One could say that opera is like the infamous marmite you either love it or hate it. All of us here at Sardatur are lovers of opera and think that if you’re a hater all you need is the briefest of encounters with the best operas in town to change your mind and start a lifelong appreciation of great stories told through a magical combination of poetry, dance and music. This week’s blog takes inspiration from three spectacular operas: Aida, Il Trovatore and Madame Butterfly, all can be admired from some of the most stunning opera houses in Italy such as Teatro la Scala in Milan and the Arena di Verona in Verona. Love it or hate it, we hope you enjoy this read and give opera a go!
AIDA – ARENA DI VERONA
By Giuseppe Verdi
Ramfis, the high priest of Egypt, tells Radamès, the young warrior, that war with the Ethiopians seems inevitable, and Radamès expresses the hope that he can be chosen as the Egyptian commander.
Radamès dreams both of gaining victory on the battle field and of Aida, the Ethiopian slave, with whom he is secretly in love with. Aida, who is also secretly in love with Radamès, is the captured daughter of the Ethiopian King Amonasro, but her Egyptian captors are unaware of her true identity. Her father has invaded Egypt to deliver her from servitude.
Amneris, the daughter of the Egyptian King enters the hall. She too loves Radamès, but fears that his heart belongs to someone else .
Then Aida appears and, when Radamès sees her, Amneris notices that he looks disturbed. She suspects that Aida could be her rival, but she is able to hide her jealousy and approaches her.
Alone in the hall, Aida is torn between her love for her father, her country, and Radamès.
Dances and music to celebrate Radamès’ victory take place (Chorus, Amneris: Chi mai fra gli inni e i plausi / “Our songs his glory praising”‘). However, Amneris is still in doubt about Radamès’ love and wonders whether Aida is in love with the young warrior. She tries to forget her doubt, entertaining her worried heart with the dance of Moorish slaves.
When Aida enters the chamber, Amneris asks everyone to leave. By falsely telling Aida that Radamès has died in the battle, she tricks her into professing her love for him. In grief, and shocked by the news, Aida confesses that her heart belongs to Radamès eternally
This confession fires Amneris with rage, and she plans on taking revenge on Aida. Ignoring Aida’s pleadings, Amneris leaves her alone in the chamber.
Radamès returns victorious and the troops march into the city. The Egyptian king decrees that on this day the triumphant Radamès may have anything he wishes. The Ethiopian captives are rounded up and Amonasro appears among them. Aida immediately rushes to her father, but their true identities are still unknown to the Egyptians, save for the fact that they are father and daughter. Amonasro declares that the Ethiopian king (he himself) has been slain in battle. Aida, Amonasro and the captured Ethiopians plead with the Egyptian King for mercy, but the Egyptians call for their death.
As his reward from the King, Radamès pleads with him to spare the lives of the prisoners and to set them free. Gratefully, the King of Egypt declares Radamès to be his successor and to be his daughter’s betrothed. Aida and Amonasro remain as hostages to ensure that the Ethiopians do not avenge their defeat.
On the eve of Amneris and Radamès’ wedding in the Temple of Isis. Outside, Aida waits to meet with Radamès as they had planned.
Amonasro appears and forces Aida to agree to find out the location of the Egyptian army from Radamès. When he arrives, Amonasro hides behind a rock and listens to their conversation.
Radamès affirms that Aida is the person he will marry and Aida convinces him to flee to the desert with her.
In order to make their escape easier, Radamès proposes that they use a safe route without any fear of discovery and he also reveals the location where his army has chosen to attack. Upon hearing this, Amonasro comes out of hiding and reveals his identity. Radamès feels dishonored. At the same time Amneris and Ramfis leave the temple and, seeing Radamès with their enemy, call the guards. Amonasro and Aida try to convince Radamès to escape with them, but he refuses and surrenders to the imperial guards.
Amneris desires to save Radamès. She calls for the guard to bring him to her.
She asks Radamès to deny the accusations, but Radamès refuses. Certain that, as punishment, he will be condemned to death, Amneris implores him to defend himself, but Radamès firmly refuses. He is relieved to know Aida is still alive and hopes she has reached her own country. His decision hurts Amneris.
Radamès’ trial takes place offstage; he does not reply to Ramfis’ accusations and is condemned to death, while Amneris, who remains onstage, pleads with the priests to show him mercy. As he is sentenced to be buried alive, Amneris curses the priests while Radamès is taken away.
II TROVATORE AT TEATRO ALLA SCALA – MILAN
By Giuseppe Verdi
(The duel) Entrance hall of the palace of Aliaferia. Ferrando, the captain of the guard under the Count di Luna, is waiting for his master. But the Count is delayed because he has fallen in love with a young lady and is closely watching her, due to his jealousy of a mysterious troubadour who has been serenading the girl (introduzione “All’erta, all’erta!”). Meanwhile those present beg Ferrando to tell them the story of the Count’s brother (“Di due figli vivea padre beato”), which he does. The old Count di Luna had two sons, but one morning the nurse had found a gypsy woman bending over the younger child’s cradle. The woman had been immediately chased away, but had evidently cast an evil spell on the child, whose health began to fail. The gypsy woman had therefore been pursued, caught and condemned to be burnt at the stake. To avenge her mother, the gypsy’s daughter had returned at once to the palace and abducted the infant. Later, the remains of a burnt child had been found in the ashes of the stake. The old Count had died a few days later, after making his elder son promise to continue the search for his brother.The clock strikes midnight.
The palace gardens. Leonora, lady-in-waiting to the Princess of Aragon, confides to Ines that she loves an unknown knight (scena and cavatina “Tacea la notte placida”), whom she had met during a tournament; then, one night, Leonora had heard him singing beneath her window, to the accompaniment of his lute, and pronouncing her name. Since then she has been unable to forget him and feels sure that their destinies are intertwined forever. The Count di Luna now enters and would like to declare his love lo Leonora, but he is disturbed by the sound of a lute, on which a troubadour is playing a serenade (scena and romanza “Deserto sulla terra”). Leonora descends and is about to throw herself into the arms of the Count, whom she has mistaken for her beloved. But having realised her error, she tells the troubadour that she loves none other than him (trio “Qual voce!…Ah! dalle tenebre”). When the Count di Luna, in a rage, asks the young man to disclose his identity, he declares that his name is Manrico. The Count recognizes him as a follower of the rebel prince Urgel and challenges him to a duel. Despite Leonora’s pleading, the two men go off to fight.
(The gypsy woman) A gypsy encampment. Towards dawn, a group of gypsies are working in their encampment (chorus “Vedi, le fosche notturne spoglie”). Next to the fire the gypsy Azucena breaks into song, drawing attention to herself. The fire reminds her of the flames of the stake at which her mother was burnt, and died invoking revenge (canzone “Stride la vampa!”). The gypsies go down into the valley and Azucena, left alone with her son Manrico, tells him the story related hitherto: that of his grandmother, who was burnt at the stake on the orders of the old Count di Luna (scena and story “Condotta ell’era in ceppi”). Azucena also recounts how she took her revenge by abducting one of the Count’s children, and threw him into the flames of her mother’s pyre. But later she realised that she had in her delirium killed not the Count’s child but her own son. Seeing Manrico’s astonishment, Azucena calms him, telling him that such grim memories can only drive her out of her mind. Then she gets her son – who had already met the Count in duel, but spared his life because of a mysterious celestial force felt within him – to promise that he will show no further mercy to the Count (scena and duet “Mal reggendo all’aspro assalto”). A messenger enters and summons Manrico to the defence of the recently captured Castellor fortress, and also informs him that Leonora is about to take vows in the belief that he is dead. Manrico, despite his mother’s alarm, sets out at once.
A convent near Castellor. The Count di Luna can’t resign himself to the loss of Leonora and is preparing to abduct her with his henchmen (scena and aria “Il balen del suo sorriso”). Preceded by a chorus of nuns (“Ah! se l’error t’ingombra”), Leonora, who is about to take the veil, enters. The Count di Luna steps forward to abduct her, but Manrico intervenes unexpectedly. The general amazement (concertato “E deggio e posso crederlo?”) is broken by the arrival of Ruiz and of Urgel’s followers, who release Manrico and Leonora.
(The gypsy woman’s son) An encampment near Castellor. The Count di Luna’s soldiers, encamped in sight of Castellor, are playing cards and singing (chorus “Or co’ dadi, ma fra poco”). Ferrando announces that they will storm the fortress tomorrow. The Count di Luna is determined to abduct Leonora from his hated enemy Manrico, but a tumult distracts him from his intentions. In a nearby field a gypsy woman has been caught and is now brought before him. She is Azucena, whom Ferrando recognizes as the gypsy who abducted the Count’s child long ago (scena and trio “Giorni poveri vivea”). And his conviction is borne out when he notices the woman’s fear on hearing the name of the Count di Luna, who has her arrested. When Azucena invokes the name of Manrico, the Count’s rage is redoubled. The bystanders call for the woman to be burnt at the stake.
A hall of the palace. Manrico informs Leonora that a battle will be fought tomorrow and gives orders to Ruiz to supervise their defence. The two lovers, to the sound of an organ, are about to start their marriage ceremony (scena and cantabile “Ah sì, ben mio”), when Ruiz bursts in and, taking Manrico to the window, points to the pyre on which Azucena is about to be burnt. Manrico, in a fury (cabaletta “Di quella pira”), leaves his bride and rushes to his mother’s aid.
(The ordeal) Near the Aliaferia palace. Leonora is led by Ruiz to the place where Manrico is imprisoned. Glancing at the ring on her right hand and thinking of her beloved (scena and cantabile “D’amor sull’ali rosee”), she hears the song of the Miserere and the voice of Manrico, who is about to die and begs her not to forget him. Leonora declares that her destiny will forever be linked to his (cabaletla “Tu vedrai che amore in terra”). When she sees the Count coming out of a door and giving orders for the execution, she goes up to him and promises him her body in exchange for Manrico’s life (scena and duet “Qual voce!. .. come!… tu donna?”). Leonora secretly drinks the poison from her ring.
A prison. Manrico is seated beside his mother, who is lying on a mattress (finale ultimo “Madre… non dormi?”). In her delirium, the gypsy pictures again in her mind the burning of her mother. But her son calms her, and lulls her to sleep with memories of their home in the peaceful mountains (“Ai nostri monti… ritorneremo!”). Leonora appears and urges Manrico to escape, though she cannot herself follow him. When he hears the price she has paid for his freedom, he curses Leonora (concertato “Parlar non vuoi!… Balen tremendo!”), but repents on learning that she has poisoned herself in order never to belong to anyone else. She dies in his arms. The Count gives orders for Manrico to be executed. Only then does he learn from Azucena, with horror, that he has murdered his own brother. The gypsy woman has at last avenged her mother.
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MADAME BUTTERFLY – ARENA DI VERONA
By Giacomo Puccini
Set in Japan, 1904, Pinkerton, a U.S. Naval officer, rents a house on a hill in Nagasaki, Japan, for him and his fiancé, “Butterfly”. Her real name is Ciocio-san, (cio-cio, pronounced “chocho”: the Japanese word for “butterfly” is chÅchÅ). She is a 15-year-old Japanese girl whom he is marrying for convenience, because he intends to leave her once he finds a proper American wife, and since Japanese divorce laws are very
relax. The wedding is to take place at the house. Butterfly had been so excited to marry an American that she had earlier secretly converted from Japanese religion to Christianity. After the wedding ceremony, her uninvited uncle, a bonze, who has found out about her conversion, comes to the house, curses her and orders all the guests to leave, which they do while renouncing her. Pinkerton and Butterfly sing a love duet and prepare to spend their first night together.
Three years later, Butterfly is still waiting for Pinkerton to return, as he had left shortly after their wedding. Her maid Suzuki keeps trying to convince her that he is not coming back, but Butterfly will not listen to her. Goro, the marriage broker who arranged her marriage, keeps trying to marry her off again, but she won’t listen to him either.
The American Consul, Sharpless, comes to the house with a letter which he has received from Pinkerton which asks him to break some news to Butterfly, that Pinkerton is coming back to Japan, but Sharpless cannot bring himself to finish it because Butterfly becomes very excited to hear that Pinkerton is coming back. Sharpless asks Butterfly what she would do if Pinkerton were not to return. She then reveals that she gave birth to Pinkerton’s son after he had left and asks Sharpless to tell him.
From the hill house, Butterfly sees Pinkerton’s ship arriving in the harbour. She and Suzuki prepare for his arrival, and then they wait. Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly stays up all night waiting for him to arrive.
Suzuki wakes up in the morning and Butterfly finally falls asleep. Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive at the house, along with Pinkerton’s new American wife, Kate. They have come because Kate has agreed to raise the child. But, as Pinkerton sees how Butterfly has decorated the house for his return, he realizes he has made a huge mistake. He admits that he is a coward and cannot face her, leaving Suzuki, Sharpless and Kate to break the news to Butterfly. Agreeing to give up her child if Pinkerton comes himself to see her, she then prays to statues of her ancestral gods, says goodbye to her son, and blindfolds him. She places a small American flag into his hands and goes behind a screen, cutting her throat with her father’s hara-kiri knife. Pinkerton rushes in. He is too late.
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