Verdi-Wagner Bicentennial concert for a Lyric mezzo? I say YES!


Pardon me as I sidestep from my usual Spanish song theme; the next couple of entries coming up will be dedicated to my usual  anecdotes and musings, but I  must digress and write about my grappling with two very important dudes, namely VERDI AND WAGNER: the two composers I felt almost sure I would never get to sing.

On a steady diet of Rossini, Mozart and other 18th century composers for years, I long stood like a kid outside a candy store before the music of these two musical giants.   With the years, I eventually learned the role of Fenena in Nabucco and flirted a bit with Preziosilla from La Forza del Destino.  From Wagner, I never dipped the big toe in until last year:  I helped program an interesting concert about the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.  For this multidisciplinary concert in Spain that commemorated his centennial with the artistic collective 11persons Kulturforum with dancer Cristiane Azem, pianist Emilio González Sanz, poems of Francisco M. Quirce and video creation by Andrés Amorós, I ventured out with my first Wagner:  Im Treibhaus from his Wesendonck Lieder.  With the collaboration of my friend, the Spanish pianist Emilio González Sanz, the song grew into shape and breadth. We did the Klimt concert four times in Spain, and included this Wagner song in the recital “The voice of the mezzo soprano” in Albacete, Spain this past April.  The song still has many more fruits to bear, and it was certainly a nice beginning for me in the music of Wagner.


Spanish pianist Emilio González Sanz and Anna Tonna in “KLIMT, Artist of the Soul”

Providence has now provided me with a wonderful opportunity to sing this whole cycle in Santo Domingo, D.R. where the German Embassy and the National Beaux Arts theater of this country, El Palacio de Bellas Artes, together with the foundation “Patronato para la Danza” is producing a Wagner Bicentennial Concert this coming October 15.  Already hard at work on the whole cycle, its almost easier than the Berlioz’s Nuit d’été I just sang in this very same theater!  A friend forwarded me a video of mezzo soprano Anne Sophie Von Otter singing the cycle, so maybe it was not such a crazy thing to hear Cherubino singing Wagner…


Poster of “Wagneriana”, designed by José Miura


The Wagner Verdi Bicentennial is in the air…and I made a bold decision to submit a program for a recital I have been invited to present on November 9th in St. Petersburg, Florida “Celebration of the Arts 2013” at Eckerd College of Wagner and Verdi. Totally absorbed on how I would do the programming, I spent some late nights reading and listening. I found a fabulous vintage documentary of Wagner’s time in Venice on youtube, with wonderful melancholic images of the Palazzo where Wagner lived and finished composing Tristan und Isolde, the canals, with voice overs reciting his letters to his beloved Matilde Wesendonck.

Wagner e Venezia (vintage narrative documentary) in youtube

I also became interested in the Verdi songs, and in his middle period in which three operas are evident:  Nabucco, Ernani and Macbeth.  We all know the reigning singer of both of these composers, is the Spinto lirico or the Junglischer dramatisch soprano.  Defeating the little voices in my head saying “who am I to sing this music”, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel of how I, a proven and confirmed light (but not small voiced) mezzo could pay tribute to these composers whom I admire…

So in my head, I am organizing the program with these two ideas in mind:

Wagner in Venice/ Verdi Songs and bel canto heritage

The Wagner half almost “did” itself: I programmed the Wesendonck lieder and songs by Liszt inspired in his Italy period (I am considering his Pace non trovo and Oh, quand je d’or); there are letters written from Wagner to Liszt during this Venice time period, which reinforces this choice; Wagner in Venice is also the theme of an interesting film/documentary that is trying to unravel the mystery of his lost symphony, said to be written during this time period.  In one of his letters to Matilde, he writes about “that demonic” woman in Tanhausser, so I programmed Venus’ Geliebter komm’ which tesitura wise (second soprano), and given that it is with piano, I anticipate being very successful in.  In other letters he mentions the song of the gondoliers in the distance, and the effect of Venice upon his mood; I took the opportunity to use some of the songs that I had long admired from the album “Souvenir de Venise” from Graham Johnson’s Songmaker’s Almanac disc: Massenet’s Souvenir de Venise, Gounod’s Venise and Hahn’s La barchetta, and possibly Mendelssohn’s Venetianisches Gondellied, all songs that are impossibly romantic and atmospheric…

Now, Verdi…

Years ago as an apprentice in the Caramoor’s young artist program, I had an opportunity to study and perform the Verdi song (scena!) L’esule with Will Crutchfield.  Building on this substantial song (9 minutes!) I have plans to learn a set of Verdi songs, using the Victor DeRenzi editions that came out in 2000.  I am not totally decided on the ones that will be included, but I am considering Il briggidino, Stornello, and an Ave Maria he composed, which is very much a prelude to Desdemona’s prayer in the years to come, and is a true gem.  My goal is a 15-20 minute song set by Verdi. I will compliment that offer with Fenena’s prayer from Nabucco and “canzone del velo” from Don Carlo, which I might possibly sing in French.  My accompanist is the exquisite Olga Vinokur, who is a regular soloist at Bargemusic in NYC. She will do a Liszt piano transcription of excerpts from Rigoletto.  To further compliment that half, I decided to do small exploration of the composers that the scholars have signaled as the influences of young and mid year Verdi:

Saverio Mercadante (1785-1870)

Giovanni Pacini (1796-1867)

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)

The first two have been totally eclipsed by the opera’s of Verdi and with few exceptions are revived today.  If the two arias I found by these first two composers are the evidence, I’m sure there are treasure to be found for the enterprising singer in search of something new to bring out…

Foregoing “O mio Fernando”, I have my eye on Giovanna’s aria from Anna Bolena, or even “Il segreto per esser felice” from Lucrezia Borgia. I toyed briefly with Maria Stuarda, but I am  leaving that for another day…I will be spending my time putting the Pacini and Mercadante “in gola”.

Mercadante and Pacini are a fascinating find.  There are couple of Mercadante arias in my old Pattelson’s mezzo aria book edited by Max Spicker.  Looking over Don Sebastiano (excerpts sung by Elena Garanca in her Bel canto album), my heart was set on “Ah si, mie care…Or la sull’ onda” from Mercadante’s most famous opera, Il giuramento.  I fell in love with this piece when I heard it in my Agnes Baltsa aria album from the 80’s a while back; this aria is not printed anywhere in modern times, but thanks to the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, I had score in a couple of days, and the aria was soon in my hands. Regarding Giovanni Pacini, I had found some of his songs in a recent collection of Italian Romantic songs that I spied, but I wanted opera… Petrucci Library gave forth a fabulous aria by the put upon mezzo role in his opera Saffo, sung by the role of Climene, her “Merce, dilette ancelle…ah, con lui mi fu rapita”; its a meat and potatoes “heavy” bel canto piece, just in the right range for a girl like me, seeking some fun and excitement! My Verdi half has shaped up nicely.

Each half has at least 30 minutes of the celebrated composer, and another 30 minutes of arias  by the same composer or by composers that were drinking from the same fountains…I will need to edit down and tighten up each half.  Its a big project, but with the repertoire pretty much researched and found, I’m now looking forward to delving into this interesting recital I have before me.  I get a chance to sing the entire Wesendonck Lieder  on October 15 of this year, and a portion of the Verdi songs this summer at the Altamura Music Festival in a few weeks, so some things will have already been sung.  I am hoping to do an dress rehearsal before I go to Florida here in NYC. I will post the final program in a few weeks on the blog.


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