Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Sound of Music: The Classics - Opera Part 3

This is Part 3 of my series on the wonderful opera songs that I have in my collection. See Part 1 here. Part 1 discusses Carmen, The Barber of Seville, Turandot, and the song Bolero. Part 2 here. Part 2 discusses Pagliacci, La Traviata, Rigoletto, and The Magic Flute.

Please let me know if the music clips don't work, so I can fix them. You can also click on the song title to open the song on your own media player or to download it and listen to it later. I want to know your thoughts and opinions on the songs. Any recommendations would be appreciated. Thank you.

As I stated in my previous posts, I am not an opera expert. And truth be told, I don't consider myself an opera person. But these opera songs are some of the most riveting music I have ever heard, and they make me want to see the operas they are from. Most of these songs I discovered from listening to the late night a.m. radio during my childhood. The rest, I was introduced to from other media like movies and tv. Great songs are universally appealing. And chances are, you've heard opera songs before on other media, and you might actually like the songs, even recognize their sounds, even if you don't understand what they are singing. Good music is good music. And music is the universal language.

I usually don't like tragedies and avoid the genre. The world is depressing enough as it is. If I want entertainment, I seek out comedies and action adventure genres. But opera has tragedies, and a lot of my fave opera songs do come from tragic operas. So I will make an effort to see these tragic operas, because I love the amazing songs that come from those operas. And I want to hear and see those great songs performed as they were meant to be: Live and onstage, complete with actors, props, costumes, and orchestra in a theater.

And who knows? Maybe a live performance will change my mind and make me an opera aficionado. Or at least lead to discovering other great opera songs and masterpieces.

Madama Butterfly art by Leopoldo Metlicovitz, 1904.

Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly: Un bel dì vedremo

Madama Butterfly is based on the short story "Madame Butterfly" (1898) by John Luther Long. Long was inspired by the stories told to him by his sister Jennie Correll and the semi-autobiographical 1887 French novel "Madame Chrysanthème" by Pierre Loti. Long's version was adapted into the play by David Belasco as the one-act play "Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan"; it premiered in 1900 at New York, and then in London, where Giacomo Puccini saw it. Giacomo Puccini would later write five versions of the opera.

I recently saw this opera on public tv. And it pissed me off! Mind you, I had no idea what the story was about. And I had no idea that in opera, you're expected to read up on the story before seeing the opera, so you'll know what's going on. I am clueless about opera. So the tragic ending was a shock to me. And knowing what I know now about Puccini, I should've expected an awful tragedy.

The Story Summary:

Set in 1904 Nagasaki, Japan. A US Naval officer named Pinkerton has rented a house for him and his new soon to be child bride, Cho Cho san (Butterfly). He made the marriage arrangements with the marriage broker, Goro. A US consul, Sharpless, advises Pinkerton to forgo the marriage to the naive 15 year old Cho Cho san. But Pinkerton laughs and claims he is enjoying her company, and she will serve to please him for the moment as he is stationed in Nagasaki for now.

Pinkerton believes himself a vagabond. While charmed with Cho Cho san, he feels he is not really married to her, holding the Japanese marriage as temporary and not as binding as an American one. Sharpless tries to warn Pinkerton that Cho Cho san feels the marriage is real enough. She expressed her feelings upon visiting the consulate the day before. But Pinkerton does not listen.

Cho Cho san and her wedding party arrive. Among her few possessions is a sword used by her father to commit ritual suicide, to save his family's honor. The wedding festivities begin. Cho Cho san is happy. But her Buddhist priest uncle arrives, uninvited, and scolds her for abandoning their faith. Cho Cho san had converted to Christianity the day before to be able to pray to the same god as her husband.

Her shocked relatives abandon her. The wedding festivities are over. And Pinkerton spends his night comforting his wife.

Three years pass and Pinkerton has been away for those years. But Cho Cho san holds to the promise Pinkerton gave her that he would return. She refuses the efforts of the marriage broker to marry her off to a Japanese prince. After three years of being left alone, she is legally considered divorced in Japan. Still, Cho Cho san holds on to the promise Pinkerton made to her, that he would return when the robins come to nest.

When her servant, Suzuki, expresses concern and doubt, believing that Pinkerton will not return, Cho Cho san defends Pinkerton. She believes that their love is true. She holds on to hope and faith that Pinkerton will come back as he promised, singing the beautiful aria, Un bel dì vedremo (One Fine day).

Sharpless arrives with Goro. He has news of Pinkerton in the form of a letter. It is distressing news that Sharpless struggles to reveal to Cho Cho san. Goro had come to persuade Cho Cho san to remarry. Cho Cho san refuses Goro. She reveals her hope and Pinkerton's promise to the visiting Sharpless. She asks Sharpless, when do robins in America return to nest? Because the Japanese ones have all ready come and gone three times.

Sharpless cannot read to her the entire letter Pinkerton had written, for Cho Cho san keeps misinterpreting the words, believing that Pinkerton still loved her and was returning soon. Why else would he keep paying the rent on the house she and her servant lived in?

Sharpless is unable to deliver the devastating news to Cho Cho san: Pinkerton had married an American named Kate! He tries to persuade Cho Cho san to marry the Japanese prince suitor, Yamadori. But she refuses.

Then Cho Cho san reveals to Sharpless her three year old son, fathered by Pinkerton! Cho Cho san says that the child's name is Sorrow. But when Pinkerton returns, the boy will be renamed Joy.

A ship's canons are set off in the harbor. Cho Cho san and her servant Suzuki rush out to see that it is Pinkerton's ship. Cho Cho san believes that she was right all along! Pinkerton has come back for her. She has Suzuki prepare the home for the arrival of Pinkerton. Cho Cho san puts on her wedding dress. She has her son and servant all dressed up and they wait for Pinkerton to arrive.

By dawn, only Cho Cho san is still awake. Her servant and son are asleep. Suzuki wakes and convinces Cho Cho san to go to sleep. Cho Cho san retires to her room.

Later, Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive with Kate in tow. Suzuki greets them, then notices Kate. Suzuki cries in anguish, knowing that her mistress's life is over! Pinkerton is seized by guilt for his callous actions and betrayal of Cho Cho san's innocence and love. He cannot face Cho Cho san. Nor can he ignore his son. He manages to convince Suzuki to help his wife Kate take custody of his son.

Then he flees like the spineless coward that he is. Cho Cho san awakens and senses Pinkerton near. But when she rushes out, she sees Kate instead. Now, she realizes the awful bitter truth. Pinkerton had abandoned her and remarried! Her love had forsaken her for another!

In her shock, the others convince Cho Cho san to turn over her son. They argue that the boy would be treated well and receive a better life under Pinkerton and Kate's care. Cho Cho san takes a moment to absorb the harsh reality of the betrayal. Her entire world has been shattered! Then she agrees to give up her son, on the condition that Pinkerton comes to retrieve the boy himself.

Cho Cho san has Suzuki take her son to get him ready. The others leave to get Pinkerton. Cho Cho san retrieves her father's dagger. Suzuki brings the boy to his mother. She holds her son one last time, bids him goodbye, and wishes him well. She kisses him, and tells him that she loves him. Then she blindfolds him, puts an American flag in his tiny hands that he waves as he waits for his father's arrival.

Cho Cho san takes her father's dagger and goes behind a screen. She prays to her ancestors' gods, makes her peace, then she kills herself! Pinkerton rushes in, but he is too late. Cho Cho san is dead.

The End.

My initial reaction: What the f*ck!?!?

My following thoughts: What kind of f*cked up bullshit is this?

First off, I had a hard time trying to get past the fact that Cho Cho san was 15 when Pinkerton married her. That is not okay! But for the sake of the time period, I tried to overlook it.

But then that mofo just played with her affections, then discarded her after she gave up everything, EVERYTHING!-- her family, her religion, her innocence and time--to be with a worthless, selfish piece of crap. I was pissed at Pinkerton's betrayal and mistreatment of poor Cho Cho san.

A large part of my anger stems from the fact that poor Cho Cho san was mistreated because she was Japanese, a foreigner, which somehow made it okay for Pinkerton to treat her as less than human, as if she had less value than an American!

And I was really mad at how all these people just screwed her over, scheming to take away her son!

It's bad enough she was abandoned and betrayed by a thoughtless, selfish, coward of a husband. But then they all try to take away her son, the one person she loved and returned her love wholeheartedly! What kind of monsters try to take a child away from a loving mother!?!

So yeah, I was pissed off at how this story turned out! And I still get a bad taste in my mouth when I think of this opera and what went down. That was some f*cked up bullsh*t! If I had seen the opera for the first time in a theater, I would've booed at that ending and demanded a refund! They'd've tossed me out for causing a ruckus!

There's a modern remake in the form of a musical called Miss Saigon (1989). Reading the synopsis, it's the same f*cked up story! What the f*ck!?!?

Final thoughts:

Even though I really hated how the opera turned out, I am willing to see it live in a theater. Yes, I hate the story, but I love this song. And even the public tv performance did a great job of showcasing this song. So I would like to see a live performance, just to hear this heartbreaking song: Un bel dì vedremo (One Fine day). It is an exquisite masterpiece.

I first heard this song when I was a small child back home on a remote frontier farm. This was another musical treasure that I was introduced to by the late night a.m. radio. I was born a night owl, so I would not go to sleep at bedtime like my other two brothers. So Mom let me hang out with her in the living room, waiting for Dad to come home.

During the busy season, Dad got home around ten thirty at night, sometimes at eleven. I'd look out the window at the dark road, watching for the truck lights to come up the path in the woods, letting us know that Dad was home.

While Mom did some reading or some knitting or sewing, I would play with my toy cars or army figures. The a.m. radio started playing classical music and opera songs at ten p.m. That was when I was introduced to a lot of great classical music and opera songs.

And truth be told, I didn't understand most of the classics and opera songs that played late night on the a.m. radio. But I remember being drawn to their unique and powerful sounds. Those strange songs made the late night seem more haunting and magical.

I remember feeling awed and captivated when I first heard this song, Un bel dì vedremo (One Fine day). It was so beautiful and ephemeral! Maria Callas was singing it, and I was mesmerized when I heard her voice. At the time, I didn't know who the singer was; I didn't know the name of the song; and I didn't understand a word she was singing. But it was amazing! I have never heard anyone sing such a heart wrenching, magnificent, eerie song! And it's still so evocative after all these years.

Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro

If it seems that I am harsh on Giacomo Puccini, it's only because I don't like his tragic plays. Their terrible mistreatment of heroic and innocent women makes me mad.

Thankfully, Giacomo Puccini also wrote a happy opera, Gianni Schicchi, which contains the magnificent song, O mio babbino caro (Oh, my dear papa).

Giacomo Puccini wrote Il trittico (The Triptych), a collection of three one-act operas: Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi. Gianni Schicchi was the most popular. It was so popular that Gianni Schicchi was soon being performed by itself or paired with another opera for a double feature.

Gianni Schicchi was based on Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, the epic, iconic Renaissance poem that chronicles a fantastic and marvelous journey through hell and heaven, all populated by mythical, legendary, and famous figures. The ideas and beliefs from the poem were used by Giacomo Puccini to create Gianni Schicchi.

The Story Summary:

Set in Florence, Tuscany, Italy 1299. The wealthy noble Buoso Donati is dead in his bed. His relatives are present; most important to the story are cousins Zita and Simone, the poor-relation brother-in-law Betto, and Zita's nephew Rinuccio. Betto mentions that rumor had Buoso Donati leaving his fortune to the monastery. This sends everyone in a worried search for the will.

Rinuccio, who is confident that his uncle has left him plenty of money, finds the will. He withholds the will momentarily and asks Zita to allow him to marry Lauretta, daughter of Gianni Schicchi, a newcomer to Florence. Zita agrees, believing that if Buoso Donati had left them all his fortune, then they could all do whatever they want.

Excited, Rinuccio sends his little cousin Gherardino to fetch Schicchi and Lauretta, his beloved. Rinuccio hands over the will. Unfortunately, to the relatives dismay, the will shows that Buoso Donati did leave his fortune to the monastery!

The relatives wail and bemoan the loss of the fortune! They turn to Simone, the oldest among them and a former mayor of the town. But there is nothing he can do. The will is set.

Rinuccio suggests that only wise Gianni Schicchi can help them now. But Zita and the rest of the relatives scoff at him! What can a peasant do to help them? Rinuccio defends Gianni Schicchi, telling his relatives that they are wrong.

Gianni Schicchi and his daughter Lauretta arrive. He is told of the situation. Rinuccio begs him for help. But Zita is rude and tells Gianni Schicchi to take his daughter and leave. Offended, Schicchi announces that he will have nothing to do with such rude, awful people. He prepares to leave as Rinuccio and Lauretta listen in despair.

Lauretta makes a desperate plea to her father, singing the beautiful song: "O mio babbino caro" (Oh, my dear papa).

For his daughter's sake, Gianni Schicchi looks at the will. Twice. But there's nothing to be done. Then he has an idea. But first, he sends his daughter outside, so she'll be innocent (and ignorant) of what's going to happen.

Then Gianni Schicchi determines that only those present know that Buoso Donati is dead. He orders Buoso Donati's body moved to another room. But at that moment, Dr. Spinelloccio knocks to announce his arrival. Gianni Schicchi hides behind the bed curtains and mimics the dead Buoso Donati's voice. He tells Dr. Spinelloccio that he is feeling better and asks the Dr. to return in the evening. Dr. Spinelloccio boasts that he has never lost a patient and departs.

After the Dr. leaves, Gianni Schicchi reveals his plan: Having established with Dr. Spinelloccio that Buoso Donati is alive, Gianni Schicchi will impersonate Buoso Donati and make a new will that will benefit the relatives.

The relatives are thrilled at the news. They send for the notary. And soon, they all start plotting, asking Gianni Schicchi for Buoso Donati's various possessions. Among the most valuable and symbolic of Buoso Donati's treasures are "the mule, the house, and the mills at Signa".

A funeral bell rings, and everyone is fearful that news of Buoso Donati's death was now known. To their relief, it was only news that a neighbor's servant had passed away. The greedy relatives agree to stop plotting against each other and leave the disposition of the coveted mule, house, and mills to Gianni Schicchi. But behind each other's back, they try to bribe Gianni Schicchi to give them the mule, house, and mills.

They help Gianni Schicchi dress up as Buoso Donati. But before he gets into the bed, Gianni Schicchi reminds the relatives of the harsh and grave punishment for falsifying a will: exile from Florence and the gruesome loss of a hand.

The notary arrives and Gianni Schicchi sets out a new will, declaring any prior will null and void. Gianni Schicchi divides up the fortune to the satisfaction of the relatives. But when it comes to the mule, the house, and the mills, he orders that these be left to "my devoted friend Gianni Schicchi"!

The relatives are furious, but they can't say anything in front of the notary, especially as Gianni Schicchi, pretending to be Buoso Donati, slyly reminds the relatives of the punishment for falsifying a will.

As soon as the notary leaves, the relatives start raging at Gianni Schicchi, but their outburst is countered by Lauretta and Rinuccio, who can now get married, because Gianni Schicchi can now take his newly acquired wealth and offer a sizeable dowry! Gianni Schicchi then evicts the greedy relatives from his new home.

Gianni Schicchi turns to the audience and declares, although Dante has condemned him to hell for his scheme, it was worth it to see the young lovers happy. And he asks the audience to forgive his actions, for they were all done for love.

The End

My initial reaction: Sounds great!

My thoughts:

I want to see this opera, because it seems like a lot of fun and very delightful. I can understand why this is the most popular out of the three that make up Giacomo Puccini's Il trittico (The Triptych). It's the most entertaining and has a happy ending.

And I like the song, O mio babbino caro (Oh, my dear papa) It's one of those scintillating songs that I first heard on the late night a.m. radio when I was a small child. It was an enchanting, alluring song then, and it's still an enchanting, resplendent song now.

Of note:

The cunning character of Gianni Schicchi is directly referenced from Dante's L'Inferno, Canto XXX (lines 22-44), and he is based on historical events from 1299. In Dante's Inferno Canto XXX, the Eighth Circle of Hell, Tenth Pouch is the place of punishment for the Counterfeiters of Persons, Counterfeiters of Coins, and Falsifiers of Words--liars! A member of the Cavalcanti family and well-known mimic, Gianni Schicchi, according to one early account, impersonated his best friend, the dead Buoso Donati, to dictate a will and in so doing, bequeathed himself Buoso's prized mare!

Gianni Schicchi is Giacomo Puccini's only comedic opera. That alone is reason enough for me to want to see this opera. It would be a nice, refreshing change from the misogynistic tragedies Giacomo Puccini is best known for.

Léo Delibes: Lakmé, Act 1: Sous le dome épais (Flower Duet)

Léo Delibes' Lakmé was based on Le Mariage de Loti (1880; also known as The Marriage of Loti, Rarahu, or Tahiti), an autobiographical novel by French author Pierre Loti. Of note, Loti also wrote the 1887 French novel "Madame Chrysanthème", the inspiration for Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly. In his novel, Le Mariage de Loti, Loti describes his life and loves among the natives of Polynesia during his service there as a Navy officer.

Léo Delibes was given the novel by his librettist, Edmond Gondinet. Gondinet was aiming to use the novel to create an opera for the rising opera star, American soprano Marie van Zandt. Léo Delibes read the novel on a train ride, and he was hooked. By 1883, he had Lakmé debut in Paris. It was a huge success, thanks to all the elements in vogue at the time: An exotic location, mysterious religion, beautiful exotic flowers and native beauties, and Westerner pioneers in colonial lands, caught up in the intrigues and mystique of the native, strange culture.

The name Lakmé is the French rendition of Sanskrit Lakshmi, the name of the Hindu Goddess of Wealth. The opera was written in the prevailing Western centric view of the times. Europeans and Western populations saw foreign natives as naive, wild children, living in paradise, but lacking the so called wisdom (and morals!) of Western nations. It was the typical imperialist view the Western powers took on their newly acquired colonies all over the world.

The Story Summary:

Set in 19th century India. The British have taken over India. The Brahmin priest Nilakantha is bent on rebelling against the occupying British, who have forbidden him from practicing his religion. He goes to a secret gathering where he leads the faithful in prayer. He leaves his daughter Lakmé and her servant Millika behind.

Lakmé and Millika go off toward a river to gather flowers at a lake. At the lakeside, they sing the famous "Flower Duet", Duo des fleurs/Sous le dôme épais. As they approach the water, Lakmé removes her jewelry and leaves it on a bench. She and her servant get on a barge and head into the middle of the lake to gather more flowers.

Meanwhile, a party of British officers, Frederic and Gérald, arrive nearby while on a picnic with two British girls and their governess. The girls are taken by the beauty of Lakmé's jewels, requesting sketches of the pieces. Gérald volunteers to stay behind to make sketches as the rest of the party leaves.

As Gérald works on his sketches, he notices Lakmé and Millika returning to shore. Gérald hides to avoid an uncertain encounter with the natives. Millika leaves soon after arriving on the shore. Gérald is able to observe Lakmé's closer, and he is mesmerized by her beauty.

Lakmé soon senses someone's eyes on her. She is alarmed to see someone staring back at her from deep in the forest and screams for help. Nearby villagers rush to her aid as Gérald emerges from hiding.

Seeing that it is just a foreign British officer, Lakmé relaxes and soon tells her rescuers that all is well now. She is fascinated by Gérald, and finds herself drawn to the stranger. As they get to know each other and explore their mutual attraction, Nilakantha returns. Lakmé sends Gérald away before her father can see him. But Nilakantha learns from the villagers of the British officer's trespassing, and it infuriates him. Nilakantha vows revenge on Gérald for the affront to his family and Lakmé's honor.

Sometime much later, in the crowded market full of locals and British colonials, Nilakantha puts his plan into action. He asks Lakmé to sing. He knows her voice will draw in Gérald. And his plan works!

Gérald is drawn to Lakmé's singing. When Gérald steps forward, Lakmé realizes it's a trap and faints! Gérald rushes forward to her aid. Nilakantha now can identify Gérald and seizes the opportunity: He stabs Gérald. But he only wounds Gérald. Gérald is not dead as planned! So Nilakantha flees. And Lakmé, with servant Hadji's help, takes Gérald to a secret hideout in the forest, where he is nursed back to health.

As she cares for Gérald in the forest hideout, Lakmé and Gérald grow even closer. One day, they hear singing far off. Lakmé reveals that it is a band of lovers going to drink from a sacred spring, whose waters confer the gift of eternal love. No one can separate the lovers who drink from the spring. They are bound forever in this life and all others that follow.

Lakmé and Gérald decide to drink the sacred waters. So Lakmé leaves to fetch the water. She takes a drink at the spring and carries water back to share with Gérald. But before she makes it back, Frederic discovers the hideout after spending a long time looking for Gérald.

He is relieved to find Gérald. But then he reminds Gérald that Gérald has orders to leave for a new post soon, far away. Gérald is torn between duty and his new love. In the end, he decides to follow the oath he made to serve his country, placing duty above his own personal love.

Lakmé arrives and soon senses the change in the air. Knowing she's about to lose Gérald, her heart breaks at the thought of separating. She goes out and finds a flower that's known to be poisonous and swallows it. She would rather die than be parted from her love. Nilakantha arrives in time to see her final actions.

Grieving and mournful at the loss and regretting his decision, Gérald weeps over Lakmé. He sees the spring water she has carried back. He declares his love for her as everlasting and takes a drink, forever binding his love to Lakmé, eternal for all time.

The End

My initial reaction: Aw, so sad.

My thoughts:

I would see this opera, just to hear this beautiful song live on stage. I don't care much for how the opera ends, because tragedies suck. But I want to hear the fantastic and alluring "Flower Duet" sung on the stage as it was meant to be.

Flower Duet is an amazing song. It's been used in plenty of tv shows, concerts, movies, and commercials, like this British Airways one.

Hot towel anyone?

Flower Duet (Duo des fleurs/Sous le dôme épais) is the most exquisite and enchanting song I've ever heard playing on that late night a.m. radio. And it's still one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. So haunting and divine. Just gorgeous. Absolutely empyrean!

And there it is, the list of my favorite opera songs. I hope you enjoyed them. And if you have been to any of the operas these songs are from, please tell me your opinion if they are worth seeing. Mind you, I do hate seeing tragedies, so I usually skip them. But since this is opera, tragedy is almost a guarantee, so I won't let that stop me if you believe it's worth it to see the operas. Plus, I really want to hear the live performances of these great songs. It would be a thrill to experience the operas as they were meant to be seen and heard, with costumes, props, singers, orchestra, and all that comes with a theater production.

So please share with me your own opinions of the music selections and other great opera songs you would recommend. I don't have access to a great late night a.m. radio playing wonderful classics. So your advice and recommendations are welcomed and appreciated.

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 2