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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Five Operas for Valentine's Day

He's dead, Jim.
It's February 14. In addition to being Renée Fleming's birthday, today is a good day to talk about that all important component of opera.

L'amour. Amore. Liebe. любовь.

Mozart: Don Giovanni
Sure it all goes to hell for the amorous Don in Mozart's Dramma giocoso. Mozart and da Ponte conjured this libretto based on the old Spanish legend of a nobleman whose romantic conquests range into the thousands. But Mozart's greatest opera has some of his most romantic music, including the unforgettable "La ci darem la mano."

Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
This prequel to The Marriage of Figaro finds the titular character playing cupid for Count Almaviva, who is determined to marry Rosina out from under her guardian: cranky old Dr. Bartolo. This is an immortal comedy, with memorable melodies, the famous "Largo al factotum" aria, and much manic comic business. And unlike some of the operas on this list, it ends happily!

Donizetti: L'Elisir d'Amore
There are a number of great Donizetti comedies--and this is the greatest. Elisir is the tale of a country bumpkin who woos the prettiest girl in town armed with nothing but a bottle of cheap vino (which was sold to him as a "love potion" by the duplicitous Dr. Dulcamara). And it features "Una furtiva lagrima", a signature aria from Caruso to Pavarotti to Juan Diego Florez. And it's coming to City Opera in March!

Gounod:Roméo et Juliette
Shakespeare's tragedy reimagined as French opera. There are a few operatic adaptations of the play floating around (Bellini's I Capuletti i il Montecchi comes to mind) but this version by the composer of Faust comes closest to capturing the spirit of the play. Coming to the Met next month, with Angela Gheorghiu and Matthew Polenzani in the title roles.



Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Love potions also figure prominently in Tristan, which Wagner wrote in a fit of passion for Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of his patron. The romance didn't last, but the opera resulted in Wagner creating a four-hour paean to passion and adultery in medieval Cornwall.

The three-act opera starts with a famous, dissonant chord (known as the "Tristan Chord"). The dissonance then remains unresolved for three acts, up until the final apotheosis: when Isolde achieves a state of post-Romantic transcendence while singing gloriously over Tristan's corpse.

In other words, this is Wagner's "unending melody": four hours of shifting tonalities and tectonic plates of brass, strings and voices. While it's unbearably gorgeous, the score of Tristan may not be the best music to make out to. Unless that's your thing, of course.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.