Good morning, friends! This installment of Opera Daily is free for everyone.
We are going to make this simple today and focus on a single opera aria. We will focus on one singer but serve up a couple of different interpretations to choose which one(s) you like best.
Good opera singing is far more direct and honest than people think it is. You don’t need special knowledge and training to understand good opera singing. We hear singing all day long, and opera is not much different. Good singing is good singing, and good singers should sound like themselves. It’s not hard to spot Pavarotti. Good singing is unaffected, honest, and direct. It can be raw and messy, but it is beautiful, and it’s not hard to spot it when you hear it.
Today we’re listening to…
“E lucevan le stelle” a tenor aria from the beginning of Act III of the Italian opera Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. In this aria, the character Mario Cavaradossi (a tenor and a painter) has bribed the jailer to take a letter to his lover Tosca (a soprano and an opera singer), and the jailer has left him alone to write. Cavaradossi’s execution is imminent, and sits at a table writing his farewell letter, but he is too overwhelmed by the thoughts of Tosca that he can not write.
“E lucevan le stelle” (And the stars were shining)
The stars were shining… and the earth smelled sweet.
The garden gate creaked open,
and one single step left its print in the sand.
In she walked, in a cloud of perfume,
and fell into my arms.
My initial plan was to feature Luciano Pavarotti singing this piece. The way Pavarotti takes a bite out of the notes he is singing is just mind-blowing 🤯. And with such ease. His incredible control, the effortless top notes, it’s like no other. But after listening to more than a dozen tenors sing this piece (and then chatting with a tenor I admire and respect), I changed my mind. Instead, I decided to feature a performance by tenor Franco Corelli singing the opera Tosca (TOSS-kah) in a live performance in Parma (Teatro Regio di Parma) in 1967. Corelli’s voice was big, so it works beautifully in live performance in an opera house (smaller voices are better at studio recordings). There is no way to put into words the power of this singing but more so the audiences’ reaction to this performance. The crowd is wailing. As my friend said, “This is opera as an athletic event”. They love him. Corelli shows you his whole heart in this piece while he cries for Tosca. You can hear the tears stream down his face. Good singing is honest, and this is IT. To have been in this audience…🤩 If you want to listen (audio only) to this full opera performance, you can find it here.
🎧 Listen here (6 minute listen — 3 minute aria, 3 MINUTES OF APPLAUSE!) [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
Here are some other interpretations of the piece:
Luciano Pavarotti [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
Giuseppe di Stefano [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
Do you have a favorite tenor singing this role? Or even a specific performance? Please leave it in the comments!
Want more? Tune in next week where we go deeper into the opera Tosca, other arias from the opera, the craft of singing, and more.
Thank you for listening,
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I'll enjoy listening to "E lucevan le stelle", and other performances, by each of these legendary tenors (Franco Corelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Giuseppe di Stefano, Plácido Domingo, Enrico Caruso and Jussi Björling). Maybe I love tenors so much because the first tenor voice I ever heard was my father's. Before I was born, he was in great demand as a soloist at churches, weddings and funerals. I must have anticipated today's post because last night I searched for "The Great Caruso", and ended up watching instead a documentary on Mario Lanza ("The Best of Everything" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNjwmQ5kfT0). I learned that he couldn't read music, sang famous arias in recitals, but never once performed in a full opera. With his spectacular voice, good looks and ability to straddle the fence between opera, light classical and pop, he carved out his own lane as both a movie star and the most popular recording artist of the 1950s. Someone commented that he was the first to achieve what we would call today a rock star lifestyle . You know - the screaming girls, the panties tossed on the stage, the publicity, the international renown. Someone else remarked he and Maria Callas were not just singers - they were "global superstars". I recommend the documentary for your viewing pleasure. I think Mario Lanza belongs in that top tier of the great tenors of yesteryear, even with an asterisk by his name.
Each of these performances of Puccini's "E lucevan le stelle" is beautiful. For me, though, the winner is Giuseppe di Stefano. I give him the edge for the purity of his tenor voice, elocution, emotion and technical perfection. Even so, Enrico Caruso is still a favorite. The digitally remastered 1904 original suggests he must have been phenomenal onstage. He conveyed the desperation, the sorrow, the hopelessness of a man who has lost his friend, been arrested, thinks he's lost his beloved, and is about to lose his life. When Caruso's last note gave way to utter brokenness, that was it.