Showing posts with label Puccini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Puccini. Show all posts

Friday, December 28, 2018

Best Loved OPERAS - PUCCINI's La Boheme

Composer Giacomo Puccini in a studio photograph.
Composer Giacomo Puccini 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Puccini's opera La Boheme is one of the most popular and loved pieces. It will sell out at opera houses around the world many times over. It seems opera lovers simply can't get enough of this work. Why is it?

Perhaps the story of love at first sight and the simply stunning music are two things that make it so popular. The story is one that many people can relate to. It is about real human emotions and situations rather than fairies and emotionally out of touch characters.

Most aspiring professional opera singers have one of the many arias from La Boheme on their wish list. Most characters have one or two outstanding songs which is also why you will often hear arias as well as duets from La Boheme sung at opera galas of popular opera.

What is the story then? La Boheme is an opera in four acts based on a story of bohemian life set in the Latin Quarters in Paris in the 1840s. The world premiere was in Turin in 1896 and was conducted by a young Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini would later become one of the most well-known and highly regarded conductors of opera of all time. It was an instant hit and immediately became part of the standard opera repertoire.

English: Poster for the 1896 production for Pu...
Poster for Puccini's La bohème
Artist: Adolfo Hohenstein (1854-1928)
(Photo credit: 
The beginning of the opera sees four men in an attic space. There is Marcello (a baritone) who paints, the writer Rodolfo (a tenor), Colline (a bass) who is a philosopher, and the musician Shaunard (a baritone). They have very little or no money and in order to keep warm, they burn one of Rodolfo's failed manuscripts. The three men go out to Café Momus around the corner and Rodolfo will join them later after having finished the article he is writing. There is a knock on the door and Mimi (a soprano), a seamstress who also lives in the building, enters. She asks Rodolfo if he has any matches as her candle has blown out. This is the start of their great love story and it is where we hear two of the most famous arias ever written. First, there is Rodolfo's aria Che gelida manina (What a cold little hand) followed by Mimi's Si, mi chiamano Mimi (Yes, they call me Mimi) where they tell each other of their backgrounds and interests. This leads into one of the most well-known duets in the entire operatic repertoire, namely O soave fanciulla (Oh gentle maiden). The melodies are beautiful and the music is thick and bursting with emotion. There is something so simple and human about the love between Rodolfo and Mimi.

Act two starts with the four men and Mimi at Café Momus in the Latin Quarters. Soon, there is quite some commotion and a very elegant and sexy woman enters the scene. This is Musetta (another soprano), the former girlfriend of Marcello. She is now with an old rich man, Alcindoro (a bass) and it is quite clear she is fed up with him. When she sees Marcello she starts singing another aria which is one of the most popular ones ever written called Quando m'en vo (When I walk along) to make him jealous. In this very risque aria, she talks about how walking down the street everyone admires her and thinks she is amazing. Act two ends with a great ensemble in which Rodolfo and Mimi, and the now reunited couple of Marcello and Musetta, are singing together.

At the start of act three, Mimi is seen wandering the streets looking for Marcello whilst coughing severely. Rodolfo has left her and she is bereft. Later on, Mimi overhears Rodolfo telling Marcello that he left Mimi because he is afraid she is dying and he can't cope with it as he has no money to pay for doctors or medicine for her. He hopes she will find a rich man who can give her what he can't. Mimi's coughing reveals her presence and the two unite again for the time being. Here Mimi sings her second aria Donde lieta usci (From here she happily left), and soon after this Musetta arrives and is seen arguing passionately with Marcello. There is a very funny quartet where the two couples and singing together; the one couple reconciled and full of love, and the other one fighting and calling each other quite hateful words.

The final act sees the action back in the attic room from the start of the opera where Rodolfo and Marcello both mourn the loss of their respective lovers leaving them. Soon Musetta arrives with Mimi whom she found wandering around in the streets severely ill. Musetta and Marcello leave to sell Musetta's earrings in order to be able to afford medicine for Mimi. Here in the finale of this fantastic masterpiece of an opera, Rodolfo and Mimi recall their first meeting and their happiness together. Mimi dies in Rodolfo's arms and the opera ends with Rodolfo's crying out Mimi's name in anguish as he weeps uncontrollably. It is one of the most dramatic and heart-wrenching endings of all time. You can feel the despair and loss of Rodolfo and the sadness of all the friends who have arrived back in the attic room just as Mimi dies.

    By Margaret Cooke - Article Source: EzineArticles

Saturday, February 3, 2018

GIACOMO PUCCINI - Musical Unifier

Puccini standing, facing slightly left; wearin...
Puccini  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Giacomo Puccini was born on December 22, 1958. His hometown was Lucca, Italy, a charming town in Tuscany surrounded by Roman walls. His family had a long lineage of musicians and he soon became an organist at a local church. He was inspired to write opera after seeing a production of Aida. He had to walk almost twenty miles to Pisa to see it. It is fitting that Aida was his inspiration. Written by the current reigning king of Italian opera, Giuseppe Verdi, it marked a turning point in that composer's musical language in which he started broadening his horizons eastwards- towards German specifically and Richard Wagner. Puccini would continue to both embrace Italian style but expose himself to the musical language of the Germans, French and new sounds that were coming out of the Orient.

It is also very fitting that his first successful opera, Manon Lescaut, was written in 1893. That happened to be the same year that Verdi wrote his last opera, Falstaff. Although Falstaff is unquestionably a masterpiece, listeners of the day must have found it to be somewhat old-fashioned after hearing Manon Lescaut. Puccini takes the story of the courtesan and creates voluptuous sonorities. He employs new instruments and chords not to mention a compelling sense of drama.

Manon Lescaut now behind him, he turned to a story by Murger about a bunch of bohemians. Written in 1896, La Boheme would become one of the most popular opera ever. It was revolutionary in its day for the naturalness in which the characters spoke. Instead of gods and goddesses, these characters dealt with banal issues such as paying the rent. In other words real life. This was a part of a movement in Italian literature called verissmo. (I pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana are other examples.) Boheme was lauded for its musical language and its gripping theater. The story is about a seamstress who meets a young poet and embarks on a love affair despite knowing that she is dying of consumption. Although many find the Broadway musical Rent to be a bastardization of this opera, it is an effect updating because T.B. was a very stigmatized disease in its day much like AIDS was in the 80s.

in 1900 Puccini wrote Tosca a bloody opera about corruption and abuse of power. The opera comes from a play by Victorien Sardou written specifically for the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt. The character of Tosca seems a good fit for any prima donna because, in part, it is about a prima donna. Puccini at this point was becoming interested in the new sounds that came were coming out of France at the time, notably orientalism. In an opera that takes place in Rome, he had almost no opportunity to use it in a credible way. The did manage to insert a whole tone scale, a sequence of notes that is now a cliche for Chinese music.

He had no trouble incorporating orientalism in his next opera, Madama Butterfly. Written in 1904 the premiere was one of those legendary disasters that can only happen in opera. The public didn't seem to want to give it a chance. It may be apocryphal, but the story goes that Arturo Toscanini was both conducting the premiere and having an affair with the soprano. In act II when Butterfly brings out the illegitimate son she had by Pinkerton, the American soldier, a heckler screamed out "It's Toscanini's." Needless to say, there was no way to restore order after that. Puccini went on to revive it twice in the ensuing months and its final version has become a beloved favorite. Hearing the original version it is plain to see that it is flawed. It is a testament to Puccini's humility that he would take that disaster and try to examine how he may have failed as a composer and try to improve his work.

His last major premiere was Turandot. Taking place in mythical China this was the perfect opportunity for him to explore new sounds and create atmosphere. The story centers around an icy princess who has a penchant for decapitating her suitors. One eventually wins her over and they live happily ever after. Dramatically the work is flawed but in terms of glitzy theatrical spectacles, there is nothing better. It includes the great tenor opera "Nessun Dorma." Puccini never completely the opera. The task went to Franco Alfano. Toscanini was disappointed with it and revised his version giving us what we recognize today.

Puccini dies in 1924. A chronic chain smoker, it was throat cancer that did him in. It is ironic that someone so devoted to the human voice should die such a way. The passage of time has not diminished the immediacy and timelessness of his operas.