ARTax – music rEvolution https://www.artaxmusic.com Contemporary classical music theater Mon, 28 May 2018 11:35:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://www.artaxmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/cropped-artax_icon-32x32.png ARTax – music rEvolution https://www.artaxmusic.com 32 32 Tilde Carotini https://www.artaxmusic.com/tilde-carotini/ https://www.artaxmusic.com/tilde-carotini/#respond Tue, 24 Apr 2018 14:22:10 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=33010/ ARTax - music rEvolution
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Tilde Carotini, an opera star in the late 1800s, beloved and internationally acclaimed, saw an extremely tragic end to her life.

Tilde Carotini
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ARTax - music rEvolution
ARTax - music rEvolution - Contemporary classical music theater

Tilde Carotini

Tilde Carotini: a forgotten opera gem

The name of Tilde Carotini will tell nothing to most people: yet, she was one of the most beloved singers of the late 1800s, internationally acclaimed and partner of the most important singers of her time.

There is only one recording of her voice, dating back to 1904 in a duet from Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Favorita“. The baritone, for the occasion, was the famous Mattia Battistini, known as the king of baritones and baritone of the kings.

Tilde Carotini was born in 1864 in Jesi, in the center of Italy. Her debut took place in 1884 at the Teatro Cagnoni in Vigevano, as Isabella in the opera “L’Ebreo” by Giuseppe Apolloni. Her career took her to some of the main Italian theaters, like Bologna, Rome, and Verona, and, eventually, abroad, to Madrid, Montevideo, and St.Petersburg.

She was a star at the Teatro Regio in Parma, a temple of opera, where she appeared in four different productions in the 1886-1887 season: Mefistofele by Boito, Dinorah by Meyerbeer, Fausta by Bandini, and Rigoletto by Verdi. On February 19 she sang the aria “Oh mio Fernando” from Donizetti’s “La Favorita” during a gala evening organized in her honor.

In 1891, while singing La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli at the Goldoni theater in Ancona, she met the tenor Alfredo Zonchi, who then became her husband.

Success

After her performances in Barcellona, Tilde Carotini charmed Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo, and, from there, St.Petersburg and Moscow. She partnered with singers like Enrico Caruso and the aforementioned Mattia Battistini and landed such a success in Warsaw that the producers offered her an eight years contract.

Death in Venice

Alfredo Zonghi was born in 1864 as well but debuted a little later than his wife. However, his powerful voice and his interpretations made him well known to the public fairly soon: once the contract with Warsaw was over, in 1905, Tilde left the scenes to follow her husband’s flourishing career. Unfortunately, he died prematurely in Venice in 1913.

A tragic end

It’s here that we lose trace of Tilde Carotini: she disappeared for more than 20 years only to resurface in 1940. With no money whatsoever, she asked for a minimal subsidy to the Boito Foundation and to be accepted at the home for retired musicians in Milan (the one founded by Giuseppe Verdi). She died on November 22nd, 1943, alone and completely forgotten.

Mattia Battistini

Mattia Battistini

Gaetano Donizetti - self portrait

Gaetano Donizetti – self portrait

Final thoughts

 

Despite living in the golden age of Italian opera, the age of Verdi, Puccini (by the way, she even sang the part of the musico in Manon Lescaut), Ponchielli and so many others, and being one of the most beloved singers of her time, Tilde Carotini didn’t make it through history, trapped in its pages or perhaps just in her own tragedy.

It’s unfortunate that there is basically no audio documentation of her interpretations; I sure would love to hear her Favorita…

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

Tilde Carotini
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Literatuur Late Night https://www.artaxmusic.com/literatuur-late-night/ Mon, 12 Mar 2018 10:46:06 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=32981/ ARTax - music rEvolution
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Jeroen Vullings talks about nature, hiking and traveling for this extra book week edition of Literature Late Night at B-Unlimited with philosopher Joke Hermsen and writer Alexander Reeuwijk. Musical intermezzo by ARTax Music

Literatuur Late Night
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The theme of the 83rd Book Week, which takes place from Saturday 10 to Sunday 18 March 2018, is ‘Nature’. Jeroen Vullings talks about nature, hiking and traveling for this extra book week edition of Literature Late Night at B-Unlimited with philosopher Joke Hermsen and writer Alexander Reeuwijk.

Soprano Violetta Lazin and composer Gianmaria Griglio will enrich the evening with music, playing works by Gianmaria Griglio, Alberto Ginastera, and Juan Carlos Cobian.

Literatuur Late Night

 

Literatuur Late Night
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T as in Il Tabarro – Puccini A to Z https://www.artaxmusic.com/il-tabarro-puccini/ https://www.artaxmusic.com/il-tabarro-puccini/#respond Thu, 08 Mar 2018 08:45:44 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=32890/ ARTax - music rEvolution
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Puccini's darkest opera, Il Tabarro, is centered on the idea of passing time and it was heavily criticized for its crudeness and violence.

T as in Il Tabarro – Puccini A to Z
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Il Tabarro - Giacomo Puccini

Il Trittico: three operas in one evening

 

Since 1904 Puccini had his mind set on creating a one-act opera: the success of Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” had proven that kind of format was successful. A one-act opera would not have been enough to cover an entire evening and Puccini had initially thought of pairing it with one of his earliest works, Le Villi.

Writer and librettist Giovacchino Forzano convinced Puccini to change his mind and create not only one opera but three one-act operas of different subject and genre. This would have given Puccini a way to lead his audience into opposing atmospheres, sets and stories during the same show. And that’s how the Trittico was born: one opera of a dramatic subject (Il Tabarro), one of lyric/religious content (Suor Angelica) and a comic one (Gianni Schicchi).

It would have been another decade though before Puccini would start working on Il Tabarro: Madama Butterfly first and La Fanciulla del West later occupied the time and mind of the composer until after 1911. The composition, started in 1913, was stopped to make time for another work, La Rondine, for which Puccini was under contract and resumed only in 1915.

The premiere was supposed to happen at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome but due to the war that could not be possible. It was therefore moved to the Metropolitan of New York where Il Trittico opened on December 14, 1918.

Il tabarro – a one-act thriller

 

Based on the drama Le Houppelande by Didier Gold, which Puccini saw in 1912 while in Paris for a production of La fanciulla del West, is almost an homage to the Verismo opera. Puccini, initially, gave the text to Luigi Illica, then to Ferdinando Martini and finally to Giuseppe Adami. However, he still had doubts and tried, secretly, to see what could come out of the pen of the young Dario Niccodemi (who couldn’t do anything with it anyway).

The setting certainly reminds of the verismo era: the slums of Paris, the banks of the Seine, the dock workers. Two decades earlier, in the moment of maximum fortune of the verismo melodrama, Puccini had avoided paying tribute to this fashion, renouncing to put Verga’s La Lupa to music.

In choosing such a subject now, Puccini manages to extend the Verdian idea of being at the service of the drama while retaining the sheer tragedy of the Verismo. The aesthetic of the verismo is however reversed: purposefully there are no easy melodies, and Puccini works on short motives and makes a large use of the leitmotiv.

The darkest of Puccini’s works is centered on the idea of passing time, metaphorically embodied by the time of sunset, by the autumn season and above all by the slow, inexorable flow of the river, around which the whole story develops.

At the premiere, Gianni Schicchi was a great success while Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica were welcomed less warmly. After the Italian premiere in 1919, Suor Angelica became more popular while Il Tabarro was heavily criticized for its crudeness and violence.

What’s the story?

 

1910, Paris, sunset On the Seine is an old cargo barge, owned by the mature Michele; he has married Giorgetta, a Parisian much younger than himself, but feels that their marriage is shaking and suspects that his wife, who grows every day more impatient and surly, is cheating on him with another man.

The suspect is founded: Giorgetta is in love with Luigi, a young unloader who every evening, recalled by the faint glow of a lit match, reaches her shielded by darkness.

Michele, who sees his illusions gradually getting shattered, tries to awaken in his wife’s soul the passion of the past reminding her of that child whose brief existence had accompanied their love: these were the happy days when Giorgetta and her son sought refuge in his cloak.

But when he tries to hold her in his arms, his wife retracts with a pretext. Then she retires to her room waiting for her husband to follow her and fall asleep, in order for her to be able to then meet with Luigi.

Michele lingers, thinking about who might be his wife’s lover and meditating revenge, then lights his pipe. Attracted by the light signal, Luigi leaps to the barge; but Michele jumps on top of him, immobilizing him; when he recognizes him, he grabs him by the throat, forces him to confess his love and strangles him.

Then he wraps the lifeless body inside his cloak. Giorgetta returns to the deck as if caught by a strange presentiment, but when she approaches Michele, he opens the cloak, letting Luigi’s body fall to the ground.

The characters

Michele – a barge owner (baritone)

Giorgetta – his wife (soprano)

Luigi – a dockworker (tenor)

Il “Tinca” – a dockworker (tenor)

Il “Talpa” – a dockworker (bass)

La Frugola – Talpa’s wife (mezzo-soprano)

Did you know?

 

Puccini and Toscanini (who conducted so many composer’s operas) had a life-long love-hate relationship: at the time of the Trittico there was some bad blood between them and Toscanini’s harsh criticism of Il Tabarro was not taken lightly by Puccini who tried to make sure Toscanini would not conduct the Trittico at Covent Garden.

In a letter to his close friend Sybil Seligman, Puccini wrote: “[…] I don’t want that ‘pig’ of Toscanini; he spoke ill of my works and tried to influence some reporters to do the same. A friend of his wrote a very nasty article and I don’t want this kind of diva. I don’t care for it and I think that when a conductor does not have a good opinion of the operas he conducts, he cannot be a good interpreter.”

One Christmas Puccini sent a panettone to Toscanini, temporarily forgetting that they were not talking to each other. Right after he sent a telegram: “Panettone sent by mistake“. Toscanini promptly answered: “Panettone eaten by mistake“…

Recordings

Although Il Tabarro never reached the popularity of some other Puccini’s operas, it managed to fully enter the repertoire. One of my favorite recordings dates back to 1962 with Robert Merrill, Renata Tebaldi and Mario Del Monaco led by Lamberto Gardelli with the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.

Another excellent recording sees Eva-Maria Westbroek as Giorgetta and Lucio Gallo as Michele with the Royal Opera House and Antonio Pappano on the podium.

Sources and resources:

The full libretto with English translation can be found here.

Photo by Yaoqi LAI

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

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Rosewood Café – Album review https://www.artaxmusic.com/rosewood-cafe-review/ https://www.artaxmusic.com/rosewood-cafe-review/#comments Tue, 30 Jan 2018 10:37:07 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=32712/ ARTax - music rEvolution
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An oboe in South-American music? Who would have thought it could sound so charming?

Rosewood Café – Album review
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Rosewood Café:

the intoxicating oboe of Margaret Herlehy

 

If you’ve been reading my articles for some time, you know by now that I have a thing for South-American music: it’s sensual, warm, passionate, comforting and challenging in so many ways. It also adapts very well to different genres: from classical to tango to jazz. So, when I came across this recording mixing South-American composers with jazz topped up by a conventionally classical instrument like the oboe, I was certainly intrigued: starting with the title, which comes from a mix of one of the pieces (Café 1930) and the (Brazilian) rosewood with which Mrs. Herlehy’s oboe is made of.

Rosewood Café offers a smooth combination of oboe and guitar, adding to this sonority sometimes a piano, sometimes a flute and a pandeiro (a hand drum popular in Brazil). It’s beautifully played and arranged, giving a new perspective on how well an oboe can not only fit in this kind of music but also enhance it.

Track listing:

  1. C. Machado – PÉ DE MOLEQUE
  2. B. Lacerda, Pixinguinha & F. Oliveira – NACHELE TEMPO
  3. P. Da Viola & F. Costa – CHORO NEGRO
  4. C. Machado – QUEBRA QUEIXO
  5. C. Machado – ALGADAO DOCE
  6. J. Do Bandolim – DIABINHO MALUCO
  7. C. Machado- PACOCA
  8. C. Machado- SAMBOSSA
  9. A. Piazzolla – CAFÉ 1930
Here’s a little preview:
The album eased me in with a relaxing samba by Celso Machado, with an unexpected mellow and warm sound from the oboe, just flowing through the theme and its developments. We then get into a classic tango, titled Nachele Tempo, with piano, flute, guitar, oboe, and pandeiro: it’s a very refined arrangement, sophisticated while keeping the nature of the music, never over-sentimental.

The third track, Choro Negro, was a surprise: the only piece of the album without the guitar, it starts with a slow and jazzy piano introduction, the main theme is then introduced by the oboe, while the piano accompanies with a harmonically interesting second line; it’s then time for the piano to pick up the theme and the pace, slightly, just enough to seamlessly tie into the following oboe entrance. The end goes back to the main theme with the oboe, while Strauss’ Rosenkavalier pops up in the harmonic divergencies of the piano. Beautiful!

Quebra Queixo, by Celso Machado, is a charming, slightly more classical, piece: almost a rondeau with variations, it opens with a melancholic D minor theme, followed by more upbeat variations in major. Machado is also the author of the following piece, Algadao doce, which means cotton candy in Portuguese: just like cotton candy, the guitar is light and airy underneath a delicate melody offered by the oboe.

With Diabinho Maluco, by Jacob do Bandolim, we enter a vibrant atmosphere: it’s a fun and cheerful flute and oboe duet, with the help of a guitar and a pandeiro. The lead instruments alternate and intertwine, in an overlap that mixes Latin music rhetorical figures and sturdy German counterpoint.

Celso Machado is back with the next couple of tracks: Pacoca is quite melancholic, again in a rondeau form; even its most cheerful part goes inevitably back to the somberness of the main motive. Sambossa, on the other hand, took me back to the mellowness and easiness of the first track, with a few more clouds here and there.

The closing piece, Café 1930is by one of the most appreciated South-American composers, known mostly for his Tango music: Astor PiazzollaCafé 1930 was first published in 1986 as part of a suite of four pieces, titled l’Histoire du Tango, which retraced the key moments in history that changed the Tango: as per title, this piece depicts the Tango in the 1930s, when it was not danced anymore, but, rather, listened to; the tango became slower, more melancholic and with more complex harmonies. The oboe, replacing here the flute of the original composition, perfectly renders that melancholic atmosphere of the Parisian cafés, dripping smoke in a foggy evening of November.

Rosewood café: a word on the artists

MARGARET HERLEHY was born into a musical family in New Rochelle, NY in 1959. Growing up, she recalls an attic filled with her grandfather’s instruments as her experimental playground where she would spend hours figuring out popular tunes on them. At the suggestion of her middle school band director, she started playing the oboe and began playing professionally alongside her teacher Lois Wann at the age of 16. She continued her classical training at the University of Michigan but an interest in the avant-garde brought her back to NY and to Sarah Lawrence College where she connected with composer/clarinetist Meyer Kupferman and Catherine “Kitty” Rowe who introduced her to new music.
Upon relocating to New England, Margaret joined the faculty of Phillips Exeter Academy and later, the University of New Hampshire and enjoys working as a freelance artist performing in the Greater Boston Area. Reaching to extend her voice with the oboe she remains closely involved with searching for new works and collaborating with composers and artists. Margaret Herlehy’s performances of Brazilian Choro have been praised as “Powerfully intoxicating” by JAZZ LIVES. On Rosewood Café she brings her classical background to a long-held passion for the popular music of South America.

Mrs. Herlehy is brilliantly accompanied on this album by renown guitarist David Newsam, a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, pianist Henrique Eisenmann, flutist Fernando Brandao and percussionist Negah Santos.

Rosewood Café is available in CD and digital format on Amazon and all other major platforms.

Give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments!

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

Rosewood Café – Album review
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The symphonic Puccini https://www.artaxmusic.com/symphonic-puccini/ https://www.artaxmusic.com/symphonic-puccini/#respond Fri, 05 Jan 2018 12:05:10 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=32586/ ARTax - music rEvolution
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While Puccini's fame is certainly due to his operatic works, there are some minor and not-so-minor compositions that were not destined to the stage.

The symphonic Puccini
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S as in Symphonic: Puccini’s non-operatic works

 

“God told me to only write for the theater, and so I did” – This statement by Puccini is only partially true: while his success and fame are certainly due to his operatic works, there are some minor and not-so-minor compositions that were not destined to the stage.

Preludio sinfonico

This orchestra prelude was written by Puccini for an end-of-the-year test in 1882 at the conservatory in Milan. While most critics recognized the originality of some melodies, practically all of them labeled it as an immature attempt to this form, borrowing too much from Wagner and Ponchielli.

Filippo Filippi, one of the most influential critics of the time, found it a tad too long, adding to it that the music wasn’t really going anywhere (article on “La Perseveranza“, July 17, 1882).

From left to right: Alberto Franchetti, Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini in 1885 [1]

Another critic on “La Lombardia” writes that “Puccini in this Prelude for orchestra appears a bit unbalanced, restless, a bit too Ponchielli-like […]; however, it gives evidence of an eminently artistic nature. The last part of the Prelude is very rich and elegant”.

The Wagnerian influence is quite evident, drawing from Lohengrin and Tannhäuser: the melodic material is, however, undoubtedly Puccini. Part of this musical material was re-used in Edgar: the main theme in the terzet “Ultima speme, tu sei svanita” (act 2, first version of the opera); the second theme in “Io la mano un dì macchiai” (again, act 2, first version of the opera); another idea was used in the dialogue between Fidelia and her friends “Voi? – Sì, a chieder di te passammo” (act 4).

A few measures, cut from the prelude in the final versions, were used in Le Villi.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in the center of Milan, in a picture taken by Giacomo Brogi around 1880 when Puccini was studying at the conservatory

Capriccio sinfonico

While the Preludio sinfonico was received in a fairly cold way, the Capriccio sinfonico, written the following year, was a good success: presented as his graduation composition and conducted by the music director of La Scala Franco Faccio, it already shows quite a bit of the more mature Puccini. “I felt inspired and composed it at home, in the streets, in class…I wrote on odd sheets, bits of papers, and the margins of newspapers” Puccini told journalist Arnaldo Fraccaroli (who wrote 4 volumes on the composer’s life). The Capriccio, performed three times at the conservatory, gained immediate fame and was performed in important theaters like La Scala until Puccini himself completely withdrew it, removing the autograph score from the conservatory and refusing to publish it.

The capriccio is symphonic only in its title and in the fact that it has no singers: it, however, shows plenty of operatic ideas in its music and his fingerprints in the orchestration are uncanny. Most likely, Puccini recognized he could reuse the music for an opera and didn’t want the audience to hold this against him.

And that he did: part of it in Edgar, but most importantly in the opening of act 1 and 4 of La bohème. The Capriccio sinfonico was published only in 1978 and remains today one of the most famous compositions of Puccini outside of his operatic works.

Giacomo Puccini with his wife Elvira Bonturi, 1910

Crisantemi

The elegy I Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) was written in a single night in 1890 as a response to the death of his friend Amedeo, Duke of Savoy. Scored for a string quartet, it found its way in the performance halls throughout the twentieth century in an arrangement for string orchestra.

The Chrysanthemums are the flowers typically associated with death: the melancholic character of this piece was suitable enough for Puccini to be reused in the last act of Manon Lescaut.

Requiem

Not a tradition Requiem as we are used to, like Mozart’s or Verdi’s: this composition was written in a short span of time to commemorate Verdi on the fourth year of his death. It’s almost chamber music: written for choir, solo viola and organ it shows Puccini’s humbleness towards the great Verdi, of whom he was the artistic heir.

Giorgio Magri, the musicologist who rediscovered it in 1972, writes that this piece “was almost certainly written in one day [14.01.1905], in one go, but was thought ahead for the choice of the text and the scoring, extremely original”. It’s a short and intimate piece, a token of appreciation for the great musician of Busseto whose Aida started the sparkle of opera in Puccini’s heart, back in 1876.

Messa di Gloria

The title is already wrong, though now it’s the one that this work is known as: the original title was simply Messa or Messa a quattro voci. It’s a work that Puccini composed as an exercise in 1880, reusing a Credo written two years earlier as a standalone composition. It’s a complete mass and not just a Messa di Gloria (which includes only the Kyrie and the Gloria omitting the other canonical parts of a mass, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei).

Puccini never published the full manuscript; he did, however, reuse some of the musical material: the Agnus Dei in Manon Lescaut and the Kyrie in Edgar.

Piccolo tango

It’s a known fact that Puccini traveled to Argentina in 1905 trying to find more information about his little brother, Michele, who had emigrated in 1888 and had mysteriously died in 1891. While in Buenos Aires, Puccini attended a performance of Edgar and was honored with some 72 banquets. Naturally, he was exposed to the local music and this is how this little piece for piano came about a few years later.

Sogno d’or

A rare lullaby written in 1912 on a text by Carlo Marsili.

Bimbo, mio bimbo d’amor,
mentre tu dormi così
un angiol santo si parte lontan
per incontrarsi con te
sul candido origlier.
E t’avvolge di fiabe in un vol,
e ti narra di fate e tesor!
Bimbo d’amor, ecco il sogno d’or!

 

Calmo e molto lento

This piece was written in 1916 for a catalog to raise money for the families of the victims of World War I.

Written for piano solo, it practically disappeared from the performance halls.

Other compositions

Puccini’s catalog counts some 90 numbers, including his 12 operas. Many compositions are exercises of a student, while others are occasional works. While most of them disappeared, others were included in his operas: the famous waltz of Musetta from act two of La Bohéme, was, in fact, composed in 1894 as a standalone piece commissioned for a ceremony in which the Italian flag was presented to a new military ship.

The march Scossa elettrica was written for a world congress of telegraphists held in Como (Italy) in 1899, for the one-hundredth anniversary of the invention of the galvanic battery.

And then a few songs, fugues, musical jokes. Also, a hymn commissioned while he was in Argentina (Dios y Patria) and the more famous Inno a Roma, wrongly thought to be written for the fascist party, while, in fact, it had been commissioned to celebrate the Italian capital in 1918, four years before the fascists came to power. The fascist party did use it more often than not and that’s the main reason behind it being completely forgotten after World War II.

A full list of compositions can be found here.

Credits:

Featured image by Providence Doucet

Photo of Franchetti-Mascagni-Puccini by Adert (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

The symphonic Puccini
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5 great books on classical music for Christmas (or any other occasion) https://www.artaxmusic.com/5-books-classical-music/ https://www.artaxmusic.com/5-books-classical-music/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 10:35:38 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=32558/ ARTax - music rEvolution
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Need an extra idea for a gift? Take a look...

5 great books on classical music for Christmas (or any other occasion)
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5 ideas for a great gift around music

Need an idea for a special musical gift?

I’ve chosen 5 books among the ones I’ve read this year: all of them are around classical music (of course!); what they also have in common is the flowing of the writing and the easiness of the reading. So, whether you want something informative or a novel, take your pick and enjoy!

Language of the Spirit

By JAN SWAFFORD
For many, classical music is something serious, played by cultivated musicians at fancy gatherings. In this book, Jan Swafford argues just the opposite: classical music has something for everyone and is accessible to all. It’s what we tried to show in our last concert. Here, ranging from Gregorian chant to Handel’s Messiah, from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to the minimalism of Philip Glass, Swafford shows all his expertise in tracing the history of Western music, introducing the readers to the most important composers and compositions, and explaining the underlying structure and logic of their music in a language accessible to everyone.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

By KATE BAILEY

Opera is traditionally regarded as an elitist art form far removed from reality by its fantastical plots and melodramatic divas: it’s everything but. Each opera is a product of its own time and draws characters and situations from society and political and historical facts: but most of all it draws on essential human experiences, creating a form of art that can be endlessly reinvented to reflect a changing society. Featuring interviews to prominent stars like tenor Placido Domingo and conductor Antonio Pappano, this book focuses on seven opera premieres in different eras, going from Monteverdi all the way to Shostakovich.

Verdi: the man revealed

By JOHN SUCHET
Giuseppe Verdi remains one of the greatest, if not the greatest, operatic composer that Italy, the home of opera, has ever produced. Yet throughout his lifetime, he claimed to detest composing and repeatedly rejected it, at one point wanting to leave music for politics. He was a farmer and a symbol of Italian independence; he doubted himself in being able to write a proper fugue (an intricate type of composition mastered by Bach); he didn’t think he would have the energy or enough time left to write his last masterpiece. His life went through a century that changed all the equilibriums in the peninsula, united under one nation in 1861. His music reflects the story of Italy in that century.

When the world stopped to listen

By STUART ISACOFF 

This book is a great mix of narrative and history: American pianist Harvey Van Cliburn won the 1958 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow. The competition was to show the superiority of Russia on the United States, but in the middle of the cold war, a young American changed history with an 8 minutes long standing ovation after his performance in the final round of the competition. The judges had to ask for permission to award him the first prize directly to Nikita Chruščёv. In this thrilling book, Isacoff traces not just the career of one of the greatest pianists in history but also the world around him, the political, family and society events that first made him and later destroyed him.

Ghost Variations: The Strangest Detective Story in the History of Music

By JESSICA DUCHEN
This book was a surprise: based on historical facts, it’s the thrilling story of Schumann’s lost violin concerto and Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, one-time muse to composers such as Bartók, Ravel and Elgar. The story sets out in the 1930s with the Nazi rising and the great depression as a backdrop. While the violinist is contacted by the spirit of Robert Schuman himself, begging her to give the violin concerto his life back, the Nazi for their own reasons decide to do the same, giving way to a race to perform it before anyone else. The narrative is exquisite, and it just left me with wanting to turn the page to see how it was going to end.

Cover photo by rawpixel.com

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

5 great books on classical music for Christmas (or any other occasion)
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Puccini A to Z – R as in La Rondine https://www.artaxmusic.com/la-rondine-puccini/ https://www.artaxmusic.com/la-rondine-puccini/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 08:40:12 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=32315/ ARTax - music rEvolution
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La Rondine: an opera (not an operetta) built around dance that remains till today one of Puccini's less performed works.

Puccini A to Z – R as in La Rondine
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La rondine - Puccini A to Z

La Rondine

Every time Puccini finished an opera, he immediately started looking for a new subject. Given how picky he was and how difficult it was for him to find a suitable topic, his anxiety in this respect was fully justified. After La Fanciulla del West however, this attitude changed: he had established himself as an international composer (more than once), he had numerous operas staged all over the world and there was no sign of this coming to an end anytime soon. So, he took his time.

The generous offer of the Carltheater in Vienna to write an operetta made the composer face his first subject (ever) that was not derived from a piece of theater or literature – even though the story had more than one resemblance with Verdi’s La Traviata or Massenet’s Sapho. Puccini turned to Giuseppe Adami for a libretto, expressly asking for no spoken dialogues, turning the operetta into a full lyric comedy – a precious antidote to the war that had in the meantime exploded in Europe.

The war also annulled the contract with the Viennese theater and La Rondine was premiered in Monte Carlo on March 27, 1917, with Gilda Dalla Rizza, Tito Schipa and Francesco Dominici led by conductor Gino Marinuzzi. The Italian premiere followed in June, at the Teatro Comunale of Bologna.

The entire opera is mostly lighthearted and ironic, full of references to contemporary artists (like Gabriele D’Annunzio – alias the poet Prunier – or Richard Strauss – with a homage to Salomé). The glue of the whole work is the dance element: musically speaking what Richard Strauss did with the waltz in his Rosenkavalier only a few years earlier, Puccini did it in La Rondine. The waltz is present throughout the opera along other modern dances of the time, like the fox-trot or the tango, which was becoming increasingly popular in Europe.

The characters of La Rondine are apparently far away from Madama Butterfly or La bohème, moving around a cynical world where their main thought is partying and staying trendy: hence, the great number of dance-like movements in the opera.

Misconception

La Rondine is most likely Puccini’s biggest failure in terms of an opera being successful over time: this is largely due to the fact that it has always been considered more of an operetta than an opera when it’s everything but. Sure, it was commissioned as an operetta by the Carltheater, but it was never conceived as such by the composer. Labeling it as an operetta puts it in a tradition where it does not (and should not) fit.

The work is filled with melodies, two arias and a duet and, as previously mentioned, a lot of waltzes. The easiness of the melodies prompted critics to label the opera as superficial. Is it really so? Could it be that the melodies have been purposefully crafted that way to describe the superficiality of a society that was already no longer there?

Chi il bel sogno di Dorettais the most famous piece of the opera, probably even more famous than the opera itself and perhaps the only piece that exposes a “deeper” approach: it is on this piece, together with “Ore dolci e divine”,  that the entire dramatic arc of second and third act is built.

The second act builds up the feelings that swipe the characters away, so typical of Puccini’s operas: those feelings that take complete control of their carriers, pushing them to act without minimally thinking of the consequences, a trait that’s common to Magda, Butterfly, Mimí and that will lead Magda to leave Paris. The waltz is still there, naturally, but it gets more and more complex in the orchestration and culminates in a concertato that was typical of the 19th century operas (another reminder to something that had once been great): first Ruggero, with some interjections from Magda, then Lisette and Prunier, then the choir adds to the quartet while the orchestra builds up underneath.

The musical reminders are a constant throughout the opera, reflecting the attitude of the characters to live in the past rather than the present: in the third act the two lovers are in Southern France, three months after the second act, but the underline music is still the Parisian waltz, which eventually lures Magda into leaving the province to go back to the city and her old life. When she does leave Ruggero, the strings play an ascending motive: the swallow has flown away.

La Rondine – Synopsis

Paris and the French Riviera
Mid-19th century

Act 1

Magda’s salon, Paris

Magda, the young lover of rich banker Rambaldo, is discussing the latest Parisian trend: romantic love. Left alone with her girlfriends Magda confesses the passion she once had for a young guy and the desire to feel it again. Ruggero, a friend of Rambaldo, comes in and the discussion shifts towards the best way to spend a night out in the French capital: while Magda converses with the poet Prunier, the girls suggest to Ruggero to spend the night at a very trendy place named Bullier.

In the evening, Magda decides to visit Bullier herself, without suspecting that her maid Lisetta, dressed up in Magda’s clothes and accompanied by her lover Prunier, has decided to do the same.

Act 2

At the Bullier

Ruggero is bored. Magda comes in and sits at his table, introducing herself as Paulette: they hit it off right away and their feelings towards each other grow stronger by the minute. Prunier and Lisette enter: Lisette seems to recognize Magda in Ruggero’s date, but Prunier – who understood the situation – reassures her that she is not. They join Magda/Paulette and Ruggero, but soon Rambaldo comes on the scene: Prunier would want Magda to leave, but she is determined to face the situation and confesses to Rambaldo her true feelings. The banker leaves elegantly and she rejoins with Ruggero.

Act 3

The French Riviera

Magda and Ruggero moved together to southern France: Ruggero, ignoring Magda’s past, writes to his mother asking for permission to marry her; Magda’s embarrassment grows. Prunier and Lisette enter and the poet reassures Magda that Rambaldo is still in love with her. Ruggero’s mother gives her blessing to the wedding, at which point Magda has to come clean with Ruggero. Despite Ruggero’s will to forgive and forget, Magda leaves him to go back to Paris and to her old life.

Final thoughts

When La Rondine was first presented to the audience, it was generally well received, but critiques were not sparse either. What didn’t convince was the fact that it was neither an opera nor an operetta: sure, the first two acts are filled of music and beautiful orchestration as much as other Puccini’s masterpieces; however, the action doesn’t really evolve and it’s difficult for the audience to identify themselves in any of the characters: Ruggero certainly is not as charming of a role as Cavaradossi and Magda, whose main problem remains money, is not Mimí or Cio-cio-san.

Puccini himself was not satisfied with the ending of the opera: he changed the score more than once and a new production was mounted in Palermo in 1920. But even then he was not satisfied. Unfortunately, he died before deciding on a definitive version.

Today, La Rondine is enjoying a sort of revival with more productions around the world. It remains, though, for all the reasons above, a sort of little sister of the other Puccini’s operas.

A list of recordings can be found here.

Sources and resources:

La Rondine received its American premiere only in 1928, at the Metropolitan of New York with Beniamino Gigli as Ruggero: the reviews can be found here.

 

“Puccini: His Life and Works by Julian  Budden, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002  – [qui la versione in Italiano]

Il caso La Rondine” by Alfredo Mandelli

L’universo di Puccini da Le Villi a Turandot” by Alberto Cantù

 

Cover photo by Vincent van Zalinge

Post photos Simon MatzingerArdian LumiLéonard Cotte

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

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Puccini A to Z – Q as in Quando m’en vo’ https://www.artaxmusic.com/quando-men-vo-puccini-poetic-boheme/ https://www.artaxmusic.com/quando-men-vo-puccini-poetic-boheme/#respond Mon, 20 Nov 2017 08:40:48 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=32249/ ARTax - music rEvolution
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Poetic, aesthetic, real life: how much more than (just?) pretty melodies is in La Bohème? How did Puccini work on the original Murger's work?

Puccini A to Z – Q as in Quando m’en vo’
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Quando m'en vo': the poetic of La Bohème

Quando m’en vo’

The poetic of La Bohème

Puccini liked to compose with a lot of friends around, in total confusion: something he had in common with Richard Strauss and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Painter Ferruccio Pagni, a full-time member of club La bohème, was present when Puccini finished the opera:

That evening, while we were playing [cards], Giacomo was composing the last measures of the opera

–  Silence! – he said at one point – I’m done!

We left the cards and moved closer to him…

–  Now I’ll play it for you: this is a good ending

And he started from Mimí’s line “Sono andati…”. While Puccini was playing and singing that music made of small pauses, light touches, anguish, breathlessness, sighing, filled with a subtle melancholy and a dramatic deepness, we were completely raptured by it; and we were seeing the scene and feeling all that human torment, because here really the expression has returned to its origins and eternal substance: Pain.

When the chords of death came down, a shiver went through all of us and none of us could stop weeping. The soave fanciulla, our Mimí, was lying cold on her little bed and we would have never heard her sweet and tender voice again. We had a vision: “Rodolfo”, “Marcello”, “Schaunard”, “Colline” were our figures and we their reincarnation, “Mimí” our lover from a past or a dream, and all that pain was our own pain.

Even without the rhetoric of the time, Pagni’s testimony enlightens us once more on how much of his own reality Puccini poured in his opera: he had lived his own bohème as a poor student, in Milan; even though he was doing much better, the memory was still fresh in his mind. His friends became characters on stage: Puccini himself was Rodolfo, Pagni was Colline, Cecco Gragnani was Marcello. The entire company of Club la Bohème was there. But all of it was seen with a sort of distance, from an artistic point of view, aided, naturally, by the verses of the libretto.

Quando m'en vo': the poetic of La Bohème

The importance of the verses

Puccini took into great consideration the verses of the libretto and their rhythm. However, unlike most opera composers of the 19th century, not every bar of music was generated by the words and he always asked for changes that used to drive his librettists crazy. The collaboration with Illica and Giacosa worked out because both librettists realized the genius of Puccini, largely thanks to his editor Giulio Ricordi, always busy in trying to balance different artistic personalities. Usually, the trio would proceed in steps[1]:

  1. Reducing the drama to a suitable libretto – Illica and Puccini
  2. Musical drafts with suggestions for the verses – Puccini
  3. Versification – Giacosa
  4. Composition and orchestration – Puccini
  5. Dramatic fine-tuning – Illica and Puccini
  6. Poetical fine-tuning – Illica, Giacosa, Puccini
  7. Musical fine-tuning – Puccini 

Puccini used to form an idea of sound in his head to wrap his characters or a specific situation on stage, or more simply already had a suitable theme or melody to use. If the music was working fine, the verses would need to adapt to the music. It’s the case of the famous “cocoricó-cocoricó-bistecca“, which in Italian doesn’t mean anything and was sent as a rhythmical trace for the aria of Musetta “Quando m’en vo’“. Illica’s and Giacosa’s tables were flooded with these kinds of requests.

It goes without saying that it could be extremely frustrating for the two librettists to have to deal with this on a regular basis: to the point that Giacosa threatened to pull out more than once. Only Ricordi managed to convince him to stay after playing Puccini’s score at the piano for him.

Puccini - the poetic of La Bohème
Puccini - the poetic of La Bohème

The making of a drama

As it turned out, refining the verses was the least of issues: much more problematic was reducing Murger’s work to a drama. The Scènes de Bohème had not been conceived originally as a novel but as a series of short separate stories (published on Le Corsaire Satan between 1845 and 1849): the novel only came in 1851 with the title Scènes de la vie de Bohème. Puccini and his librettists claim they based the libretto on this and not on the early short stories. However, in both Murger’s works, the characters of Mimí and Musetta were very much alike and there was the need for a tight dramatic arc that would allow to logically build an opera out of it.

Sure the subject was of great relevance in Italy where the verismo movement was having an enormous success: Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana was becoming so popular that Puccini himself had travelled to Sicily to meet Giovanni Verga (the author of the homonym novella) to talk about making an opera out of another tale of the Sicilian writer, La Lupa – a project that never saw the light as Puccini was not convinced of the characters. Another verismo composer had put his eyes on Murger’s work and had already started working on it, Ruggero Leoncavallo.

The time lost after La Lupa and the querelle with Leoncavallo were just the tip of the iceberg: what really took time and a lot of effort was the dramaturgy of the piece; Illica was thorough and attentive to the details (though not as much as Leoncavallo): he cut one male role (the character of Barbemouche) and disseminated the libretto of references to the original work; the name of the magazine Rodolfo is editor of (Il Castoro), Marcello’s painting (Il mar rosso), the moment in which Mimí loses the key to her room.

Refining the structure

However, the overall structure was different from what we’ve come to know: the first quadro was split in two, the first part in the garret and the second in the Latin neighborhood; then La Barriere d’Enfer and finally the garret again. Between these last two acts, there was another one conceived to better show the audience the breakup between Mimí and Rodolfo: it was supposed to be a party organized by Musetta in her courtyard. Puccini opposed it fiercely: another mass scene, another party, it was all too similar to the previous act and would have created a double of the Latin neighborhood scene, growing the opera out of proportions. The first act was split into two giving the opera the formal and beautiful geometry of opposition, the first two acts being lighthearted and joyful and the last two being somber and grievous.

The ever-present Ricordi had his sayings too: his was the suggestion, for instance, to have Musetta sing in the third act the same waltz theme from act two, only off stage; he also pushed Illica to cut on redundant historical details increasing the neat brevity of the action and making the characters and their stories universal.

Finally, in 1895, after much doing, undoing and redoing, Puccini was satisfied with the dramatic canvas. Giacosa was working on the verses, and, as mentioned above, that caused more work. But none of this comes out in Puccini’s music, or in the libretto, where everything seems to flow naturally and flawlessly.

Puccini - the poetic of La Bohème

Mimí: the voice of innocence

The characters underwent various revisions as well, particularly the female ones: in Murger’s work Mimí and Musetta are very much alike, material and fickle. Apparently inspired by a woman named Lucile, in Chapter XIV of the novel, Mimí is described as follows:

Her face seemed the first sketch of an aristocratic countenance, but her features,extremely fine in outline, and as it were, softly lit up by the light of her clear blue eyes, wore, at certain moments of weariness or ill-humor, an expression of almost savage brutality, in which a physiologist would perhaps have recognized the indication of profound egotism or great insensibility.

Of course, this would have been unacceptable in the opera: the audience needs someone to root for, someone honest: we then forgive Mimí for her brief breakup with Rodolfo, justified by the fact that she wants to protect him. This is not the character of Mimí in Murger’s work, it’s the character of Francine, a peripheral and somewhat marginal episode in the novel. But it is Francine that inspires the Mimí of the opera, her pureness, sadness and doomed fate: an ideal of feminine on stage, delicate and fragile, and yet passionate.  

Musetta: the voice of fire

Stripped of almost all her coquettishness, Mimí needed someone to balance her character out; this is how Musetta is described in the novel:

Mademoiselle Musette was a pretty girl of twenty who shortly after her arrival in Paris had become what many pretty girls become when they have a neat figure, plenty of coquettishness, a dash of ambition and hardly any education. After having for a long time shone as the star of the supper parties of the Latin Quarter, at which she used to sing in a voice, still very fresh if not very true, a number of country ditties, which earned her the nickname under which she has since been immortalized by one of our neatest rhymsters, Mademoiselle Musette suddenly left the Rue de la Harpe to go and dwell upon the Cytherean heights of the Breda district. She speedily became one of the foremost of the aristocracy of pleasure and slowly made her way towards that celebrity which consists in being mentioned in the columns devoted to Parisian gossip, or lithographed at the printsellers.

It certainly seems very close to the character portrayed by Puccini: Musetta’s fiery temperament is antithetical to Mimí’s shyness: her entrance is the entrance of a diva on the stage and is everything but subtle. She’s loud, proud, ostentatious, she wants all eyes on her while she does as she pleases with everything and everyone. Her entire persona is immortalized in one of the most famous arias of the opera: Quando m’en vo’

Quando m’en vo soletta per la via,
la gente sosta e mira
e la bellezza mia tutta ricerca in me,
Da capo a piè.

Ed assaporo allor la bramosia
sottil che da gli occhi traspira
e dai palesi vezzi intender sa
alle occulte beltà.

Così l’effluvio del desìo tutta m’aggira,
felice mi fa!

E tu che sai, che memori e ti struggi,
da me tanto rifuggi?

So ben:
le angoscie tue non le vuoi dir,
non le vuoi dir, so ben,
ma ti senti morir!

When I walk all alone in the street
people stop and stare at me
and examine my beauty
from head to foot.

And then I savor the cravings
which from their eyes transpires
and from the obvious charms they perceive
the hidden beauties.

So the scent of desire is all around me,
happy it makes me!

And you who know, remembers and yearns
you shrink from me?

I know why this is:
You do not want to tell me of your anguish,
You don’t want to tell me, I know,
But you feel like dying!

The lusciousness of the lines wraps Musetta’s role as the bad girl, a flaky and egoistical coquette opposed to the good girl model of Mimí. However, the appearance of a bad girl hides a sweet nature which we learn to appreciate in the finale of the opera. Mimí herself points out her goodness to Marcello, and when she expresses the desire to have muffs to keep her hands warm, Musetta offers to sell her earrings to pay for it. She even becomes pious, praying sottovoce for Mimí. A definitive transformation from the original Musetta.

Final thoughts

There is so much more to La Bohème than just pretty melodies: the power of the story and the universality of the characters made it such that it became one of the most performed operas ever. There is a part of all of us in those people: our flaws and our merits, our daily struggles, or, simply, our battle to remain human in spite of everything we have to face.

Source and resources:

[1] Michele Girardi: Puccini: His International Art, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 99-144 [qui la versione in Italiano]

 

Cover photo by Cristian Newman

Post photos by Louis BlytheViktoria Hall-WaldhauserZachary NelsonPeyman NaderiElias Schupmann

 

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

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Puccini A to Z – P as in Pascoli https://www.artaxmusic.com/pascoli-puccini/ https://www.artaxmusic.com/pascoli-puccini/#respond Wed, 01 Nov 2017 09:44:52 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=32157/ ARTax - music rEvolution
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Giovanni Pascoli was one of the greatest Italian poets: an emblem of decadent poetry, his desire to collaborate with Puccini never materialized

Puccini A to Z – P as in Pascoli
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Giovanni Pascoli lived in Barga, in the province of Lucca, not far from Torre del Lago where Puccini had his residence

P as in Pascoli and Puccini

As we know, Puccini was always very picky when it came to finding a new story to set to music: his biggest failure was Edgar, at least partially due to the libretto, yes, but also to the fact that he could never fall in love with the hero. A mistake he swore to make never again. Finding great artists to collaborate with was not the problem: the problem was finding the right artist with the right story.  It’s in this canvas that the collaboration between Puccini and one of the greatest Italian poets of all times, Giovanni Pascoli, tried to come to life.

Pascoli, a great admirer of the composer, wanted to write for the theater but due to different circumstances and, most likely, to the impossibility of finding a common ground, the collaboration never materialized.

Giovanni Pascoli (1855–1912) was one of the greatest poets in Italian history and, along with Gabriele D’Annunzio, the emblem of decadent poetry.

Il Fanciullinoa sort of personal manifesto published in 1897, shows an idea of poetry as an intimate thing, geared towards the everyday life and the praise of the childhood qualities inherent to every human being. Pascoli shows in his works idealistic and spiritual tendencies, typical of the end of the 19th century.

A great opera lover, Pascoli used the few pennies he had as a student to go the theater and when he took his sister Ilda in his house, he celebrated by taking her and the other sister, Maria, to the opera.

In 1895 Giovanni Pascoli had rented a house near Barga, in the province of Lucca, where he moved with his sister Maria; Pascoli bought the house in 1902 where he lived until his premature death in 1912. This period was one of the most creative in his life.

The first document attesting a contact between Pascoli and Puccini dates back to 1897: with the help of some common friends, Pascoli let Puccini know that he was interested in writing for the theater; on his end, Puccini let him know that a future collaboration could have been possible after he was finished with Tosca. At the end of the same year, Puccini commissioned Pascoli an epigraph for a close friend, Guglielmo Lippi, who had died prematurely.

From the memoires “Lungo la vita di Giovanni Pascoli”, by Augusto Vicinelli, it appears that Puccini

Giovanni Pascoli

Giovanni Pascoli

was to visit Pascoli already in November of 1902, along with the painter Nomellini, but there are no details or proof that it ever happened. In early 1903 Puccini announced a visit to Barga, but the car accident got in the way and the trip was canceled. Pascoli sent him a heartfelt get well card, which Puccini appreciated. A few months later, he commissioned Pascoli with a sonnet to be published with an image of the composer surrounded by his female heroines, a promotional idea of his editor, Ricordi.

 

1903 came and went, with Puccini forced to remain in Torre del Lago busy with the completion of Madama Butterfly. The flop of the Japanese tragedy at La Scala on February 17, 1904, triggered the most famous testimony of how close Pascoli felt to Puccini. The poet wrote a prophetic poem:

Caro nostro e grande Maestro,
la farfallina volerà:
ha l’ali sparse di polvere,
con qualche goccia qua e là,
gocce di sangue, gocce di pianto…
Vola, vola, farfallina,
a cui piangeva tanto il cuore;
e hai fatto piangere il tuo cantore…
Canta, canta, farfallina,
con la tua voce piccolina,
col tuo stridire di sogno,
fievole come il sonno
soave come l’ombra,
dolce come una tomba,
all’ombra dei bambù
a Nagasaki e a Cefù.

Dear beloved and great Maestro,
the little butterfly will fly:
its wings are covered in dust,
with some drops here and there,
drops of blood, drops of tear.
Fly, fly, little butterfly,
your heart was weeping so;
and you made your maker weep.
Sing, sing, little butterfly,
with your little voice,
with the screaming of your dream,
light as sleep,
sweet as darkness,
kind as grave,
in the shadow of bamboos,
in Nagasaki and in Cefù.

Puccini promptly replied: “Dear great poet, I’ve read your card with great joy and I thank you for it. I too have faith in the flying of Cio Cio San!“.

 

Opposite lifestyles

 

It would have been another four years before Puccini went to Barga: his first visit there is documented by a 1908 picture, his second from another picture dating 1911, one year before Pascoli’s death. Both pictures were taken in Pascoli’s house, Puccini elegant as always, Pascoli looking like a depressed farmer, as always.

Truth is that the romantic idea of two great minds being great friends doesn’t quite find any substantial proof: there is very little correspondence between Pascoli and Puccini and even though they respected each other, their respective views of life were utterly different.

Pascoli retreated to the mountains, enjoying nature and its tranquillity, finding his way back to the innocence of childhood, living with his two sisters. Puccini liked nature for hunting; he enjoyed drinking, smoking, playing cards, women; he liked to have his friends around while composing. The mindsets of the two were opposite: Pascoli was an introvert, mostly keeping to himself; he could have never fitted in Club La bohème.

Moreover, both Puccini and Pascoli were not young artists anymore, but famous and popular ones: the first time they met, Puccini was 50 years old and Pascoli 53; Puccini had already written most of his masterpieces, from Manon Lescaut to La bohème to Tosca to Madama Butterfly; Pascoli had published Myricae (1892) and I canti di Castelvecchio (1903), his two most famous collections of poems. They were both at a point where compromising on many things would not have been possible.

A missed collaboration

 

Both artists had understood that: despite the reciprocal respect, they knew that the ways they envisioned art and life were, in fact, opposite to one another. Pascoli’s poetry is musical, evocative, rich of anguish and child-like awe; he finds the musicality through the words, breaking up with the tradition in order to find new and free ways to connect with the soul.

In a way, this can be said for Puccini as well, at least partially: he would never send anything out to the audience which wasn’t aimed to touch its soul. However, as Verdi himself had pointed out, Puccini was the bridge between tradition and innovation. Even though Madama Butterfly is the opera that breaks the patterns (preparing for La Fanciulla del West), it doesn’t go in the direction of Pascoli’s poetry: the innocence of the child is there in Cio Cio San, but not as something to go back to, rather as something that will be inevitably broken.

The poetry of Pascoli is rich of musicality, yes; but musicality does not mean “musicability”  in the sense of being apt to be set to music: a poem is made of small verses, singing to themselves, serving themselves in order to create their own private universe; and it is, in its form, bound to be concise. An opera libretto is a long list of verses, where the words need to be practical in order to serve the action, the stage.

Pascoli with his sisters

Pascoli with his sisters Ida and Maria, ca. 1890

Pascoli’s best and most renowned works remain the ones from Myricae and from I canti di Castelvecchio where he’s pacified by the sounds, the colors, the smells of his childhood, trying to make sense of the injustices of life, like the murder of his father. Where Puccini takes the bull by the horns, going into the world with a larger-than-life attitude, Pascoli retreats to the mountains, trying to recreate with his two sisters the serene microcosm of his early years. The melancholic tendencies of Pascoli are marked by his life events (and by his background in Latin and Greek where tragedy certainly was not sparse) and carry a sense of inevitability without any charm. Puccini’s melancholy is much more romantic, and rich of small every-day-life details: the pink bonnet in La Bohème, along with the snow, the friends, the lack of money but the richness of the heart: it’s a more practical and less philosophical approach.

Between the most likely impossible collaboration between the two artists, came, also, life: Puccini was traveling more and more while Pascoli was going down the vortex of depression and alcoholism. Diagnosed with hepatic cirrhosis, the poet dies in 1912. Puccini was present at the funeral and, together with Nomellini, a few months later at a commemoration in Barga. The respect for a great artist never died.

Sources and resources:

Fondazione Giovanni Pascoli

Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini

Lungo la vita di Giovanni Pascoli by Augusto Vicinelli, Mondadori 1961

Claudia Antonello Pastorino: Pascoli e Puccini, due poetiche distanti

 

Cover photo by Lionel Gustave

Background photo by Kira auf der Heide

Giovanni Pascoli, via Wikimedia Commons

Pascoli with his sisters, via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

Puccini A to Z – P as in Pascoli
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Smile: it’s opera https://www.artaxmusic.com/smile-its-opera/ https://www.artaxmusic.com/smile-its-opera/#comments Fri, 20 Oct 2017 11:53:33 +0000 https://www.artaxmusic.com/?p=32163/ ARTax - music rEvolution
ARTax - music rEvolution - Contemporary classical music theater

Join us on December 6th for a great evening with soprano Violetta Lazin, tenor Alex Vicens, baritone Wiebe Pier-Cnossen and pianist Juan Zurutuza.

Smile: it’s opera
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ARTax - music rEvolution
ARTax - music rEvolution - Contemporary classical music theater

Smile: it's opera

We are thrilled to announce our upcoming operatic concert “Smile: it’s opera” in our home city of The Hague.

In collaboration with the McCray Studio, this popular highlights concert­ features the rare treat of hearing singers, as they showcase some of the biggest and most beloved opera arias and duets, in addition to timeless Neapolitan classics, Spanish zarzuela, and world premiere pieces.

One of ARTax founders Violetta Lazin and a Dutch Baritone Wiebe Pier-Cnossen will be joined by international guest star tenor Alex Vicens, performing selections from the most popular operas of Verdi, Puccini, Giordano, Cilea etc. accompanied by Juan Zurutuza at the piano.

Maestro Gianmaria Griglio will set his baton aside for an evening and skillfully lead the audience through the wonderful world of opera.

Save the date!

 

When: Dec. 6th, 2017 starting at 19.30

Where: Het Nutshuis – Riviervismarkt 5, 2513 AM Den Haag

Het Nutshuis

Violetta Lazin, soprano

Violetta Lazin, soprano

Born to a family with its roots in opera and theater she studied piano from the age of six. At 16 she had already won a First Prize and a Special Prize for Interpretation in a National Singing Competition of Yugoslavia and Third Prize at the International Competition Petar Konjovic.

Alex Vicens, tenor

Alex Vicens, tenor

Born in Barcelona, he studied music at the Conservatorio del Liceu. Later he studied four years with Matilda Pincas. Álex Vicens participated as a student in master classes with the eminent tenors Carlo Bergonzi, Jaume Aragall and Alfredo Krauss and is currently studying with James McCray.

Wiebe Pier-Cnossen, baritone

Wiebe Pier-Cnossen, baritone

In 2003 he graduated summa cum laude from the New Opera Academy in Amsterdam. He followed masterclasses and private lessons with a.o. Ian Bostridge, Mark Tucker, Christina Deutekom, Henk Smit, Robert Dean and is currently being coached by James McCray.

Juan Zurutuza, pianist

Juan Zurutuza, pianist

Mexican pianist Juan Zurutuza has given concerts throughout Europe and North America. His musical education began at the age of 4 with Susana Avendaño and Gastón Lafourcade, with whom he studied piano and harpsichord. For two years he was a student of Guadalupe Parrondo in Mexico City.

Reserve your place

Violetta Lazin, soprano

Born to a family with its roots in opera and theater she studied piano from the age of six. At 16 she had already won a First Prize and a Special Prize for Interpretation in a National Singing Competition of Yugoslavia and Third Prize at the International Competition Petar Konjovic.

Her early concert performances include venues such as Kolarac National University, Belgrade National Opera Serbian National Theater and Sombor National Theater where she made her debut performance with the National Army Orchestra under the baton of maestro Angel Shurev at the age of 17.

She studied acting at the BK University in Belgrade in a class of prof. Rade Markovic.

In 1999 she came to the Netherlands to continue her studies at The McCray International Studio of Vocal Arts. Miss Lazin made her opera debut in the Netherlands in 2001 as Lola in Mascagni´s Cavalleria Rusticana alongside Frank van Aken. She also holds a bachelor and master degree in Music and Theater at the Fontys Conservatory in Tilburg in the class of E. Hoepelman.

As a student she took part in much-acclaimed productions of Koen van Dijk in Sondheim´s: Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd. In 2005 she was to be seen in Amsterdam, Tilburg and Gent as Carmen in Bizet/Brook production of Tragedie de Carmen directed by M. Krone.

Never feeling compelled to choose between opera and classic theater miss Lazin has been active in both. Her opera resume includes: Bizet Carmen (Carmen), Rossini: L´Italiana in  Algeri (Isabella), Verdi: La Forza del Destino (Preziosilla), Rigoletto (Maddalena) , Aida (Amneris), Don Carlos (Eboli).

(Musical)Theater: The Forth Sister (Tanja) Backspace (Mother), Swinging Miss Christmas Disaster (Blush), Blik (Diva), The Man of La Mancha (Aldonza); Into the Woods (Witch) and Sweeney Todd (Beggar Woman)

She performed, as a soloist under conductors such as:  I. Toplak, A. Shurev, P. Slamilish,, H. Cnossen in venues such as Belgrade National Theater, Serbian National Theater Novi Sad,Qatar Theater-Doha, De Dulen Rotterdam and Elisabeth Zaal Antwerp, Toneelgroep de Appel, ALBA Theaterhuis, Oerol Festival, Serbian and Spanish National Television.

Miss Lazin inherited love for the classical lied form her mother, well renowned lied interpreter in Yugoslavia, and as such continued the tradition performing (mostly) Serbian, Spanish, Russian repertore. From 2010 she forms a duo with the Mexican pianist Juan Zurutuza.

In 2010 miss Lazin slowly introduced roles of the young dramatic soprano Verdi Aida (Aida), Un Ballo in Maschera (Amelia), Puccini Tosca (Tosca), Suor Angelica (Angelica) to her repertoire -according to the critique with great success

In 2013 Miss Lazin was to be seen in the title role of the world premiere of Camille Claudel by Gianmaria Griglio in Italy. 2014 brought amongst others a role premiere of Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo . In 2015 Miss Lazin was to be seen as Amelia in Verdi’s: Un Ballo in Maschera throughout Spain (Malaga, Murcia, Zaragosa, Cartagena etc).

In 2016 together with her partner Italian conductor and composer Gianmaria Griglio she founded ARTax Music based in The Hague Netherlands. The company already had several projects amongst which a slice-of-life-cabaret performance of My Name is: WOMAN: the show, performed also during the Amsterdam Fringe Festival 2016, received 4 stars from Theaterkrant.nl.

Her teachers until this date remain prof. Prizrenka Petkovic McCray and James McCray.

Learn more about Violetta on her website.

Alex Vicens, tenor

Born in Barcelona, he studied music at the Conservatorio del Liceu. Later he studied four years with Matilda Pincas. Álex Vicens participated as a student in master classes with the eminent tenors Carlo Bergonzi, Jaume Aragall and Alfredo Krauss. And he continues his training at Indiana University, where he completed his studies with the interpretation of Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor. He is currently working on his new projects with the prestigious soprano Virginia Zeani in W.P. Beach U.S., the great tenor Jaume Aragall in Barcelona, soprano Matilda Pincas in Sofia, Bulgaria and tenor James McCray in The Hague.

Among the many awards received include: 1st prize in the contest Lieder Tzvetana Dyackovitch in Sofia (Bulgaria), 2nd prize at the Male Singer Contest of the Gran Teatro del Liceo Foundation (Barcelona), the Placido Domingo Award at the best Spanish singer, the Francesc Viñas Award at the best singer of Zarzuela in Barcelona (Spain). At the Staatstheater in Schwerin (Germany) he received the Medal of Merit Friedrich von Floto.

Among his performances highlights:
Rodolfo in La Bohème, Don Carlos, Duca in Rigoletto, Verdi’s Requiem, Werther at the eponymous opera, in the belcantístico repertoire, Nemorino in Elisir d’amore, Tebaldo in Capuleti e i Montecchi, Edgardo in Lucia, in the Spanish repertoire Fernando in Dña. Francisquita, Leandro in La Tabernera del Puerto and Jorge in Marina, an Opera from E. Arrieta, always getting a great reception from critics and audiences.

He sings regularly at many relevant venues such as Massimo Bellini di Catania, Stuttgart’s Staatsoper, Hannover’s Staatsoper, Baden Baden Festpielhaus, Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, Tiroler Landes Theater Innsbruck, Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid, Auditorio Nacional de Madrid, Palm Beach Opera and National Concert Hall of Budapest, Welsh National Opera, Opera HAZ of Budapest, Teatro de la Maestranza and Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona.

Learn more about Alex on his website.

Wiebe Pier-Cnossen, baritone

After graduating as a Jazz singer at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague (Netherlands), he continued his studies in the Hague in the Classical Music Department. In 2003 he graduated summa cum laude from the New Opera Academy in Amsterdam.

He followed masterclasses and private lessons with a.o. Ian Bostridge, Mark Tucker, Christina Deutekom, Henk Smit, Robert Dean and is currently being coached by James McCray.

He works with different orchestras and opera companies, a.o The Dutch National Opera, the Nationale Reisopera of the Netherlands, Opera Trionfo, Het Zuidelijk Toneel, Nationaal Toneel, Holland Opera, Barokopera Amsterdam, The Hague Philharmonic, the Doelen Ensemble and the ASKO-Schönberg Ensemble. He also participated in a number of diversified productions at festivals in Germany and France.

Some of the roles that Wiebe Pier has performed are both Il Conte Almaviva and Figaro in ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’(Mozart), Don Giovanni in ‘Don Giovanni’ (Mozart), Escamillo in Carmen (Bizet), Giacomo in Giovanna d’Arco (Verdi), Alfio in ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ (Mascagni), Zurga in ‘Pêcheurs des Perles’ (Bizet) and Pizarro in ‘Fidelio’ (Beethoven).

He sang in different world premiers of contemporary operas such as Styx (2007) by Chiel Meijering, Pa pa pa Vrouw vrouw vrouw (2008) by Klaas de Vries and Wake (2010) by the same composer.

Wiebe Pier also performs well-known concert repertoire such as the St. Matthew’s Passion (Bach), Schöpfung (Haydn) and currently he is singing the Russian song cycle ‘Silent Songs’ by Valentin Silvestrov in theatres in the Netherlands.

Wiebe-Pier has been working as a voice teacher at the Conservatory of Amsterdam.

Most recently Wiebe-Pier sang the role of Pizarro (Fidelio – Beethoven) with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and the title role in Don Giovanni (Mozart) at the Operas d’Été festival in Bretagne.

Learn more about Wiebe on his website.

Juan Zurutuza, pianist

Mexican pianist Juan Zurutuza has given concerts throughout Europe and North America. His musical education began at the age of 4 with Susana Avendaño and Gastón Lafourcade, with whom he studied piano and harpsichord. For two years he was a student of Guadalupe Parrondo in Mexico City.

With the support of a major scholarship from Alejandro Nogués, Roalcom NEXTEL, Juan was able to continue his studies in the Netherlands, where he has been based since 2001. He obtained his Master’s degree in 2008 from the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague under the tutelage of Rian de Waal. Subsequently, he studied for a year with American pianist Edith Grosz-Lateiner.

Having followed masterclasses and worked with many of today’s eminent musicians, those who have deeply influenced Juan’s playing include Miroslav Brejcha, Ivan Moravec, Igor Roma, Leslie Howard, Godfried Hoogeveen, Charles Rosen and James McCray.

In addition to regular recitals in the Netherlands, Juan performs both solo and chamber music concerts annually at the Peter de Grote Festival, Groningen, where he is also a member of the teaching faculty. Juan’s career in Europe would not have been possible without the generous support he has received from Cora and Herman Labberté (Stichting Labberté-Hoedemaker Fonds). Since 2011 he has had a beautiful grand piano on loan to him from the Nationaal Muziekinstrumenten Fonds Amsterdam.

“This ‘above-board’ romantic places the notes in colourful waves with fantasy” De Telegraaf, the Netherlands
“Juan a toutes les qualités pour espérer en une grande carrière de pianiste, tant par ses ressources instrumentales -exceptionnelles- que par ses dons musicaux absolument surprenants”. Aldo Ciccolini

Learn more about Juan on his website.

Reserve your place

Smile: it’s opera
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