Opera Daily 🎶 — When every phrase is a masterclass
This week's Opera Daily features opening night at The Met and the master, Nicolai Gedda singing "Una furtiva lagrima" live from 1969
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How to Listen: Opening Night at The Met
Before we get into today’s selection, I wanted to share that The Met’s 2022–23 season opens this Tuesday, September 27, with Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, starring Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role and conducted by Carlo Rizzi.
To get you in the mood, here’s Sondra Radvanovsky singing an excerpt from Medea’s Act I aria “Dei tuoi figli” in an early dress rehearsal. We will cover more Medea in the coming weeks.
If you are in NYC (in addition to the opera house!), a live simulcast of the opening night performance will be presented free in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. No tickets are required, and the opera will begin at 6PM. The opera will also be shown live and free on giant screens in Times Square.
And for those not in NYC, an audio stream of the Opening Night performance will be broadcast live on Metropolitan Opera Radio on SiriusXM and streamed live on the Met’s website at 6PM ET.
When every phrase is a masterclass
Tenor Nicolai Gedda singing “Una furtiva lagrima” from Act 2 of the Italian opera L’Elisir d’Amore by Gaetano Donizetti is another great example of sprezzatura. Thanks to a friend for sharing this with me.
I agree wholeheartedly with one of the commenters on YouTube — this live performance is a masterclass in how to hit every note dead center.
Written in the bel canto style, L’Elisir d'Amore (translated from Italian as “The Elixir of Love”) is the most popular of Donizetti's works and was first performed in 1832 in Milan.
🎧 Listening Example: (5 minute listen): Tenor Nicolai Gedda singing “Una furtiva lagrima” from Act 2 of the Italian opera L’Elisir d’Amore by Gaetano Donizetti, live on Swedish TV, 1969, Accompanist, Jan Eyron
Nicolai Gedda is singing the role of Nemorino (neh-mohr-EEN-oh) here. The aria is oozing the bel canto style (delicate shading of the phrases, tons of high notes, and elaborate ornamentation of the melody). Beauty is the word that comes to mind when I think bel canto. Unlike our modern understanding that a composer includes all the notes a singer is supposed to sing, singers were expected to add to the written music during this time. One place a singer can showcase their voice is during the cadenzas (short passages for the voice in an improvised-like style), and they are everywhere in this opera.
Unlike Medea, The Elixir of Love gives us a happy ending!
Nemorino is in love with Adina, but Adina won’t give him the time of day. After hearing the legend of Tristan and Isolde, Nemorino wonders if a love potion might do the trick to get Adina (ah-DEE-nah) to love him, and he finds a man who sells him a “potion” (that’s just wine). Nemorino thinks the potion has made him more desirable to Adina, but she has had feelings for him all along.
Nemorino hopes for love and sings “Una furtiva lagrima” when he discovers that Adina cares for him after all. He sees what he thinks is a tear in her eye (the aria’s name translates to “a secret tear”).
“Una furtiva lagrima” — English Translation
A single secret tear from her eye did spring:
as if she envied all the youths that laughingly passed her by.
What more searching need I do?
She loves me! Yes, she loves me, I see it. I see it.
For just an instant the beating of her beautiful heart I could feel!
As if my sighs were hers, and her sighs were mine!
Heavens! Yes, I could die!
I could ask for nothing more, nothing more.
Yes, I could die! Yes, I could die of love.
Still interested? Want more?
The name Nemorino means “the little nobody” and comes from the Latin word for nobody (nemo).
In the opera, Adina buys Nemorino’s military service contract, so he does not have to go to war. I read that this happened to Donizetti, too, and he didn’t have to serve in the Austrian army.
What is opera buffa? It’s Italian for comic opera and originated in Naples in the early 18th century.
L’Elisir d’Amore premiered at The Metropolitan Opera in 1904 starring Enrico Caruso. Caruso singing this aria is not to be missed.
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
If you can catch Medea at The Met this week, please let us know what you think in the comments!
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured Roger Federer, Sprezzatura, and how the greatest opera singers make it look easy!
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Gedda was one of the Great Singers of the 20th Century. I heard him in FAUST and the Paris Opera at the Kennedy Center in 1976. His Angel/Seraphim recital disc is also exceptional one aria after another in peerless voice. I was startled to see he last appeared at The Met in 1983, but probably in their Centennial Gala. His teacher also taught Jussi Bjoerling, another phenomenal tenor.