Tag Archives: Rossini

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

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

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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…

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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.

 

 

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

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

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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.

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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)

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

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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.

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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”.