Strauss’ “Salome”: The Grisly Final Scene

Perhaps, as Alex Ross suggests in the opening pages of his bestselling book, The Rest is Noise, twentieth century music was born with the first scandalous performances of Richard Strauss’ 1905 opera, Salome. Set in one act, the opera was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s French play based on characters from the Gospel of Saint Matthew. The imprisoned Jochanaan (John the Baptist) becomes an object of desire for princess Salome, the teenage stepdaughter of King Herod of …

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Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmélites”: “Salve Regina,” An Ode to Martyrs

Francis Poulenc’s 1957 opera, Dialogues des Carmélites, tells the story of the Martyrs of Compiègne, sixteen Carmelite nuns who were executed at the guillotine during the final days of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. Driven from their convent and arrested, the nuns elected to take a vow of martyrdom rather than renounce their vocation. One of opera’s principal tragic heroines is Blanche de la Force, a woman from an aristocratic family who enters …

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Monteverdi’s “Pur ti Miro”: The Final Love Duet From “L’incoronazione di Poppea”

Claudio Monteverdi’s 1643 opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea (“The Coronation of Poppaea”), begins with a clash between mythological deities. In the prologue which precedes the first act, the goddesses of Fortune and Virtue each argue that they hold the most power over humankind. Soon, their disagreement is interrupted by the god of Love, who claims the greatest power of all, with the bold proclamation, “I tell the virtues what to do, I govern the fortunes of …

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Anna Netrebko Sings Rimsky-Korsakov: “Ty, Tsarevich, Moy Spasitel” from “The Tale of Tsar Saltan”

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, is based on a fairy tale poem by Alexander Pushkin.Premiering in November, 1900 in Moscow, it tells the story of three sisters. Tsar Saltan chooses the youngest of the three to be his wife, while he appoints the others to be his royal cook and weaver. Soon after the Tsar goes off to war, the Tsaritsa gives birth to a son, Gvidon. The jealous …

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Daniel Behle Sings Mozart: “Un’aura amorosa” from “Così fan tutte”

In the opening scene of Mozart’s 1789 comic opera, Così fan tutte (“Women are like that”), two military officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, boast that their fiancées, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, would never be unfaithful. Don Alfonso makes a wager that, within a day, he can prove the officers wrong. He believes that all women are ultimately fickle. Accepting the wager, Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend to go off to war, but then return in disguise and attempt to seduce the …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Prelude to the Third Act

Earlier in the month, we explored Walther’s Prize Song from the end of the third act of Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Here, at the comic love story’s dramatic climax, Walther is declared the winner of the singing contest, a triumph which ensures his marriage to Eva. Harmonically, it is a moment which brings us “home” by reaffirming the preeminence of C major, the long-lost key of the mighty Prelude to Act I. Rewind …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Walther’s Prize Song from the Third Act

Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, is a comic love story, set in sixteenth century Nuremberg. The historical Meistersinger (Master Singers) were a guild of amateur poets and musicians who were primarily middle class master craftsmen of various trades. The guild’s Tabulatur, or law-book, established an intricate system of rules which dictated the structure and performance of songs. In the opening scene of Wagner’s opera, Walther, a knight who has just arrived in …

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