Tag Archives: Opera

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

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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

Rossini: Never light; and or The art of Lucia Valentini Terrani

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Dear friends,

During a recent coaching with a pianist, we got to talking about repertoire, and my pianist friend gave me his candid opinion about the lack of art of Rossini’s music.  He cited the few times that James Levine conducted Rossini’s operas at the MET as clear proof of his views; the pianist went on for a full 15 minutes about this topic.  He certainly did not know of my own personal investment in this composer; I thought it a waste of time of energy to try to persuade my friend to a different view point, as he was resolute. He had obviously never tried singing the roulades in La Cenerentola; I don’t know of another role that take as much gumption and courage as this one; and I doubt if my pianist friend ever heard the Italian mezzo Lucia Valentini Terrani sing Rossini.

I first learned of Lucia when I was making my way through my first years in NYC as budding young singer doing the audition rounds. Recently out of The Mannes College of Music, I answered an ad in the magazine The Classical Singer for an audition of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri.  It was for a now defunct opera company called OperaSpectives; they were to do an adaptation of the above mentioned opera called “Italian Girl in …Astoria?” I went to an apartment in the Village and auditioned in a crowded, tiny room with a single light bulb hanging down, and sang Cruda sorte.  I was casted in what was to be my unofficial New York City debut, singing the role of Isabella in a church basement in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Wearing an orange mini skirt, open toed high heeled sandals and dark sun glasses, I was suppose to act (besides very bossy) like an Italian starlet from the 60’s.  Even with my limited experience and vocalism, I was able to navigate the coloratura and found the part and music congenial to my nature.

Me as Isabella from L’italiana in Algeri”, my first Rossini opera role

I started to look for recordings of L’italiana and of course I found the commercial one with Valentini Terrani on Sony Classic, and promptly bought the live recording of Valentini Terrani and tenor Ugo Benelli.  I fell in love with Lucia’s dark sensuous color, which weaved its spell on me.  These were the days before Youtube and Spotify, so in order to continue to get my Valentini Terrani dosage, I bought her commercial Cenerentola recording with Araiza (also on SONY Classic). I recorded L’italiana from LPs borrowed from the Lincoln Center Library to audio cassette so I could listen on my Walkman (dear readers, I know I’m dating myself!).  Her high notes were not spectacular, but her coloratura and phrasing and voice color where, well, like drugs to me; I couldn’t get enough; it was just about the sexiest sound I had ever heard (to rival the Anna Moffo’s Debussy album with her song “Le balcon”, which is practically x-rated!). I learned the role of Isabella with this recording, and at that point had not bothered to obtain the Berganza recordings.  Lucia knew “how it went” and I trusted her completely.

Years later I auditioned for the Spanish agent Pere Porta, and somehow her name came up. He mentioned she had recently passed away of leukemia. Shocked, I did a web search and found a beautiful website, constructed lovingly by her husband the Italian actor Alberto Terrani in her tribute:  http://www.luciavalentiniterrani.it/index_en.htm

I had never really seen these pictures before, and printed several of them out for myself.

Around the time of my first Cenerentola with Taconic Opera, I used one of her photos for my Cenerentola hall of fame notebook; you see, I believe in opera ancestor worship…I guess its some sort of opera shamanism…am I the only one? I somehow do not think so…

Unlike the general thought here in the US that this composer is “light music” to be done by young singers, in Italy Rossini is serious stuff.  Valentini Terrani sings this music like it was holy and sacred; she approaches it like some sort fabulous vestal priestess; check out her “Amici in ogni evento…cual piacer”, Isabella’s final Rondo in L’italiana. She is dressed in a white Greek-like robe, accompanied by a men’s chorus, and enacts the whole scena with intense solemnity of a religious rite; it is a Rossinian “Casta Diva” moment:

The total vocal perfection and almost antiseptic aesthetic we are now so used to hearing with commercial recordings here is completely absent; what we get instead is fervor, urgency and a torrent of emotions. I don’t think that emotion wise, she gives Rossini any less weight than singing Verdi.

What I love about singing singing Rossini is the light/dark contrast, feminine/male thing that is CONSTANTLY happening in this music.  Besides the travesti roles, within the female characters themselves, the music switches between aggressive and soft, virtuosity and expressiveness; I get to be some sort of fabulous “macho girl”…never a static expression. Its a music that mirrors the constant state of flux of my mind and emotions; like some sort of early 19th century Proustian stream of consciousness, always changing.

The book Diva by Helena Matheopoulus has one of the few interviews in English I have found of Valentini Terrani, and I close this entry with Lucia’s own words taken from this book, regarding her thoughts on the music of Rossini:

“It  is better to do something less than perfect every now and then rather than something boring.  Rossini’s genius is very modern, yet difficult to penetrate because it is so marked by duality and contradiction. He is both easy and difficult; introverted and cerebral in one sense, extroverted manic, mad in another; indeed he is all those things, often at the same time…like a clown, he is a comic with a deep melancholy and ironic streak”.