Opera Daily 🎶 — La traviata & the building of the Sydney Opera House

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Hello friends,

Before we get into our selection for today, I want to share a quick story about the building of the Sydney Opera House. 

While the process took 14 years, the time between 1957-1963, while they were constructing the podium (the shell), were the most tedious. Jørn Utzon, a Danish architect, worked with Arup, the global engineering firm, to develop a shell system that would make his original design structurally possible. But they ran into problems when executing. They always knew Jørn Utzon’s design concept included unprecedented forms and demanded solutions that required new technologies and materials. Still, they didn’t know how hard it was going to be. The design was not feeling viable or feasible, given the current approach. But 12 iterations later, they came up with a solution that consisted of a ribbed system of precast concrete shells created from sections of a sphere.

The myth is that Jørn Utzon had a eureka moment while peeling an orange: the opera house’s 14 outer shells form a perfect sphere.

Jørn Utzon says the building’s unique white shells were inspired when he was peeling an orange. ″You peel an orange, and you get these segments...(which are) similar shapes.″

Jørn Utzon’s story reminded me that the answers to our personal, creative, and business challenges might come when we least expect them. And that novel solutions require inspiration, courage, vision, and an appetite to see beyond what’s in front of you.

Now let’s get to it.

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In the spirit of my story, let’s go to the Sydney Opera House. We are listening to Dame Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti perform a gala concert together under the sails of the Sydney Opera House in 1983 with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (conducted by Joan’s husband, Richard Bonynge).

“Parigi, o cara” is a duet from Act 3 of La traviata when Violetta and Alfredo are reunited after a long separation and Alfredo suggests they leave Paris. At this moment, suffering seems to have left her—a final illusion before she dies.

🎧 Listening Example (5 minute listen): Dame Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti perform “Parigi, o cara” from Verdi's La traviata at the Sutherland/Pavarotti Gala Concert in the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House in 1983 with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge.

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“Parigi, o cara” lyrics

Italian
Parigi, o cara (caro), noi lasceremo,
la vita uniti trascorreremo.
De’ corsi affanni compenso avrai,
la tua salute rifiorirà.
Sospiro e luce tu mi sarai,
tutto il futuro ne arriderà.

English translation
We’ll leave Paris, my dearest,
Together we’ll go through life.
In reward for your past sorrows,
You’ll bloom into health again.
Breath of life, sunshine you’ll be to me,
All the years to come will smile on us.

[**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**] I tracked down the full program from the Sutherland/Pavarotti Gala Concert and it is fantastic. It’s worth just looking at the ads (this link will take you to the concert page, then scroll down and click on the Resource section where you can view the program).

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Want more?

  • A story of sickness, love, and death, La traviata follows Violetta, a young courtesan who is sick with tuberculosis, as she falls in love with Alfredo. While she struggles with the fact that she is dying, she falls for him, and they leave the city to live together in the French countryside. Alfredo’s father who disapproves of their relationship comes and guilts Violetta into leaving Alfredo and returning to her old life. Thinking she has betrayed him, Alfredo is heartbroken. A few months later, Violetta is close to death, and Alfredo, who has learned why Violetta left him, goes to her. They vow to be together forever, but she soon collapses and dies in his arms.

  • La traviata (lah-trah-VEE-ah-tuh) was the most performed opera worldwide during the 2015/16 season with a total of 4,190 performances across 869 separate productions.

  • While the events occur in and around Paris during the 1840s, La traviata’s plot has been repurposed in movies like Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge. Music from this opera can also be heard in The Godfather and In the Line of Fire.

  • Joan Sutherland was an Australian (dramatic coloratura) soprano known for her contribution to the bel canto repertoire from the late 1950s through the 1980s. Bel canto literally translates to “beautiful singing,” and it was a popular singing style in Italian opera from the mid-18th to early 19th centuries. If you want more, here’s Joan singing “Era desso il figlio mio” from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia. This performance was filmed at the Sydney Opera House in 1977, conducted by Richard Bonynge. Joan “La Stupenda” truly set the vocal standard for these Donizetti roles.

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Thank you for reading (and listening),

Michele

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