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Opera Daily 🎶 — Hella fast, high, and loud!
"When in doubt, sing loud."
I am not sure if it’s the post-Thanksgiving blues, but all I wanted to listen to was fast and loud opera yesterday—something to get me going.
As I was choosing the pieces for today, though, all roads were leading back to Verdi. And it got me thinking, when (and why) did the orchestra start to get louder? Bigger? Demanding more of voices?
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim wrote in her 2020 The New York Times piece “Loud, Louder, Loudest: How Classical Music Started to Roar” that “As the world grew louder in the 20th century, so did orchestras.”
Beethoven’s preoccupation with making the concert experience really loud may mark the beginning of a musical arms race for ever louder and ever more stimulating symphonic performance.
Before the Industrial Revolution, the principal sources of noise were thunder, church bells and cannon fire.
In Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” dynamic peaks depict a thunderstorm in summer, and the barking of dogs and hunting horns in autumn. Changing dynamics could also be used to depict degrees of light, as in the opening bars of Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 (“Le Matin”), which render the measured magic of a sunrise by letting different instruments enter in incremental turns, along with a gradual melodic rise and a calmly radiant crescendo.
Did Beethoven mold Verdi (and Wagner)? Some say yes.
This topic deserves a much longer analysis, so please leave any thoughts you have on the post so we can revisit. For now though, we are going to listen to some fast and loud music.
Or should I say powerful?
🎧 Listening Example (2 minute listen): Sherrill Milnes (Conte), Leontyne Price (Leonora), Placido Domingo (Manrico) singing “Di geloso amor sprezzato” (“The fire of jealous love”), trio from Act 1 of the Italian opera Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi, 1970
What is it about? Jealousy and rage. Leonora in the darkness mistakes the Count for her lover, until the Troubadour himself enters the garden, and she rushes to his arms. The Count challenges his rival to reveal his true identity (Manrico). Manrico challenges him to call the guards, but the Count sees this as a personal rather than political matter and challenges Manrico to a duel over their shared love. Leonora tries to intervene but cannot stop them from fighting.
🎧 Listening Example (7 minute listen): Soprano Shirley Verrett singing “Vieni! T’affretta!” from Act 1 of the Italian opera Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi
What is it about? Lady Macbeth has just read a letter from Macbeth saying that he has been appointed Thane of Cawdor and, right before he was appointed Thane, a group of witches predicted that he would be both Thane and King soon. Lady Macbeth is excited about this prospect and sings of this excitement that her husband will soon be King of Scotland.
🎧 Listening Example (2 minute listen): Tenor Franco Corelli singing “Di quella pira” from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
What is it about? Manrico has discovered that his mother, Azucena, has been captured by the Count of Luna and is to be burned at the stake. Manrico calls together his soldiers and passionately sings of how they will save Azucena from death.
Want some fast and loud choral music?
Thank you for reading (and listening),
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