Le Nozze di Figaro - The opera Le nozze di Figaro, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and with a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, is a turbulent comedy filled with erotic intrigues. It was not considered harmless even in Mozart's time and continues to evoke experiences of patriarchal dependence and sexual exploitation today. The world depicted on stage promotes deceit and criminal behavior, leaving characters with feelings of emptiness, longing for death, and hopelessness. The plot revolves around two employees who wish to marry, but their boss, the Count, tries to prevent them from doing so using subtle methods. The Count himself is attracted to Susanna, one of the employees, and tries to pursue her covertly, despite being a married man. His love for his wife seems to have cooled, even though he recently freed her from the control of her guardian. Figaro, a cunning character who the Count has employed as a gesture of gratitude, helps him in his pursuits. However, once the Count successfully conquers Susanna, he abandons his wife, leaving her lonely and yearning for his love or her own death. The story continues with more cunning and intrigue as the characters aim to expose the Count's sexualized claim to power and enable the wedding of Figaro and Susanna. However, their goal becomes increasingly distant, and instead, they are confronted with unfulfilled desires, moral depravity, and inner loneliness. Le nozze di Figaro, written in 1786, was the first of three operas by Mozart and Da Ponte that explored human relationships. The opera is based on a play, La Folle Journée ou Le Mariage de Figaro, by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, which was banned at the time due to its direct criticism of aristocratic privileges. Mozart discovered an anonymous German translation of the play and suggested it to Da Ponte as material for their collaboration, even though there was no initial commission for the opera. To bypass censorship, Mozart concealed the opera's political message within his music. The character Figaro uses the courtly minuet, traditionally associated with the aristocracy, as a symbol of his struggle against the Count. The Countess and Susanna join Figaro in his scheming, creating confusion in the garden at night. The men fall into the traps set by the women, while Cherubino, a character who represents sexual nuances, adds to the complexity of the disguises in the opera. The opera features ensemble scenes that spiral into absurdity and profound expressions of human emotions. Death is a recurring theme in the Countess's arias, with Mozart incorporating the tone of the Agnus Dei from his Coronation Mass in her second aria. Characters such as the pompous Bartolo and the furious Count endanger those around them due to their wounded male vanity. The only aria in a minor key is reserved for the young Barbarina, who reveals that the Count has taken advantage of her sexually. Overall, Le nozze di Figaro is a complex and emotionally charged opera that explores themes of power, deception, and the complexities of human relationships.
Macbeth - Macbeth is a famous opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi. It is based on the play "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare. The opera tells the tragic story of Macbeth, a Scottish general who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become the King of Scotland. Encouraged by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth decides to take matters into his own hands and fulfill the prophecy. The opera begins with a chorus of witches, setting the eerie and supernatural tone of the story. Macbeth and his fellow general, Banquo, encounter the witches who prophesy that Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor and eventually the King of Scotland. Intrigued by the prophecy, Macbeth starts to contemplate the idea of regicide. Lady Macbeth, a strong and manipulative character, learns about the prophecy and becomes determined to make it a reality. She convinces Macbeth to murder King Duncan, who is staying at their castle. Macbeth hesitates at first, but Lady Macbeth's relentless persuasion pushes him to commit the heinous act. After the murder, Macbeth is plagued by guilt and paranoia. He starts to see the ghost of King Duncan and becomes increasingly unstable. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, remains resolute and tries to reassure her husband that everything will be fine. Macbeth's actions have consequences, and he soon finds himself facing opposition from his fellow nobles and the rightful heir to the throne, Malcolm. Macbeth's reign becomes a tyrannical one, marked by violence and bloodshed. The opera showcases the psychological toll that power and guilt can have on an individual. As the story progresses, Macbeth seeks guidance from the witches once again. They provide him with a false sense of security, assuring him that he cannot be defeated by any man "born of woman." This prophecy leads Macbeth to believe that he is invincible and untouchable. However, Macbeth's downfall is ultimately brought about by his own hubris. Macduff, a nobleman who has lost everything due to Macbeth's actions, seeks revenge and challenges Macbeth to a duel. Macbeth, confident in his invincibility, faces Macduff but soon realizes that Macduff was "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb, fulfilling the witches' prophecy. In the final act, Macbeth is defeated and killed by Macduff. Lady Macbeth, consumed by guilt and madness, takes her own life. The opera ends with Malcolm being crowned as the rightful king of Scotland, bringing an end to the tragic tale of Macbeth. Overall, Verdi's opera Macbeth is a powerful and dramatic retelling of Shakespeare's play. It explores themes of ambition, guilt, and the corrupting nature of power. With its haunting melodies and intense emotions, Macbeth continues to captivate audiences around the world.
Orfeo ed Euridice - Orfeo ed Euridice is an opera composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck. It is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice from Greek mythology. The opera tells the story of Orpheus, a talented musician and poet, who descends into the underworld to rescue his beloved wife, Euridice. The opera begins with Orfeo mourning the death of Euridice. He is consumed by grief and longs to be reunited with her. The gods take pity on him and allow him to journey to the underworld to bring her back to life. However, there is a condition: Orfeo must not look back at Euridice until they have reached the world of the living. Orfeo embarks on his perilous journey, guided by the spirits of the underworld. Along the way, he encounters various obstacles and temptations, but he remains steadfast in his love for Euridice. Finally, he reaches the realm of the dead and finds Euridice. They begin their journey back to the world of the living, but Orfeo is tormented by doubt and fear. He cannot resist the urge to look back at Euridice, and in doing so, he loses her forever. Devastated by his loss, Orfeo pleads with the gods to take his life so that he can be reunited with Euridice in death. Moved by his love and devotion, the gods grant his wish and Orfeo is transformed into a constellation in the sky, forever watching over the world. Orfeo ed Euridice is a powerful and emotional opera that explores themes of love, loss, and the power of music. Gluck's music beautifully captures the emotions of the characters, from Orfeo's grief and determination to Euridice's longing for life. The opera is filled with memorable arias and choruses, including the famous "Che farò senza Euridice," in which Orfeo expresses his despair at losing his beloved. Overall, Orfeo ed Euridice is a timeless opera that continues to captivate audiences with its poignant story and beautiful music. It reminds us of the power of love and the lengths we will go to for those we hold dear.
Falstaff - Falstaff is a comedic opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi. It is based on the play "The Merry Wives of Windsor" by William Shakespeare. The opera tells the story of Sir John Falstaff, a larger-than-life character who is known for his love of food, drink, and women. The opera begins with Falstaff, an aging knight, who is down on his luck and in need of money. He hatches a plan to seduce two wealthy women, Alice Ford and Meg Page, in order to gain access to their husbands' fortunes. However, the women are not easily fooled and they quickly discover Falstaff's intentions. Alice and Meg, along with their friend Mistress Quickly, decide to teach Falstaff a lesson. They send him love letters, pretending to be infatuated with him, and arrange a meeting in the forest. Unbeknownst to Falstaff, the women have also enlisted the help of their husbands and other townspeople to play tricks on him. In the forest, Falstaff is confronted by a group of disguised townspeople who pretend to be fairies and spirits. They torment him, throwing him into a river and covering him in mud. Despite the humiliation, Falstaff remains determined to win over the women. In the final act, Falstaff is invited to a masquerade ball at Alice's house. He arrives dressed as a woman, hoping to win back the women's affections. However, his disguise is quickly discovered and he is once again the target of ridicule. The women and their husbands, along with the townspeople, revel in Falstaff's embarrassment. Despite the comedic nature of the opera, there are also moments of introspection and reflection. Falstaff, in his moments of solitude, contemplates his own mortality and the fleeting nature of youth. Through his experiences, he learns the importance of humility and the value of genuine relationships. The music of Falstaff is lively and energetic, with Verdi's signature melodic style. The opera features a large ensemble cast, including a chorus and several soloists. The vocal lines are challenging and require skilled singers to bring the characters to life. Overall, Falstaff is a delightful opera that combines humor, romance, and social commentary. It explores themes of love, deception, and the complexities of human relationships. With its memorable characters and beautiful music, Falstaff continues to be a beloved work in the operatic repertoire.
The Greek Passion - ‘Christ is risen!’ The inhabitants of a Greek village are celebrating Easter. United in their faith, they are told by their priest Grigoris which of them has been chosen to act in next year’s Passion play. Not long after, however, a rift will divide the community. An unforeseen event causes the Christian values of these people to descend to the level of mere lip service — or to become the true impetus for their actions. A group of refugees, fleeing from their plundered homes, asks the prosperous village for protection and land that they can cultivate. Grigoris is unwelcoming; when a young girl collapses from weakness and dies, he deliberately attributes her death to cholera, uniting the horrified villagers against the strangers — with the exception of those assigned parts in the Passion play. They start to feel a sense of injustice, compassion and readiness to help, just as if their forthcoming roles had consequences in the here and now. In identifying with their roles, their own identities are transformed, especially so in the case of the shepherd Manolios, who was chosen to play Jesus. He invites the refugees to settle on a nearby mountain. From then on, the events in Bohuslav Martinů’s The Greek Passion develop their own, tragic dynamics. The more Manolios is inspired by Christ in his actions, the more followers he assembles around him, and the more determined he is to side with the refugees, the more relentlessly he is resisted by the individuals who wield power in the village — until the fatal act anticipated in the title of the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis on which the opera is based takes place: Christ Recrucified. The fact that Manolios’s greatest adversary is the village priest shows how hostile Kazantzakis was towards a church enmeshed in secular power structures. Grigoris is the mouthpiece of a static, materially saturated society that perceives Manolios as jeopardizing the status quo: ‘He is shaking the foundations of society.’ The refugees are seen as posing a similar threat: men and women of the same nation and culture — yet ‘alien’ because they have lost everything and thus perhaps now see basic things such as social order in a new and different light? It is as if the very presence of these propertyless people, spurred on by their priest Fotis to endure to the last, is a provocation for the property-owning villagers, a reason for fear and insecurity. ‘Those who stride with high faith toward love of all men find their way blocked by those who refuse to give up selfishness’, is how Martinů summed up the essence of the plot. The Greek Passion is a pessimistic plea for humanity, proffered in the awareness that humankind is engaged in a constant battle with its own egoism. While the biblical parallel gives a mythical dimension to the story, Martinů tells it without pointing the moral finger or exaggerated pathos. This is due on the one hand to his operatic aesthetics that saw the function of music less in the emphatic expression of words and emotions than in the capturing of the general mood of a situation or scene; Martinů described the revised version that he composed for the Zurich Opera from 1957 to 1959 following the cancellation of the London premiere as ‘dramatic lyricism’. On the other hand, the opera avoids one-dimensionally stylizing the shepherd as a saint. Like Jesus in Kazantzakis’s controversial novel The Last Temptation, Manolios is subject to temptations and inner conflicts. The position he is eventually driven to assume is as radical as it is ambivalent. Faced with children dying of starvation, he calls on the refugees to resist physically: ‘In this world of ours can anything be done without blood being shed? Let us set fire to it, that the Earth may purify itself.’ Violence as the very last but legitimate means to creating a more just world? A charged question that every director of this opera must confront. Following his impressive productions of Reimann’s Lear and Cherubini’s Médée, Simon Stone returns to the Salzburg Festival for The Greek Passion.
The Indian Queen - In the later 17th-century England, the term "semi-opera" was used to describe a spoken drama with significant musical sequences. These musical sequences could be instrumental, sung, or danced. Henry Purcell, a renowned composer, composed music for several semi-operas in the final years of his life, showcasing his talent as a stage composer. One of these semi-operas is "The Indian Queen," which is based on a play by John Dryden and Robert Howard that was popular at the time. "The Indian Queen" is a peculiar "heroic drama" set against the backdrop of fictional conflicts between the Aztecs and the Incas. The play features larger-than-life characters and an incredibly improbable plot designed to morally and intellectually enlighten the audience. While Dryden's dramatic world may seem alien to us today, Purcell's music remains powerful and continues to deeply move us. Director Peter Sellars has taken a unique approach to "The Indian Queen" by creating a new dramatic setting for the vocal and instrumental numbers. He incorporates passages from Rosario Aguilar's novel "La niña blanca y los pájaros sin pies" (The Lost Chronicles of Terra Firma) to tell the story of the Spanish conquest of Central America from the perspective of three women. In this version, the "Indian queen" is the daughter of a Maya chieftain who is given as a concubine to a conquistador in order to spy for her people. She falls in love with him and gives birth to a daughter, but eventually realizes that her hopes of love changing him and diverting him from the path of conquest and destruction are in vain. The tragedy of "The Indian Queen" encompasses a wide range of emotions. Sellars and Currentzis, the conductor, have expanded the original 50-minute score of the semi-opera by incorporating expressive solo songs and arias by Purcell. Additionally, they have included a selection of Purcell's religious choral pieces, which are deeply intimate and achingly beautiful. This new interpretation of "The Indian Queen" offers a fresh perspective on the Spanish conquest of Central America and explores the complex emotions and experiences of the women involved. With Sellars' innovative direction and the addition of Purcell's poignant music, this production promises to be a captivating and emotionally resonant experience for the audience.
I Capuleti e IMontecchi - Vincenzo Bellini, a renowned composer, was commissioned by the Teatro La Fenice in January 1830 to create a new opera for the carnival season. In just a few weeks, he produced I Capuleti e i Montecchi, which marked the pinnacle of his artistic career and showcased his unique personal style. Bellini aimed to create music that faithfully expressed the words, resulting in melodies of exquisite beauty and profound dramatic expressiveness. One of the most striking examples of Bellini's meticulous attention to the text can be heard in the final scene of the opera. In this scene, Romeo believes Giulietta to be dead and takes his own life beside her. However, Giulietta slowly awakens, revealing that she is still alive. Departing from the traditional aria finale, Bellini opted for an extended accompagnato recitative, which incorporates arioso passages, an arietta, and a brief duet. The simplicity of the scene enhances its emotional impact, making it incredibly moving. Bellini's decision to cast a mezzo-soprano in the role of Romeo followed a tradition seen in previous Italian operas based on Romeo and Juliet. While some considered this tradition outdated, it undeniably holds a certain charm. By having two women portray the lovers, Bellini was able to intertwine their voices and create a true harmony between them. In the finale of Act I, Romeo and Giulietta sing a melody in unison, contrasting with the male chorus representing their feuding families. This moment of perfect union through their voices deeply impressed even Berlioz, who was not particularly fond of Bellini. He described the melody as having an extraordinary force and bold impetus, admitting that he was carried away and applauded enthusiastically. Overall, I Capuleti e i Montecchi showcases Bellini's mastery of musical expression and his ability to capture the nuances of the text. The opera's final scene, with its spare and poignant composition, exemplifies Bellini's unique style. By casting two women as the lovers, Bellini created a powerful sense of unity and harmony. This opera solidified Bellini's reputation as a prominent composer and remains a testament to his exceptional talent.
Les Troyens - Hector Berlioz, a composer who had experienced personal tragedies and artistic failures, was determined to create an opera based on themes from Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid. He wrote the libretto himself and completed the score between 1856 and 1858, despite the challenges he faced. The opera, titled Les Troyens, grew to such dimensions that it was divided into two parts. Although Berlioz only witnessed the premiere of the second part, with significant cuts, at the Théâtre-Lyrique in Paris in 1863, he believed that Les Troyens was his most important work. The two parts of the opera, La Prise de Troie and Les Troyens à Carthage, share similarities in their dramatic structure and both heavily feature the chorus. The overall title, Les Troyens, connects the two mythological events that revolve around the character Énée. Énée, who fled Troy and became stranded in Carthage, is not the central focus of each part. Instead, the spotlight is on two strong female figures: the prophetess Cassandre and Didon, the queen of Carthage, both of whom ultimately choose death as their only option. In Act II, urged by the shade of Hector, Énée escapes the destruction of Troy and embarks on a journey with his fellow warriors towards Italy. His mission is to establish a new state there, but he first arrives in Didon's kingdom. The plot takes a different turn as Énée and Didon defeat the hostile Numidians and develop a love affair, culminating in the tender duet "Nuit d'ivresse et d'extase infinie" (Night of intoxication and infinite ecstasy). However, a ghostly apparition reminds Énée of his duty, and he leaves behind a heartbroken Didon and a people destined for destruction.