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The Magic Flute English version by Jeremy Sams Opera in 2 acts. Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder.
Vocal material only Mozart's last stage work, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), was completed just two days before its premiere in Vienna on 30 September 1791. A masterpiece filled with enigmatic references to the Freemasons, an organization of which Mozart was a member, The Magic Flute would undoubtedly have made Mozart rich, but it opened less than three months before his death.
SYNOPSIS: Ancient Egypt. The Queen of the Night is furious with High Priest Sarastro because he has taken away her daughter, Pamina. Tamino, a young Prince in search of adventure, is sent by the Queen to rescue her daughter. Tamino is joined by a merry bird-catcher, Papageno, who wears a feather dress as an aid to his profession. The Queen gives a magic golden flute to Tamino, to play in times of danger, and to his companion she gives a peal of bells. The pair are brought before Sarastro, who demonstrates that he is really doing right by keeping Pamina from her mother. Seeing that the pair are already in love, Sarastro promises Tamino and Pamina future happiness if they are willing to prove themselves worthy. The lovers agree, and go bravely through many ordeals that are placed in their way. Papageno accompanies Tamino in most of his adventures;
and in all times of difficulty, by the use of the magic flute and the peal of bells, they are able to conquer the dangers that beset them. The Magic Flute remains to this day one of the most beloved works in the operatic repertoire. Majestic, elegant and delicate, this opera represents Mozart at his finest, and includes both its famous Overture, and the infamous Queen of the Night’s aria, "The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart."
Although Jacques Offenbach wrote almost one hundred stage works in his lifetime, only two of these were operas. The second of these, Les contes d’Hoffmann, was unfinished at the time of the composer’s death in 1880, but is nonetheless one of Offenbach’s most widely performed works. Before his death, Offenbach had completed the piano score and orchestrated the prologue and the first act. Since he did not entirely finish the writing, many different versions of this opera subsequently emerged. The version performed at the opera's premiere – four months after Offenbach’s death - was by Ernest Guiraud, who completed Offenbach's scoring and wrote the recitatives. Of Edmund Tracey’s new edition, and the 1971 revival by English National Opera, What’s On magazine wrote that “the performing edition is adult in approach and igenious in execution, and as a combination of musical entertainment…and stage spectacle, this Hoffmann is unbeatable.” SYNOPSIS: Nuremburg, Luther's Tavern, adjoining the Opera House. Prima Donna Stella, currently performing Mozart's Don Giovanni, sends a letter to the poet Hoffmann, requesting a meeting in her dressing room after the performance. The letter, and the key to the room, are intercepted by the evil Councillor Lindorf. Lindorf intends to replace Hoffmann at the rendezvous. In the tavern students are waiting for Hoffmann. He arrives and entertains them with the legend of Kleinzach the dwarf, before being coaxed by Lindorf into telling the audience about his life's three great loves. Hoffman tells tales of these past loves; Olympia, a mechanical performing doll;
Giulietta, a Venetian courtesan, and Antonia, the consumptive daughter of a famous composer - all of whom break his heart in different ways. At the end of the opera, Hoffmann, drunk, swears he will never love again, and explains that Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta are actually three facets of the same person - Stella. Stella, who is tired of waiting for Hoffmann to come to her rendezvous, enters the tavern and finds him drunk. The poet tells her to leave, and Stella and Lindorf leave together.
Vocal material only La bohème premiered in Turin on February 1, 1896. It is considered by many to be Puccini’s finest score, and has deservedly become one of the most frequently performed operas of all time.
SYNOPSIS: Paris, around 1830. Students Rudolphe (the Poet) and Marcel (the Artist) are at work in their garret, cold and hungry. Schaunard (the Musician) appears, having had an unexpected windfall, and he brings with him an extravagant feast - which they proceed to enjoy, along with another friend, Colline (the Philosopher). When the landlord comes to demand his long-overdue rent, they merrily force him to join them at supper. After supper three of them go off to a fair, but Rudolphe remains behind, promising to join them later.
He is interrupted by Mimi, an embroiderer, who has come for a light, and who half-faints on her entrance, being very frail, and consumptive. Rudolphe and Mimi confess their love for one another. The friends take refreshment outside Café Momus, where Marcel meets his sweetheart, Musette. She is accepting the attentions of a rich banker, but despatches him to buy her some shoes, and quickly makes friends with her beloved Marcel once more. There are many quarrels and reconciliations between the two pairs of lovers. Eventually, Musette arrives at the garret, and announces that she has brought Mimi, who is now close to dying. Rudolphe lays her upon his bed, and the other students go out to pawn their coats in order to buy wine and restoratives for the dying girl.
But Mimi is beyond all help, and she expires happily in Rudolphe’s arms.
Tosca English version by Edmund Tracey Opera in 3 acts. Libretto by Luigi Illicia and Giuseppe Giacosa.
Vocal material only Tosca premiered in Rome on January 14, 1900. Puccini’s masterpiece, and his first venture into verismo, it is one of the world's most popular operas, and was a hit with audiences from its first performance. Puccini began working on the opera in 1896, after the completion of La Bohème, and after three years of difficult collaboration the opera was ready for production. Companies seeking an English performing edition need look no further than Edmund Tracey’s for English National Opera, which was first staged in 1976.
SYNOPSIS: Rome, 1800. Angelotti, an escaped prisoner, takes refuge in a Church, and the painter Mario Cavaradossi decides to aid his escape by to conveying him through a secret passage. Cavaradossi is interrupted by his sweetheart, Floria Tosca, a singer, whose suspicions have been aroused by the closed door. Eventually she leaves, and cannon fire announces that Angelotti’s escape has become known. He arrays himself in feminine garments, and escapes with Cavaradossi just as a crowd pours into the church, headed by the wicked Police Chief Scarpia. Scarpia is determined to make Tosca his mistress, and decides to rid himself of his rival Cavaradossi by bringing him to execution for shielding a State prisoner. Scarpia’s attendant follows Tosca, and Cavaradossi is found and brought to the Palace. Scarpia offers to release Cavaradossi from torture if Tosca reveals the hiding-place of Angelotti, and – eventually – she submits. Cavaradossi faces execution, but Scarpia offers to save him if Tosca will become his. The despairing Tosca consents. Scarpia declares that a mock execution will take place. Tosca stabs Scarpia, and informs Cavaradossi of the ‘mock’ execution. Unfortunately, Scarpia had only pretended to give the promised instructions to his attendants, and Cavaradossi is executed.
With the police hot on her trail, Tosca rushes to the parapet of the tower and throws herself off in despair.
Vocal material only Rossini’s La gazza ladra was first performed in May 1817 at La Scala, Milan. Rossini was famous for his writing speed, and the genesis of La gazza ladra was no exception. Reportedly, the opera’s producer had to lock Rossini in a room the day before the first performance in order to write the overture. Rossini then threw each sheet out of the window to his copyists, who then wrote out the full orchestral parts. Ironically, it is for its Overture that the opera is perhaps best known, through its many appearances on the concert platform, and on film and television.
SYNOPSIS: Ninetta hopes to marry Giannetto, returning from the war. She tries to shelter her father Fernando Villabella, who has deserted from the army, and is troubled by the attentions of the mayor, Gottardo. A missing spoon and the evidence of Isacco, the pedlar, who has bought a piece of silver from Ninetta to raise money for her father, lead to her accusation and imprisonment. She is tried and found guilty, to be saved from death at the last minute by the discovery of the thief – the eponymous thieving magpie!
RUDOLF, Bert (1905-1992) Rain on Sunday Chamber opera in 1 act. Libretto by Hans Krendlesberger.
0.1.1.1. / Timp / Vib / Pno / Hpscd / Str The third of Austrian composer Bert Rudolf’s seven operas, Regen am Sonntag was written for the 1963 Prix Italia, and was first heard via a radio broadcast that year. The opera tells of a lonely woman trying to win back her lover one rainy Sunday during a telephone conversation with her young rival.
SMETANA, Bedrich (1828-1884) The Kiss English version by Ernest Warburton Opera in 2 acts.
2+Picc.2.2.2. / 18.104.22.168. / Timp / Perc / Str First performed in Prague in November 1876, Der Kuss/Hubicka quickly became one of Smetana’s most popular operas, surpassed only by The Bartered Bride (1866). The score is described by New Kobbé’s Opera Book as “attractive, melodious, singable, full of charm.” SYNOPSIS: Lukáš, a young widower, arrives in a village with brother-in-law Tomeš to negotiate the hand in marriage of Vendulka, whom he has always loved. He was forced into his previous marriage, but as his wife has died he is now free to declare his feelings. Vendulka’s father (Paloucký) agrees to the match, but has misgivings.
Vendulka refuses to kiss Lukáš until they are married. Later, Vendulka is awakened by the sound of a polka outside her home, and spies Lukáš, dancing with and kissing the village girls. Vendulka is enraged, and swears to leave home. Lukáš mourns the disappearance of Vendulka, and Tomeš tells him to apologise. In a forest near the Bohemian frontier, a band of smugglers lies in waiting. Vendulka's aunt, Martinka, does business with the smugglers, and after they leave, Martinka does her best to persuade Vendulka to return home. The following morning, Lukáš arrives at Martinka's cottage. He apologizes to Paloucký for his actions and awaits Vendulka.
When she arrives, both are overjoyed. He publicly begs forgiveness before they - finally – kiss!
The Secret English version by Ernest Warburton Comic opera in 3 acts. Libretto by Eliska Krasnahorska.
2+Picc.2.2.2. / 22.214.171.124. / Timp / Bells / Gtr / Str The Secret (Das Geheimnis/Tajemství) was fist performed on September 18, 1878 at the Nové Ceské Divadlo (New Czech Theatre) in Prague, and was composed under the strain of Smetana’s deteriorating health, financial troubles and progressive deafness. It was, however, an immediate success, and remains popular to this day. The opera returns to the village life of the composer’s earlier success The Bartered Bride (1866), with rustic merrymaking for musical and pictorial colour, and with a central theme of love triumphing over the trivial concerns of money and family.
SYNOPSIS: Two couples are divided - in different ways - by the same family feud. The story ends with both couples united: the titular secret is a treasure map, left by a wise old monk, which takes middle-aged Councilor Kalina through a tunnel to the cellar of his old love's house - a way of telling him that the real treasure he seeks could be his for the asking… The Two Widows English version by Dennis Arundell Comic opera in 2 acts. Libretto by Emanuel Züngl.
2(2 dbl Picc).2.2.2. / 126.96.36.199. / Timp / Perc / Str Smetana’s Dve vdovy was premièred on March 27th, 1874 at the Prague Czech Theatre under the composer’s own direction. The opera was revised in 1877 - dialogues were replaced by recitative and some music and characters were reworked – and the German version premiered in 1958. Dve vdovy has been described as “one of the most tuneful and delightful of any (opera) that has not yet been accepted into the world’s repertory” [Kobbé’s Opera Book].
SYNOPSIS: Two widows, Caroline and Agnes, live in a Bohemian Castle. The landlady, Caroline, is happy with her new-found independence, but Agnes is still in mourning. Caroline is pressed by her suitor, Ladislaus, but does not want to marry him. She conspires to have Agnes fall in love with Ladislaus. Caroline invites Ladislaus to the castle, where he is ‘arrested’ and condemned to one day’s house arrest. Ladislaus accepts the punishment.
However, Agnes is not interested in him. While in prison, Ladislaus sings a love song, which awakens Agnes’ feelings, though she is unable to admit so. Only as Caroline begins to flirt with Ladislaus does Agnes admit her feelings to Ladislaus.
Polish composer André Tchaikowsky was one of the foremost pianist-composers of his generation. His only opera, a three-act setting of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, was virtually finished at the time of the composer’s premature death in 1982. The final 24 measures of orchestration were completed posthumously by composer Alan Boustead.
Vocal material only One of Verdi’s last operas, Aida was first performed at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on 24 December 1871, and met with great acclaim. Verdi did not attend the premiere, but was dissatisfied that the audience consisted of invited dignitaries, and no members of the general public. He therefore considered the Italian (and European) premiere, held at La Scala, Milan on 8 February 1872 - in which he was heavily involved - to be the real premiere.
Today the opera remains a favourite with audiences worldwide, and is particularly famous for its spectacle, and the second act’s Grand March, during which Radames returns with the Egyptian army from victory over the Ethiopians.
SYNOPSIS: Ancient Egypt. Aida, an Ethiopian princess, is captured and brought into slavery in Egypt. A military commander, Radames, struggles to choose between his love for her and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. To complicate the story further, Radames is loved by the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris, although he does not return her feelings.