Tag Archives: verismo opera

on Carmen’s anniversary, a sing-off to celebrate

Bizet’s Carmen

Editor’s note: This is a Golden Operatoonity post.

Today, March 3, marks the anniversary of Bizet’s Carmen, which premiered on this day in Paris in 1875.

With one work, Bizet ushers in the verismo opera movement.

Carmen is hardly my favorite opera. As a storyteller, it’s damned hard for me to like Carmen as the central figure in this opera. She’s hard, calculating, cruel and fatalistic. Modern mores sometimes prevent other operagoers from engaging with Carmen as well, as evidenced  in comments such as, “Why is everyone smoking on stage? That’s ridiculous for a bunch of singers” or “A cigarette factory is a goofy setting for an opera.”

Whatever you think about Carmen or the setting or the preposterousness of the storyline, however much you might scratch your head or downright ache for Don Jose’s complete meltdown over a woman not worthy of him, it is Bizet’s soaring, riveting music that lifts the opera into the realm of exceptional works.

Today, in celebration of Carmen, rather than trot out the expected treatments of Habanera, etc., I’d like to offer you Don Jose’s “Flower” aria, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” as sung by various artists.

First we have a clip of  Jonas Kaufmann. Truly, this is one of the most exquisitely complete performances of this aria available on YouTube. He sings and acts the HELL out of it, and for me, I have to have more than a pretty sound to really relish opera performance. I think Kaufmann is the most complete male performer today. You will love this, that is, if you have no moral objections to a tenor voice with a unique baritone quality to it.

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Next we have Roberto Alagna’s “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” which sounds exquisite, but he doesn’t exude that tortured spirit,the inner demons, that is so essential to the portrayal of Don Jose.

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Next is José Carreras from a 1987 Metropolitan Opera production. He certainly sings the dickens out of this. Truly, a world class tenor. His gestures, his posture are more gallant than tortured.  It’s amazing that Carmen (Agnes Baltsa) sits still as a statue and is unmoved by that performance. Also worth noting is how much the style of opera performance has changed in one generation, from Carreras to Kaufmann.

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While Carreras vocally is the strongest, Kaufmann’s is the best total performance, followed by Carreras, then Alagna. What say you, opera devotees?

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Filed under anniversary, Golden Operatoonity, Premieres, tenors, verismo opera, Video

“Louise,” an opera premiere to celebrate

Editor’s note: Louise premiered on February 2, Groundhog Day, in 1900, in Paris, France. (This is a Golden Operatoonity post).

poster from the opera Louise

Isn’t this a lovely opera poster? Don’t you want to melt away in Julien’s arms, too?

My former classmate Ginger found a great book on opera at a thrift shop somewhere in the lower forty-eight (she’s always flitting about the country) called The Standard Opera and Concert Guide and mailed it to me.

It’s a wonderful old book with detailed information about popular and not-so-popular operas. I thought I’d introduce readers to a composer and opera I’d never heard of: Louise by Gustave Charpentier, first produced in Paris in 1900.

A French example of verismo opera, it tells the story of the love between Louise, a seamstress living with her parents, and Julien, a Bohemian poet. It is the story of Louise’s desire for freedom (associated in her mind with her lover and the city of Paris). According to Standard Opera and Concert Guide, it is like La Bohème in that it is “first and last a story of Paris life.”

The plot turns upon Louise breaking her home ties in a tragic way, with the accompaniments of the Paris street life and the revels of Montmartre, her hometown.

The kernel of the story resonates for me. My daughter moved to Vermont to go to college and was exposed to a much different, more Bohemian way of life than she was exposed to in little old Lancaster County. It is sometimes hard and heart-breaking to watch your children break away, struggling to find themselves, but very necessary to their maturity.

Not that anything tragic has befallen our family as a result of my daughter’s finding a new home in Brattleboro, but the angst between Louise and her father, in particular, certainly hits home for me. Her dying father rages that Louise does not love him as she used to. Louise responds by saying all she wants in Julien and Paris. The her father then bids Louise never return.  When he realizes the error of his actions, Louise is long gone.

Who among us hasn’t felt pushed out of our children’s lives by friends and other circumstances?

The  music is purportedly wonderfully expressive of the traits and character of Parisian street life. I haven’t found any US opera companies that have produced it lately. Louise is, however, available on many recordings.

Many sopranos have recorded the “Depuis le jour,”  the signature aria: Sills, Callas, Moffo, Price, Fleming.  Here’s a beautiful version of “Depuis le jour,”  the signature aria, live from Covent Garden, sung by Angela Gheorghiu:

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Golden Operatoonity, Opera Marketing, Terminology

an opera, a composer, a style

poster from the 1900 Paris premiere

My classmate Ginger found a great book on opera at a thrift shop somewhere in the lower forty-eight (she’s always flitting about the country) called The Standard Opera and Concert Guide and mailed it to me. It’s a wonderful near-tome with detailed information about popular and not-so-popular operas. I thought I’d talk about an opera, a composer, and a term I learned from this book: Louise (first produced in Paris in 1900), Gustave Charpentier, and verismo.    

Verismo is Italian for realism and Louise is a French example of the verismo style of opera, the most notable verismo operas being works such as the better-known Cavalleria rusticana,  Pagliacci, and Tosca. Louise  tells the story of the love between Louise, a seamstress living with her parents in Paris, and Julien, a Bohemian poet. It is the story of Louise’s desire for freedom (associated in her mind with her lover and the city of Paris). According to Standard Opera and Concert Guide, it is like La Bohème in that it is “first and last a story of Paris life.”    

The plot turns upon Louise breaking her home ties in a tragic way, with the accompaniments of the Paris street life and the revels of Montmartre, her hometown.    

The kernel of the story resonates for me. My daughter moved to Vermont to go to college and was exposed to a much different, more Bohemian way of life than she was exposed to in little old Lancaster County. It is sometimes hard and heart-breaking to watch your children break away, struggling to find themselves, but very necessary to their maturity.    

Not that anything tragic has befallen our family as a result of my daughter’s finding a new home in Brattleboro, but the angst between Louise and her father, in particular, certainly hits home for me. Her dying father rages that Louise does not love him as she used to. Louise responds by saying all she wants in Julien and Paris. The her father then bids Louise never return.  When he realizes the error of his actions, Louise is long gone.    

Who among us hasn’t felt pushed out of our children’s lives by friends and other circumstances?    

The  music is purportedly wonderfully expressive of the traits and character of Parisian street life. I haven’t found any US opera companies that have produced it lately. Louise is, however, available on many recordings.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Classical Composers