn enemies of hers. Instead, she was forced by her brother -- for reasons as much economic as familial -- to marry someone else, with catastrophic results. Now, in front of a castle still full of wedding guests, a deranged Lucia imagines that the wedding is taking place.

We're going to hear an array of Lucias in a fairly tiny excerpt, which was originally meant to be even tinier than what I wound up including. I had two thoughts about this excerpt. Really what was playing in my head, what I wanted to present, was the unbearably heartbreaking moment of Lucia's "Alfin son tua, alfin sei mio" ("At last I'm yours, at last you're mine"). But I kept pushing backward and forward for the sake of valuable, perhaps invaluable, context -- for example, allowing the listener to hear where the tune Lucia sings at "Alfin son tua" comes from.

By way of compromise, for each recording, I've indicated the time window for the "short" version. So if you want to hear just what I was hearing in my head which set me off on this post, either start and stop at the indicated points or else just pay no attention to any of the rest.

About the peformances: I've gone with the version from Callas's stereo Lucia, which you'll note was actually recorded almost a month later than the Sutherland Covent Garden performance we hear, from the run that vaulted her to international superstardom. If I had to pick one Callas Lucia, it would probably be an earlier one, either the 1953 studio recording or one of a number of live performances. But in our excerpt in particular, her rendering of the verbal and musical text seems to me so breathtakingly and heartbreakingly specific that it really seemed the way to go.

I don't suppose Anna Moffo really belongs in the company of Callas, Sutherland, and Scotto (who holds her own very well, it seems to me, and gets some beautiful support from her conductor, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli), but Moffo certainly has nothing to apologize for here, and I wanted to be sure we had another stereo performance to enable us to hear Donizetti's orchestral and choral setting more completely (one of the reasons, in fact, why I went with the 1959 Callas recording).

DONZIETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor, Act III, from Lucia's Mad Scene: "Ardon gli incensi" ("The incense burns") . . . "Alfin son tua, alfin sei mio" ("At last I'm yours, at last you're mine")
LUCIA: The incense burns.
The holy candles shine,
they shine everywhere.
Here is the minister!
Give me your right hand.
Oh happy day! oh happy!
At last I'm yours, at last you're mine!
God gives you to me!
You're in such a sad state.
LUCIA: Every pleasure will be sweeter,
yes, every pleasure that's shared with you, with you, with you!
On her, Lord, on her have pity! Lord, pity!

["Alfin son tua": 1:06-1:51] Maria Callas (s), Lucia; Philharmonia Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded in London, Mar. 16-21, 1959 (stereo)

["Alfin son tua": 0:54-1:32] Joan Sutherland (s), Lucia; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tullio Serafin, cond. Live performance, Feb. 26, 1959 (mono)

["Alfin son tua": 1:01-1:40] Renata Scotto (s), Lucia; RAI Turin Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Broadcast performance, Oct. 10, 1967 (mono)

["Alfin son tua": 0:56-1:32] Anna Moffo (s), Lucia; Conrad Klemm, solo flute; RCA Italiana Chorus and Orchestra, Georges Prêtre, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded in Rome, July-Aug. 1965 (stereo)

["Alfin son tua": 0:54-1:37] Beverly Sills (s), Lucia; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Juan Emilio Martini, cond. Live performance, June 25, 1972 (MP3 mono source)

Epilogue: Lucia

In the aftermath of Lucia's ghastly (no, alas, not ghostly) wedding-night doings, her brother Lord Enrico is, curiously, mostly ticked off at h is flunky Normanno, which is cureious because while Normanno is a pretty nefarious sort, he's only been doing the sorts of nefarious things Enrico pays him to do.

However, Lord Edgardo, Lucia's unfortunate fiancé, will ultimately find himself dealing with a ghost of his own. Even as his beloved is being relieved of her earthly sorrow, he shows himself to be very, very sorry. After the sounding of her funeral bell, he addresses her just-risen soul.

DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor, Act III, final scene: Edgardo, "Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali" ("You who have winged your way to God")
You who have winged your way to God,
o beautiful and beloved spirit,
turn toward me at peace.
With you your faithful one ascends.
Ah! if the rage of mortals
waged such cruel war against us,
if we were kept separated on earth,
let God now unite us in heaven.
O beautiful and beloved spirit,
let God now unite us in heaven.

Sándor Kónya (t), Edgardo; Metropoliltan Opera Orchestra, Silvio Varviso, cond. Live performance, Dec. 5, 1964

Richard Tucker (t), Edgardo; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, cond. Live performance, Dec. 31, 1966

Luciano Pavarotti (t), Edgardo; RAI Turin Symphony Orchestra, Francesco Molinair-Pradelli, cond. Broadcast performance, Oct. 10, 1967

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