Monday, April 30, 2012

Mozart's Perfection and Imperfection

In honor of my first performances of Don Giovanni here in Atlanta, a reposting of my recent post at the Ecstatic Living Room on some of Mozart's Operatic Arias:

As I’ve started rehearsals for my very first production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni this week in Atlanta, I’ve been thinking a lot of about Mozart lately.  At every break in rehearsal, someone inevitably sighs, “oh….this music is so incredible…”, and it’s gotten me thinking about how Mozart was truly at his best when he was writing opera.  His music for the theater is perfectly balanced; it celebrates humanity’s perfection in its imperfection.  When you look at all of these situations and characters, they are so flawed and incredibly messy – yet Mozart’s music is so beautifully balanced. His music praises human imperfection, as if he knows that the beauty of being human is found in the patina of all our flaws.  It’s messy and clean all at the same time.
Being in this Mozart frame of mind, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share some of my favorite Mozart arias here.  Incidentally, they are also some of my favorite operatic arias, period.
As I am currently in rehearsals for Don Giovanni, why not start with one of my favorite moments – Leporello’s aria, Madamina, il catalgo è questo.  At this point in the opera, Donna Elvira, a Spanish noblewoman who has been seduced and then dumped by Don Giovanni, has followed (stalked?) Giovanni all the way from Spain.  Giovanni manages to evade her, leaving his servant Leporello to tell her the truth – that she is just one of thousands of women who fill his little black book of conquests.  Listening to Leporello, Don Giovanni sounds like quite the impressive stud…or a sex addict.
My dear lady, this is a list
Of the beauties my master has loved,
A list which I have compiled.
Observe, read along with me.
In Italy, six hundred and forty;
In Germany, two hundred and thirty-one;
A hundred in France; in Turkey, ninety-one;
But in Spain already one thousand and three.
Among these are peasant girls,
Maidservants, city girls,
Countesses, baronesses,
Marchionesses, princesses,
Women of every rank,
Every shape, every age.
With blondes it is his habit
To praise their kindness;
In brunettes, their faithfulness;
In the white-haired, their sweetness.
In winter he likes fat ones.
In summer he likes thin ones.
He calls the tall ones majestic.
The little ones are always charming.
He seduces the old ones
For the pleasure of adding to the list.
His greatest favourite
Is the young beginner.
It doesn’t matter if she’s rich,
Ugly or beautiful;
If she wears a skirt,
You know what he does.
Next, let’s move to perhaps one of Mozart’s most famous arias: “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” from The Magic Flute.  I’d venture to say that it’s one of his most favorite compositions simply because it is fierce music – it’s insanely dramatic and when you hear a woman sing it (or a boy), its just simply astonishing that a human voice can make those sounds.  At this point in the opera, the Queen of the Night is imploring her daughter Pamina to murder the high priest Sarastro, threatening to disown her if she doesn’t follow through.  Whenever I see this, I always hope for Pamina’s sake that she has a good therapist waiting for her in the wings, so she can work through all the inevitable mommy issues she is bound to have after hearing that aria being screamed in her face.  Here’s my favorite recording of this aria, sung by soprano Edda Moser:
Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart;
Death and despair blaze around me!
If Sarastro does not feel the pain of death because of you,
Then you will be my daughter nevermore.
Disowned be forever,
Forsaken be forever,
Shattered be forever
All the bonds of nature
If Sarastro does not turn pale [in death] because of you!
Hear, gods of vengeance, hear the mother’s oath!
My third favorite aria is perhaps my favorite aria that Mozart ever wrote, “Un’ aura amorosa” from Così fan tutte.  At this point in the opera, the soldiers Ferrando and Guglielmo have placed a bet with Don Alfonso on their girlfriends’ fidelity – in order to test their girlfriends’ faith and love, they disguise themselves as traveling Albanian soldiers and attempt to seduce each others’ lovers.  Sure that Don Alfonso is going to lose, Ferrando daydreams about what it will feel like when this prank is over, and enjoys the beauty and strength of the love he feels.  It’s perhaps one of the most tender and sweet moments ever composed in opera.
A breath of love
From our treasures
Will afford our hearts
Sweet sustenance.
A heart nourished
On the hope of love
Has no need
Of greater inducement.


Janet said...

This may not be the most logical place for this comment, but...

I was able to squeeze in a stopover on a trip from Seattle to New York to hear your Chicago concert, and I thought it was magnificent. Dichterliebe is a special piece for me, and I have rarely heard it sung with such deep and unguarded empathy. I felt a bit stunned by the time you finished.

nick said...

Janet -

Thank you so so much for your kind words. I am so happy that you were not only able to make the trip work out and come to the concert, but also that you enjoyed it and were so touched. It's an extraordinary cycle, and to be able to perform it with Jeremy in such a magnificent hall was a truly special experience.

Many, many thanks - I so greatly appreciate it, and I am so happy that you were there!