Tag: Puccini

Opera with My Dog Part II: Sondra Radvanovsky

I keep having these moments where I am superlatively late to a really good party. In this case, the Sondra Radvanovsky party. I used to feel bad about coming late to things in this way, but the thing is, with opera, you get there when you get there.

So I got here. I was listening to her Verdi CD this morning, and thinking how much I liked it, and that I had liked it before but – well, you know how it is with these things, often it takes a few listens, or a few years, before something really hits you.

Later that day, while I was playing fetch with Finn, I had this video of “casta diva” from Norma on repeat (Bellini with bouncing toy continuo plus interjections of “good dog, Finn!” and happy puppy pants: not to be missed) and then when he settled down and we had gone outside so he could pee, I heard the video still playing inside, and I developed a sonic appreciation for what opera in my house sounds like from the outside (short version: louder than I thought) and when we went in I located and watched this video below at least three times:

I am not normally a huge Puccini fan, but – well. In this case, I admit defeat. I am still listening to it.

Puccini – La Fanciulla del West / Vienna Staatsoper, October 2013 (3)

(Previous section here.)

This was an entertaining few hours, but the opera is so full of references, musical and otherwise, to this other thing, “the wild West,” that I found it hard to really get into. Like the moment in Act I where Minnie says she hasn’t met a man she could love yet, and Rance replies “maybe you have found him!” and in (musically speaking) strolls Aaron Copeland. Puccini’s music references ‘the West’ over and over rather than using the music to show how it felt to be there.

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Puccini – La Fanciulla del West / Vienna Staatsoper, October 2013 (2)

(Previous section here).

So Minnie cheats, and wins. Meanwhile Dick is still bleeding. But he pulls himself together for Act III, where he is nearly hanged. But Minnie intervenes, appealing to the miners’ sympathy. This broadcast has German subtitles, and I was pleased to note that a word I learned reading Schiller, pflegen, “to look after” made an appearance on the screen – Minnie reminds one of the lost boys that she had gepflegt him when he was sick.

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Puccini – La Fanciulla del West / Vienna Staatsoper, October 2013 (1)

There is no reason that an Italian opera about the wild west should necessarily be any more silly than an Italian opera about, say, sixteenth century Spain. But this opera seems to be very invested in being a sort of set piece – it’s got everything from rifles to poker games to a hangin’, or almost a hangin’. There are even buffoonish Indians! But its setpiece quality is not entirely Puccini’s fault. The opera is based on a play by American author David Belasco, who was one of many late 19th century American writers and playwrights to capitalize on the popularity of stories about the west. According to Wikipedia, “similarities between the libretto and the work of Richard Wagner have also been found.” I guess if one goes out on a limb and assumes some similarities between the libretto and the opera, that would meant that there are also similarities between the opera and the work of Richard Wagner, but I don’t want to push the analysis too far.

The version that I watched was a copy of a live webcast from Vienna. Here is Act I:

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Puccini – Tosca / Magee, Kaufmann, Hampson / Zurich Opera 2009 (3)

(Previous section here.)

This performance sounds quite nice. Puccini isn’t my favorite composer, and there are bits of the score, e.g. when the sacristan first comes in during Act I, that always sound over-busy and cute to me, like something from a Disney movie, but this is just me so never mind that.

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Puccini – Tosca / Magee, Kaufmann, Hampson / Zurich Opera 2009 (2)

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As noted, this is a production of Tosca which does not let you forget the theatricality of the story. Neither does it ignore the role religion plays in the drama – as the libretto indicates, Mario is a freethinker, Tosca is very pious, and Scarpia is a nasty hypocrite. Even though the stage for Act I is more theater than church Mario’s painting of Mary Magdalene is definitely a religious painting. (This is a minor point that doesn’t matter, but with all Mario says about how Tosca is ‘bruna’ it’s hard not to notice that Magee/Tosca’s hair is a terrific Agent Scully shade of red).

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Puccini – Tosca / Magee, Kaufmann, Hampson / Zurich Opera 2009 (1)

There are operas where if you ignore the ostensible setting in the libretto it doesn’t matter – or at least, it doesn’t matter very much. There are also operas where if you do this it can work but at the risk of causing the occasional what? moment. Tosca is in the latter category. The story is very specific as to its setting and time period – this is one of those librettos that refers to things like the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome and the Battle of Marengo. And Napoleon.

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O mio babbino caro / Netrebko, Scotto

I was thinking about this aria because seeing it performed within the actual opera it’s from made me like it more than I had previously. The last time I heard it was on this recital CD of Anna Netrebko’s. This is not a CD I listen to a lot. No particular reason – I just rarely find myself thinking about it, I suppose. Also the photos in the booklet make me roll my eyes a little. They verge on parody of ‘sexy recital CD photography!’ which I do not think was the intention.

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Puccini / Il Trittico / Metropolitan Opera, 1981 (2)

(Previous section here.)

The second section of Il Trittico is Suor Angelica, which is about a nun, Angelica, who has been sent to the convent because she had an illegitimate child. She longs for news of the boy. Her aunt visits her, raising her hopes, but the aunt soon informs her that the child has died. Angelica commits suicide to be with him in heaven – but it’s only after she has taken the poison that she remembers suicide is a mortal sin and that she has consigned herself to hell. She pleads to the Virgin to save her life, and as she dies she has a vision of her son.

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