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This week’s theme is Great Operatic Duets
“Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour” (popularly know as the “Barcarolle”) is a duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano from the French opera The Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach. A barcarolle is a style of song characterized by a rhythm reminiscent of the gondolier’s stroke. Montserrat Caballé (soprano) and Shirley Verrett (mezzo-soprano) are singing here, and you can’t help but feel like you are in that gondola in Venice. I think it’s the most touching interpretation I’ve ever heard.
🎧 Listen here (4 minute listen):
The Tales of Hoffman (Les Contes d’Hoffmann in French) tells the story of a poet, Hoffmann (tenor), who describes three women he loved and lost only to find that the woman that was meant for him all along was right in front of his nose.
It is the opera’s most famous melody and it is performed by Nicklausse (mezzo-soprano) Hoffman’s muse in disguise as his friend, and Giulietta (soprano), the protagonist of Hoffman’s love and a Venetian courtesan. The scene begins with Hoffman listening from a Venetian palace balcony while the two characters sing this melody in a gondola below.
Lovely night, oh, night of love, smile upon our joys!
Night much sweeter than the day, oh beautiful night of love!
Shirley Verrett began her career as a mezzo-soprano in the late 1950’s but later took on soprano roles.
Duet recitals were popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s and provided a nice juxtaposition of two different voice types (soprano and mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone).
Opera is filled with great love and friendship duets. In a previous Opera Daily, we featured “Au fond du temple saint” (popularly known as “The Pearl Fishers Duet”) which follows in the nineteenth-century tradition of operatic friendship duets, which typically feature tenor and baritone singing complementary musical lines.
Offenbach died four months before the premiere of Les Contes d’Hoffmann (February 10, 1881). He left the score unfinished, and many different opera versions have been performed over the past 125 years.
Thank you for listening,