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What are the "most beautiful five minutes in opera"?

65 posts in this topic

In today's NY Times, Daniel J. Wakin has a piece on Rosenkavalier, opening at the Met This Tuesday (Oct. 13), with an HD/Live simulcast of the performance on January 9 with encore on January 27. Watkins writes about a few moments right before the conclusion of the opera:

And now time, that relentless pursuer, stops. The three female voices -- Octavian, Sophie and the Marschallin-- sing the glorious trio thata caused a stunned silence in a rehearsal before the premiere. perhaps the most beautiful five minutes in opera.

This brought me back immediately to my much-loved recording of Rosenkavalier highlights, with Ellizaabeth Schwartzkopf and Christa Ludwig singing with a Sophie whose name I cannot recall. "Beautiful," of course, is a subjective term. I'm not even sure that I know what it means to me anymore, when I use it.

To a teenager, this part of Rosenkavalier certainly was the "most beautiful" singing I'd ever heard or could imagine. (And that final "Ja, ja" from the Marschallin, a little later on. !!!!!). Decades afterward, I don't know whether I still would call it the "most beautiful", but I honestly don't know what I'd prefer today if I had only 5 minutes of listening time before the Final Silence came upon me.

Any ideas about what the "most beautiful five minutes in opera" really are? Or would you go with Wakin?

The article (linked here) includes audio clips from the dress rehearsal.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/arts/mus....html?ref=music

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Good topic, bart. I'm running out of time today, but hope others will post! (With explanations, please. :wink:)

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'most beautiful five minutes' doesn't mean anything to me, so if I have to stay on-topic in the strict sense, I will say 'parts of opers with the most beautiful five-minuteses in them'. In different ways, therefore, the first act of 'La Boheme' (take almost any five minutes anywhere in the act), and the 2nd act of 'Der Fliegende Hollander' --any of the 'five-minuteses' from the girls spinning through Senta's aria, as well as almost any 'five-minutes' anywhere in 'Parsifal'. Also 'Sempre Libera' from Traviata when perfectly sung, is the ultimate confection.

I used to like 'Rosenkavalier', much less now, and am not that big a Strauss fan..

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O Soave Fanciulla

It's Puccini. It's La Boheme. On my recording, it's Bjorling and de los Angeles. Enough said. :wink:

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Oops, forgot Wagner. The opening of Das Rheingold; and this is something that really doesn't come across on disc. You have to experience that swell of music in an opera house, where you can feel the vibrations. Stunning.

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"Ach, Ich Fuehls"--preferably sung by Te Kanawa or Popp.

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"Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson et Dalila...

and if it is by "La Divina" :wink: -(and this coming from a Tebaldista)-then it is heaven...

'nuf said.

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The Liebestod. And this is from someone who sometimes has a hard time making it through Act 3 of Tristan.

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With so many vignettes to choose from, my immediate reaction to the question is the achingly beautiful duet from Pearlfishers. I know mine is perhaps a predictable choice, but that doesn't lessen its impact on me every time I hear it, no matter who is singing.

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Verdi's "Otello", Act I love duet, Otello and Desdemona.

It was a tough call between this and the orchestral end of The Ring.

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Beautiful choices, so far. I'm beginning to notice a few common denominators. It might be fun at the end to come up with some criteria for what constitutes "beautiful" in opera and possibly in other arts as well. I remember, for example, a time in my early 20s when I considered "Pierre Lunaire" to be the most beautiful work I'd ever heard.

But don't forget dirac's request:

With explanations, please. :wink:

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Bart, until recently I had Pierrot Lunaire on my ipod Touch and would listen to it on my walks through the financial district. I associated it with someone on the 1 California in bankers pinstripes who would scramble up onto the bus each morning in a zig zaggy way.

I tend to like lieder more than opera, Elizabeth Schumann singing Hugo Wolf, and the stray paths the voice and piano take, criss-crossing here and there.

Cristian's Callas clip appealed to me, the concentration and barebones simplicity of it.

I second your idea of developing a set of common denominators.

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Somehow it's comforting that Pierre Lunaire continues to fascinate. Quiggan, I think I know exactly what you mean about the "zig zaggy way" of both the music and urban life.

I wonder, however, whether I would now use the word "beautiful" to describe my feelings about it. Even in those days, it was the novelty (for me), the daring, and -- I think this is crucial -- the small scale and relative delicacy. It's quite elegant in its way.

The operatic segments that have been mentioned so far seems to have (more or less) the common denominators of melodiousness, a certain amount of lushness, long line, on-your-sleeve emotionality. The word "gorgeous" might apply as well as "beautiful."

Is such music the equivalent of comfort food for people? I mean -- something that doesn't always involve us deeply cognifitively, but makes us feel good in the best sense?

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The operatic segments that have been mentioned so far seems to have (more or less) the common denominators of melodiousness, a certain amount of lushness, long line, on-your-sleeve emotionality. The word "gorgeous" might apply as well as "beautiful."

I thought that too, about the melody being a common factor. However, while I can imagine listening to many of the arias mentioned here sung by singers with beautiful voices but not much acting skill and still enjoying the music, "Ach, ich fühls" seems to me to be the odd man out: gorgeous music that only has an impact if the the singer can deliver on the emotion.

Edited to add: It occurs to me that many of these arias are sometimes used as standalone pieces, rearranged for orchestra (or piano) without the voice, and the music is just as listenable (depending on the arrangement, of course). I can't imagine "Ach, ich fühls" without the voice.

Is Pierre Lunaire by Schoenberg? I've got to look that one up. Any recommendations on recordings?

BTW, last night driving home from work, I was listening to The Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman; I think that one needs to be added to the list. :unsure:

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Peggy, thanks for adding "emotion" to the list.

The Barcarolle made me think: "I always have to visuallize something when hearing this." Is the ability to stiimulate visual (or other) imagination another quality that we seem to associate with "beautiful."

Re: Pierre Lunaire. Amazon has a lot of cd recordings. Maybe someone else is more current on recent performances. Quiggan, which version is on your ipod? The one I used constantly in my youth was an early 60s disc -- replaced by a casette later on and then a cd purchased in Europe -- led by Pierre Boulez. (I am basically retrograde when it comes to music and tend to stick with the versions I loved when I was young.)

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Peggy, I think that is what appeals to me about that aria. The singer can't just rely on a pretty voice and nice technique. She has to be committed to the performance.

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Hans, your mentiion of Popp made me curious, since I had a recording of her singing ... Queen of the Night. I checked YouTube. You are right about her Pamina.

Peggy, I agree that this aria is a different kind of "beautifull" from the other arias mentioned so far.

:unsure: I wonder how many wonderful Paminas have also been wonderful Queens of the Night.

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While checking Magic Flutes on YouTube, I also came across the final trio from Rosenkavalier. This is from the movie, released in the early 60s, with Schwartzkopf, Sena Jurinac, and Annaliese Rothenberger. I remember seeing this in Cambridge, Mass., when it was first released. And here it is! Good old YouTube! :unsure:

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But don't forget dirac's request:
With explanations, please. :unsure:

Okay, I'll give it a shot. (Otello Act I Love Duet)

Dramatically, it was Boito's stroke of genius to condense Act I of the play into a narrative between the protagonists. Although a love duet, It is an intelligent conversation between adults. It ends with one of more ravishing images in opera ("Venice is resplendant"), with music to match.

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("Venice is resplendant")

Venus, no?

I agree that it's a brilliant condensation. Makes me wonder why Shakespeare bothered with an entire act. Opening with the storm is so much more dramatic.

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OTELLO

Vien. . .Venere splende.

(s'avviano abbracciati verso il castello)

Come . . . Venus is shining.

(Embracing, they go toward the castle.)

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("Venice is resplendant")

Venus, no?

I agree that it's a brilliant condensation. Makes me wonder why Shakespeare bothered with an entire act. Opening with the storm is so much more dramatic.

Yes, "Venere splende" means "Venus is shining", a romanticism.

In his opening Venetian act, I think Shakespeare was aiming to stress Othello's different (and, I suppose, inferior background) The idea is that Desdemona is making a non traditional marriage and this is supposed to add to Othello's feelings of inferiority which the later plot elements add to.

Venice was simply not his world however much a name he had made for himself .Even Cyprus is a low rent district compared to Venice.

All this is mirrored a bit in the opera's Act 3 , scene 2 the big court scene where Otello is disgraced before the Venetian ambassador.

His humiliation is just about complete.

But operas can't support the amount of text that plays can and I think it was a brilliant idea for Boito to simply eliminate the first act. By the late

19th century the idea of a Moor marrying a European noblewoman had plenty of connotations of it's own.

And the opening of Otello is stunning with the storm music.

edited to add: Oops, posted at the same time as Bart. Didn't mean to beat the Venere splende to death!

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In his opening Venetian act, I think Shakespeare was aiming to stress Othello's different (and, I suppose, inferior background) The idea is that Desdemona is making a non traditional marriage and this is supposed to add to Othello's feelings of inferiority which the later plot elements add to.

Venice was simply not his world however much a name he had made for himself .Even Cyprus is a low rent district compared to Venice.

Oh, certainly. This continues into act 2 prior to Othello's arrival, where it's pretty obvious that he would never engage in the sort of witty banter that goes on between Desdemona and Iago. There are lots subtleties lost in the opera. I'm sorry to lose Emilia's cynicism, too, but these elements aren't terribly operatic, so Boito was completely right to drop them and pare the story down to its violent emotions. These, I think, register more powerfully in the opera than they do in the play. Not to mention the fact that "Ah, sangue, sangue, sangue!" sounds so much better than "O, blood, blood, blood!", especially with cymbals crashing in the background.

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But don't forget dirac's request:
With explanations, please. :wink:

Okay, I'll give it a shot. (Otello Act I Love Duet)

Dramatically, it was Boito's stroke of genius to condense Act I of the play into a narrative between the protagonists. Although a love duet, It is an intelligent conversation between adults. It ends with one of more ravishing images in opera ("Venice is resplendant"), with music to match.

I could never decide on just one 'beautiful five minutes' but I agree fully with Helene. This duet ravishes me every time.

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I apologize -- it is Venus, not Venice. Old age.

I loved seeing the opening of "Otello" at the Met, with the orchestra pit completely dark, except for the light at the end of the conductor's baton.

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