Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Sound of Music: The Classics - Opera Part 2

This is part 2 of my Opera collection. See Part 1 here. Part 1 discusses Carmen, The Barber of Seville, Turandot, and the song Bolero. See Part 3 here. Part 3 discusses Madama Butterfly, Gianni Schicchi, and Lakmé.

I place Opera in the Classics category, because they share the same qualities--distinctive, usually from the same past time period, and both use orchestras to create dramatic, intriguing music.

Like I wrote in the previous post, I'm not really an opera fan nor am I an opera expert. I've never even seen a full, live performance of an opera. However, I am familiar with a few opera songs. And while I may not understand what they are singing, I am captivated by the songs. And I quite like listening to some of them because they are so resplendent and astounding.

In researching opera, I learned that I need to know the story and plot before seeing the opera. That way, I'll know what's going on with the show. There's no narrator in an opera performance, and they're not going to pause the show to explain what's going on in the scenes. You're expected to know the story before hand!

Ordinarily, I avoid spoilers. I want to be surprised at the performance of a play or musical or dance or show. But this is opera. Spoilers are a necessity. And since it is opera, there will be some tragedies, which is a genre that I usually avoid. The world is depressing enough as it is. If I want entertainment, I prefer something comedic or uplifting.

However, I am open to seeing tragic operas, if only to hear the great opera songs live and in person. In this post, I'll summarize the plot of the opera. Then I'll discuss my opinions and my thoughts on these opera songs.

As always, please let me know if the music clips don't work. And you can click on the song title to open the song using your own media player or to download it so you may listen to it later. I look forward to your thoughts on these songs. Thank you.

Ruggero Leoncavallo: Pagliacci Act I: Vesti La Giubba

The first time that I heard this song, I was a small child on a coastal frontier farm, listening to the late night a.m. radio. Mom and I were waiting for Dad to come home from work. At that late hour, the radio played classical music and opera songs. I didn't understand a single word they were singing. But some songs stuck out, because they were so unique and alluring, so strange yet splendid. And I was hooked the first time that I heard Enrico Caruso soulfully sing out his heartbreak in Vesti la giubba (Put on the costume).

I didn't know the singer nor the name of the song. I had no clue what he was singing. But I was moved by the raw pain and anguish that radiated from the singer's voice. I felt his tortured heart and troubled soul. And I could not help but feel compassion for this man's pain.

The Story Summary:

Tonio, in his costumed character Taddeo, tells the audience that the actors playing characters have feelings, too, and they are real people, like them.

Set in mid 19th century Calabria, toe of the Italian Peninsula. A troupe of entertainers (clowns!) arrive in a village in the afternoon to prepare for an evening performance. They are Canio (whose clown character is Pagliacci/Pierrot) the leader; his wife Nedda (Columbina); Peppe (Arlecchino/Harlequin); and Tonio (Taddeo/The Fool). They announce the play will start before sunset, and the villagers cheer and invite them to a bar before the show.

Nedda steps down from the cart; Tonio offers his hand but it's knocked away by Canio, who helps his wife down himself. Canio and Peppe take up the villagers offer of drinks at the bar. The villagers tease that Tonio is planning to make a move on Nedda. Canio declares that while he may play a fool in the show, in real life, he will not tolerate any man making advances on his wife.

The villagers ask if Canio thinks Nedda will be unfaithful. Canio believes his wife's love to be true. Canio affirms his wife's fidelity, kisses her head, then heads to the bar with Peppe, Tonio, and the villagers, leaving Nedda behind alone. But Tonio sneaks back and makes a move on Nedda!

Nedda rebuffs Tonio and chases him away. Then Silvio, Nedda's secret lover from the village, shows up after leaving Canio and Peppe drinking in the bar. He makes plans with Nedda to elope after the play. She agrees. But Tonio overhears, and rushes to the bar to inform Canio!

Canio and Tonio return but Silvio escapes, with Nedda calling after him, "I will always be yours!"

Canio chases after Silvio, but Silvio escapes without revealing his identity or face. Canio angrily demands his name from Nedda, but she refuses. Canio whips out a knife, but he is disarmed by Peppe. Peppe calms everyone down. He reminds them all of the show. He tell them all to get ready for the play. They have a show to put on soon.

Canio is comforted by Tonio, who tells him that the secret lover is bound to reveal himself at the play. Then Canio goes into professional mode. They have a play to perform. He gets ready for the play, but he cries a single lonely tear as he makes up his face, singing the sorrowful, heartbreaking song Vesti la giubba (Put on the costume). The show must go on! He puts on a smile for the audience while his heart is breaking.

Pagliaccio by Ivan Gongalov

The audience arrives to see the play. All the clowns are in character. Columbina (Nedda) collects the money from the crowd and warns Silvio that Canio is on the hunt for him. The crowd cheers as the play begins:

Pagliaccio (Canio) goes out of town and won't return until the next day. Taddeo (Tonio) comes from the market to woo Columbina (Nedda). She mocks him and rebuffs him. Her lover, Arlecchino (Peppe), arrives to serenade her. She lets him in through the window. Arlecchino (Peppe) chases Taddeo (Tonio) out of the room. The audience laughs.

Arlecchino (Peppe) and Columbina (Nedda) dine and make plans to elope. He gives her a sleeping potion to use on Pagliaccio (Canio) when he returns. Taddeo (Tonio) bursts into the room to announce that Pagliaccio (Canio) had gotten suspicious of his wife and returned early!

Arlecchino (Peppe) makes his getaway in the window, and Colombina (Nedda) tells him, "I will always be yours!", just as Pagliaccio (Canio) enters.

Hearing those words stuns Pagliaccio (Canio)! He exclaims "Name of God! Those same words!"

He is immediately reminded of his wife's infidelity! He tries to go on with his role, but he is overwhelmed and unable to continue the play. His wrath at the vicious betrayal rises. He demands of Nedda (Columbina) to name her lover.

Nedda refuses and tries to get the play back on track, calling Canio by his character name, "Pagliaccio," to remind him of the audience's presence.

But Canio answers with his arietta: "No! Pagliaccio non son!"

He sings soulfully that if his face is pale, it is because of his wife's betrayal. She has broken his heart and shamed him. The audience is so moved by the zeal of the performance, his anguish and sorrow. They cheer him on, not knowing that what was happening was real!

Nedda (Columbina) makes another desperate effort to continue the play. She confesses that she has been seeing Arlecchino (Peppe). But Canio no longer cares for the play. His rage consumes him! He demands that she reveals her lover's identity.

Now the audience senses that the play is over and the drama is real. Everyone is anxious and worried. Peppe tells Tonio to intervene, but Tonio refuses and holds Peppe from getting between Nedda and Canio.

The crowd is agitated and Silvio fights his way towards the arguing couple. In a fit of rage, Canio grabs a knife from the table, Nedda still refuses to answer him. Frustrated, Canio stabs her!

She collapses, dying, calling out, "Help! Silvio!" She dies.

Silvio reaches the stage and furiously attacks Canio. Canio kills him!

The horrified audience is shocked and frozen in terror! And then Tonio delivers the celebrated final line:

La commedia è finita! – "The comedy is finished!"

The End

My initial reaction: Whoa!

My thoughts:

Usually, I avoid tragedies, but this story is actually very appealing on so many levels. Even more surprising, I'm actually eager to see the performance, even if the main characters are clowns! And I don't like clowns!

Clowns are creepy. I blame Steven King's It, the horror story about a child murdering evil clown monster. Also, I didn't grow up with the circus. I never went to see a circus in my childhood. They didn't have them in my remote neck of the woods.

The first time I saw a circus was the Cirque du Soleil at Las Vegas. I was a little drunk at the performance. It was Vegas, so of course I had some shots before the show! And I was totally freaking out when the midget/short clown started climbing up towards us. There was eerie music playing, making the approaching clown seem very menacing and omnious.

The clown's make up was frightening, and his costume was freaky! He displayed menacing expressions, and he made exaggerated, bizarre movements as he stalked towards us. He was giving us the heebee jeebies! The whole audience was anxious and intrigued, somewhat disgusted and delighted at the same time. But I was getting riled up! I was so ready to kick him hard in the face and flee the theater if he got any closer!

Note to self: Only see the circus sober.

My clown discomfort aside, I am surprised to find myself making a connection with Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. At its very core, it's a story about people, the chaos and heartbreak of love and betrayal. And I so identify with the entertainers, especially when they go through with the show in spite of the turmoil in their personal lives.

As a fellow actor and entertainer from my school days and in many community plays and productions, and from my time as a member of a champion dance crew, I totally identified with the Golden Rule of Entertainment: The Show Must Go On.

And to see the characters put aside their personal problems and maintain their professionalism to go on with the show speaks volumes of their dedication to the craft and the arts. No matter the personal cost, the show must go on.

And sometimes, the personal cost is too great. And while we may be professionals, we are humans first and foremost, with flaws and weakness and conflicting feelings that make us unpredictable, liable to make mistakes and give into passion, making us flawed and imperfect, self destructive.

While I normally avoid tragedies, I'm actually looking forward to Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. I want to see the characters and try to understand the characters better. Why didn't Nedda just leave with Silvio before the play began? Why didn't Tonio intervene to stop the escalating fight between Canio and Nedda? Why did Tonio hold back Peppe from intervening? Was Tonio a coward? Was he trying to get vengeance on Nedda for rebuffing him? Did he feel some loyalty to Canio? Was he trying to keep peacemaker Peppe from getting hurt in the final fight? Or was he a master manipulator? So many questions!

But most of all, I want to hear Vesti la giubba (Put on the costume) sung live, complete with Canio crying that single tear as he gets ready for the show. He is smiling on the outside but crying on the inside. That's so heartfelt and so heartbreaking! What beautiful art!

Giussepe Verdi: La Traviata, Act I: Libiamo Ne' Lieti Calici

Also known as the Drinking Song, it's no surprise this song is popular in commercials. It's another great song that used to play on the late night a.m. radio when I was a small child back on the farm.

The Story Summary:

Set in 1850 Paris, France. The famous, beloved courtesan Violetta Valéry throws a lavish, lively, popular party to celebrate her recovery from an illness. Unbeknownst to the others, the young Violetta knows that she is dying. But she throws a party to make the most of what little time she has left to celebrate with her friends.

Her friend and fellow courtesan Flora is there. Many noted society figures and famous people attend. Among them is Viscount Gastone, who brings his friend, the bourgeois Alfredo Germont. Gastone reveals to Violetta that Alfredo has loved her from afar and has been visiting her house daily while she was ill to inquire about her health. Alfredo admits to it.

Baron Douphol, Violetta's current lover, escorts her to the salon. He is asked to give a toast, but he declines. Alfredo answers the crowd's request and sings the famous Drinking Song, known as Libiamo ne' lieti calici (Drink from the joyful cup). He is joined by Violetta and the crowd. The party kicks into high gear and everyone has a great time.

When the orchestra plays in the ballroom, everyone moves there to dance at the request of Violetta. She needs some space to rest and recover from a dizzy spell before rejoining the festivities. Alfredo stays and voices his concern for her. He declares his love for her.

She refuses him gently. He is dejected, but something about his naiveté and candidness touches her heart. She gives him a camellia, telling him to return to see her when the flower wilts. He is overjoyed, because the camellia will wilt by the next day, an invitation for him to come back tomorrow.

When the party is over, the crowd leaves. Alone, Violetta wonders if it was foolish to give Alfredo hope for love. She feels that love is not for her, especially in her profession and given her impending death.

Some time pass, and Violetta is at her country house with Alfredo, where they have been living happily for three months. Violetta has given up her former famous life and parties to be with Alfredo in the country.

Violetta's servant Annina arrives from Paris. Alfredo is horrified to learn that Annina has returned after selling off Violetta's possessions to maintain the country lifestyle he and Violetta are enjoying. He leaves for Paris immediately to settle matters and pay back Violetta.

Meanwhile Violetta returns home and finds an invite from Flora to a party. Alfredo's father Giorgio Germont arrives and demands Violetta break up with Alfredo. Giorgio Germont fears that Violetta's colorful past will ruin his own young daughter's engagement in high society.

Giorgio Germont believes that Violetta has seduced Alfredo and plans to take his money. But he is humbled by Violetta's charms, courtesy, and wit. She shows him proof of her selling off her possessions to keep her and Alfredo living happily in the country.

Still Giorgio Germont begs her to break off with Alfredo, fearing for his son's future. Reluctantly, Violetta agrees to give up her love, so that Alfredo can go farther in society.

Giorgio Germont thanks her and leaves. Violetta writes a tearful goodbye note and sends Annina to Paris to accept Flora's invitation. She hands the goodbye letter to be delivered to Alfredo after she has left.

Alfredo returns home and is given the break up letter. He is stunned! His father returns to take him home to Provence. But Alfredo doesn't want to go back to Provence. He wants to go after Violetta. He mistakenly suspects that the Baron is behind his separation with Violetta, and Flora's party invitation, which he finds on the desk, strengthens his suspicions. He decides to confront Violetta at the party. His father tries to stop him, but Alfredo rushes out.

At the party, Alfredo tries to win back Violetta. But she keeps her distance out of her love for him and agreement with his father to separate from Alfredo. She keeps the Baron from harming the hot headed Alfredo. The Baron and Alfredo gamble. Alfredo wins big, because he claims that he was unlucky in love so that makes him lucky in gambling.

When Violetta rebuffs his pleas for getting back together, he loses it. He makes a public scene where he insults her character and throws his winnings at her, saying that he was repaying her for all she had done for him in the past. Now they were even. He has paid off her services!

Violetta faints from the exhaustion and stress. The crowd turns angrily on Alfredo. Even his father arrived to catch the insult to Violetta and reprimands his son. Violetta is revived and convinced by the ladies to retire from the party. She leaves after telling Alfredo he has no idea of what love is. But she forgives him as he tries to apologize. But he must face the Baron in a duel for his offensive behavior at the party.

In Violetta's home, Dr. Grenvil tells Annina that Violetta's tuberculosis (incurable and fatal at the time) has gotten worse. She will die soon. Violetta asks Annina about the noisy crowd in the streets. Annina tells her the crowd was out to celebrate Carnival. Violetta contemplates those who are suffering during the festivities as Annina leaves her to her thoughts.

Alone in her room, Violetta reads a note from Alfredo's father. He says the Baron only had a minor wound from the duel with Alfredo. Alfredo survived and has been informed by his father of the real reason why Violetta broke things off. Alfredo was coming to beg for her forgiveness. But Violetta realizes that it is too late. Time has run out. Outside, the crowds celebrates as Violetta waits for the end.

Then Annina bursts in to announce the arrival of Alfredo. He begs her forgiveness and promises to never leave her side. They reaffirm their love.

A remorseful Giorgio Germont arrives with Dr. Grenvil. He asks for forgiveness for interfering and breaking up the couple. Violetta forgives him. Violetta then presses a small portrait of her into Alfredo's hands. She tells him that if he ever gets married, he ought to give his wife that picture, to let her know that the person in the picture is in heaven, praying for them both.

At peace, Violetta suddenly discovers that her pain and weakness are gone. She feels revived, joyfully she declares herself well loved and happy. Then she faints into Alfredo's arms and dies.

The End

My initial reaction: Drama!

My thoughts:

I normally avoid tragedies. But I am definitely going to see Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata when the opportunity arises! Yes, it's a tragedy. But we know from the beginning that she was going to die. But what an amazing full life she lived in her short time on earth. She found love in the end when she least expected it, and she died happy.

Also, I want to hear Libiamo ne' lieti calici (Drink from the joyful cup) live on the stage in a theater. It's a fantastic, festive song! Am I allowed to take shots during the performance of this song? Kind of like bringing newspapers and water pistols at a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Or would that be frowned upon at the opera?

Of note:

Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata was based on a real person, an actual young, beloved courtesan named Marie Duplessis. She was known for her beauty, grace, charm, wit, and kindess. Her parties were lavish and she was popular among the elites and all strata of society. She survived a terrible childhood in Normandy before she was relocated to Paris, where hard work, good luck, and skill allowed her to reinvent herself and rise to the top of Parisian society.

Marie Duplessis was the much sought after companion of famous and talented artists, such as the composer Franz Liszt. She remained good friends with her benefactors and lovers after their intimate relationship ended. She was a muse to artists who painted her with her camillas, and she was well loved for her intelligence, beauty, and vivacious spirit.

Marie Duplessis (1824-1847), portrait by Edouard Vienot (1804-1872)

When she died just after her 23rd birthday, many mourned her loss. When her belongings were auctioned off to settle her accounts, a huge crowd was in attendance, drawn by her growing legend. She was a celebrity. Charles Dickens was among the throng, later commenting: "One could have believed that Marie was Jeanne d'Arc or some other national heroine, so profound was the general sadness."

While touring Russia, Franz Liszt received the news of her passing. Franz Liszt reportedly said, "Hers had been the sweetest nature, pure and serene, unsullied by the corruption of her shadowy world."

Among her last lovers was Alexander Dumas fils, who wrote The Lady of the Camellias, based on her life story and their relationship, a year after she passed away at 23 from tuberculosis. His book was made into a popular play. Giuseppe Verdi read the book, saw the play, and created the masterpiece and iconic opera, La Traviata, forever enshrining Marie Duplessis as the beautiful courtesan with a heart of gold, who loved freely, and lived a vibrant life before dying far too young.

Marie Duplessis, (Violetta Valery-The Lady of the Camelias) by Kinuko Y. Craft, 1988.

Giussepe Verdi: Rigoletto, Act III: Duca's Aria - La donna e mobile

Another popular commercials staple. I also first heard La donna è mobile (Woman is fickle) on the late night a.m. radio. Now, it's pervaded all media! And it's a very catchy tune.

I love this song. It's so catchy and festive! Although, I'm learning the song is about women being fickle, so not necessarily a feminist anthem, but definitely a fun, hilarious party song.

Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto opened in 1851. It was based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse, which premiered in November 1832. On the surface, Hugo's play is simply historical fiction about Francis I. He was the king of France in the first half of the 16th Century. However, the play was taken by the French government quite accurately as little more than a thinly veiled attack on the current King Louis Philippe.

The government was extremely sensitive, as the political climate and fractured government had been unstable and chaotic over the past few years. Hugo's play was considered incendiary and was promptly banned. But the printed text was too popular to eliminate. It was sold widely.

By the time Verdi created the opera Rigoletto, King Louis Philippe had been deposed and had long died. But Hugo was exiled by the current power, Napoleon III. And while Verdi's Rigoletto was performed popularly in France, Hugo's play was still banned!

It was the popularity of the music that kept Verdi's Rigoletto playing in theaters. The opera has been a hit since it premiered, and it is still a hit today, a core staple of opera season.

The Story Summary:

Set in mid 16th century Mantua, Northern Italy. The Duke of Mantua, the notorious manslut, is hosting a lavish palace ball. He sings of his great pleasure in banging women left and right, married or single, he enjoys them all! This pisses off the husbands of the ladies the Duke has banged or wants to bang.

And to make matters worse, the Duke is encouraged in his risky, amoral behavior by his jester, the wicked Rigoletto, who enjoys insulting the jilted husbands and fathers of the women the Duke has slept with. Rigoletto is hated by the court for pushing the Duke to sleep around with the women and then making fun of the men whose women were defiled by the manslut Duke.

At the ball, the Duke sings of a new great beauty he met at church. At the same time, he is interested in seducing the Countess of Ceprano at the ball. Rigoletto insults the Count Ceprano and urges the Duke to have the Count arrested or killed outright, leaving the Countess open to the Duke's advances.

Count Ceprano is not amused and is ticked off at Rigoletto, whose mean antics of demeaning the other courtiers just makes the Duke laugh. The Duke thinks it's all in good fun. But the courtiers don't think it's funny at all.

Enter Marullo, another courtier, who informs the other men that he has discovered that Rigletto has a mistress! Now all the other men express surprise. But then plot to get revenge on Rigoletto, by giving him a taste of his own medicine.

Meanwhile, Rigoletto keeps insulting the others at the ball, and then enters the elderly Count Monterone. Count Monterone disparages the Duke for taking advantage of his daughter. Count Monterone is arrested, and Rigoletto gleefully insults Count Monterone for his helplessness at avenging his daughter's honor. The Count Monterone curses Rigoletto, for making fun of his righteous anger. The curse frightens Rigoletto.

On his way home after the ball, Rigoletto is troubled by the Count's curse. He meets the assassin Sparafucile, who offers his services. Rigoletto refuses the services for now, but may have use Sparafucile's services later. As Sparafucile wanders off, Rigoletto compares their similarities. Sparafucile kills men with his sword, and Rigoletto slays them with his wicked words.

Rigoletto enters his house and is greeted by his daughter, Gilda. He has been keeping his daughter a secret from the Duke and the entire city. She doesn't even know his job or name, only that he is her father. She is only let out under strict guard by her nurse, Giovanna, to go to church and come back.

Rigoletto leaves for business. Gilda confesses to Giovanna her crush on the man she met at church. The Duke, who came by to bribe Giovanna, is overjoyed at overhearing Gilda's affection. Gilda says she'd love the man more if he were a poor student. The Duke makes a plan to disguise himself as a poor student with a fake name. He knocks on the door. Giovanna answers the door and is bribed by the Duke.

The Duke enters and meets again with Gilda, pretending he is indeed a poor student. He woos her. She falls for his lines. Then, hearing noises outside, she assumes her father was returning home and sends the Duke away. The Duke promises to return after her father goes away.

Outside, Rigoletto encounters a bunch of masked men with a ladder. They are the vengeful courtiers! They convince Rigoletto that they are on their way to kidnap Countess Ceprano for the Duke. Rigletto is thrilled at this and wants to participate. The men help Rigoletto put on a mask, to hide his identity. But in reality, it is to distract and keep him blind as the others kidnap his daughter, Gilda. Blinded, Rigoletto holds the ladder steadily as the courtiers stealthily kidnap Gilda and leave Rigoletto behind.

When Rigoletto finally realizes that he has been abandoned alone, he takes off the mask and realizes to his horror that he had unwittingly assisted in the kidnapping of his own daughter Gilda! He collapses in despair, recalling old Count Monterone's curse.

At the palace, the Duke is distressed that Gilda has disappeared. Then his courtiers arrive, singing joyfully of how they had kidnapped Rigiletto's secret mistress, and she was left in the Duke's room. Hearing her description, the Duke is overjoyed that it is Gilda, and rushes to woo her while the courtiers celebrate their vengeance.

Rigoletto arrives, pretending not to care at first. Then fearing the Duke making a move, he confesses that it was his daughter, not mistress, the courtiers had taken. He tries to rush into the Duke's room, but he is held back by the courtiers. He curses at them.

And then Gilda enters, the courtiers leave. Gilda describes how the Duke seduced her and made love to her. Rigoletto is angry and vows vengeance on the Duke, while Gilda only speaks of her growing love for the Duke.

Later, in a rough part of town, Rigoletto and his daughter meet Sparafucile outside a house. Sparafucile's sister, Maddalena, had lured the Duke over. The Duke sings his famous song, La donna è mobile (Woman is fickle), as he makes a move on Maddalena.

Gilda is distressed that the Duke is unfaithful. Rigoletto vows vengeance for his daughter's honor. Rigoletto tells Gilda to dress in disguise as a man and prepare to leave for Verona. He will follow later. Gilda leaves. And Rigoletto bargains with Sparafucile. For 20 scudi, silver coins, Sparafucile will kill the Duke. Rigoletto leaves to fetch the money.

Gilda returns to the house, still in love with the unfaithful Duke, believing they can make it work. She overhears Maddalena, who enjoyed the charms of the Duke, beg her brother Sparafucile to spare the Duke. Sparafucile offers a compromise. If another man can be found by midnight, that man will be killed and his body given to Rigoletto in place of the Duke.

Gilda is determined to save the Duke, so she enters the house and is mortally stabbed. Her head is covered and her body is placed in a sack. Rigoletto returns with the payment. He gleefully accepts the body sack. He cheerfully weighs the body sack with stones and is about to toss it in the river when he hears the dreaming Duke sleepily sing his signature song, "La donna è mobile".

Confused, Rigoletto opens the body sack, only to discover to his horror his daughter, Gilda, dying. Gilda declares that she has saved her love. Then dies in Rigoletto's arms. Rigoletto cries out in horror, "La maledizione!" ("The curse!").

The End

My initial reaction: Whoa! Did not see that ending that way!

My thoughts:

I'd definitely see this opera just to hear the song, La donna è mobile (Woman is fickle). It's a fantastic song. I'm not sure how I feel about the plot and characters. It's a wicked twisty comeuppance for the mean, malicious Rigoletto. But I feel bad for his stupid, naive daughter, giving up her life to save a rogue whose very nature is to sleep around and not be faithful. She loved a man who fooled her and continues to fool around with others. That's just the Duke's character. It makes him seem less a hero and more of a slut with a lot of charm.

Rigoletto got the harshest lesson of all, losing his beloved daughter. Her life was given up to save a man Rigoletto encouraged to behave badly, which ruined other people's lives in the process. But I still feel a little bit sad for him, for how it all turned out. I'll definitely see this opera, because it's different, gritty, and the song is great!

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Magic Flute--Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen ("Hell's vengeance boils in my heart")

The Magic Flute was the last opera Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed; it premiered on 30th September 1791 - roughly three months before he died. Mozart himself conducted the orchestra, while the librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, sang the role of Papageno. Mozart's sister-in-law Josepha Hofer premiered the role of Queen of the Night. Mozart showcased her extraordinary vocal mastery in the arias of the Queen of the Night, "O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn" and "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen", both require a high F6, rare in opera.

I have to give a shot out to LX for helping me to identify the aria, Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen ("Hell's vengeance boils in my heart"). I've been searching for this song on and off for years, ever since I heard it on the late night a.m. radio a long time ago when I was a small child on the farm.

I didn't know the song nor singer's name. But I would catch this song in a movie or tv show or commercial, playing in the background. I asked friends if they could identify the song. They looked at me like I was crazy when I described the rapid fire, machine gun like voice of the singer when she hits those high notes.

Most people had no clue what I was talking about. And a lot of them pointed me to the aria from The Fifth Element (1997). In the film, Diva Plavalaguna sings the aria, Oh, giusto cielo!...Il dolce suono, which is stunning, but totally not the song I was looking for. In The Fifth Element movie, it is Inva Mula who sings the extraordinary aria, "Oh, giusto cielo!...Il dolce suono" (the mad scene) from Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and "The Diva Dance". It is my fave part of the film.

The Magic Flute's Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen ("Hell's vengeance boils in my heart") is a great aria. And I'm glad to finally know its name and where it came from. So thank you, LX, for the recommendation! And thank you, John, for your thoughts as well.

The Story Summary:

Set in a magical land between night and day. Prince Tamino is struggling to escape from a pursing snake monster hunting him down. He collapses in a rugged landscape, and he prays out for the gods to save him. He passes out from exhaustion.

Three ladies of the Queen of the Night's retinue arrive and kill the snake monster. The ladies notice Tamino, how handsome he is, and soon bicker over who gets to keep him. In the end, they all agree to leave together, after each of them fails to convince the other two to leave.

When the ladies are gone, a bird catcher, Papageno, dressed in costume as a bird, enters as Tamino awakens. Tamino mistakenly assumes that Papageno saved his life by killing the monster snake. And Papageno gladly takes credit and brags about it. Unfortunately for him, the three ladies return. And they punish Papageno for lying, and instead of giving him wine, cake, and figs as a reward, they give him water, a stone, and place a padlock over his mouth as a warning not to lie.

The three women give Tamino an enchanted portrait of the beautiful Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Tamino is smitten, and accepts the mission to rescue Pamina from the evil wizard Sarastro who kidnapped Pamina. Thunder roars suddenly and the Queen of the Night appears and promises to offer Pamina's hand in marriage to Tamino, if Tamino rescues her. Tamino accepts, declaring his love for Pamina. The Queen disappears.

Then the three ladies offer to Tamino a magic flute to turn sorrow into joy. They release the padlock from Papageno's mouth, warning him not to lie anymore. They give Papageno magic bells for protection, and they tell him to accompany Tamino. And finally, they introduce three child-spirits, who will guide Tamino and Papageno to Sarastro's temple. Tamino and Papageno leave on their quest to rescue Pamina. Tamino does so in the hope for love, and Papageno wishes to find a love for himself as well.

Meanwhile, Pamina is captured by Sarastro's slaves and brought before the overseer, Monostatos the black Moor. He orders the slaves to chain up Pamina and leave them alone. The slaves carry out the orders and leave. Just then, Papageno, who was sent ahead by Tamino to scout out Pamina's location, enters and faces the surprised Monostatos. Both are frightened by each other's strange appearance and flee.

But Papageno returns, frees Pamina, and informs her of Tamino coming to her rescue, and Tamino's declaration of love for her. Pamina is thrilled at the news. And she offers hope that Papageno may also find a love, a wife he so desires.

Meanwhile, the three child-spirits lead Tamino to Sarastro's temple, promising that if he remains patient, wise, and steadfast, he will succeed in rescuing Pamina. But he is denied access at the left, then right entrance by voices from within the temple. As he tries the front entrance, The Speaker, an old priest admits him.

The Speaker tells Tamino that the Queen of the Night is not to be trusted, that Sarastro is not an evil wizard. The Speaker says that if Tamino enters the temple as a friend, he will understand. Tamino enters and plays his magic flute, which brings the animals and enchants them to dance joyfully. Tamino hears Papageno's pipes and hurries off to find him.

Meanwhile, Papageno and Pamina search for Tamino. They are recaptured by Monostatos and his slaves, but Papageno plays his magic bells. Monostatos and his slaves begin to dance and exit, mesmerized by the beauty of the music.

Papageno and Pamina hear Sarastro and his court approaching. Papageno is frightened and asks Pamina what to do. Pamina advises that they be truthful. When Sarastro and his court appear, Pamina confesses that she tried to escape, but because she was trying to avoid the lustful Monostatos' advances. Sarastro understands, but he refuses to return Pamina to her mother, saying the Queen of the Night is a terrible influence, and Pamina must be guided by a man.

Enter Tamino, brought in by Monostatos. Upon seeing each other for the first time, it was love at first sight, and Tamino and Pamina embrace, to the horror of Sarastro's priestly court. Monostatos declares he caught Papageno and Pamina trying to escape. He wants a reward. But Sarastro drives out Monostatos for his lustful advances upon Pamina. Then Sarastro declares that Tamino must undergo a series of trials, to see a if he is worthy to be Pamina's husband.

The trials begin. First, Tamino and Papageno are warned of the dangers ahead and to be wary of women's wiles, and both undertake a vow of silence. The three ladies appear and frighten Tamino and Papageno. Tamino remains silent and aloof, but Papageno speaks. Papageno is silently reprimanded by Tamino to keep quiet. The ladies depart.

Meanwhile, Monostatos approaches a sleeping Pamina with the intent to kiss her in the garden. Suddenly, booming thunder proclaims that the Queen of the Night has arrived, and Monostatos hides. Pamina awakens and tells her mother her decision to join Sarastro and his followers.

The Queen is angry, telling Pamina that the temple belonged to her husband. But on his deathbed, he left the temple to Sarastro, instead of her, denying the Queen the powers of the Temple. She gives Pamina a dagger, ordering her to kill Sarastro with it and threatening to disown her if she does not. Now the Queen sings the famous aria, Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen ("Hell's vengeance boils in my heart").

The Queen departs and Monostatos appears, blackmailing Pamina. If she will not give into his advances, he will reveal the Queen's murder plot to Sarastro. Then Sarastro enters and drives off Monostatos. Pamina reveals to Sarastro the Queen's plan and begs Sarastro not to retaliate. But Sarastro assures her that revenge and retaliation have no place in his temple.

Meanwhile at the next trial, Tamino and Papageno are told to remain silent once more. But Papageno complains of thirst, and an old woman appears to give him a cup of water. Papageno teases her, asking if she has a boyfriend. She replies that yes, his name is Papageno! Before Papageno can ask her name, she disappears.

Then the three child-spirits bring in food, the magic flute, and the bells, sent from Sarastro. Tamino plays his magic flute, and it summons Pamina. She tries to talk to him, but he is still bound by the vow of silence. He seems cold and distant, ignoring her pleas. Pamina leaves heartbroken, thinking that Tamino no longer loves her. Perhaps he never really loved her at all.

Soon, the priests celebrate Tamino's successes so far, believing him worthy of their order. Pamina and Tamino are summoned, and Sarastro orders them to say their final farewell, which alarms the two. The next trials are greater and more dangerous. They leave for the next phase of the trials.

Soon, Papageno enters, requesting a drink of wine. The priests grant his request. Papageno asks for a wife, and the old woman appears. She tells Papageno that unless he marries her, he will be imprisoned forever. Papageno does not want to be imprisoned. So he agrees to marry the old lady, while muttering it'll do until something better comes along. But then he realizes that he might not find anyone else willing to be with him, so he promises to be faithful to the old lady.

And then the old woman magically transforms into a beautiful young maiden, Papagena. Papageno is stunned, then rushes forward to embrace the beauty. But the priests drive him back, saying that Papageno is not worthy of Papagena, for he failed his trials! Papagena disappears.

Meanwhile, it is dawn. The child-spirits observe a despondent Pamina, feeling suicidal as she believes Tamino no longer loves her. But the child-spirits save her and reassure her of Tamino's love.

At the trial, two armored warriors lead Tamino in, telling him that the temple gods of Isis and Osiris will grant enlightenment to those who overcome the fear of death. The vow of silence is over. Tamino declares his readiness.

Then Pamina enters and tells Tamino that they will undergo the trials together. She gives him his magic flute. And together, the two meet and overcome the challenges of the trials of fire and water, thanks to the magic flute's protection. They succeed in the final trial, and the priests celebrate their victory, inviting then into the temple. Pamina and Tamino will be together forever.

But Papageno is feeling despair, having failed the trials and losing a chance to be with Papagena. He contemplates ending his misery, but the three child-spirits appear. They tell him to play his bells. He rings them, and Papagena magically appears. United, the two make birdlike gestures and pledge their love to each other, planning a happy future together with a big family.

Meanwhile, Monostatos is at the Queen of the Night's side. With her followers, they plan to raid the temple and destroy Sarastro and his followers. Monostatos is promised Pamina for his aid. But before they can enter the temple and attack, the sun rises and banishes the Queen and the conspirators away with the night. Day has arrived. And Sarastro announces the sun's triumph over the night, and hails the dawn of a new era of wisdom and brotherhood.

The End

My initial reaction: It's a fantastic fairytale!

My thoughts:

I would go see this opera for both the arias and the story. Granted, I'm a little concerned about the priests' patriarchal attitudes, and I don't like that there are slaves in the story. Plus, it bothers me how Pamina contemplates suicide after thinking she has lost Tamino. Same for Papageno, after thinking he has lost Papagena. You just met these people a few hours ago! But it's a fairytale, and opera loves drama, so I'll let it go.

Still, I raise an eyebrow at why the lustful Monostatos was portrayed as a black Moor. Was it because a black Moor seemed more exotic and dangerous, given the Ottoman Turks march of conquest upon the European continent? Did a black Moor seem more menacing and exciting than say a swarthy Italian, a snooty Frenchman, or machismo Spaniard? I'll give Mozart the benefit of a doubt here. The story is entertaining.

Of note:

Edda Moser and the Bavarian State Opera, under the direction of Wolfgang Sawallisch, created a version of Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen ("Hell's vengeance boils in my heart") that is included in a collection of music from Earth, on the golden record of the space explorer, Voyager 1! Can you imagine the aliens reaction upon hearing that aria? Do you think the aliens have a record player?

As of November 2017, Voyager 1 has travelled over 13 billion miles away from the Sun, and has the incredible distinction of being the first human-made object to enter interstellar space. It's flying at a whooping 11 mile per hour, still making it the fastest spacecraft humanity has launched into space. Assuming it survives the challenges of space, Voyager 1 will enter the Oort Cloud in 300 years, and take 30,000 years to pass through! In 40,000 years, it will pass within 1.6 light-years of the star Gliese 445, a member of the northern Giraffe constellation, Camelopardalis.

Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977, over 40 years ago! We expect to lose contact with Voyager 1 between the years 2025-2030. Good luck and safe journey, Voyager 1!

And please be nice to us when you come back to Earth after the Borg upgrade you.

V'Ger art by Kirtemor

And there you have it. Part 2 of my fave opera songs; I'm working on Part 3. I don't always understand what the songs are about. But I love the tunes and the emotions the songs awaken in me. Those astounding songs are reason enough to see these operas.

What about you? What are your thoughts? Have you seen these operas? What advice would you give me to better enjoy the opera experience? Is it worth seeing these operas live? Or am I better off watching it on the tv screen? What do you think about these songs? Your advice and thoughts and opinions are welcomed and appreciated!

Like me, you may be familiar with opera songs from various movies, tv shows, commercials, or even heard of them on the radio or some other production. And while I do not consider myself an opera aficionado or someone who seeks out tragedies for entertainment, I will go to the opera if the opportunity presents itself; because I want to see and hear these astounding songs live and performed the way they were designed and meant to be performed: on a theater stage, complete with costumes, singers, and orchestra!

I would appreciate any advice on the best way to enjoy an opera. And I would like to hear your thoughts and opinions about these songs or other opera songs you enjoy.

Related Links
The Sound of Music 1: The Classics - Ephemeral
The Sound of Music 2: The Classics - Ethereal
The Sound of Music: Classics - The Nutcracker
The Sound of Music: Holidays Classics Vol 1
The Sound of Music: Holidays Classics Vol 2
The Sound of Music 3: The Classics - Ebullient
The Sound of Music: Classics - Swan Lake
The Sound of Music: Classics - Requiem
The Sound of Music: Classics - Opera Part 1
The Sound of Music: Classics - Opera Part 3


  1. Apologies for my absence, Mr Swings, I have literally been under the weather. I know very little about opera, I understand the tragic aspect.... is Carmen an opera? It is the only one I have enjoyed... I believe it was sung in English... which might have helped my enjoyment!

    1. Scarlet, No need to apologize. I am glad to hear from you, and I hope that things are better for you, weather wise and health wise.

      Carmen is an opera. I wrote about it here: Opera Part 1.

      I would appreciate it if an opera was in English, so I would be be fully engaged in the story. But if it was done in a foreign language, I'd read up on a translation, so that I would better understand the performance. And I do believe that some songs are just universally appealing, crossing over with the emotions they inspire. Some songs just stand out and radiate with their own exquisite beauty.

  2. Thank you for that.. La Traviata is delightful. I saw it once in the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic I paid a pound for a standing ticket

    1. John, You're welcome! That's fantastic you got to see a great opera in a foreign city for a great price! I would love to see Czech Republic for the history and architecture. Plus, I love kolaches!

  3. There is a delightful scene in the movie Amadeus where Mozart's nagging mother-in-law is fancifully shown to be the inspiration for the Queen Of The Night Aria. Brilliant film making, but in truth, he wrote it for his sister-in-law because she could hit the notes.

    1. LX, Thank you for that clip. I've been curious about the Amadeus movie. But I have been told by others (and from reading reviews) that although entertaining, the director mixed up a lot of the truth and used fiction to create tension. I never understood why people felt the need to make a film more exciting by changing the facts or making something up. Truth is often more interesting, especially with someone like Mozart. But the movie is still on my list of films to watch. It looks very interesting.

      And that aria is still so amazing!

  4. Now that is quite to post! I need time set aside to enjoy it. I have never really got into opera, but can enjoy it. But have not much knowledge on it. I do remember that Fifth Element clip though. A memorable film scene for sure.

    1. Maddie, I do tend to write massive posts...Sometimes, the ideas just come pouring out like a flood and I just write whatever comes to mind to keep from drowning. I try to sort the aftermath later, to edit it and pare it down to something manageable...but I don't always succeed:)

      That aria from The Fifth Element is my fave part of the movie. I think music has a great impact on a movie.

      I'm not really an opera person either, but like you, I enjoy good music, whatever the genre. I do love musicals for the songs and dances. In fact, I'm watching Finian's Rainbow (1968) now on TCM. I like it a lot, and I'm not going anywhere til the movie is over!

  5. I have to confess that I only recently do some staggering steps into the land of opera. In fact only since I heared Ms Bartolli perform an aria with such verve and angry emotion that I thought "Oh dear, better not meet this lady !" I forgot what it was, sorry.
    I never was in an opera house and never saw a performance. MAybe I'll do this some time in the future. I'd read the story first, so that I'd have an idea what happens and how the story goes. And I think I'd prefer to see a traditional production that keeps close to the original story and original music. Many directors take the story and interpret it, like taking parts out, setting the whole story into a totally different temporarily setting etc. This may work, because in the end opera tells about human feelings, about basic constellations, like love, hate, fraud, trust, feelings of honour, power and its abuse, there is not necessariliy a "happy end".
    I sometimes look for voices, for interpretations of arias, and how different singers did it in their own way, simply because I do not know much about singing ; only by listening and comparing I can find out what I like.
    I generally like baroque music, so notable operas of this style are by Gluck, Handel, Purcell - the last two wrote in English. But these are only the most well-known names, I am sure that there is a lot to be discovered.

    1. Mago, I think I would like to see an opera in its original form, too. That way, I can compare it to newer interpretations and understand what those early audiences saw. I've only seen one whole opera on tv. I've seen arias on tv, too, and live at talent shows and pageants and concerts. But I would love to see an aria performed in a whole, live opera production in a real theater.

      The only opera stars I am familiar with are Maria Callas and Enrico Caruso from their old recordings playing on the a.m. radio. They introduced me to opera, and they are the gold standard that I use to compare other opera singers. The recent opera stars that I am familiar with are Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras from their Three Tenors performances. I am clueless as to other modern opera stars. But that just means more new artists for me to discover!

      I love Handel! And thank you for the recommendation of Gluck and Purcell. I look forward to discovering their works.

  6. Other than seeing Madame Butterfly last year (which was stunning), I haven't seen an opera all the way through. I've seen bits and bobs of various performances that have been televised - the last one was The Magic Flute, specifically "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" part that you've featured. The actress/singer portraying the queen was magnificent! She was fierce and frightening, her costume and makeup were extremely well done - fitting the dark theme very well. I do keep meaning to go and see more, but haven't got around to it yet. I must remedy that this year.

    Thanks for these music features, Eros. They're an excellent reminder of music we may take for granted or overlook (as they are featured in so many adverts and TV shows & films - as you've pointed out).

    1. IDV, Thank you, and You're Welcome! My next post actually features Madame Butterfly! It is amazing how we are exposed to so much opera without even realizing it. And opera songs make great background music/soundtrack to films and tv shows, especially since they've mastered eliciting those intense feelings of drama and excitement and provocation. Those composers are genuine geniuses, and their masterpieces are iconic testaments to great, timeless music.

      I am glad to hear that you enjoyed going to see an opera. That is on my list of new, adventurous activities to do. I just have to seize the opportunity when it presents itself. I'll have better luck catching a professional production if I go to the big cities. It's just a small matter of planning. That's a goal I'm working towards achieving: Seeing a real, live opera. Afterwards, I plan to lord it over my friends and brag that I am now fancy and cultured and sophisticated!