Music Appreciation Group November 2019 meeting

We began by listening to two arias from Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro which was performed recently in Ceret by a group of professional singers accompanied by a piano in the absence of a full orchestra. The opera is based on a novel by Beaumarchais which was a sequel to the Barber of Seville and has many of the same characters; it is a typically convoluted operatic plot.  Figaro is now the manservant of Count of Almaviva and Susanna is ladies maid to the Countess and they are engaged to be married.  However, the Count has designs on Susanna and plans to exercise his droit de seigneur and bed her as soon as she is married.  Susanna is less than enthusiastic and, with Figaro, aims to thwart the Count’s amorous intentions.  In the meantime, Dr Bartolo and Marcellina, the housekeeper, conspire to prevent the marriage and Figaro, who owes money to Marcellina has pledged to marry her if he cannot repay the loan.  Needless to say, he can’t.  Figaro, Susanna and the countess then develop their plot with Figaro having written to the count claiming falsely that the countess has an assignation after the ball that night and that Susanna is to pretend to accede to his desires and will be waiting for him in the garden.  It was originally supposed to be Cherubino, a page, dressed as Susanna in the garden.  In the next scene Marcellina and Bartolo enter with a lawyer, Don Curzio, who has decided in Marcellina’s favour and is about to inform the Count that Figaro should marry Marcellina, who is significantly older.  It then transpires that Figaro, who was stolen by bandits as a baby, is in fact Marcellina’s son.  Susanna then writes to the count setting up the assignation in the garden, however there has been a slight change of plan with the countess, disguised as Susanna is to wait in the garden for the philandering count who is therefore to have a secret assignation with his wife!  To cut a very long story short, Figaro misunderstands the situation and believes it is the real Susanna who is to meet the count, Susanna sings of her love for the man she is waiting for.  The count appears and tries to lead ‘Susanna’ into a pavilion, Figaro then intends to show the ‘Countess’ what her husband is planning but recognises Susanna’s voice, the count appears and immediately decries the treachery of his ‘wife’ who is alone with Figaro.  The real countess then appears and the count realises that his proposed infidelity has been revealed and begs his wife’s forgiveness.  The opera ends with the count and countess reconciled, Figaro weds Susanna and all ends happily ever after!  Well, I did tell you it was convoluted!  We heard the solo by Susanna, Die veni non tardar, somewhat ambiguously declaiming her love for Figaro, and the finale, Pace, Pace mio dolce Tesoro sung by all the major characters.

After all this excitement we settled down to a Dance Suite by Béla Bartók played by the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Stanisław Skrowaczewski.  It was written for a celebratory concert in 1923 marking the union of Buda and Pest.  This work consists of five dances with Arabic, Wallachian and Hungarian melodies, and a finale that brings together all the previous thematic sketches.  It was challenging and interesting but not exactly catchy!

Returning to the operatic theme we heard two arias performed by Pavarotti.  The first was the well known aria from Turandot, Nessun Dorma made famous by its performance at the 1990 football World Cup.  In the opera Prince Calaf seeks the hand of the cruel Princess Turandot and has correctly answered the three riddles required as a precondition but she then demands to know the Prince’s name.  He challenges her to find out his name by dawn; if she succeeds, Calab is executed, if she fails, she must marry him.  The Princess Turandot then sends out heralds to all her subjects to discover his name and decrees that no one shall sleep until she discovers the name and if she does not, they will all be killed.  Calaf’s aria echoes the calls of the heralds, Nessum Dorma, none shall sleep, and goes on the reflect on the Princess.  One has to wonder why he would want to marry such a bloodthirsty bride, but that’s opera!  The second aria was from Rigoletto, Questa O Quella where the duke, who is lusting after the daughter of the court jester, Rigoletto, sings of his nature as a philanderer “Constancy, that tyrant of the heart, we detest as a bitter ill”.

After that drama we relaxed by listening to two of the movements from Mozart’s Serenade No 10, subtitled the Gran Partita, composed in 1781 for twelve wind instruments and a string bass.

Finally, we heard two of Brahm’s lieder sung by Jesse Norman.  Jesse Norman was born in Augusta Georgia in 1945 and died in September 2019 in New York.  As a black American she was described as a dramatic soprano.  At 1.85 metres tall she was a towering figure.  She sang all the great soprano roles in opera as well as concerts and recitals.  Her early training was in the States but in the mid 1960’s moved to Europe and in 1968 made her debut in Berlin.  It was not until 1982 that she made her US debut.  One cannot help but think that had she not been black her career would have blossomed there much earlier.  We actually saw her in 1972 performing at the last night of the Proms where she was magnificent.  At the time she was performing The Trojans by Berlioz at the Royal Opera House with Colin Davias conductor; he also conducted the last night.  We actually listened to two lieder for voice, viola and piano, Zwei Gesänge Opus 91.  He composed them for his friend Joseph Joachim, a celebrated violinist and his wife Amelie, a professional singer.  The first set to music a poem by Friedrich Ruckert, Yearning Appeased, and the second was based on a Spanish poem Sacred Lullaby by Lope de Vega.

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