Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Maria Agresta as Desdemona and Jonas Kaufmann as Otello in rehearsal for Otello, The Royal Opera © 2017 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore The Willow Song and Ave Maria are connected arias sung by Desdemona, the heroine of Verdi ’s 1887 opera Otello , based on Shakespeare ’s play Othello . They are her only solo numbers in the opera, and testify to her goodness and her continuing love for her husband Otello, despite his despicable treatment of her. Where does it take place in the opera? The Willow Song and Ave Maria take place at the start of the final act of Otello. Desdemona sings the Willow Song – which she learnt as a girl – as she prepares for bed, occasionally breaking off to issue instructions to her maid Emilia, or to meditate on her own sad circumstances. She is overcome with sudden fear, and bids Emilia an emotional farewell. After Emilia has left, Desdemona prays to the Virgin Mary, then falls asleep. She will later be woken by Otello who, maddened by jealousy, murders her. What do the lyrics mean? The Willow Song describes how a girl deserted by her lover sang so sweetly that the birds gathered to hear her, and wept so bitterly that the very stones were moved to pity. The song’s title comes from the refrain: ‘Il salce funebre sarà la mia ghirlanda’ (the funereal willow will be my garland). Desdemona breaks off from her song three times: to tell Emilia that Otello will soon arrive, to take off her ring, and, agitatedly, to ask if someone is knocking at the door. Her Ave Maria begins with the words of the traditional Catholic prayer , then evolves into a personal appeal to the Virgin Mary to protect and help all people: the powerful as well as the persecuted. What makes the music so memorable? The opening of Act IV powerfully evokes melancholy. The Willow Song is remarkable for its intimate mood: its lyrical, at times almost improvisatory, vocal line, and delicate orchestration, in which woodwind instruments are prominent. Verdi deftly illustrates images from the song’s text, including a busy string figuration to depict the swirling stream by which the girl weeps, and flute flurries for the birds that fly to her side. Desdemona’s two passionate outbursts at the end of the song hint at how stoically she has been controlling her grief. The ensuing Ave Maria movingly depicts how Desdemona finds consolation in prayer. Its shimmering orchestration, beautifully simple melody and ethereal coda – with Desdemona soaring to a pianissimo high note – poignantly portray innocence and trust in a beneficent higher power: a welcome contrast to the mood of bitterness and sorrow the cruel Iago has created by poisoning Otello’s mind against Desdemona. Otello’s other musical highlights The devil often gets the best tunes – so it’s no surprise that Iago has some terrific music, including the jocular Act I drinking song ‘Inaffia l’ugola!’ and the chillingly malevolent Act II ‘Credo’. Verdi movingly charts Otello’s mental disintegration, from the heroism of his Act I entry ‘Esultate!’ to the anguished, fragmentary music of his Act III solo ‘Dio! mi potevi scagliar’, and moves us to pity with his heartrending final soliloquy ‘Niun mi tema’. Memorable ensembles include Iago and Otello’s thrilling Act II duet ‘Sì, pel ciel’. And there is plenty of wonderful choral music, including the serene Act II chorus sung by Cypriots and their children in praise of Desdemona, and the mighty Act III concertato as the chorus and all the principal singers react to Otello’s public attack on his wife. Classic recordings Plácido Domingo , an iconic Otello, made several recordings of the opera, of which the 1978 version under James Levine also features the superb Iago of Sherrill Milnes and Renata Scotto ’s radiant Desdemona. Domingo’s 1994 recording , conducted by Myung-Whun Chung , includes Sergei Leiferkus as a deliciously sinister Iago and Cheryl Studer as an impassioned Desdemona. Other fine recordings include Georg Solti ’s from 1977 , with Margaret Price ’s vocal beauty and Carlo Cossutta ’s heroic stamina ideal for Desdemona and Otello; and the 1960 recording conducted by Italian maestro Tullio Serafin , with Jon Vickers a passionate Otello and the great Tito Gobbi a jocularly macabre Iago. Among the multiple filmed offerings are the Metropolitan Opera’s 1996 recording with Domingo, Renée Fleming and James Morris and The Royal Opera’s 1992 recording with Solti, Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa and Leiferkus. Zeffirelli ’s dramatic film of the opera with Domingo is also well worth a watch – if you can cope with the absence of the Willow Song! Further listening Verdi’s other two Shakespeare operas are the next logical step: his Macbeth is full of theatrical intensity and energy, while his last opera Falstaff is one of the most hilarious and touching operatic comedies. Those who enjoy Verdi’s combination of quick-moving drama and wonderful melodies will find much to enjoy in his successor Puccini ’s operas – particularly La bohème , Tosca and Madama Butterfly . Otello’s dramatic intensity and beautiful orchestration also has much in common with Wagner ’s music dramas, such as Tristan und Isolde , Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Parsifal . And for Shakespeare fans there’s a variety of other Shakespearean operas to explore, including Britten ’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Reimann ’s Lear and Adès ’s The Tempest . Otello runs 21 June–15 July 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is generously supported by Rolex and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne, John G. Turner and Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Martin and Jane Houston, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The American Friends of Covent Garden, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.
"When a Scottsdale, Arizona, man was headed to a retirement home, a neighbor helping with the move found the collectible in the garage and suggested contacting an auctioneer to appraise it. Josh Levine, owner of the auction house who was called to look at the poster, estimated the signed Lakers memorabilia would be worth about $300. But when they went to the man's garage, what they found could be 50,000 times more valuable."
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic has picked Alexander Mickelthwate, music director of the Winnipeg Symphony for the past 12 years, to succeed its founder-conductor, Joel Levine. German-born, Mickelthwate, 46, has pushed Winnipeg into the front rank of Canadian orchestras. He was selected from a strong field of six contenders over two and a half seasons and will start work as md-designate this September. photo: Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman Report here.
I will always remember listening to Mahler’s Third at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, as directed by James Levine. What a thrill that was! Now there is a new recording out as conducted by Ivan Fischer: Mahler: Symphony No. 3 With Gerhild Romberger (alto), and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Cantemus Children’s Choir, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Iván Fischer conducting. Clemens Rominjn wrote: “Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony, lasting one and a half hours or more, is not only his longest work but at the same time an exuberant and sunny ode to nature, mankind, the world and indeed life itself. And for this song of praise the composer requires both room and lavish means. No less than six movements, the richest of orchestral forces, and a contralto soloist and boys’ and women’s choirs whose sung texts help to bring across the symphony’s message, as in the Second Symphony and later in the Fourth and Eighth as well.” Here is the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing the third and fourth movements from the Aymphony number 3 by Gustav Mahler:
The transitioning tenor Rolando Villazon – more director these days than singer – has pulled out of this weekend’s Metropolitan Opera gala, effectively signing off as one of the company’s frontline artists. Villazon, 45, won’t be terribly missed. Here’s the current list of participants in Sunday’s $950+ per ticket show: Marco Armiliato Piotr Beczała Ben Bliss Stephanie Blythe Joseph Calleja Javier Camarena Dwayne Croft Diana Damrau David Daniels Joyce DiDonato Plácido Domingo Yusif Eyvazov Michael Fabiano Renée Fleming Juan Diego Flórez Elīna Garanča Susan Graham Vittorio Grigolo Günther Groissböck Christopher Job Mariusz Kwiecien Isabel Leonard James Levine Željko Lučić Angela Meade Latonia Moore James Morris Anna Netrebko Kristine Opolais Eric Owens René Pape Matthew Polenzani Yannick Nézet-Séguin Rolando Villazón Michael Volle Yunpeng Wang Pretty Yende Sonya Yoncheva Dolora Zajick Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
You may have read these words of mine before: There are times when a very old recording stands out as a performance that has yet to be equaled. This recording was made in 1993, and it is still a champion! The Trout Quintet by Schubert is based on Schubert’s song by the same name. The poet whose words Schubert set to music talks about a wonderful scene in Nature, where a fisherman has his rod in a stream. Ultimately the fisherman gets tired of waiting, and the stream gets more cloudy and less clear. Suddenly a fish is seen at the end of the fishing line and the betrayed little fish danges on the line. Later in Schubert’s life he arranged this music for string quartet and piano. James Levine is totally sublime as the lead instrument of this amazing composition. Here is the fourth movement of this Quintet, in which Schubert created a theme and variations on the original song. Listen to this great music: