Opera Daily 🎶 — The most beautiful aria you've never heard
Arrigo Boito was known as a writer — one of Giuseppe Verdi’s best librettists.
Together they created Verdi’s greatest operas (Otello, 1887 and Falstaff, 1893), thanks to both to Boito’s poetry and their intense debates around structure, words, and phrases. The Verdi-Boito Correspondence, 301 letters between Verdi and Boito, documents the fascinating relationship between the two as an artistic team.
But Boito aspired to be a composer.
His only completed opera, Mefistofele, based on Goethe's Faust, was given its first performance in 1868 at La Scala, Milan. The premiere, which Boito conducted himself, was poorly received, provoking riots over its supposed "Wagnerism". The opera was closed by the police after two performances.
Years after its premiere, Boito shortened the opera. The slimmed-down version gradually gained acceptance, and by 1880 had been successfully performed in Italy, England, and the US, although it is rarely performed today.
While you may not have heard of the opera, it has one of the most beautiful (and intense!) soprano arias ever written: “L'altra notte in fondo al mare”.
What is happening in this aria? Margherita has poisoned her mother, killed her baby, and is now in prison. I told you it was intense.
Here are four of the greats (Mirella Freni, Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, and Montserrat Caballé) singing the aria.
(You can hear a full version of the opera here with Plácido Domingo, Eva Marton, and Samuel Ramey).
🎧 Listening Example (6 minute listen): “L’altra notte in fondo al mare” from Act III of the Italian opera Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito
“L’altra notte infondo al mare” lyrics, English Translation
The other night
into the depths of the sea
they cast my baby,
And now to drive me mad they say
I drowned him.
The air is cold, the cell is gloomy
And my sad soul
like a bird in the wood flies,
Ah, have pity on me.
What’s coming up?
My favorite Figaro (hint: Glyndebourne Festival, 1973)
Cut, cuts, and more cuts (Symphonic music is often played as written, but opera is often cut. Why? Let’s look at those arias and scenes)
Mirella Freni and how to know when it’s time to stop (and Ettore Campogalliani, voice teacher and coach to Freni, Pavarotti, Scotto, and Bergonzi)
[Insert your requests here]
What do you want more of? Please share your request in the comments or reply to this email! Ask and you shall receive!
Thank you for reading (and listening),
❤️ Enjoyed this piece? Hit the heart to like it. It helps others find Opera Daily.
📝A reminder that you can check out the complete Opera Daily archives and the playlist on YouTube for more selections. If you were forwarded this email by a friend, join us by subscribing:
In 1969, the NYTimes published an article before the premiere of Boito's MEFISTOFELE starring Norman Treigle and Carol Neblett in Tito Capobianco's unforgettable production. Both Treigle and Neblett were cited by Harold Schonberg for their extraordinary singing and acting. Treigle was invited to record it in London. After Treigle's untimely death in 1975, Samuel Ramey took on the role in this production. The Prison aria is well known and was originally written by Boito for an earlier unfinished opera but then used in MEFISTOFELE. The Bologna version survived but with awkward cuts from the original score.
I saw Boito's opera many years ago in Atlanta. I have no memory of this aria, but I suspect I would have remembered it if it had been sung by one of your recommended singers. I remember mostly the character who played the devil (whoever it was). He was so utterly convincing that when he stepped on the stage at the end to a thunderous ovation and suddenly smiled broadly I was shocked - how odd it seemed, to see the devil grinning happily. I thought that it was surely an opera to see again, but, decades later, I haven't ever seen it performed anywhere else.
BTW, I see you'll be discussing Figaro at Glyndebourne. That was one of the first DVD's I ever bought. If you know of any singer in the world who could do Cherubino better than Flicka, I'll be delighted to know who that is.