Opera Daily 🎶 — The Letter Duet from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro

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This week is all about handwritten letters.

If you missed the first post in this series where Renée Fleming sings Tatyana’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky, you could find it here. Tatyana decides that the only way to express her love for Onegin is to write him a letter to explain her feelings towards him. As you will hear in this piece, Tatyana is not afraid to dig deep and expose her innermost thoughts.


Today we’re listening to The Letter Duet from Act III of Mozart’s opera Le Nozze di Figaro. Véronique Gens is singing the role of Countess Almaviva (wife of the Count Almaviva) and Patrizia Ciofi is singing Susanna’s role (maid to the Countess of Almaviva, fiancée of Figaro). The connection between these two women in this piece is beautiful and intimate. How they come together at a time of stress and fear is another reminder of how important it was to Mozart to show strong, intelligent, and compassionate women.

🎧 Listen here (3 minute listen):

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The Marriage of Figaro takes place on a single summer’s day in 18th century Seville, Spain. The plot revolves around Susanna and Figaro, two servants who work in the castle of Count Almaviva, and their quest to be married. The Count is trying to keep the marriage from happening because he wants to have an affair with Susanna. In this duet written for two sopranos, the Countess dictates a letter to her maid, Susanna, to lure the Count (her husband) to a location and catch him in his infidelity.

If you want to hear more from The Marriage of Figaro, we covered another piece from the opera, “Voi che sapete”,  a mezzo-soprano aria from Act II here. Cecilia Bartoli is singing the role of Cherubino.

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The good stuff…

  • You remember The Shawshank Redemption and that scene where the wrongly imprisoned Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) plays a piece over the loudspeakers, creating a sense of bliss throughout the prison yard? Well, this was that piece—a message of inner freedom regardless of external circumstances.

  • The singers you hear in The Shawshank Redemption are Gundula Janowitz (the Countess) and Edith Mathis (Susanna), with the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin conducted by Karl Böhm, recorded in 1968.

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The character of Red in the movie (played by Morgan Freeman), a fellow inmate of Dufresne, provides a voice-over narration during the piece:

“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it…it was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

Freeman’s lines here are perfect. And a message that debunks the myth that I think often gets lost with this music: that to enjoy opera, you need to understand everything that is happening (something that keeps many people from even giving opera a chance). This is the miracle of song.

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Thank you again for listening,

Michele

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