This evening’s concert is a night at the opera, with overtures, arias and scenes from 15 operas by 13 composers. “Act I” takes us from Mozart to Wagner, with rousing choruses by Leoncavallo, Weber and Verdi in between. “Act II” offers four scenes in which beautiful women draw men to them -- unintentionally in at least one case. And “Act III,” opening with a boisterous march and a quiet vigil, offers two of the most thrilling scenes in opera: the soaring final trio and intimate duet of Der Rosenkavalier and the public spectacle of Boris Godunov’s Coronation Scene.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born Salzburg, Austria, 27 January 1756; died Vienna, 5 December 1791.
Così fan tutte: Overture and Act I Trio (“O suave sia il vento”)
Così fan tutte premiered at Vienna’s Burgtheater on 26 January 1790, the composer conducting. The Overture calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, plus timpani and strings; same for the Trio minus oboes, trumpets and timpani. Duration of 4 minutes for the Overture, 3 for the Trio. The SSO played the Overture most recently under the baton of Guy Victor Bordo, 8 October 1994.
Così fan tutte, whose title literally means “Thus do all women” or loosely “Women are like that,” was the last of the three operas Mozart wrote with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, following The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. The Overture, after a stately introduction with a tender oboe solo, seems to bubble over with energy and gaiety, thanks especially to its repeated woodwind figures.
In Act I Don Alfonso, tired of hearing his two young army-officer friends brag about the faithfulness of their fiancées, makes a bet that if the boys leave town, pretending to be sent off to war, the girls will quickly find other lovers. Carrying out the plan’s first stage, the young men board a ship as their fiancées and Don Alfonso sing a farewell to them: “O suave sia il vento” (“May the wind be gentle”). The music is surprisingly deep in feeling, considering the farcical premise of the plot, and hauntingly conveys the impression of gentle sea breezes.
Le Nozze di Figaro: “Voi che sapete”
The Marriage of Figaro too premiered at Vienna’s Burgtheater under the baton of the composer, 1 May 1786. Cherubino’s aria is about 3 minutes in length and calls for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns and strings.
Cherubino, the adolescent page of the Count and Countess Almaviva, is a classic comic embodiment of the male youth with raging hormones. Though attracted to just about any female who crosses his path, he has a crush on the Countess in particular, and in Act II he sings a little song he has written for her, “Voi che sapete” (“You ladies who know what love is, see if I have it in my heart!”). In contrast to his agitated Act I aria, “Non so più” (“I don’t know any more what I am or what I’m doing”), “Voi che sapete” has a calmer sweetness and simplicity suitable for a love ditty. Mozart wrote the part of Cherubino as a “trouser role” for a lower female voice.
Born Naples, 23 April 1857; died Montecatini Terme, 9 August 1919.
I Pagliacci: Bell Chorus
The opera premiered 21 May 1892, led by Arturo Toscanini, at Milan’s Teatro dal Verme. The Bell Chorus calls for a large orchestra: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, glockenspiel, tubular bells, harp and strings. The SSO and Chorus performed the Bell Chorus 6 April 2002, led by Janet Herrick. 3 minutes.
Although tragedy is looming from the beginning of this tale of a traveling comedy troupe, with the lead “clown,” Canio, murderously jealous of his wife, Nedda, the villagers are oblivious to the tension as they go off to evening prayers, drawn by the sound of church bells but eager for the troupe’s show later that night.
CARL MARIA VON WEBER
Born Eutin, Holstein (now Germany) 19 November 1786; died London 5 June 1826.
Der Freischütz: Jägerchor (Huntsmen’s Chorus)
The opera premiered 18 June 1821 at the Schauspielhaus Berlin. The Act III Huntsmen’s Chorus is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, bass trombone, timpani and male chorus. 3 minutes.
In Der Freischütz (literally “The Free-Shooter”) the huntsman Max, fearful of losing a shooting contest that would win him the position of the Prince’s chief forester and the hand of his beloved Agathe, makes a devilish pact to use magic bullets. Meanwhile, on the day of the contest his companions sing robustly of the joys of the hunter’s life, with the horns and bass trombone of the orchestra representing their beloved hunting horns.
Born 9 October 1813, Roncole, Italy; died 27 January 1901.
Il Trovatore: Anvil Chorus
Premiere: 18 January 1853, at the Teatro Apollo in Rome. The SSO and Chorus performed the Anvil Chorus—with its orchestra of flute, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, 2 anvils, cymbals, triangle and strings—on 6 April 2002, led by Guy Victor Bordo. 3 minutes.
Act II of Il Trovatore (The Troubador) opens with a chorus of Gypsies greeting the dawn as they turn to their labor, while praising wine and beautiful Gypsy girls (la zinagrella).
Born Leipzig, Saxony, 22 May 1813; died Venice, Italy, 13 February 1883.
Lohengrin: Bridal Chorus
Lohengrin was first performed at the Weimar Staatskapelle under the direction of Franz Liszt, 28 August 1850. The Bridal Chorus of Act 3 calls for 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, triangle, strings and chorus, lasting about 4½ minutes.
A mysterious but clearly noble Grail Knight has defended the Duchess Elsa, in a trial by combat, against charges that she murdered her own brother. The knight has agreed to marry Elsa—as long as she never asks him to reveal his name. Following the rousing prelude that opens Act III, a contrasting gentle chorus of attendants welcomes the newlyweds with perhaps the most famous music of any opera.
Tannhäuser: Act III Pilgrims’ Chorus and Finale
Tannhäuser was premiered 19 October 1845 at the Dresden Royal Court Theatre, the composer conducting; a revised version was heard in Paris, 13 March 1861. Duration of combined excerpts about 6½ minutes, featuring 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings, and singers.
The opera’s title character, a poet, is torn between his lust for the goddess Venus (whose realm is underneath a hill near Wartburg Castle) and his more spiritual attraction to Elizabeth, daughter of the local landgrave. The third and final act opens on an autumn evening in the valley of the Wartburg, where Elizabeth and Tannhäuser’s friend Wolfram await a group of pilgrims returning from Rome, hoping Tannhäuser will be among them. We hear the chorus of older pilgrims, at first singing a capella, then with orchestra, as they wind through the valley. At the end of the opera, after the deaths of Elizabeth and Tannhäuser and the discovery that the latter’s walking staff has sprouted leaves, signifying his redemption, a chorus of younger pilgrims sings “Heil! Heil! Der Gnade Wunder Heil!” (“Hail to the wonder of grace!”) In tonight’s performance the second chorus immediately follows the first.
Born Paris, 25 October 1838; died Bougival, near Paris, 3 June 1875.
Carmen: Act I Prelude (Allegretto giocoso) and Habañera
The opera Carmen was composed 1873-74 and premiered 3 March 1875 at the Opéra-Comique, Paris. The Prelude calls for 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, triangle, cymbals and strings; same for the Habañera minus trombones and bass drum but with soprano and chorus. Combined duration of Prelude and Habañera about 6 minutes. The SSO last played music from Carmen (Suites 1 and 2) on 4 October 2014, Kevin McMahon conducting; the Habañera was sung by Rebecca Charbonneau, Janet Herrick conducting, 13 October 2001.
The Act I Prelude to Carmen opens festively with music to be heard again during the bullfighting celebration of the final act, and also includes the tune of Act II’s Toreador Song. The Habañera, with its distinctive Spanish rhythm, is the title character’s Act I aria in which she describes love as a wild bird that can never be tamed: “If you don’t love me, I love you; but if I love you, watch out for yourself!” The unfortunate Don José overhears her, thus beginning his fatal obsession.
Born Paris,, 9 October, 1835; died Algiers, 16 December, 1921.
Samson et Dalila: “Mon coeur s’ouvre at ta voix”
Composed 1867-76 and premiered in Weimar (in German translation) at the Grand Ducal Theatre, 2 December 1877, led by Franz Liszt. Delilah’s aria calls for an orchestra of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, trumpet, 3 trombones, timpani, harp, and strings as well as mezzo-soprano and tenor; it lasts about 5½ minutes.
A storm is brewing outside the Philistine Dalilah’s retreat as she attempts to seduce the Hebrew Samson with her aria “Mon coeur s’ouvre at ta voix” (“My heart opens to your voice”). The sensuality of the melodic line and the sultry atmosphere of the orchestral accompaniment make this aria one of the landmarks of French grand opera.
Born 21 February 1836, Saint-Germain-du-Val, France; died 16 January 1891, Paris.
Lakmé: Flower Duet
The opera, composed 1880-81, premiered at the Opéra Comique, Paris, 14 April 1883. The score of the Flower Duet calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, 4 horns, strings and vocal soloists. 6 minutes.
Léo Delibes is best known today for his ballets Coppelia and Sylvia and for the Flower Duet and the Bell Song from his once very popular opera Lakmé, the story of an ill-fated love between a Hindu priest’s daughter and a British officer. In Act I Lakmé and her servant Mallika are gathering flowers beside a river, singing of the “thick canopy where the white jasmine intertwines with the rose,” while Gerald secretly catches first sight of his soon-to-be beloved.
Born 12 November 1833, in St. Petersburg, Russia; died there 27 February 1887.
Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances
Borodin worked on Prince Igor from 1869 to 1887, but left it unfinished upon his death. A performing edition created by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov was premiered 4 November 1890, at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, conducted by Karl Kuchera. The Polovtsian Dances call for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, glockenspiel, harp, strings and chorus. 12 minutes. The SSO and Chorus performed the Dances 12 May 2007, Andrews Sill conducting.
When the Russian Prince Igor loses a battle to the Polovtsians, a people living on the great Central Steppes, he and his son Vladimir are captured. Vladimir eventually falls in love with the Khan’s daughter, and audiences can understand his attraction as they hear the Polovtsian Dances, a feast of exhilarating and alluring music whose exotic harmonies and sinuous melodies are meant to evoke a realm of Central Asia. Broadway show fans will recall the 1953 musical Kismet, which used Borodin tunes for songs like “Stranger in Paradise.”
Born Tikhvin, Russia, 18 March, 1844; died near Luga, Russia, 21 June, 1908.
Mlada: Procession of the Nobles
Composed 1889-90 and premiered 1 November 1892 in St. Petersburg, conducted by Eduard Napravnik. The score calls for 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tambourine, triangle, 3 harps, strings and chorus. The SSO played the “Procession of the Nobles,” without chorus, on 22 June 1996, Guy Victor Bordo conducting. 4½ minutes.
Mlada is an opera-ballet, a fantasy set in legendary Russian times. It has been produced only rarely since its premiere, but the “Procession of the Nobles,” which opens Act II, has long been a favorite short concert piece.
Born Lucca, Italy, 22 December, 1858; died London, England, 5 June 1926.
Madama Butterfly, Act II: Humming Chorus
Composed 1901-04 and revised 1904-07 following its premiere 17 February 1904 at La Scala, Milan, Cleofonte Campanini conducting. The Humming Chorus calls for 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, horn, harp, viola d’amore, strings and chorus. The SSO and Chorus performed the Humming Chorus 6 April 2002, with Janet Herrick. 3 minutes.
At the end of the first scene of Act II of Madama Butterfly, the title character, a young Japanese woman abandoned by her American husband, a naval officer, has learned that his ship is entering Nagasaki harbor. Following rapturous joy and eager preparation of her cottage for Pinkerton’s return, Cio-cio-san calmly waits through the night during a gentle orchestral interlude accompanied by offstage chorus and reduced orchestra that includes the haunting sound of a viola d’amore.
Born Munich, 11 June, 1864; died Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 8 September, 1949.
Der Rosenkavalier: Act III Finale (Trio and Duet).
Der Rosenkavalier premiered at the Royal Dresden Opera 26 January 1911, Ernst von Schuch conducting. The final pages of Act III call for 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, tambourine, glockenspiel, celesta, 2 harps and strings, plus singers. Performance time about 12 minutes.
In Der Rosenkavalier, set in 18th century Austria, Marie-Thérèse, wife of a Field Marshal, has been having a passionate affair with the much younger nobleman Octavian. She knows he will eventually fall in love with someone his own age, as indeed happens in Act II, after the lecherous Baron Ochs asks Octavian to present a silver rose to Ochs’ fiancée Sophie. At the climax of the final act, after Ochs’s gross deceitfulness has been revealed to Sophie’s father, Faninal, and the engagement is off, the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie sing an ecstatic trio, in which each expresses love and the Marschallin generously releases Octavian from his vows to her. (In reference back to Mozart’s Cherubino, Strauss created Octavian as a trouser role, to be sung by a mezzo soprano.)
After the Marschallin leaves the stage, resigned to her loss of Octavian, the remaining lovers sing a sweet, somewhat Mozartian duet. Faninal and the Marschallin briefly return and acknowledge the couple; and the father remarks (in Viennese dialect), “That’s youth for you!” while the Marschallin simply adds, “Ja, ja.” After the lovers sing another verse and themselves leave the stage, a little page-boy runs onstage to retrieve a handkerchief for a quick, more cheerful final moment.
Born Toropets, Russia, 21 March 1839; died St. Petersburg, 28 March 1881.
Boris Godonov: Coronation Scene (arr. David Lloyd-Jones)
The opera was composed 1868-69, then revised and expanded 1871-72; premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersberg, led by Eduard Napravnik, 27 January 1874; and became better known internationally in a 1908 edition by Rimsky-Korsakov. Tonight’s arrangement calls for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, tubular and other bells, tam-tam, bass drum, piano 4-hands and strings, as well as singers. The SSO and Chorus performed the Coronation Scene on 12 May 2007, Andrews Sill conducting. Performance time about 9 minutes.
In this scene Boris, who has had a hand in the murder of the rightful heir to the Russian throne, recoils in guilt as a crowd cheers his acceptance of the crown as the new czar. They sing “Glory!” (“Slava!”) as church bells ring over Moscow.