Category Archives: Gioacchino Rossini

Semiramide Challenge Days #7 #8 #9 and a love letter to American Rossini soprano Lella Cuberli

Standard
Semiramide Challenge Days #7 #8 #9 and a love letter to American Rossini soprano Lella Cuberli

LelaCuberli_Semiramide

American soprano and Rossini interpreter extraordinaire Lella Cuberli as Semiramide

 

I must confess I did not crack the score on days #7 and #8. Today on day #9, I continued to work on the second act aria for Arsace “In si barbara”, and can now sing thru it although not all sections at high speed. In terms of cadenzas for the repeats, I let the ornaments “come” organically. As I start learning the runs and notes and become familiar with the emotions of the character, my brain automatically generates the ornaments; already some of the flourishes have started to  come out by themselves, although I’m not currently writing them down. I read over the runs that are in the Ricci book that are indicated for “In si barbara” by the mezzo Marchisio sister, but they seem dated and or old fashioned, and are not attractive to me.

In general the tessitura is low, the same as my speaking voice almost; its a true “contraltina” aria.  In Rossini’s time it would of been perhaps a quarter of tone lower due to the diapason levels of the time.

I am now listening to the French mezzo soprano Martine Dupuy and Texan born soprano Lella Cuberli’s  second act duet “Ebben, ferisci” that is on YouTube dated 1990 (Paris). Dupuy is higher voiced mezzo, more mellow, perhaps not as incisive or as “macho” as Marilyn Horne, although I love her musicality and expression;  the cavatina section of the duet I must say is extremely musical and in sync; the trills and mesa di voces they do together are astonishingly beautiful.

My plan for the rest of the week is for me to review what I have learned up until now, and finally start vocalizing “Ebben, feresci”; its a beast of a duet and is theatrically at a fevered pitch, as the gloves come off when they arrive at the knowledge of the Oedipal situation, as well as the fact that Semiramide helped kill her husband (Arsace’s father).  The duet reads like some sort of controlled but divinely sounding hysteria, which comes off energy wise as feeling of riding tightly reined in wild  horses…

Cuberli_albumcover

So few years back I bought on a lark a solo CD of Rossini arias with orchestra of Lella Cuberli. I loved it so much that the CD jacket promptly fell apart. I couldn’t get enough of it, especially her Matilde di Shabran rondeau . This CD is now worth almost $80 on Amazon! it doesn’t seem to be available. Here is the clip from said disc on YouTube:

Ms. Cuberli is one of my all time favorite Rossini interpreters; it is astonishing that there is no commercial disc that documents her portrayal of Semiramide. We are lucky though to have numerous live performances that her fans have posted on YouTube for us to enjoy and learn from.  I bought on Ebay practically new LP of her Tancredi, which come to think of it, I will take out tomorrow and give it a listen.

 

 

Starting Arsace’s rondeau “In si barbara” Days #5 – #6 of Semiramide Challenge 2017

Standard
Starting Arsace’s rondeau “In si barbara” Days #5 – #6 of Semiramide Challenge 2017

Semiramide_Arsace_antiqueaquarel

Yesterday was a kind of a nitty gritty day: coloratura learning is a lonely task, its just your butt at that piano, playing harmonies and learning scales. Unlike some of the thru composed music of later decades, hearing your coloratura passages in your head and understanding the scale is super important, but it goes hand in hand with singing those scales and intricate patterns over and over; and then when you really know it (even before) it needs to have emotion or meaning behind it.

I had a inward “gulp” moment (like oh my gosh what did I get myself into) a few days ago when I saw this amazing video of Marilyn Horne singing
“In si barbara” in a concert in Versailles, dated 1985. Its a filn shot as if it were a concert being viewed by Rossini himself, a fabulous fantasy costumed production, check it out:

So I searched on youtube with the words “In si barbara” and Rossini, and this is the only thing that came up. No excerpts of this being done as a solo piece, concert piece, etc… from what I have seen, this is probably the version by which this aria can really be measured;  she is hands down amazing; this clip my friends is definitely awe inspiring.

I started yesterday vocalizing the cavatina of this piece super slowly, as well as tackling the bridge section (a pre cabaletta with triplet figures), which happens before the real fireworks begin. The cabaletta has a male chorus like so many of these Rossini rondeaus, where there is sword waving, egging on and general great fun. The scales are not overly hard, but doing them at great speed could be difficult. I’m not there yet with it.  Since I want to sing it as a concert piece this fall, I discovered that the old Max Spicker Alto and Soprano aria book (edited by Pattelsons in NYC in the 1980’s, and which seems to be out of print) conveniently has this very same rondeau with the male chorus written out and ready for a solo concert with the pianist! I photocopied it today…

max spicker

I will be checking out Jennifer Laramore’s recorded version of this aria this week without fail and see what she does, her ornamentation choices as well as tempos. For now I’m plugging away at this aria slowly but surely. Today (day #6), I did not sit at the piano, but I did review and look at the score during a long subway ride to Brooklyn; I’ve gone thru and can hear in my head the first act, including the recitatives (minus the quintet). I will now chip away at the second act, as I come into my second week of the Semiramide challenge 2017.  I still have the second act duet with the soprano to contend with.  I already have a coaching set up on August 9th and August 11th.

Found this neat “deco” orientalist painting of our favorite sultry and “evil like” sex kitten. If I was to update this opera to the present, it would have to be to one of those 1980’s night time soap operas, like Falcon Crest or Dynasty. Joan Collins would of made a fabulous Queen Semiramide in my opinion…

Semiramide_Deco_Fullbody

Semiramide Challenge 2017 Day #4, recitative before “Serbami ognor”, interesting…

Standard
Semiramide Challenge 2017 Day #4, recitative before “Serbami ognor”, interesting…

Semiramide_Event

Rossini leaves no stone unturned in Semiramide in terms of human interaction, emotional states; shades of unspoken are throughout the score.  The recitatives that I have sung thru so far are all studied little gems of characterization and theater. I have never participated or studied his opera seria from Rossini’s Neopolitan years and I’m seriously stunned now that I’m examining Semiramide; These have nothing to do with Barbiere, Cenerentola or Italiana in Algeri. They have the same degree of psychological depth of recitatives by Handel, Mozart and Verdi. I will need to conjure a real theatrical accent and would have to have a pretty great and accomplished conductor that can truly accompany and bring these recits to life.

I have sung  the first act duet between Arsace and Semiramide “Serbami ognor” a few times in concerts these past two years, but had never bothered to look at the recitative that precedes this duet. Semiramide (in the book “History thru the Opera Glass” by George Jellinek, the author cites that tradition has it she was the creator of the famous Babylonian Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world) is a character I’m still trying to figure out; what is certain is that she is an anti heroine: complicated, sexy, very feminine, capable of murder and with a thirst for power, but also vulnerable (she allows herself to fall in love) she becomes remorseful and  horrified at the Oedipeal situation she finds herself in when we get to the second act. Can I say she is an evil sex kitten with a heart? Arsace can’t bring himself to kill her when he reveals that he is her son.  There must of been something redeemable about her… I need to keep taking myself thru this libretto a bit more, as well as Rossini’s musicalization to figure it out.

Semiramide_Starke

Amazing cat suit outfit for Semiramide

Today I took myself thru this interesting recitative between Arsace and Semiramide “Mitrane, e che rechi?” right before duet No. 8; I read it first at the piano and saw what seemed to be quirky almost awkward sudden changes in harmony, but within a framework of very sparse notes (“la più bella speranza lusingava il mio cor, ma…). But in reading the translation, Rossini perfectly emulates the misunderstanding as well as  word ques that erroneosly “get lost in translation” between the two characters; she has just received the missive from the oracle saying that all will be righted in the kingdom when Arsace marries (she assumes she is the bride alluded by the oracle); Arsace has come to ask for Azema’s hand in marriage and misunderstands that the Queen is open to agreeing to this marriage. I need to add that both Semiramide and Arsace each have a letter reading scene with underneath orchestral tremolos. Rossini used every device in the book to wring out every ounce of drama, to what I consider thrilling results.

Arsace’s statements and responses need to be sung with a lot of intention, as well as with a touche of naivete. He is truly an honest young man, and very much in earnest, but is  a little clueless and doesn’t have an instinct for subterfuge.   Some of the lines are filled with pride, then suddenly changes to hope, anxiety, and love; he opens his heart to Semiramide in this scene, and she mistakes his intentions…this section needs to come off very natural.  Since its accompanied by the orchestra, it is super rigorous at the same time…so, not really easy to pull off.  This recit section has lots of interesting stuff. It of course preludes one of the better known duets from the opera. I already started scribbling the different attitudes and emotional content of Arsace’s lines in this section. Actually, Rossini in his harmonies tells me what Arsace is feeling; its all there on the page.

Arsace – You summoned me, Queen, and I have hastened to come. How I have yearned for this sweet moment! The finest of hopes enticed my heart. But…

Semiramide – (sweetly) Why do you stop?

Arsace – I am told that, generous as you are, you have at last granted Assyria its wish, that today you will name a successor…

Semiramide – Go on.

Arsace – Assur, the haughty man, thinks he will be king, Azema’s hand will earn him a throne. I would die for you, but I will not serve him.

Semiramide – He shall not have Azema.

Arsace – (joyfully) He won’t?

Semiramide – I am aware of his plans.

Arsace – Ah! Then you know him?

Semiramide – And I will punish him.

Arsace – (reticently) If only you knew this well also Arsace’s heart!

Semiramide – (tenderly) I know that it is faithful and virtuous.

Arsace – But I am only a warrior…

Semiramide – And a warrior, for this empire, is the greatest support… and you… are already… (to herself) Patience, my heart.

(Libretto from the recording conducted by Alberto Zedda, edited by Dynamic CD’s)

Semiramide_scoreantique_frontpiece

Semiramide 30 day Challenge Day 3 Arsace Assur duet “Bella imago…”

Standard

Semiramide_antiquescore

I have not sung many opera scenes with true basses.  The last I did that comes to memory is the duet between Laura and Alvise in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.  There are more common encounters in baroque opera between these two voice types, as well as also in a couple of Bach cantatas that I have sung.  There are occasions in which the mezzo interacts with the bass in recitative passages, but not often in large presentational duet like the one in Semiramide.

The scene with Arsace and Assur in Act I of Semiramide begins with Arsace’s recit  “…e questo Assur chi’io già detesto”.  It would be a mistake to sum this scene as a big testosterone sable rattling scene. Its divided in four sections sections, and contains  bridge section to mirror the power struggle and conflict (with what I call “emotional close ups”) between the two characters: a young dashing somewhat lovelorn general and a mature general that has been working many years to attain absolute power in ancient Babylon.

American bass Samuel Ramey as Assur in Rossini’s Semiramide

No. 5 Scena and duetto Arsace and Assur

Recitative “…e questo Assur chio gia detesto” “E dunque vero? audace”

Maestoso allegretto giusto: “Bella imago degli Dei”

Andante: “D’un tenero amore”

Allegro vivace: “Io tremar?”

A tempo:  “Va superbo, in quella Reggia”

A cut version could last 7 plus minutes. The uncut performance of the duet from the 80’s with Horne and Ramey  in London clocked in at 11’30, its truly a superb version:

Arsace Assur Duet from Semiramide with Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey live performance London

The recit exposes the power struggle and rivalry between the two characters; Arsace ends his statement with scale with possible cadenza and begins the A section (Maestoso allegreto giusto) which then returns at the A tempo at the end of the scena. The Decca London 1965 recording cuts out the  Andante section, which gives a great platform to show almost a soft side for Assur, wonderful expressive singing for Arsace, as well as beautiful cadenza in which both characters sing together, its a great moment. The “io tremar” of the Allegro vivace changes the mood in an aggressive way to bring us back to the A section, which in the uncut version repeats; its in this section that the ornaments are done.  Musically and dramatically the scena is a mini opera, except that the conflict remains to be resolved (with deadly force) later on in the opera.

Its a big chunk of music. In the Kalmus score its 18 pages for this scena…for now I will learn the return of the A section come scritto  (Horne re writes the passages leading to the end of this first exposition). It definitely needs a high note, as indicated by Rossini by the two fermatas. Not too worried getting this A section in my voice, as well as the gorgeous introspective cantilena section.  The grouping of the figures in the last part of the duet are super trumpet like in character. I sung thru it a couple of times today. Tomorrow I will work on the possible ornaments and cadenzas for the duet.  None are indicated in the Ricci cadenza book. After that, I’m moving on to the Act II cavatina of “In si barbara”. I’m skipping over the Act I finale quintet for now.

I will sing thru a big chunk of this role in a small concert on September 6th in NYC so I can try all this out for size. Still working on that August 19th deadline to learn every note and every word! Maybe not every ornament and cadenza, but yes to be able to read the score from top to bottom.

Semiramide_Arsace_Lucia

Italian mezzo soprano Lucia Valentini-Terrani as Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide

España alla Rossini Disc Review in Melómano Digital

Standard
España alla Rossini Disc Review in Melómano Digital

“One can be thankful when discographic labels put forth original projects in order to bring to light lesser known repertoire; this is what iTinerant Records accomplishes with a set of songs for voice and piano by the great Rossini, whose commonly known  relationship and source of inspiration is music of Spanish roots; this brings into light the special relation this Italian musician had with our country, and how it is reflected in his music.  Not only was Rossini married with the famous Madrilian soprano Isabel Colbrán, he also had numerous person and professional friendships with Spaniards of different stations of society.

Colbran_engraving_profile

The selection of songs from diverse compositional periods is interesting, and even though the majority of the texts are not in castilian, the Spanish influence in all of them is clear, including the characteristic rythms like the “seguidilla”, the “Jota” or the “tirana”.  As to the performers, the North American mezzo soprano Anna Tonna posseses a beautiful voice with a stupendous timbre, with musicality and coloratura more than adequate for this rossinian repertoire of salon.  Her special relationship to our country leaves an imprint of her capacity to give this music the necessary Spanish quality it needs. She is perhaps somewhat at her limits in the higher registers, but she is able to bring a great level to the pages of the score that are most genuinely “Rossinian”, as in the songs “Amori scendete” or “La passeggiatta”, as well as the more folkloric in character, such as the well known “canzonetta spagnuola” which has a crescendo that is executed with special inspiration.

IMG_0930

 Emilio González Sanz accompanies with a great sense of rhythm in a historic piano from the piano makers  John Broadwood & Sons, an instrument very much appreciated by Rossini, and which brings us closer to the original sonority of this music.  The interventions of the tenor Miguel Borrallo and the Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina are also correct and appropriate”.

 

David C. Porto

Melónamo Digital