Program Notes - December 5, 1998 Concert
Overture to Nabucco
Nearly forty years after Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) wrote the opera Nabucco (premiered in 1842 at La Scala), he remembered it this way:``With this opera it is fair to say that my artistic career began. And despite the difficulties I had to contend with, Nabucco was born under a lucky star''.
The overture is based on themes from the opera, and opera lore portends that Verdi wrote it in a cafe during one of the rehearsals. The love story is taken from the Old Testament and is set in Jerusalem and Babylon in 586 B.C. Nabucco (or Nebuchadnezzar) is the King of Babylon, and his Assyrians are at war with the Hebrews, Levites, and Hebrew Virgins. The King's daughter, Fenena, is currently prisoner in Jerusalem, and is in love with Ismael, the son of Zedekia, King of Jerusalem. Love triangles, intrigue, near executions, and disguises ensue.
One of the themes in the overture comes from the famous chorus in Scene 2 of Part 3, ``Va, pensiero, sull ali decorate'' where the Hebrew slaves bemoan ``Go my thought on golden wings; go, alight on the slopes, the hills, where, soft and warm, the sweet breezes of our native land are fragrant!'' The grand story ends in repentance for most of the main characters.
La Traviata, Act I
La Traviata, premiered in 1853 in Venice, is one of Verdi's best loved operas, because of the exceptional quality of the music, and the attractiveness of the sensational story, set in Paris in the 1840's. The Prelude of the opera opens with a haunting strain that foreshadows the impending tragedy of Violetta Valery. Her character and the story is based on the real life figure from Paris, Marie Duplessis, a ravishing courtesan who lived and loved exuberantly. Of her many courtiers, Alexander Dumas is the most renowned.
Act 1 opens in the parlor of Violetta's house, where a splendid party is being held. Upon greeting some of her guests, Violetta is introduced to Alfredo Germont. Violetta is informed that Alfredo has loved her from afar for some time, and is said to have called on her every day during a recent illness. This is a devotion and tenderness that Violetta is not familiar with. As the party progresses, songs are sung and the merriment becomes contagious. When Violetta suggests the guests move to another room to dance, she grows faint and stays behind. She realizes that her lifestyle and indulgences are bringing about very poor health, and here is when Alfredo, who has lingered, professes his undying and unconditional love. This has moved Violetta, but she does not allow Alfredo to know that her affections are warming to him. The evening draws to a close, with an invitation to Alfredo to return at some ambiguous time, much to her suitor's delight. But for Violetta, a life of wantonness and shallow relationships draws her away from the ruminations of true love with Alfredo, and she reverts comfortably to her light-hearted companions.
Äida, Act II - Excerpts
Verdi had a rare gift that made his operas international successes often from their first performances. Many have remained successes to the present. His gift was for writing melodies that evoked the character's emotions and that also played upon the emotions of the listener. A natural gift, to be sure, but one that was built upon continuously throughout Verdi's long career, and in which he strove to perfect his talents through maturity, subtlety, and nuance. His ideas about opera, particularly grand opera (such as Äida) were revolutionary, and after many attempts and successes, it is said that Äida embodied for the first time, the ideal for which Verdi was striving.
During the writing of the opera, Verdi, involved intricately in the libretto, sent the manuscript back to the author countless times with revisions and suggestions. This partly illustrates how Verdi's vision of grand opera included a detailed involvement in every aspect. On one occasion, Verdi remarked to librettist Antonio Ghislanzoni, who's strophe was at times too conservative for his tastes, wrote: ``Unfortunately, the theatre requires that on occasion poets and composers should have the ability to create neither poetry or music.'' However, one finds hardly a hint of what might imply cacophony.
Äida was commissioned by the Khedive of Egypt, not for the opening of the Suez Canal (which is often reported) but, for the newly built opera house in Cairo. The theme was to be distinctly Egyptian, and the story of the emerging libretto carries some interesting tales of its own.
The opening prelude, which is fugue-like, remains one of the most ethereal and enchanting introductions in all opera. It sets the stage in the palace of the King of Memphis, where news of the Ethiopian invasion of Egypt has arrived. The facts slowly become clear that Radames, just chosen to be the leader of the retaliation against the Ethiopians, is in love with Äida, an Ethiopian slave, but keeps his love a secret. Amneris, the daughter of the King, is in love with Radames, but suspects that her love is not returned, and that Äida is in love with Radames. The first Act ends as Äida is torn between her love for Radames who must vow to destroy her people and father, and her love for her homeland. To pray for the deliverance of her home and people, would mean death for her beloved Radames. Radames, on the other hand, offer his sacred prayers for victory.
Act II, scene I, arrives with Amneris in her chambers being dressed for victory celebrations. After the slaves have danced and sung the praises of the hero Radames in some exotically charming music by Verdi, Amneris sings of her love for Radames as the opening prelude pines in the background, overshadowed by doubts and jealousy. She suspects Äida. Upon Äida's arrival, Amneris tricks her into thinking Radames has been killed, and Äida unfortunately gives her secret away by showing her horror and distress. Amneris cruelly torments Äida by telling her of the lie, only to find Äida overjoyed with the knowledge that Radames lives. Wrath is invoked on the poor slave, and Äida must exit humbly and apologetically, while in the background the chorus of the returning army can be heard (Su! del Nilo al sacro lido).
Scene 2 opens at a grove near the Temple of Thebes. Here, the crowds gather as the King with his entourage enters through a triumphal arch and takes his place on the sacred throne. Here is heard the beloved Chorus and Triumphal March, and the Final Glory to Egypt Chorus (Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside) is sung welcoming Radames as victorious hero.