Opera Daily 🎶 — The ghost of Marie Antoinette, Shiny eyes, Meyerbeer's L'Africaine
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My nephew asked me last night if I had any spooky opera planned for Halloween today 🎃 I told him that ghosts, witches, dragons, and murderous clowns are another day at the office in opera, so I didn’t think anything of it. Before we get into today’s selection here is something a little extra creepy. 👻
The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano, based upon Beaumarchais’s La Mère coupable, has a terrifying character – the ghost of Marie Antoinette! (sung here by soprano Teresa Stratas)
First performed December 19, 1991, by Teresa Stratas and Renée Fleming, Marilyn Horne, Gino Quilico and Håken Hagegård, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Levine, conductor. Commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera
(Here’s a recording of the full opera if you want to keep the spooky going today!)
“I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people. And, of course, I wanted to know whether I was doing that. And you know how you find out? You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you're doing it. If the eyes are not shining, you get to ask a question. And this is the question - who am I being that my player's eyes are not shining?
I have a definition of success. For me, it's very simple. It's not about wealth and fame and power. It's about how many shiny eyes I have around me.”
The world needs more people like Benjamin Zander.
What if your job today was to awaken possibility in other people? How would you behave differently?
"O Paradiso” from L'Africaine
“O Paradiso” is the most famous aria of the 1865 grand opera L’Africaine, the last work of the German opera composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. The opera is about fictitious events in the life of the real historical person Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer. He was the first European to reach India by sea.
The trouble with Meyerbeer is his operas are just too long. Although it didn't matter in his time because most of his audience wouldn't be there for the whole show, the lights would still have been on, and few would be paying attention.
What do you mean the audience wasn’t paying attention?
Well, before 1900, performances assumed a different form than the rigid structure we see today. Today we are sitting comfortably in our seats when the curtain goes up at 8pm, intermission is at 9pm, and then the curtain goes down at 10pm and we go home.
In James Johnson’s book Listening in Paris, he answers the question "Why did audiences grow silent?" The book shows opera and concert life from the Old Regime to the Romantic era, describing the transformation in musical experience from social event to something far more formal.
Here is Johnson’s description of a night at the Paris Opéra in the years before the French Revolution:
While most were in their places by the end of the first act, the continuous movement and low din of conversation never really stopped. Lackeys and young bachelors milled about in the crowded and often boisterous parterre, the floor-level pit to which only men were admitted. Princes of the blood and dukes visited among themselves in the highly visible first-row boxes. Worldly abbés chatted happily with ladies in jewels on the second level, occasionally earning indecent shouts from the parterre when their conversation turned too cordial. And lovers sought the dim heights of the third balcony—the paradise—away from the probing lorgnettes.
L'Africaine was written over 30 years, beginning in 1837.
With most of Meyerbeer's operas, the staging is complex and their stories can be challenging to sort out. Despite that, Meyerbeer’s had an incredible ability to explore emotion through simple musical means.
🎧 Listening Example (3 minute listen): Carlo Bergonzi sings “O Paradiso” from Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, 1969
English translation of "O Paradiso”
My heart throbs…wondrous scene!
At last I embrace you, land that I’ve dreamed of!
A paradise, emerging from the sea, flowering earth, brilliant sun,
I’m entranced by you! You belong to me!
Oh new world, I can offer you to my homeland!
This fertile earth is ours, which can enrich all Europe!
Wondrous scene! You fascinate me!
Oh new world, you belong to me! To me!
Thank you for reading (and listening),
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