Monday, 31 October 2011

'Up' Or 'Down' - A musical interlude

One of the most beautiful of operatic arias must be "O Soave Fanciulla" at the end of Act 1 in La Boheme. Performances of this opera can vary in a number of ways, most noticeably in this aria where at the end the tenor either goes 'up or down'. A little background by way of explanation:

Luigi Ricci (1893-1981) was a vocal coach who over a period of years worked closely with Puccini (1858-1924) on the rehearsal and staging of his operas. Whilst Puccini never conducted one, he did carefully supervise several productions and was tireless in explaining the effects he wanted. Ricci made copious notes and in 1954 published a book "Puccini interpreti di se stesso" (Puccini interpreted by himself) which is a valuable, but little known source of information. Yet another opera star, Alfredo Mariotti, who has sung Benoit in La Boheme also studied under Ricci and is, in turn, another mine of information about performance practices. There are some traditional practices sanctioned by Ricci which some would say sound old-fashioned to modern ears and which are often accused as detracting from the originality of Puccini's writing. A famous example occurs at the end of O Soave Fanciulla where Rodolfo's final notes, sung offstage, are sung as an A rising to a high C - as demonstrated by Pavarotti:


Whereas what Puccini actually wrote was an F falling to an E, as demonstrated by Domingo:


'Up' or 'Down' - you choose.........

8 comments:

notareargunner said...

A touch of class. Have you listened to Fredrika von Stade with songs of the Auvergne?

notareargunner said...

Does it really matter? The genius of being able to give two interpretations.

James Higham said...

Ah, now I'm glad you explained that distinction to me, WfromW. Now I consider myself more educated on Puccini.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

narg: True and no. Difference of opinion on does it matter really. One can argue it should be performed as written, however when you have a tenor of Pavarotti's voice then the high C is a pleasure. Personally I think I prefer the second version as the harmonies at the end are superb.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

JH: My pleasure.....

notareargunner said...

But surely there has to be artistic license? Denying Pavarotti the flow of the magnificence as he "blasts" in perfect tone...a series of wonderfully execute top 'C's.
In a decade before these great pieces were penned, opera was blessed with male contraltos, lost into history, hence we have been denied opportunity to listen to something rather unique. Better minds then mine could, perhaps, re-pen some long forgotten works with female contraltos(who can forget Ferrier?) but...would it lose the Pathos or make the story line too unbelievable?
Get hold of Domingo as Samson, absolutely brilliant in the flesh.. Cheers.

PeterCharles said...

I must admit I do not like opera in general, except for Verdi. I recall a famous Finnish soprano in an interview on a long ago Desert Island Discs saying how wonderful it was when she was asked to sing in Finland and how she looked forward to singing a particular opera in its original Finnish rather than the normal Italian translation. Then she confessed that halfway through the second act she realised she was singing in Italian and thanked God no one apparently noticed. Exactly my point of view, more noise than music!

Bach's Christmas Oratorio is the pinnacle of blending voice and orchestra for me. If you have never heard it but get the chance I would urge you to listen to the Regensburger Domspatzen 1997 version, I have little doubt it was exactly as Bach intended.

Anyway, given the mounting panic over Greece and the Euro I think this post was very prophetic of you, "it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings" and all that. ;-)

WitteringsfromWitney said...

narg: Very true where Pav concerned! Also accept the points you make. See below....

PC: Sorry but Bach I cannot appreciate. Interestingly a long standing friend of mine is an opera buff, reads music, plays and understands composition. His wife and I are 'tone deaf' and both 'like a good tune' - consequently I don't like all opera, just bits of it. Now symphonys and piano concertos are another matter. Beethoven's Emperor is one apart and there is a bit in the middle of the third movement which is pure heaven.

With me, it is the combination of notes, or harmonies, that can make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.......

Generally, whilst I like 'pop music' - aka circa 50' & 60s, I tend to listen to Classicfm which is on all day.