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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Puccini’s Turandot: Five Key Moments

In Wednesday’s post, we heard a few examples of Puccini’s flirtations with impressionism. Puccini’s final opera, Turandot is filled with colorful orchestration and adventurous harmony which evokes the exotic atmosphere of the mythic story: Princess Turandot, determined to never marry, takes revenge on her suitors through a series of riddles. Failure to answer correctly results in the suitor’s execution. Here are five key moments from the opera: Signore, ascolta!  Calaf, the young Prince of Tartary, catches sight of …

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Puccini the Impressionist

Longtime readers of The Listeners’ Club may recall that this is the time of year when the Richmond Symphony often travels throughout the state as the pit orchestra for Virginia Opera. This year, we’ve been playing Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. With lush, soaringly romantic melodies, Puccini’s operas are some of the most rewarding to play, from the perspective of a string player. Puccini’s music also brings drama and characterization to life in uniquely powerful ways. For example, listen …

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Remembering Soprano Elisabeth Carron

American soprano Elisabeth Carron passed away last Thursday at the age of 94. Born in Newark, New Jersey to Sicilian immigrant parents, Carron performed regularly at New York City Opera in its heyday. She was widely respected for her roles in Puccini operas which included Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, Mimì in La Bohème, and Liu in Turandot. Additionally, she performed prominent roles in contemporary American operas such as Gian-Carlo Menotti’s The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954), Marc Blitzstein’s Regina (1958), and Kurt Weill’s Street …

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Happy Birthday, Maria Callas

Maria Callas, the legendary Greek-American soprano was born on this date in 1923. Callas, who passed away in 1977, is remembered as one of the most influential opera singers of the twentieth century. Leonard Bernstein called her “the Bible of opera.” Her voice was distinctive. It wasn’t always “beautiful,” but it possessed a deep, powerful, and expressive magnetism. In this Guardian piece, Tim Ashley writes that “What she stood for…was truth rather than beauty, …

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Puccini’s Butterfly: Opera’s Most Tragic Mother?

Opera is full of deranged mothers. Consider The Queen of the Night from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. In this fiery aria (one of the most famous, and virtuosic in all of opera) she pays a terrifying visit to her daughter, Pamina. The vengeful Queen of the Night gives Pamina a dagger and vows to disown her if she fails to assassinate Sarastro. Or consider Bellini’s Norma who contemplates murdering her two children in their …

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