I have been asked by my editors to introduce the “Ask Simone” feature. What better way to do this than to ask myself some questions which I will then proceed to answer.
Today’s topic is OPERA. So here goes!
1. If you wanted to introduce a total novice to opera which one would you select?
There are two possibilities: One is “Carmen” by Georges Bizet because it has a popular theme and is very easy to follow. I would rather choose “La Traviata: by Giuseppe Verdi because it is melodic from beginning to end and tells a love story with a tragic ending. There was also a very good film by Franco Zeffirelli that was made of it in 1983 starring Theresa Stratos and Placido Domingo, and you can watch this if an actual opera performance is inaccessible.
2. Which do you think is the most overrated opera?
Definitely “Tosca” by Puccini. The story is not credible. It is melodramatic and overblown from beginning to end. It does however have great arias.
3. What is your favorite feminine aria and why?
I think Santuzza pleading with Turridu not to abandon her. This is from Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana.” Turridu is leaving her to return to Lola, his first love and Santuzza is devastated. This sounds like a tearjerker but when expressed musically it acquires a poignancy that no mere spoken words can convey. This opera is also one I would recommend to a first time opera audience. It is about ordinary people rather than mythological heroes. About the middle of the 19th century opera was turning away from “Opera Seria” (Serious Opera) to “Opera Buffa” or “Opera Comique” (which in this instance does not mean “funny” but rather ordinary)
4. Favorite male aria?
There are two…The tenor in “La fille du Regiment” by Gaetano Donizetti sings a very difficult aria requiring musical agility and stamina. In this
famous aria that starts with “Ah mes amis…
he tells of his joy at having been accepted by the regiment he applied to, and of his proposal of marriage having been accepted as well.
The second aria is “Una Furtiva Lagrima” from “L’Elisire d’Amore” (The Elixir of Love) also by Donizetti. Nemorino, a poor peasant laments his fate. He is in love with Adina a very popular girl who plays games with him, and he drinks a love potion which he thinks will alter his fate. I think this is the best example of bel canto (beautiful singing).
5. Favorite chorus?
I choose “Va Pensiero” also called the Chorus of the Slaves by Giuseppe Verdi in the opera “Nabucco.”
In this opera, he recounts the period of the Jews’ Babylonian captivity after the loss of the First Temple in Jerusalem in about 500 BC. Some saw in this an echo of the longing for reunification of Italy known as Risorgimento in the 19th century. It is by far the most moving choral work I know.