Opera Daily 🎶 — The Enduring Arias
This week's Opera Daily features the most enduring arias in the opera repertoire
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How late is too late to say “Happy New Year” to somebody?
Are you a Larry David, or are you more forgiving?
While I am a Seinfeld fan, this is where I disagree with Larry David.
Jan 15th is still acceptable — especially if you haven’t seen that person yet.
So Happy New Year!
Have you ever been asked the age-old question, “Which opera aria is the greatest of all time?”
I have always said it’s difficult to say which opera aria is the “best”, as it is a matter of personal taste and opinion. If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you will know this question is one of the big reasons I started this newsletter in the first place. It’s up to the listener to decide, not a list of the “Top 10 Greatest Opera Hits”.
But it’s not wrong to say that some arias are enduring.
What does that mean, though?
Enduring: lasting or remaining in existence over a long period of time. It can also mean remaining unchanged or continuing to exist despite hardships, difficulties or adverse conditions.
Some arias have remained popular and well-known for an extended period. They have stood the test of time and continue to be performed in operas and concert halls worldwide and are recognized by audiences even outside of opera circles. They are often considered "classics" and part of the standard opera repertoire.
I don't know how they do it, but these arias have a way of connecting with people, regardless of cultural background or language. They are passed down from generation to generation and are still relevant to modern audiences. They hold an emotional power, musical beauty, and an aesthetic that appeals to the masses and have managed to maintain their popularity over time. They continue to inspire and move audiences today as they did when they were first written.
Let’s listen to one.
🎧 Listen here (3 minute listen): Tenor Luciano Pavarotti singing “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca, from the Madison Square Garden 25th anniversary concert, 1986, Emerson Buckley, conductor
So what contributes to an aria’s enduring quality?
One is its musical beauty, characterized by its melody, harmonies, and orchestration. Another is its emotional power, which can be conveyed through its lyrics and how it is sung. Additionally, the aria’s context within the larger opera can play a role.
“E lucevan le stelle” is considered timeless for several reasons.
Firstly, Puccini’s composition of the aria creates a sense of longing and emotional intensity — he makes you feel like you are there with the character and understand how he feels. The music effectively conveys the character’s feelings of love and despair, drawing the audience into the emotional world of the opera.
Additionally, the aria's lyrics, written by Luigi Illica, are considered some of the most beautiful and evocative in all opera. They capture the character’s deep and passionate love for Tosca and the pain of their separation in a very moving way. The text is written in a way that it is easy for the audience to connect with the feelings and emotions of the character, regardless of their cultural background.
“E lucevan le stelle” (And the stars were shining)
The stars were shining bright
And my thoughts, they took flight
To a sky that was starry and bright
With memories of love
That were shining above
And my heart was filled with delight
But alas, my love was gone
And my heart it was wrung
With the pain of a love that had died
And the stars that once shown
Now seemed dim and alone
As my dreams, they all fell inside
Finally, the aria is sung at a crucial moment in the opera, where the tension and drama are at its peak, just before the character Cavaradossi is executed. This heightens the emotional impact of the aria and makes it an unforgettable moment in the opera.
Enduring arias are universal — they can cross cultures, languages, and geographic barriers, making them timeless and accessible.
Other arias I would put in the “enduring” category include:
“Nessun dorma” from Puccini's Turandot: This aria, sung by the character Calaf, expresses his love for Princess Turandot and his determination to win her love. The melody is considered one of the most beautiful and memorable in all of opera.
“Un bel di vedremo” from Puccini's Madama Butterfly: This aria, sung by the character Cio-Cio San (Butterfly), expresses her hope and longing for the return of her lover Pinkerton.
“Casta Diva” from Bellini's Norma: This aria, sung by the character Norma, is considered a timeless classic due to its powerful and emotional melody, as well as its portrayal of Norma’s spiritual and emotional state.
“La donna è mobile” from Verdi's Rigoletto: This aria, sung by the Duke of Mantua, is considered a timeless classic due to its catchy melody and playful lyrics, as well as its portrayal of the Duke's fickleness and superficial nature.
Which arias do you put in the “enduring” category? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
PS. If you missed the last selection from 2022, we featured the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.
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Too much Puccini----
Aria's from Marilyn Horne as CARMEN and Isabella in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algieri; Grace Bumbry in TOSCA at The Met and MEDEA at City Opera I agree. Heard Janet Baker in a stunning recital at the Kennedy Center with her back arched over the piano. All great ones for sure and still heard in my memory decades later.