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Master Singers of Worcester

Saturday, February 11, 2023

A Night at the Opera



notes by Edward Tyler, Artistic Director

Finale from The Gondoliers – Gilbert & Sullivan

The Gondoliers was the last great success for Gilbert and Sullivan, with an opening run of more than 2.5 years and 554 performances.  It takes place in the fictional kingdom of Barataria, where a young bride is arriving to be wedded to the heir to the throne.  The infant prince was left in the care of a drunken Gondolier, who mixed the child with his own infant son.  Further complicating the matter, both young men have each recently married local girls, and the bride is secretly in love with another man.  Merriment ensues until all can be rectified in the closing few minutes.

Dance a cachuca, fandango, bolero, Xeres we’ll drink Manzanilla, Montero,
Wine when it comes in abundance enhances the reckless delight of that wildest of dances!
To the pretty pitter, pitter patter, and the clitter, clitter, clitter, clatter, we’ll dance!

Once more gondolieri, both skillful and wary, free from the quandary, contented are we!
From royalty flying, our gondolas plying, and merrily crying our preme, stali.

So goodbye cachuca, fandango, bolero, we’ll dance a farewell to that measure.
Old Xeres adieu, Manzanilla, Montero, we leave you with feelings of pleasure!

Dido’s Lament & Final Chorus, from Dido & Aeneas – Henry Purcell

Based on Book IV or Virgil’s Aeneid, our story takes place in the kingdom of Carthage, where Aeneas and his ships have landed.  After Aeneas meets and falls in love with Queen Dido, he is ordered to leave by the gods in order to restore the ruined Troy and fulfill his destiny.  Dido, overcome with grief, drinks poison and dies, while the subjects or Carthage lament.

When I am laid in earth, may my wrongs create no trouble in thy breast.
Remember me, but ah!  Forget my fate.

With drooping wings ye cupids come, to scatter roses on her tomb.
Soft, soft and gentle as her heart, keep here your watch, and never part.

Flower Duet, from Lakmé – Leo Delibes

Premiered in Paris in 1883, Lakmé was performed more than 1,000 times in just under 50 years at the Opera Comique theatre.  The story is one of a tragic love between Lakmé, a Hindu priestess, and Gerald, a British army officer.  The “Flower Duet,” Sous le dôme épais, is sung early in the opera, when Lakmé and her servant Mallika, are picking flowers by the banks of a river.

Come, Mallika, the flowering lianas
already cast their shadow
on the sacred stream
which flows, calm and dark,
awakened by the song of rowdy birds.

Oh! Mistress, this is the hour
when I see you smile,
the blessed hour when I can read
in the always closed heart of Lakmé!

Thick dome of jasmine, under the dense canopy where the white jasmine,
Blends with the rose, that blends with the rose,
Bank in bloom, fresh morning, on the flowering bank, laughing in the morning,
Call us together.  Come, let us drift down together.

Ah! Let’s glide along, let us gently glide along; For its enchanting flow
The fleeing current; Let us follow the fleeing current; On the rippling surface,
With a nonchalant hand, let’s go to the shore,
Where the bird sings, where the spring sleeps.
But, an eerie feeling of distress overcomes me.
When my father goes into their accursed city, I tremble, I tremble with fright!
In order for him to be protected by Ganesh to the pond where joyfully play
The snow-winged swans, let us pick blue lotuses.

A Wand’ring Minstrel, I, from The Mikado – Gilbert & Sullivan

The Mikado opened in 1885, and by the end of that year, it is estimated that over 150 opera companies were actively performing the work in Europe and America.  By “disguising” the work as Japanese, Gilbert and Sullivan were able to satirize many British political figures and institutions.  Nanki-Poo, a wandering minstrel, is actually the son of the royal Mikado of Japan, and is in love with Yum-Yum, who is ward and betrothed to Ko-Ko, the lord high executioner.  Merriment ensues.  This song introduces us to Nanki-Poo, and to our story in general.

A wandering minstrel I — a thing of shreds and patches,
Of ballads, songs and snatches, and dreamy lullaby!
My catalogue is long, through every passion ranging,
And to your humours changing, I tune my supple song!

Are you in sentimental mood? I’ll sigh with you, Oh, sorrow!
On maiden’s coldness do you brood? I’ll do so, too— Oh, sorrow, sorrow!
I’ll charm your willing ears with songs of lovers’ fears,
While sympathetic tears my cheeks bedew!— Oh, sorrow, sorrow!

But if patriotic sentiment is wanted, I’ve patriotic ballads cut and dried;
For where’er our country’s banner may be planted, all other local banners are defied!
Our warriors, in serried ranks assembled, never quail—or they conceal it if they do—
And I shouldn’t be surprised if nations trembled before the mighty troops of Titipu!

And if you call for a song of the sea, we’ll heave the capstan round,
With a “yo heave ho”, for the wind is free, her anchor’s a-trip and her helm’s a-lee,
Hurrah for the homeward bound!

To lay aloft in a howling breeze may tickle a landsman’s taste,
But the happiest hour a sailor sees is when he’s down at an inland town,
With his Nancy on his knees, yo ho! And his arm around her waist!

Bridal Chorus, from Lohengrin – Richard Wagner

Lohengrin, composed in 1850, is a loose telling of The Knight of the Swan legend, where the title character, son of the Grail Knight Parzival, is sent to protect Elsa of Brabant.  He says that he will stay in the kingdom and be her champion under one condition – that he never be compelled to reveal his name.  They fall in love and marry, but events conspire for Lohengrin’s name to be revealed, and he is carried off to Heaven by a dove, while Elsa dies of grief.  The Bridal Chorus is sung at the beginning of the third and final act.

Faithfully guided, draw near to where the blessing of love shall preserve you.
Triumphant courage, the reward of love, joins you in faith as the happy couple!
Champion of virtue, proceed!  Jewel of youth, proceed!
Flee now the splendor of the wedding feast, may the delights of the heart be yours!
This sweet-smelling room, decked for love, now takes you in, away from the splendor!

As God hath blessedly consecrated you, we consecrate you to joy.
Attended by love’s bliss, think long upon the present hour!

Lascia ch’io pianga, from Rinaldo – George Frederick Handel

Rinaldo, composed in 1711, was the first Italian opera written for the London stage.  It is set during the Crusades during the time of battles between Goffredo and the Saracen King Argante.  Lascia ch’io pianga, sung by Goffredo’s daughter Almirena, is a lament after her capture by King Argante.

Let me weep over my cruel fate, and let me sigh for liberty.
May sorrow shatter these chains, of my torments out of pity alone.

Art Is Calling for Me, from The Enchantress – Victor Herbert

Produced in 1911, The Enchantress is a comic opera in two acts.  The action takes place in the kingdom of Zergovia, where the Minister of War compels an opera singer to seduce the Prince, making him ineligible for the throne (spoiler – this plot doesn’t work).  This aria, sung by Princess Stellina, appears in the second act.

Mama is a queen and papa is a king, so I am a princess, I know it
But court etiquette is a dull dreary thing. I just hate it all, and I show it
To sing on the stage, that’s the one life for me.
My figure’s just like Tetrazzini

I know I’d win fame, if I sang in Boheme
That opera by Signor Puccini
I’ve roulades and the trills that would send the cold chills
Down the backs of all hearers of my vocal frills

I long to be a prima donna donna donna.  I long to shine upon the stage.
I have the embonpoint to become a queen of song,
And my figure would look pretty as a page
I want to be a screechy peachy cantatrice like other plump girls that I see.
I hate society.  I hate propriety.  Art is calling for me!

I’m in the elite and men sigh at my feet.  Still I do not fancy my position.
I have not much use for the men that I meet.  I quite burn with lyric ambition.

Those tenors so sweet, if they made love to me, I’d be a success, that I do know.
And Melba I’d oust if I once sang in Faust,
That opera so charming by Gounod.
Girls would be on the brink of hysterics, I think,
Even strong men would have to go out for a drink.

I long to be a prima donna donna donna.  I long to shine upon the stage.
With my avoirdupois and my tra la la la la, I would be the chief sensation of the age.
I long to hear them shouting “Viva” to the diva.  Oh, very lovely that must be.
That’s what I’m dying for.  That’s what I’m sighing for.  Art is calling for me!

Selections from Porgy and Bess – George Gershwin

First performed in 1935 and then revived in 1976, Porgy and Bess is now considered one of the most popular American operas.  It tells the story of Porgy, a disabled street beggar, and his attempts to rescue Bess from both her abusive boyfriend Crown, and her drug dealer, Sportin’ Life.

Oh, I got plenty of nothin’, and nothin’s plenty for me.
I got no car, got no mule, got no misery.
The folks with plenty of plenty got a lock on the door.
‘Fraid somebody’s going to rob them
while they’re out making more.  What for?
I got no lock on the door, that’s no way to be.
They can steal the rug from the floor, that’s okay with me,
‘Cause the things that I prize, like the stars in the skies, are all free.
Oh, I got plenty of nothin’, and nothin’s plenty for me.
I got my gal, got my song, got Heaven the whole day long!

Summertime, and the living is easy.  Fish are jumping, and the cotton is high.
Oh, your daddy’s rich, and your ma is good looking.  So hush little baby, don’t you cry.
One of these mornings, you going to rise up singing.
Then you’ll spread your wings, and you’ll take the sky.
But ‘til that morning, there’s a nothing can harm you.
With Daddy and Mammy standing by.  Life can be like summertime.

But it ain’t necessarily so – the things that you’re liable to read in the Bible…
Little David was small, but oh my! He fought big Goliath who lay down and dieth…
Oh, Jonah he lived in the whale – for he made his home in that fish’s abdomen…
Methuselah lived nine hundred years – but who calls that living when no gal’ll give in
To no man what’s nine hundred years.
I’m preaching this sermon to show – it ain’t necessarily so.

Come along with me.  There’s a place.  Don’t be a fool, come along!
There’s a boat that’s leaving soon from New York.  Come with me!
That’s where we belong, sister!
You and me can live that high life in New York.  Come with me!
There you can’t go wrong, brother!
I’ll buy you the swellest mansion up on upper Fifth Avenue.
And through Harlem we’ll go strutting,
and there’ll be nothing too good for you.
I’ll dress you in silks and satins.  In the latest Paris styles.
All the blues you’ll be forgetting.  There’ll be no fretting, just nothing but smiles.

Act Two:

Humming Chorus, from Madame Butterfly – Giacomo Puccini

This wordless chorus marks the passage of the night before the arrival of Pinkerton, a lieutenant in the US Navy, by Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), her maid Suzuki, and Dolore, her child with Pinkerton, whom he has not seen.

Anvil Chorus, from Il Trovatore – Giuseppe Verdi

After its premiere in 1853, Il Trovatore “began a victorious march throughout the operatic world.”  The plot rivals the twists and turns of any modern soap opera, and centers around a basic love triangle, spiced with a revenge plot involving a tribe of Gypsies.  The Anvil Chorus opens the second act, as we move from the house of the Count to the camp of the Gypsies.

See how the clouds melt away from the face of the sky
when the sun shines, 
its brightness beaming.
Just as a widow, discarding her black robes,
shows all her beauty in brilliance gleaming.
So, to work now!  Lift up your hammers!
Who turns the Gypsy’s day from gloom to brightest sunshine?
His lovely Gypsy maid.  
Fill up the goblets!
New strength and courage flow from lusty wine to soul and body.
See how the rays of the sun play and sparkle
and give to our wine gay new splendor.
So to work now!

Oh! Quante Volte, from I Capuleti e i Montecchi – Vincenzo Bellini

This Bellini opera, which premiered in 1830, is a reworking of the story of Romeo and Juliet (Giulietta e Romeo).  The aria is a retelling of Giulietta’s lament (wherefore art thou, Romeo?)

Oh!  How many times?  Oh!  How many, I ask you.
Crying to heaven with the ardor of waiting for you. My desire is a trick.
The rays of your countenance are for me, the brightness of the day.
The aura that blows round seems to be one of your sighs.

O du mein holder Abendstern, from Tannhäuser – Richard Wagner

This aria, from Act 3, Scene 2 of Tannhäuser, finds the Meistersinger Wolfram singing a hymn to the evening star.  Three years after the opera’s 1845 premiere, Franz Liszt arranged this aria for solo piano.

Dusk covers the land like a premonition of death, wraps the valley in her dark mantle;
The soul that longs for those heights dreads to take its dark and awful flight.
Then you appear, O loveliest of stars, and shed your gentle light from afar;
Your sweet glow cleaves the twilight gloom,
and as a friend you show the way out of the valley.
O you, my fair evening star, gladly have I always greeted you;
Greet her, from the depths of this heart, which has never betrayed her,
Greet her, when she passes, when she soars above this mortal vale.
To become a holy angel there!

Habanera, from Carmen – Georges Bizet

Premiering in 1875, Bizet’s Carmen was considered a scandal, with its depictions of lawlessness, immorality, and the onstage death of its main character.  The Habanera introduces us to the Gypsy girl, Carmen, as she sings of untamed love.

Love is a rebellious bird that none can tame,
And it is quite in vain that one calls it,
If it suits it to refuse; Nothing to be done, threat or plea.
The one talks well, the other is silent; And it’s the other that I prefer,
He said nothing, but he pleases me.

Love is a gypsy child, it has never, never known a law,
If you don’t love me, I love you,
If I love you, be on your guard!

The bird you hoped to catch beat its wings and flew away,
Love is far, you can wait for it; You no longer await it, there it is!
All around you, swift, swift, it comes, goes, then it returns;
You think to hold it fast, it dodges you;
You think to dodge it, it holds you!

Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, from Nabucco – Giuseppe Verdi

Nabucco, which premiered in 1842, is based on the biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar.  Verdi considered this work to be the beginning of his career, and this chorus, also known as Va Pensiero, was an instant sensation, and remains one of the most popular pieces in the opera repertory.  The song is a lament for the Israelites’ lost homeland, and a call to have faith.

Fly, my thoughts, on wings of gold; go settle upon the slopes and the hills,
where, soft and mild, the sweet airs of my native land smell fragrant!
Greet the banks of the Jordan and Zion’s toppled towers.
Oh, my homeland, so lovely and so lost! Oh memory, so dear and so dead!

Golden harp of the prophets of old, why do you now hang silent upon the willow?
Rekindle the memories in our hearts, and speak of times gone by!
Mindful of the fate of Solomon’s temple, let me cry out with sad lamentation,
or else may the Lord strengthen me to bear these sufferings!

O mio babbino caro, from Gianni Schicchi – Giacomo Puccini

The only set-piece in the through-composed opera, O mio babbino caro is one of the most performed arias in the opera literature.  It is a sincere song of love, amidst a series of twists and turns while a jealous and greedy family seek to gain the upper hand (and inheritance) over their relatives.

Oh my dear papa, I love him, he is handsome, handsome,
I want to go to Porta Rossa to buy the ring!
Yes, yes, I want to go there! And if I loved him in vain,
I would go to the Ponte Vecchio, but to throw myself in the Arno!
I am anguished and tormented! Oh God, I’d want to die!
Papa, have pity, have pity!

Duetto buffo di due Gatti – Gioacchino Rossini

While not actually originating in any opera, this duet has become a favorite encore and concert piece since its premiere in 1825.  Although Rossini did not write this piece specifically, it is compiled from his melodies, including from the opera Otello.  

Translation:  Meow.

Brindisi, from La Traviata – Giuseppe Verdi

A brindisi is, literally, a toast.  Verdi’s famous toast in La Traviata, a tenor and soprano duet with chorus, is also known as Libiamo ne’ lieti calici.  The song appears early in the opera, as Violetta is throwing a gala party to celebrate her recovery from an illness.

Let’s drink, let’s drink from the joyous chalices that beauty blossoms.
And may the fleeting moment be elated with voluptuousness.
Let’s drink from the sweet thrills that love arouses, 
because that eye aims straight to the almighty heart.
Let’s drink, my love: the love among chalices will have warmer kisses.

Ah, let’s drink, my love: the love among chalices will have warmer kisses.

With you, with you I’ll be able to share my cheerful times.
Everything is foolish in the world which is not pleasure.
Let’s enjoy ourselves, for fleeting and quick the delight of love is:
It’s a flower that blooms and dies and can no longer be enjoyed.
Let’s enjoy ourselves, fervent flattering voice invites us.

Ah, let’s enjoy the cup, the cup and the chants,
the embellished nights and the laughter;
Let the new day find us in this paradise.

Violetta: Life means celebration.

Alfredo: If one hasn’t known love.

Violetta: Don’t tell someone who doesn’t know.

Alfredo: But this is my fate.

Ah, let’s enjoy the cup, the cup and the chants,
the embellished night and the laughter;
Let the new day find us in this paradise!