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O P E R A 3 0 1 Video Lectures

16 One-Hour Lectures Exploring key Verdi Roles for Baritones and Tenors
Exclusively available to Opera-Is Club Members

SKIP TO: Five roles for a Verdi Tenor | Five roles for a Verdi Baritone | Six Great Scenes from Opera

(a) five roles for a VERDI TENOR

1 – MANRICO
in “IL TROVATORE”

This Castilian aristocrat is brought up to believe he is a Gypsy. He finds himself in a deadly love triangle, not realizing that his rival for the affections of Leonora is actually his long-lost brother, the Count de Luna.

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2 – GUSTAVO, King of Sweden,
in “Un BALLO in MASCHERA”.

Another deadly love triangle.
King GUSTAVO of SWEDEN is in love with the wife of his prime minister and best friend – whose jealousy eventually leads to the King’s assassination.
There is another version in which the King’s role becomes the Governor of colonial Massachusetts, the Earl of Warwick, RICCARDO.

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3 – DON CARLO(s) – title role

Originally written to a five-act French text as a Grand Opera for Paris, this masterpiece follows the fortunes of the Infante of Spain in the mid-16th century.
Prince Carlos is betrothed to Elizabeth de Valois, the daughter of the King of France, but then his father, King Philip II decides to marry her himself.
The resulting tripartite domestic tragedy plays out against the struggle of the protestant Spanish Netherlands to obtain freedom from the cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition.

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4 – RADAMES in “AIDA”

Radames is the General of the Egyptian forces leading the fight against an invasion from Ethiopia.
He is loved by the Pharaoh’s daughter, but he, in turn, loves Aida, an Ethiopian slave.
Yet another deadly tragic love triangle.

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5 – OTELLO – title role

This penultimate of Verdi’s operas is the Mount Everest of roles for an Italian tenore robusto.
Based on Shakespeare’s “Othello, Moor of Venice” this multi-variate role demands power, stamina and an inner nobility that demonstrates “one who not lov’d wisely but too well”.
The image in the accompanying VIMEO link is that of Francesco Tamagno, Verdi’s choice for the first “Otello” in 1887.

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(b) five roles for a VERDI BARITONE

1 – NABUCCO:
the Babylonian king
with two problem daughters

Verdi’s third opera and first success (1842) was written for the Milanese baritone Giorgio Ronconi, and exploited his unusual strength and power at the top of his range.
The role requires an actor who can be convincing as (a) an imperious military conqueror, (b) a domestically conflicted father and (c) a penitent religious convert.

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2 – MACBETH: the Scottish king who murders his way to the top

Verdi’s tenth opera (1847) was commissioned by the Pergola theatre in Florence which was seeking a supernatural drama.
Verdi accepted because the theatre had engaged a superstar French baritone, Felice Varesi, whose voice and acting ability were ideal for the title role.
This was Verdi’s first operatic encounter with Shakespeare, although he had read him in Italian translation for many years.
He would later go on to write an adaptation of “King Lear” (unfinished) and his final two great masterpieces “Otello” and “Falstaff”.

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3 – RIGOLETTO: the cursed court jester and malicious pimp who unwittingly engineers the murder of his own precious daughter

The success of Felice Varesi in the title role at the Fenice Theatre in Venice in 1851 propelled Verdi from Italian to pan-European fame.
The music is in many passages revolutionary and formed the starting point for Verdi’s series of truly great masterpieces over the next decades.
Verdi’s assessment of his source, Victor Hugo’s “Le roi s’amuse” was: “The subject is grand and immense, and there is a character that is one of the greatest creations that the theatre can boast of, in any country and in all history.”
That character became the vocally and dramatically challenging title role of his 16th opera.

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4 – GERMONT pere: the bourgeois upholder of conventional mid-19th century morality who comes to appreciate a courtesan’s inner nobility

“La traviata” immediately followed “Rigoletto” at La Fenice in 1852 and although not an initial success, has subsequently become the world’s most frequently performed opera.
For many, the extended “father-daughter” duet between Violetta and Giorgio Germont, the father of her lover Alfredo, is one of the greatest examples of psychologically insightful music in all opera.
Germont pere must transition from a dismissive moralist – one primarily concerned with the morality of others – towards a more respectful, compassionate, empathetic, humanitarian level of understanding.

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5 – RODRIGO, Marquis of POSA: perhaps Verdi’s most noble creation – a man of selfless friendship and fearless love of freedom

“Don Carlos”, the five-act French grand opera written for Paris in 1867, may be Verdi’s greatest operatic achievement.
Within this, the complex role of Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, is one of his most outstanding creations.
Based on Friedrich Schiller’s fictional character at the court of Philip II of Spain, the role embodies an incandescent belief in liberty, a fearless opposition to oppression and a profound loyalty to his friend, the heir to the throne.
These qualities, tragically, make him a target for elimination by the Spanish Inquisition.

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(c) six GREAT SCENES from OPERA

1 : THE BULLFIGHT SCENE from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen”

Inside Seville’s Maestranza bull-ring, a matador and an enraged bull are engaged in a life-or-death struggle. This is paralleled, outside the Maestranza, in a final fatal meeting between the Roma/gypsy, Carmen and her ex-lover Don Jose.

Iain shows five very different ways of staging this tragic confrontation.

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2 : The ARRIVAL of the STONE GUEST – from Mozart’s and Gazzaniga’s “Don Giovanni”

Iain is of the opinion that the penultimate scene of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” – the arrival of the Stone Guest – is the greatest example of music-drama (where each art is inextricably intertwined with the other) in all of opera. He sets out to prove this thesis.

In this lecture, Iain traces the development of the myth of Don Giovanni and his supernatural antagonist and its metamorphosis over several centuries and countries.

He provides a brief history of how the Don Juan legend evolved and changed, and examines the man who became the supernatural Stone Guest.

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3 : The LETTER SCENE – from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”

There are dozens of operas in which a letter from one character to another plays an important role in the plot. But there is no doubt that “the” letter scene in opera is the central scene of Tchaikovsky’s adaptation of Pushkin’s EUGENE ONEGIN.

The receipt of a passionate but unrequited love letter was a momentous event in Tchaikovsky’s personal life – which led to tragic consequences for both writer and recipient.

His setting of Pushkin’s text as a 20-minute, multi-part solo aria for a lyric soprano is one of the most challenging, satisfying and emotionally-draining tours-de-force in all opera.

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4 : The DEATH of QUEEN DIDO of CARTHAGE – Purcell and Berlioz

Henry Purcell first set the indelible passage from book 4 of Virgil’s Aeneid where Queen Dido of Carthage, abandoned by her lover Aeneas, concludes that suicide is the only solution for her grief.

The same scene, as set by Hector Berlioz in part 2 of his “Les Troyens”, is even more gripping.

Both operas provide an outstanding opportunity for a mezzo-soprano to tug at our heart-strings.

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5 : The IMMOLATION SCENE – from Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung”

If Tchaikovsky’s letter scene is the ultimate “Everest” for a lyric soprano, then the concluding scene of “Gotterdammerung” (and the entire Ring Cycle) is its parallel as a musical and dramatic test for a dramatic soprano.

In this scene, Brunnhilde addresses six audiences – first the Gibichung vassals (“go and build a funeral pyre”), then her dead husband, Siegfried (reinforcing her love and her reproach for his folly), then her father, Wotan (a rebuke for his betrayal and a compassionate forgiveness). The fourth address is to the Rhinemaidens (asking them to take the ring back and purify it) and the fifth is to the Ravens (telling them to take Loge to destroy Valhalla). Finally she addresses her horse Grane (on whom she at last rides into the flames).

The scene concludes with perhaps the most brilliant orchestral coda in all opera, depicting the end of the Old Gods’ world and the glorification of Brunnhilde’s combination of psychological insight, self-knowledge, compassion and generosity.

As the great Sir Denis Forman would say : “an alpha!”.

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6 : The CAFE MOMUS SCENE – from Puccini’s “La Bohème”

In Handel’s day, a single solo da-capo aria, expressing a single emotion, might take over 10 minutes to perform. Here, in much less than twice that time, Puccini’s astonishing craftsmanship provides some of the most concentrated cinematic kaleidoscope of opportunities for the male, female and children’s choruses, for a marching military band, for the quartet of Bohemian students and the star soprano – plus the incandescent entrance of the second soprano and the out-witting of her sugar-daddy. It is a virtuoso display of compositional talent that makes the head happily spin.

This concentrated single-scene act is set in a (now sadly demolished) left-bank Sorbonne student meeting place, named after the Greek God of Sarcasm.

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These lectures were originally given as part of a series for Sue Walsh’s CLASSI LECTURES.