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ClassicsOnline Home » Intermezzo: Intermezzi from Operas
The lights are dimmed and from the pit the sound of the orchestra rises.
For a moment, the action of the operatic stage comes to a pause and the
orchestra alone is given the commentary on what has passed or what is yet to
come. This is the world of the Operatic Intermezzo and our selection presents
some of the best known of these short pieces together with one or two that are
less well known.
The busy and colourful opening piece is the Prelude to Bizet's
opera Carmen. Full of the local colour of a hot day in Seville, it sets
the scene for the opening act where Carmen, the gypsy cigarette girl, will
seduce the hapless soldier Don José. Later, when she has tired of him and is on
the look out for a new lover, the Toreador Escamillo, she and her friends go on
a night-time smuggling excursion and the Entr'acte to the third act of
the opera sets the scene for the encampment in the mountains where Carmen will
finally rid herself of José's unwanted attentions - or so she thinks, until
finally he will search her out at the Bullring in Seville and kill her.
Mascagni's short and brutal opera Cavalleria Rusticana is usually
paired with Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, both tales of jealousy and murder.
The Intermezzi from the two operas are moments of calm before the storm
and are justifiably popular items from the Italian operatic repertoire.
Schmidt and Humperdinck represent German late Romantic opera at its most
luscious. The story of Notre Dame is that of Victor Hugo's famous
hunchback and the gypsy girl Esmeralda. As an opera it is hardly ever staged
today but it contains this marvellously lush orchestral gem. Far more popular
with young and old alike is Humperdinck's setting of the legend of the two
children lost in the woods who meet a wicked witch and manage to dispatch her
before she makes a meal out of them. The Dream Pantomime pictures the
two children's vision of heaven as they fall asleep, frightened and alone in
Puccini's opera Manon Lescaut was his first great success. Based
on Prévost's racy novel, it tells the story of the young girl Manon and her
lover Des Grieux. At this stage she has been arrested for immorality and is
sent to Le Havre with a group of common prostitutes to await transportation to
America and her ultimate death.
The Waltz King
Strauss's little known 1001 Nights is an Arabian fantasy with a
distinctly Viennese feel quite different from the sentimental picture of the
ancient Egyptian courtesan Thaïs, who finds God through her unrequited love of
a holy man depicted in this miniature violin concerto.
The following three
pieces leave the world of the opera house for that of the concert platform;
Fauré's lilting Sicilienne from his music to Maeterlinck's symbolist,
tragic love story of Pelléas et Mélisande, the Interlude from the
Swedish Romantic Stenhammar's final major choral work, The Song and
the popular Intermezzo from Sibelius's evocation of the northern Lapp
region of Karelia.
Far away from the icy wastes of northern Finland, Jacques Offenbach's
fantastic opera on the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann takes us to the cellars of
Leipzig's taverns, the surreal dolls of the mad Doctor Coppelius and the
decadence of Venice. The Barcarolle is perhaps the best known of all the
opera's hit tunes and often appears in a sung version and as an Intermezzo as
here, framing the diabolical temptations of the courtesan Giulietta out to win
the body and soul of the disillusioned poet.
Mascagni is far from being a one-off composer although the popularity of
his Cavalleria Rusticana sometimes suggests that is the case. L'Amico
Fritz is an altogether gentler subject set in the Alpine regions and
telling of the love of a young couple. Highlights are aplenty and include the Cherry
Duet and this superbly melodic Intermezzo.
Verdi's adaptation of Dumas's Lady of the Camelias is one of the
greatest successes of nineteenth century Italian opera, although amazingly it
was a failure at its first performance. The two excerpts which follow are the
marvellously scored Preludes to the first and third acts of the opera,
tinged as they are with melancholy and the presentiments of tragedy. Seldom
does even Verdi's orchestral genius rise to the emotional pull of these intense
tone pictures of the doomed courtesan and her tragic fate.
After such depth of sorrow in music, something more flippant is needed
to clear the air and that is exactly what Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours manages
to do. The scene is a grand ball at Venice's Cà d'Oro on the Grand Canal;
potions, exiled nobles, a jealous spy, the cruelty of the Doges and the devoted
ballad singer, Gioconda herself, reach a point of crisis as the Doge's wife has
been drugged by her husband, apparently dead, the time for an Interlude of
a spectacular ballet to break the tension for a few moments, although many
listeners might just get the whiff of satire that Walt Disney gave to the same
music in his Fantasia.
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Intermezzo: Intermezzi from Operas