By Lynne Gray, PhD
Thursday, April 2
Verdi’s Don Carlo ~ 3hrs and 35mins
Starring Marina Poplavskaya, Roberto Alagna, Simon Keenlyside, and Ferruccio Furlanetto, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. From December 11, 2010.
Verdi’s passionate and moving tragedy, Don Carlo (or Don Carlos in the French version) premiered in 1867 and is (very loosely) based on actual historical figures: Carlos, Prince of Asturias in the mid-1500’s, was the son of Phillip II of Spain – a Habsburg – and the grandson of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Elizabeth of Valois was the eldest daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de’ Medici. The Italian War of 1551-59 between the Houses of Habsburg and Valois did in fact end in a treaty that involved the marriage of Phillip II and Elisabeth. But there end the historical touch points.
The opera’s libretto transforms the (in real life) sadistic and mentally ill Carlos (too much Habsburg inbreeding!) into a tragic hero, victim of his father’s abuse and the political intrigues swirling around Europe in the turbulent 1500’s. As the opera opens, we learn that Don Carlo, in disguise, has traveled to the treaty negotiations at the French Court in Fontainebleau against his father, Phillip II’s wishes in order to get a look at his promised bride, Elisabeth. He has followed her hunting party into the forest, where she is now rather conveniently lost, and he offers her his protection. This being opera, she rather quickly figures out who her protector actually is and they fall immediately in love. This being, however, only the first act of the opera, their blissful rejoicing in a happy ending to their arranged marriage is interrupted by the news that the treaty has been altered at the last minute and Elisabeth is now to marry the King rather than his son. Their love making abruptly ended, they try to resign themselves to their respective duties.
Bound by their hopeless situation, the lovers have parted, Elisabeth has married Phillip and the distraught Carlo prays for relief at the tomb of his grandfather, Emperor Charles V. He is joined by his best friend, Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa – also more heroic and self-sacrificing in the opera than was his probable historic counterpart. Here, Posa is a Flemish partisan, enlisting Carlo’s aide in obtaining justice from Phillip for the beleaguered Flemish people. Their tenor/baritone duet pledging faith to each other, “Dio, Che Nell’alma Infondere Amor” is one of the most famous in all opera.
In the next scene we meet the Princess Eboli. She is lady in waiting to the new Queen (Carlo’s stepmother now rather than his bride). She is also the King’s mistress and is herself in love with Don Carlo – a fatal combination as you might imagine. It takes five acts to get through all the complications of this tragic, twisted plot set against wars, the Inquisition, personal and political intrigue, a gruesome auto-da-fé and even a supposed ghost, dragging Carlo down into his grandfather’s tomb as the opera ends.
No history lessons here – but lots and lots of glorious Verdi music!
Friday, April 3
Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles ~ 2hrs and 15mins
Starring Diana Damrau, Matthew Polenzani, and Mariusz Kwiecien, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. From January 16, 2016.
Performed far less often than Carmen – Bizet’s most famous opera – The Pearl Fishers is nonetheless full of beautiful music, exotic settings and, of course, an ill-starred love triangle among our three principals – Zurga, Nadir and Leila. Originally set in Ceylon in ancient times, the Met’s production has been updated to a modern coastal shantytown where the fishermen wear a mix of traditional and more modern clothing. The villagers intimate relationship with the sea – its bounty and its dangers – is mirrored in dramatically beautiful projections which take us from the depths of the underwater world of the pearl fishers, to serene evening meditations, to violent floods and storms, and finally, to the fiery cataclysm that destroys their entire existence.
Zurga, the recently elected village headman, and Nadir have been friends since childhood. Nadir has just returned to their village after a long absence. He and Zurga celebrate their reunion (this week’s second hugely famous tenor/baritone duet) in “Au fond du temple saint.” In the duet, they recall their friendship and the woman (a Hindu priestess) whom both worshipped from afar and almost came between them. They renew their vow of undying friendship and swear never to let anything – especially a woman – separate them.
Almost immediately, however, the High Priest Nourabad arrives, bringing with him a veiled priestess who will sing and pray through the night to protect the village from the spirits of the oncoming storm. Even through the veil, Nadir recognizes his lost love, Leila and is helpless to resist her – under penalty of death for them both.
The illicit lovers are of course discovered and Zurga, appalled at the betrayal, is more than willing to sentence them both to death. His dramatic epiphany and final self-sacrifice comes only after Leila begs him for Nadir’s life (if not her own), his discovery that it was Leila who once saved his life, and his ultimate realization that his deep love for both them was more important to him than his own life.
Saturday, April 4
Verdi’s Macbeth ~ 3hrs and 10mins
Starring Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja, Željko Lučić, and René Pape, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From October 11, 2014.
The role of Lady Macbeth marked an important milestone in Anna Netrebko’s transformation from the lighter lyric soprano roles of her youth – in operas by Puccini, Donizetti, Bellini and Mozart – to far more dramatic, bigger voiced heroines, particularly in works by Verdi and Strauss. This opera was Verdi’s first among many others to based on the work of Shakespeare. It follows Shakespeare’s story quite closely – borrowing from his famous words as often as possible.
As in the play, the opera begins with witches – rather than just three, however, there is an entire chorus of witches in the opera – singing in three part harmony. They deliver their well known prophecy to the victorious generals, Macbeth and Banquo – hailing Macbeth as Thane of Glamis (a title he already holds), Thane of Cawdor (a new title he is about to receive), and king “hereafter;” while Banquo is hailed as lesser than Macbeth, but greater – never a king himself, but the progenitor of future kings. When Lady Macbeth hears of the prophecy, she resolves to help it be fulfilled sooner rather than later. She gets her opportunity almost immediately when she learns that King Duncan will visit their castle that very evening.
Multiple murders, madness, ghosts, and more prophecies are to come. The first advises Macbeth to beware of Macduff; the second tells him that he cannot be harmed by a man ‘born of woman;’ the third that he cannot be conquered till Birnam Wood marches against him. Indulge yourself in this Verdi masterpiece to see exactly how Birnam wood does march against Macbeth and how he is indeed brought down by a man not ‘born’ of woman.
Sunday, April 5
Bellini’s Norma ~ 3hrs and 4mins
Starring Sondra Radvanovsky, Joyce DiDonato, Joseph Calleja, and Matthew Rose, conducted by Carlo Rizzi. From October 17, 2017.
Tonight brings us yet another love triangle set to incredibly beautiful music – but this one has a twist – its female victims join together against the forces (and the men) who control their lives and take their destinies firmly into their own hands.
In 50 BCE, Norma is a druid high priestess during the Roman occupation of Gaul (the historical Western European region inhabited by the Celts). The druids are seeking revenge against their Roman conquerors and look to their priestess to tell them when the time is right for revolt.
The opera begins on the night of a full moon deep in the sacred grove where the druids and warriors pray for revenge. As they move off to await the appearance of the priestess, the Roman Proconsul, Pollione, talks with his friend Flavio about his new love – a young novice priestess, Adalgisa, who he is sure returns his feelings. Pollione, however, has been having a long (and very clandestine) love affair with the high priestess, Norma. They have had two children together, but now he tires of her. (Men!)
As Norma enters the grove to lead the sacred ceremony, she is attended by Adalgisa, but her own thoughts are on protecting Pollione and her children. She tells her followers that the time is not yet right for revenge and in her famous aria “Casta diva” (Chaste goddess) she pleads for peace. We then learn that Pollione is being recalled to Rome and he seeks out Adalgisa to try to convince her to accompany him. He, however, is uneasy about Norma’s possible revenge and Adalgisa, herself (who does not yet know about Pollione’s former love) is reluctant to break her vows of chastity and to desert Norma. Their subsequent choices give us some of opera’s most beautiful duets and trios – “Vieni in Roma,” “Mira, o Norma,” and “In mia man alfin tu sei” (At last you are in my hands) to name but a few. Don’t miss tonight’s dramatic and surprising end!
1. Marina Poplavskaya and Roberto Alagna in Verdi’s “ Don Carlo” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
2. Roberto Alagna and Simon Keenlyside in Verdi’s “ Don Carlo” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
3. Diana Damrau in Bizet’s “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
4. Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien in Bizet’s “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
5. Diana Damrau, Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien in Bizet’s “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
6. Anna Netrebko, Željko Lučić, and René Pape in Verdi’s “Macbeth” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
7. Anna Netrebko in Verdi’s “Macbeth” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
8. Joseph Calleja and the Metropolitan Opera Chorus in Verdi’s “Macbeth” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
9. Sondra Radvanovsky in Bellini’s “Norma” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
10. Joyce DiDonato and Joseph Calleja in Bellini’s “Norma” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
11. Sondra Radvanovsky and Joyce DiDonato in Bellini’s “Norma” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.
12. Sondra Radvanovsky and Joseph Calleja in Bellini’s “Norma” – Credit Metropolitan Opera.