The Marriage of Figaro’s Act IV Finale: Love’s Triumph Over Folly

In Mozart’s hands, the operatic finale becomes a dramatic and compositional tour de force. In a previous post, we explored the complex counterpoint and unstoppable forward motion of the Act II Finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which as the writer Charles Rosen points out, “moves from duet, through trio, quartet, and quintet to septet in a magnificently symmetrical tonal scheme.” Mozart’s music encapsulates the distinct personality and inner thoughts and emotions of …

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Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”: Prelude and Liebestod

Culturally and aesthetically, Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde was a game changer. From the moment the opera premiered at Munich’s National Theatre on June 10, 1865 (155 years ago this week), it elicited fervent and wildly conflicting reactions. Friedrich Nietzsche described “a lasting sense of ecstasy,” and proclaimed the work to be “the real opus metaphysicum of all art…[inspiring] insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death…it is overpowering in its …

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“Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s “Xerxes”

George Frederick Handel seems to have had an affinity for expansive, majestic melodies. Consider the stately opening movement of the Violin Sonata in D Major, HWV 371, or the regal splendor we encounter in so many movements of the Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.  Perhaps there is no better example than Ombra mai fu (“Never was a shade”), the opening aria from Handel’s 1738 opera, Xerxes, or Serse as it was known in Italian. The aria’s setting is a lush garden …

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Three Excerpts from “Das Wunder der Heliane,” Korngold’s Glorious Flop

When it came to the fickle whims of public taste, Erich Wolfgang Korngold may have been a composer who was born twenty years too late. At a time when Stravinsky had already created a riot with his primordial The Rite of Spring and Schoenberg’s Second Viennese School was exploring brave new twelve-tone frontiers, Korngold’s early music hovers in the warm afterglow of Romanticism. It is music of vibrant autumn colors, hinting at the poignant nostalgia …

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The Artistry of Eileen Farrell: Five Essential Recordings

Thursday marks the centennial of the birth of the legendary American soprano, Eileen Farrell (1920-2002). Hailed as possessing “one of the largest and most radiant operatic voices of the 20th century,” Farrell was a remarkably versatile artist. In a career spanning nearly 60 years, she was equally at home in the world of opera, jazz, and popular music. She hated categories, and in an interview during the final years of her life, …

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Remembering Mirella Freni: “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” from Puccini’s “La Bohème”

Mirella Freni, the acclaimed Italian operatic soprano, passed away on Sunday. She was 84. In a career spanning 50 years, Freni appeared on the world’s major opera stages and in numerous film versions of operas. She was closely associated with Verdi and Puccini roles, but she will also be remembered for her performances of Mozart operas and Carmen. Later in her career, her repertoire included Russian opera with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades, and …

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Rossini’s William Tell Overture: Toscanini and the NBC Symphony

Guillaume Tell, which premiered in 1829, was the last of Gioachino Rossini’s 39 operas. Its four acts tell the story of the revolutionary folk hero William Tell who, with the expert use of his bow and arrow, launched the struggle for Swiss independence from Austria. Donizetti once proclaimed that the opera’s second act was so sublime that it had been composed not by Rossini but by God. The complete opera is rarely performed now. …

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