REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » NESSUN DORMA AND OTHER FAVOURITE ITALIAN TENOR ARIAS
Twenty Favourite Italian Tenor Arias
Tenors have had a varied fate in operatic history and have not always
had the heroic identities they now generally possess, with fathers and villains
singing in a lower register, heroines as high-flying sopranos, and duennas,
mothers, confidantes and nurses confined to mezzo-soprano or even contralto
The tenor voice enjoyed early favour as opera developed, in the first
years of the seventeenth century. By the 1640s, though, matters had started to
change. Now the principal heroic rôles were allotted to castrato singers, male
sopranos or male altos, while the tenor all too often took character parts,
comic servants or even pantomime dame nurses. The fortunes of the voice began
to revive in the eighteenth century, notably with the operas of Handel, while
the French continued to use their own version of the high tenor, the haute-contre,
with its tendency to falsetto in its highest range.>
The nineteenth century brought marked changes in society and culture.
While Mozart had tailored his arias to particular singers, with music that was
essentially occasional, designed for those very singers on a particular
occasion, later composers wrote more as they wished, providing a continuing
repertoire of operas that might be revived again and again, as they are today.
Nevertheless they remained fully aware of the voices for which they were
initially writing, inspired and influenced by the great singers of their time.
Here the tenor voice won gradual pre-eminence, although singers might be
classified according to the type of music in which they specialised, with the
heroic Heldentenor for Wagner, lyric tenors for Puccini or dramatic
tenors for Berlioz.
The present collection of favourite tenor arias includes, as it must, a
preponderance of Verdi, almost equalled in quantity by Puccini, with a
necessary modicum of Mascagni and Leoncavallo and a touch of Giordano and
Ponchielli, and more than a nod to the earlier composer Donizetti.
Gaetano Donizetti had a relatively short career. He was born in Bergamo
in 1797, the year of Schubert's birth, and died in the same town in 1848. His
career started in Rome in 1822 with Zoraida di Granata and ended in 1843
with the production of Dam Sébastien, roi de Portugal (‘Dom Sebastian,
King of Portugal’) at the Paris Opéra. The comic opera L'elisir d'amore was
first staged in Milan in 1832 and deals with the love of the simple-minded
Nemorino for Adina, which has notable assistance from the home-made aphrodisiac
supplied to him, for a price, by the quack doctor Dulcamara. In Una furtiva
lagrima (‘A furtive tear’) Nemorino realises that Adina loves him, seeing
in her eyes the tears that she tries to hide.
Giuseppe Verdi dominated the second half of the nineteenth century in
Italian opera, scoring his first great success with the opera Nabucco at
La Scala, Milan, in 1842. After that began his years in the galley, as he said,
writing opera after opera. Rigoletto is the story of a hunchback jester,
who helps his master the Duke to seduce women and is then tricked by having his
own daughter a victim of his master. The opera ends in tragedy, when
Rigoletto's plan to have the Duke killed results, instead, in the murder of his
own daughter, Gilda. Questa o quella allows the Duke to express his
essential inconstancy, never to be confined in his amorous attentions to this
or that woman. La donna è mobile (‘Woman is fickle’) expresses his
philosophy still more cynically, with particular dramatic effect when
Rigoletto, thinking the Duke dead, his body in a sack at his feet, hears the
song and realises that another victim has died in his place.
Un ballo in maschera (‘A Masked Ball’) was originally set at the Swedish
court, and then, through the complaints of the censors, transferred, with great
improbability, to North America. In Di' tu se fedele (‘Say if the flood
awaits me’) Riccardo Count of Warwick, or, in the original version, King
Gustavns III of Sweden, consults the witch Ulrica, who tells him he will be
killed by the hand of a friend, a prophecy that comes true. In Ma se m'è
farza perderti (‘But if I must lose you’) the King, or Riccardo, has
resolved to send his beloved Amelia and her husband away. His decision is too
late and he falls victim to the wronged husband's revenge.
La traviata is an operatic treatment of La dame aux camèlias (‘The Lady of
the Camelias’) by Alexandre Dumas. The courtesan Violetta unselfishly gives up
her young lover Alfredo, at the request of his father, and is only reconciled
to him in her final death from consumption. In De'miei ballenti spiriti (‘From
my fervent spirits’) Alfredo sings of his happiness with Violetta, so soon to
be brought to an end.
The opera written by Verdi for the new Cairo Opera House, Aida, is
set in Egypt, where the Egyptian general Radames is divided between his loyalty
to his country and his love for the captured princess Aida, who is instrumental
in his betrayal and joins him in death. In the testing aria Celeste Aida (‘Heavenly
Aida’) Radames sings the praises of his beloved.
Verdi's Il trovatore is based on a complex story of fraternal
enmity, gypsy revenge and the revelation of the identity of Manrico, the
troubadour of the title, as the long-lost son of the old Count di Luna, taken
by the gypsy Azucena. In Ah, si, ben mia (‘Ah, yes, my beloved’) Manrico
prepares for his marriage with Leonora, an event interrupted by news of the
seizure of Azucena by the Count di Luna, Manrico's brother. With Di quella
pira (‘From that pyre’) he rushes away, determined to save from death the
woman he has long regarded as his mother.
Leoncavallo's I pagliacci (‘The Players’) and Mascagni's Cavalleria
rusticana (‘Rustic Chivalry’) are often coupled in a double bill. Both are
examples of late nineteenth century verisma, operatic realism. In the
first a drama of love and jealousy presented in a play becomes reality, when
the actor Canio, the jealous husband of the play, really kills his wife Nedda
and her lover. With Vesti la giubba (‘On with the motley’), Canio
prepares to act out the comedy and its hidden tragedy. Love and jealousy in a
Sicilian village are the basis of Cavalleria rusticana, in which
Santuzza provokes a duel between her former lover Turiddu and Lola's rightly
jealous husband Alfio. Before going to his death, Turiddu, in Mamma, il vino
è generoso (‘Mamma, the wine is too good’) begs his mother to look after
Santuzza, when he is dead.
Giacomo Puccini also belonged to the school of operatic realism,
although this he found sometimes in exotic or historical settings. Manon
Lescaut, the fallen heroine of the novel by the Abbé Prévost, is seduced by
the young Chevalier Des Grieux, leaves him for a rich older man and is
eventually condemned to transportation, to die in the arms of her lover in the
wild deserts of Louisiana. Des Grieux praises Manon's beauty, as he first
catches sight of her, in Donna non vidi mai (‘I never saw a lady so
Puccini's Il trittico (‘The Triptych’), a group of three shorter
operas, includes, in Gianni Schicchi, a story of greed and trickery
reminiscent of Ben Jonson's Volpone. By impersonating a dead man, at the
request of eager relatives, Schicchi writes a will in his own favour, something
they cannot contest. Firenze è come un albero fiorito (Florence is like
a tree in flower) is sung by the young lover Rinuccio, who is to marry
Schicchi's daughter Lauretta.
In La fanciulla del west (‘The Girl of the Golden West’) Puccini
turned to the primitive world of an American mining camp, with sheriffs and
outlaws pitted against each other. The bandit Dick Johnson, alias Ramerrez,
condemned to hanging, begs that his beloved Minnie should only be told that he
has gone free, Ch'ella mi creda libera. Minnie's intervention ensures
that this actually happens, and the couple leave town to start a new life
Ponchielli's La Gioconda represents an earlier generation of
composers in a plot that centres on the jealousy of Alvise Badoero, a Venetian
nobleman, and his justified suspicions of his wife Laura and her lover, the
Genoese nobleman Enzo Grimaldo. At night on his ship Enzo sings of his love in
the famous aria Cielo e mar (‘Sky and sea’).
With La Bohème Puccini turned to a story of impoverished artists
in the Latin Quarter of Paris. The poet Rodolfo meets the little seamstress
Mimi, when she comes to the door to seek a light for her candle. Their hands
meet, when she drops her key, and Rodolfo sings of the coldness of her hand, Che
gelida manina (‘Your tiny hand is frozen’).
Tosca found Puccini dealing with a story of political intrigue and murder set
in Rome. The painter Cavaradossi, lover of the singer Tosca, is suspected by
the chief of police, Baron Scarpia, of involvement in the escape of apolitical
prisoner. In Dammi i colori ... Recondita armonia (‘Give me the colours
... Hidden harmony’) Cavaradossi, painting a picture of a fair-haired Mary
Magdalen, thinks of the dark-haired beauty of his beloved Tosca. Later,
imprisoned and sentenced to a death from which Tosca has sought to release him
by a false bargain with Scarpia, whom she has then murdered, Cavaradossi contemplates
his love, E lucevan le stelle (‘And the stars shone’).
Umberto Giordano's reputation depends very largely on his opera of the
French revolution, Andrea Chénier, the story of a poet who fell foul of
the revolutionary tribunal, to die under the guillotine. Awaiting execution,
Chénier sings his last poem, Come un bel dì di Maggio (‘Like a fine day
in May’), before being united with his beloved Madeleine, to die with her on
Puccini left unfinished his opera Turandot, an opera set in China,
where the cold-hearted princess of the title rejects suitors who cannot answer
the riddles she sets, sending them to execution when they fail. The young
prince Calaf solves the puzzle she sets and allows her a chance of reprieve
from marriage by finding his own name. Turandot orders that Calaf’s name be
discovered, in a proclamation echoed by his own Nessun dorma (‘Let
no-one sleep’), but in vain, even when the slave-girl Liù, loyal to Calaf,
prefers torture and death to revelation. Finally Calaf and Turandot are united,
when Turandot finds that the true name of Calaf is Love.
Last Albums Viewed
NESSUN DORMA AND OTHER FAVOURITE ITALIAN TENOR ARI...