Babylon Nights Tidbit #16 ~ A Night (or Two) at the Opera - Part 1

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Babylon Nights Tidbit #16 ~ A Night (or Two) at the Opera - Part 1

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Fri Dec 17, 2010 12:32 pm

Below are some thumbnail sketches of opera references mentioned in the book. There were so many I'm sure I missed a few!

Kiri Te Kanaw


Born: March 6, 1944 - Gisborne, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. She is particularly associated with the works of Mozart, Strauss, Verdi, Handel and Puccini.

The Maori soprano, Kiri Te Kanawa, is the adopted daughter of an Irish mother and Maori father. After winning the John Court Aria Prize and the Mobil Song Quest, Kiri shot to stardom in New Zealand and was accepted without audition to study at the London Opera Centre in 1965.

After appearing in little known operas such as Delibes’ Le Roi l’a dit and Wolf-Ferrari’s The Inquisitive Woman, Kiri Te Kanawa received critical praise as Idamantes in Mozart's Idomeneo. Soon after, Kiri was granted a three-year contract as a junior principal at Covent Garden.

Kiri Te Kanawa came to international attention singing the role of Xenia in Boris Godunov and the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro. After achieving world-wide celebrity status, Kiri was made an Officer of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an honor that was later sold at a police auction for £500 to raise money for the Mitchum Amateur Boxing Association.

After her successes at Covent Garden, Kiri Te Kanawa performed her Metropolitan Opera debut as Desdemona in Otello (replacing an ill Theresa Stratas). Her other performances include Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte, Arabella in Arabella, Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, Violetta in La Traviata, Tosca in Tosca, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte and, most notably, her numerous performances as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

In 1981, Kiri Te Kanawa was chosen to sing "Let the Bright Seraphim" at St. Paul's cathedral at the marriage of HRH the Prince of Wales to the Lady Diana Spencer. The following year she was created a Dame of the British Empire by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Kiri Te Kanawa married Desmond Park, whom she met on a blind date, in Auckland the 30th of August 1967. The couple adopted two children, Antonia and Thomas, in 1976 and 1979 respectively. The pair divorced in early 1997. Most recently, on March 10, 1994, Kiri performed in concert celebrating her 50th birthday at The Royal Albert Hall.

Kiri founded the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation with the vision "that talented young New Zealand singers and musicians with complete dedication to their art may receive judicious and thoughtful mentoring and support to assist them in realizing their dreams." The foundation manages a trust fund to provide financial and career scholarships to young New Zealand singers and musicians. Her most recent performance was in April 2010, when she returned to the Cologne Opera House in Germany for two final performances of the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier.

Maria Callas


Maria Callas (born Kalogeropoulos) was born to Greek immigrant parents. As a small child she enjoyed listening to gramophone records and radio programs, and took piano and singing lessons.

Because of marital and financial problems, Mrs. Kalogeropoulos returned to Greece with her two daughters, and Maria studied singing under a famous singing master in Athens. After several school performances, she was offered a part at the Royal Opera, in Suppé's 'Boccaccio'.

In 1940, Greece became engaged in the Second World War and, from time to time, Maria performed for the enemy troops. In 1942, she replaced an unwell soprano at the opera to play 'Tosca'.

When Athens was liberated by the British Forces, she worked as an interpreter for some time, but decided to return to her father in New York, in September 1945.

She should have debuted in Chicago, but the company went bankrupt so, when Maria was offered a contract for 'La Gioconda' in Verona, she gladly went to Italy.

In Italy she met her future husband Meneghini, as well as her mentor, Tullio Serafin. Her sensational performance in Wagner's 'Walküre' and, two days later, in Bellini's 'I Puritani', received worldwide publicity. From then on she was a star and she received many recording offers from gramophone record companies. These records made her famous and popular the world over.

Callas’ career virtually ended with a spectacular routing in Rome 1958, when she left the stage after being heckled while ill during one of her most renowned roles – Norma. Her passionate affair with Aristotle Onassis began soon after and she was semi-retired after being fired from the Met because of repertoire disagreements. There was a brief glimmer of hope for a revival during the 1964-5 season, but it never amounted to much as her voice was clearly in decline

The press haunted her constantly and her divorce from Menighini and her affair with Aristotle Onassis were covered all over the world. She contracted a throat disease which caused her voice to lose quality, but she refused to take it seriously. After Onassis' marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, Maria broke down, then made several attempts to resurrect her career, but her voice was a mere shadow of its former self; fans were saddened by its deterioration.

She died of heart failure in September 1977.

Enrico Caruso


Enrico Caruso's ascendancy coincided with the dawn of the twentieth century, when the world of opera was moving away from the contrived bel canto ("beautiful singing") style, with its emphasis on artifice and vibrato, to a verismo ("realism") approach. The warmth and sincerity of his voice--and personality--shone in this more natural style and set the standard for contemporary greats like Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras. Through his exploitation of the nascent phonograph industry, Caruso is also largely responsible for the sweeping interest in opera of the 1910s and '20s. And for this, Stanley Jackson wrote in his book Caruso, he may never be rivaled, for later tenors could not hope to find themselves in a similarly fortuitous position and thus would most certainly "find it more difficult to win such universal affection as the bubbly, warm-hearted little Neapolitan whose voice soared and sobbed from the first wheezy phonographs to bring a new magic into countless lives."

Born Errico Caruso (he adopted more formal Enrico for stage), in Naples, Italy, in 1873, the third of seven children (early sources erroneously state that he was the 18th of 21), Caruso was raised in squalor. His birthplace, according to Jackson, was a "two-storeyed house, flaky with peeling stucco, [accommodating] several families, who shared a solitary cold-water tap on the landing, and like every other dwelling in that locality it lacked indoor sanitation." As a boy, Caruso received very little formal education; his only training in a social setting came from his church choir, where he displayed a pure voice and a keen memory for songs. More often than not, however, he skipped choir practice to sing with street minstrels for cafe patrons.

At the age of ten Caruso began working a variety of menial jobs--mechanic, jute weaver--but his passion for singing often led him back to the streets. Eight years later, an aspiring baritone named Eduardo Missiano heard Caruso singing by a local swimming pool. Impressed, Missiano took Caruso to his voice teacher, Guglielmo Vergine. Vergine, on hearing Caruso, compared the tenor's voice to "the wind whistling through the chimney," Michael Scott recounted in The Great Caruso. Although he disliked Caruso's Neapolitan cafe style, flashy gestures, and unrefined and unrestrained vocalizing, Vergine finally agreed to accept Caruso as his student. But "the lessons ended after three years," John Kobler wrote in American Heritage, "and Caruso's formal musical training thereafter remained almost as meager as his scholastic education. He could read a score only with difficulty. He played no musical instrument. He sang largely by ear."

On March 15, 1895, Caruso made his professional debut in L'Amico Francesco, a now-forgotten opera by an amateur composer. He was not an immediate sensation. His vocal range was limited; he often had to transpose the musical score down a halftone since he had trouble in the upper register, especially hitting high C. But impresarios who heard Caruso recognized his innate gift and cast him in significant productions such as Faust, Rigoletto, and La Traviata. With stage experience and brief training with another vocal teacher, Vincenzo Lombardo, the singer made steady progress, refining the natural beauty of his voice.

In 1897, studying for the part of Rodolpho in Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme, Caruso went to the composer's villa to secure Puccini's consent of his interpretation. As told by author Jackson, after Caruso sang a few measures of the first-act aria, "Che gelida manima," Puccini "swiveled in his chair and murmured in amazement, 'Who has sent you to me? God?'"

Caruso's instrument was "a voice of the South, full of warmth, charm, and lusciousness," described a commentator of the era who was quoted in Howard Greenfeld's book Caruso. But what truly set Caruso apart--from his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors--was his ability to eliminate the space between singer and listener, to intensify "the emotional effects upon his audience," testified American Heritage contributor Kobler. "His vocalized feelings, variously spiritual, earthy, carnal, seemed to resonate within the hearer's body. Rosa Ponselle, the American soprano who made her debut opposite Caruso, called it 'a voice that loves you.'"

And his timbre was matched by sheer power; at the height of his career, Caruso gave concerts in venues as large as New York City's Yankee Stadium without microphones and was clearly heard by all. Still, he reached his greatest audience, across both distance and time, through the small, recorded medium of the phonograph. "Few performers deserve ... recognition more than Caruso," David Hamilton proclaimed in the New York Times. "[His] records made him the universal model for later generations of tenors, while his reputation played a major role in establishing the phonograph socially and economically."

Caruso made his first recording on April 11, 1902, in a hotel suite in Milan, Italy. Over the remaining 19 years of his life he made an additional 488 recordings, almost all for the Victor label. He earned more than two million dollars from recording alone, the company almost twice that. But, most important, his recordings brought grand opera to the uninitiated. Millions cried along with his version of Canio's sobbing "Vesti la giubba," from I Pagliacci. The development of the American opera audience from a rarefied community at the turn of the century to a diverse populace in modern times can be directly attributed to Caruso's recordings.

But Caruso's allure was not solely the result of his singing. "Quick to laughter and to tears, amorous, buffoonish, ... speaking a comically fractured English, round and paunchy, Caruso presented an image that appealed enormously to multitudes of ordinary Americans," Kobler pointed out. Indeed, his offstage behavior was as interesting to the public as that of his onstage personas. He had numerous affairs with women, which often ended in court. He had an 11-year relationship, beginning in 1897, with soprano Ada Giachetti, who had left her husband and son for the much younger tenor. She bore Caruso two sons, then ran off with the family chauffeur. Three years later, Giachetti sued Caruso for attempting to damage her career and for theft of her jewelry. The suit was eventually dismissed.

Caruso was not exonerated, however, in what became known as the "Monkey House Case." On November 16, 1906, Caruso went to the Monkey House in the Central Park Zoo, one of his favorite retreats in his adopted hometown of New York City. There a young woman accused him of pinching her bottom. A policeman on the scene immediately took Caruso--confused and sobbing--to jail. The woman failed to appear at the consequent trial, and police were unable to produce any witnesses other than the arresting officer, who turned out to have been best man at the accuser's wedding. The judge found Caruso guilty of disorderly conduct and fined him ten dollars. The public, for its part, though initially unsure of Caruso's innocence, soon returned to its thunderous approval of his performances.

Despite these episodes, Caruso's life outside the theater was not entirely tumultuous. His marriage to Dorothy Park Benjamin in 1918 was happy and secure. His celebrated earnings allowed him to collect art, stamps, and coins. His clothing and furnishings were luxurious. He ate with gusto. And he was extremely generous. A gifted caricaturist, Caruso often gave drawings away. He would fill his pockets with gold coins and shower stagehands with them at the end of Christmastime productions. He also supported many family members, gave numerous charity concerts, and helped raise millions of dollars for the Allied cause during World War I. This remarkable man even paid his taxes early. "If I wait, something might happen to me, then it would be hard to collect," Caruso reasoned, as recounted by Kobler. "Now I pay, then if something happen to me the money belongs to the United States, and that is good."

Caruso's expansive approach to life, however, rendered his own short. Constant recording and performance demands and the singer's unchecked appetites took their toll on his health; he died in Naples, in 1921, from pneumonia and peritonitis. He was 48 years old. "Caruso may have been a greater master of comedy than tragedy," Great Caruso author Scott wrote, "yet there was no levity in his approach to his art, for as each year passed and he became an ever more celebrated singer, his fame--ably demonstrated by frequent new issues of ever improving records--made increasing demands of him. In those last years he rode a tiger."

Paul Robeson


Paul Robeson was the epitome of the 20th-century Renaissance man. He was an exceptional athlete, actor, singer, cultural scholar, author, and political activist. His talents made him a revered man of his time, yet his radical political beliefs all but erased him from popular history. Today, more than one hundred years after his birth, Robeson is just beginning to receive the credit he is due.

Born in 1898, Paul Robeson grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. His father had escaped slavery and become a Presbyterian minister, while his mother was from a distinguished Philadelphia family. At seventeen, he was given a scholarship to Rutgers University, where he received an unprecedented twelve major letters in four years and was his class valedictorian. After graduating he went on to Columbia University Law School, and, in the early 1920s, took a job with a New York law firm. Racial strife at the firm ended Robeson’s career as a lawyer early, but he was soon to find an appreciative home for his talents.

Returning to his love of public speaking, Robeson began to find work as an actor. In the mid-1920s he played the lead in Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” (1924) and “The Emperor Jones” (1925). Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, he was a widely acclaimed actor and singer. With songs such as his trademark “Ol’ Man River,” he became one of the most popular concert singers of his time. His “Othello” was the longest-running Shakespeare play in Broadway history, running for nearly three hundred performances. It is still considered one of the great-American Shakespeare productions. While his fame grew in the United States, he became equally well-loved internationally. He spoke fifteen languages, and performed benefits throughout the world for causes of social justice. More than any other performer of his time, he believed that the famous have a responsibility to fight for justice and peace.

As an actor, Robeson was one of the first black men to play serious roles in the primarily white American theater. He performed in a number of films as well, including a re-make of “The Emperor Jones” (1933) and “Song of Freedom” (1936). In a time of deeply entrenched racism, he continually struggled for further understanding of cultural difference. At the height of his popularity, Robeson was a national symbol and a cultural leader in the war against fascism abroad and racism at home. He was admired and befriended by both the general public and prominent personalities, including Eleanor Roosevelt, W.E.B. Du Bois, Joe Louis, Pablo Neruda, Lena Horne, and Harry Truman. While his varied talents and his outspoken defense of civil liberties brought him many admirers, it also made him enemies among conservatives trying to maintain the status quo.

During the 1940s, Robeson’s black nationalist and anti-colonialist activities brought him to the attention of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Despite his contributions as an entertainer to the Allied forces during World War II, Robeson was singled out as a major threat to American democracy. Every attempt was made to silence and discredit him, and in 1950 the persecution reached a climax when his passport was revoked. He could no longer travel abroad to perform, and his career was stifled. Of this time, Lloyd Brown, a writer and long-time colleague of Robeson, states: “Paul Robeson was the most persecuted, the most ostracized, the most condemned black man in America, then or ever.”

It was eight years before his passport was reinstated. A weary and triumphant Robeson began again to travel and give concerts in England and Australia. But the years of hardship had taken their toll. After several bouts of depression, he was admitted to a hospital in London, where he was administered continued shock treatments. When Robeson returned to the United States in 1963, he was misdiagnosed several times and treated for a variety of physical and psychological problems. Realizing that he was no longer the powerful singer or agile orator of his prime, he decided to step out of the public eye. He retired to Philadelphia and lived in self-imposed seclusion until his death in 1976.

To this day, Paul Robeson’s many accomplishments remain obscured by the propaganda of those who tirelessly dogged him throughout his life. His role in the history of civil rights and as a spokesperson for the oppressed of other nations remains relatively unknown. In 1995, more than seventy-five years after graduating from Rutgers, his athletic achievements were finally recognized with his posthumous entry into the College Football Hall of Fame. Though a handful of movies and recordings are still available, they are a sad testament to one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century. If we are to remember Paul Robeson for anything, it should be for the courage and the dignity with which he struggled for his own personal voice and for the rights of all people.

Leontyne Price


Born: February 10, 1927 - Laurel, Mississippi, USA

The remarkable American soprano, Leontyne Price, was born Mary Violet Leontine Price, to James Anthony Price, a carpenter, and Kate Baker Price, a midwife with a lovely soprano voice. Price received excellent vocal training at an early age when she is said to have sat enthralled in her stroller listening to her mother singing in the choir at the St. Paul Methodist Church in Laurel. Her formal music instruction began at age 5, when she started taking piano lessons.

Leontyne Price entered Oak Park Vocational High School in 1937, where she was quickly designated as the pianist for the school concerts and functions. She was also considered one of the most talented members of her high school choir. In 1944, she went on to the College of Educational and Industrial Arts in Wilberforce, Ohio, to study to be a music teacher. After hearing her sing in the choir one Sunday morning, the president of the college, Dr. Charles H. Wesley, advised her to change her major from education and public school music to concentrate on voice.

Leontyne Price earned her B.A. in June 1948, and headed to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music where she had won a full tuition scholarship. At Juilliard, she received voice training from Florence Ward Kimball, a distinguished teacher, and, in her last year, she gave a strong performance as Mistress Ford in the student production of the opera, Falstaff. Upon seeing her in this production, Virgil Thompson immediately invited her to star in a revival of his opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, which ran on Broadway for three weeks in April 1952. Less than two months later, Price made her debut in Dallas, in a role that would carve her name in the minds of audiences everywhere; she appeared as Bess in a revival of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

For the next two years, Leontyne Price toured with the production all over the world, including eight months in New York, an extended period in Europe, and finally in Russia. As a result of the show's worldwide success, Price gained international recognition. In addition, she married her co-star, William Warfield.

Throughout the 1950’s, Leontyne Price broadened her career as an opera singer by starring in a number of works in recital halls, opera stages, and on television. In February 1955, with Samuel Barber on piano, she made her television debut as Floria Tosca in an NBC-TV Opera Company production of Puccini's Tosca, and in 1956, she starred in NBC's production of Mozart's Magic Flute. The following year, Price made her opera house debut as Madame Lidoine in Francis Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites at the San Francisco Opera House. In 1958, she made her European operatic debut as Aida at the Vienna Staatsoper. On July 2, 1958, she had a triumphant debut in London, at Covent Garden, and two years later, she played Aida to a packed house at the venerable La Scala on May 21, 1960, becoming the first black singer to sing a major role at this citadel of opera.

Leontyne Price achieved one of the greatest artistic victories of her career on January 27, 1961, when she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore. This performance ignited a 42-minute ovation, one of the longest in the Met's history. Critic Harold Schonberg wrote: "Her voice was dusky and rich in its lower tones, perfectly even in its transitions from one register to another, and flawlessly pure and velvety at the top."

The 1960’s welcomed Leontyne Price to packed houses and rave reviews the world over. From 1961 to 1969, she sang in 118 performances. On October 23, 1961, she opened the Met's new season, playing Minnie in The Girl of the Golden West. That same year, Musical America voted her Musician of the Year with a poll of editors and critics all over the country. In 1964, she was awarded the Presidential Freedom Award, and the following year, she won the Italian Award of Merit. Price also was chosen to open the Met's 1966-1967 season as Cleopatra in Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra.

Although she chose to perform less frequently during the 1970’s, Leontyne Price continued to accept challenging new roles. In 1974, she starred as Manon Lescaut in Manon, a role she repeated at the Met the following year. She made her debut as Ariadne in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the San Francisco Opera, on October 19, 1977.

Over the years, Leontyne Price has won 15 Grammy Awards for vocal recordings she has made, and she has been on the cover of Time and 27 other magazines. In addition, she was the only opera singer to be represented in the list of "Remarkable American Women: 1776-1976" in Life Magazine's Bicentennial issue in 1976.

In October 2001, at age 74, Price was asked to come out of retirement and sing in a memorial concert in Carnegie Hall after the September 11 attacks. With James Levine at the piano, she sang a favorite spiritual, "This Little Light of Mine", followed by an unaccompanied "God Bless America", capping it with a bright, easy high B-flat. She lives in Greenwich Village in New York City.

La Traviata

La traviata is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. It is based on La dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The title "La traviata" means literally The Woman Gone Astray, or perhaps more figuratively, The Fallen Woman. It was originally entitled Violetta, after the main character.


The first performance of the opera, on 6 March 1853 in Venice's La Fenice, was an utter failure. The day after, Verdi wrote to his friend Muzio in what has now become perhaps his most famous letter: "La Traviata last night a failure. My fault or the singers'? Time will tell." This letter not only implies what Verdi already knew—that the singers, particularly the obese soprano who could never convincingly play a dying consumptive, had failed to "understand his music." But more importantly, this letter captures Verdi's faith that the public ultimately knows what is and is not good art and will pronounce its judgment in good time.

After some revisions between 1853 and May 1854, mostly affecting Acts 2 and 3, the opera was presented again in Venice, this time at the Teatro San Benedetto. This performance was a critical success, largely due to Maria Spezia-Aldighieri's portrayal of Violetta.

On 24 May 1856 the revised version was presented at Her Majesty's Theatre in London followed on 3 December of that year by its premiere in New York.
Today, the opera has become immensely popular and it is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire. It is third on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America, behind only Madama Butterfly and La bohème.

ACT I. In her Paris salon, the courtesan Violetta Valéry greets party guests, including Flora Bervoix, the Marquis d'Obigny, Baron Douphol, and Gastone, who introduces a new admirer, Alfredo Germont. This young man, having adored Violetta from afar, joins her in a drinking song (Brindisi: "Libiamo"). An orchestra is heard in the next room, but as guests move there to dance, Violetta suffers a fainting spell, sends the guests on ahead, and goes to her parlor to recover. Alfredo comes in, and since they are alone, confesses his love ("Un dì felice"). At first Violetta protests that love means nothing to her. Something about the young man's sincerity touches her, however, and she promises to meet him the next day. After the guests have gone, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the man she could love ("Ah, fors'è lui"). But she decides she wants freedom ("Sempre libera"), though Alfredo's voice, heard outside, argues in favor of romance.

ACT II Some months later Alfredo and Violetta are living in a country house near Paris, where he praises their contentment ("De' miei bollenti spiriti"). But when the maid, Annina, reveals that Violetta has pawned her jewels to keep the house, Alfredo leaves for the city to settle matters at his own cost. Violetta comes looking for him and finds an invitation from Flora to a party that night. Violetta has no intention of going back to her old life, but trouble intrudes with the appearance of Alfredo's father. Though impressed by Violetta's ladylike manners, he demands she renounce his son: the scandal of Alfredo's affair with her has threatened his daughter's engagement ("Pura siccome un angelo"). Violetta says she cannot, but Germont eventually convinces her ("Dite alla giovine"). Alone, the desolate woman sends a message of acceptance to Flora and begins a farewell note to Alfredo. He enters suddenly, surprising her, and she can barely control herself as she reminds him of how deeply she loves him ("Amami, Alfredo") before rushing out. Now a servant hands Alfredo her farewell note as Germont returns to console his son with reminders of family life in Provence ("Di Provenza"). But Alfredo, seeing Flora's invitation, suspects Violetta has thrown him over for another lover. Furious, he determines to confront her at the party.

At her soirée that evening, Flora learns from the Marquis that Violetta and Alfredo have parted, then clears the floor for hired entertainers - a band of fortune-telling Gypsies and some matadors who sing of Piquillo and his coy sweetheart ("E Piquillo un bel gagliardo"). Soon Alfredo strides in, making bitter comments about love and gambling recklessly at cards. Violetta has arrived with Baron Douphol, who challenges Alfredo to a game and loses a small fortune to him. Everyone goes in to supper, but Violetta has asked Alfredo to see her. Fearful of the Baron's anger, she wants Alfredo to leave, but he misunderstands her apprehension and demands that she admit she loves Douphol. Crushed, she pretends she does. Now Alfredo calls in the others, denounces his former love and hurls his winnings at her feet ("Questa donna conoscete?"). Germont enters in time to see this and denounces his son's behavior. The guests rebuke Alfredo and Douphol challenges him to a duel.

ACT III. In Violetta's bedroom six months later, Dr. Grenvil tells Annina her mistress has not long to live: tuberculosis has claimed her. Alone, Violetta rereads a letter from Germont saying the Baron was only wounded in his duel with Alfredo, who knows all and is on his way to beg her pardon. But Violetta senses it is too late ("Addio del passato"). Paris is celebrating Mardi Gras and, after revelers pass outside, Annina rushes in to announce Alfredo. The lovers ecstatically plan to leave Paris forever ("Parigi, o cara"). Germont enters with the doctor before Violetta is seized with a last resurgence of strength. Feeling life return, she staggers and falls dead at her lover's feet.

Andrea Bocelli


Andrea Bocelli has been called "the fourth tenor." A disciple of Luciano Pavarotti and Zucchero Fornaciari, the blind, Tuscany-born, vocalist has emerged as one of the most exciting voices in contemporary opera. His participation in Pavarotti's 1992 hit, Miserere, and Fornaciari's 1993 world tour brought him international attention. Opera, however, represents only one side of his musical persona. Bocelli has been equally successful as a pop ballad singer, having recorded duets with Celine Dion, Sarah Brightman and Eros Ramazzotti. Al Jarreau, who sang with Bocelli during The Night of Proms in November 1995, praised Bocelli when he said, "I have had the honor to sing with the most beautiful voice in the world."

Bocelli grew up on a farm in Lajatico, a rural village in Tuscany. Beginning piano lessons at the age of six, he later added flute and saxophone. Born with poor eyesight, he became totally blind at the age of 12 following a soccer accident.

Despite his obvious musical talents, Bocelli didn't consider a career in music until he had studied law at the University of Pisa and had earned a Doctor Of Law degree. Inspired to pursue music, he studied with famed tenor Franco Corelli, supporting himself by performing in piano bars.

Bocelli's first break as a singer came in 1992 when Fornaciari auditioned tenors to record a demo tape of Miserere, which he had co-written with Bono of U2. Successfully passing the audition, Bocelli recorded the tune as a duet with Pavarotti.

After touring with Fornaciari in 1993, Bocelli performed as a guest star in the Pavarotti International Festival held in Modena in September 1994. In addition to performing solo and in a duet with Pavarotti, Bocelli sang with Bryan Adams, Andreas Vollenweider and Nancy Gustafson. In November 1995, Bocelli toured Holland, Belgium, Germany, Spain and France with Night of Proms, which also featured Al Jarreau, Bryan Ferry, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp and John Miles.

Bocelli's first two albums -- Andrea Bocelli in 1994 and Bocelli in 1996 -- showcased his operatic singing. His third effort, Viaggio Italiano, featured famous arias and traditional songs from Naples. Although released only in Italy, the album sold more than 300,000 copies. With his fourth album, Romanza, released in 1997, Bocelli turned to pop music. The album included the hit, {"&Time to Say Goodbye,"} recorded as a duet with Sarah Brightman. Bocelli continued to focus on pop balladry with his fifth album, Sogno, released in 1999, which featured a duet with Celine Dion of the David Foster- and Carole Bayer Sager-penned tune, "The Prayer," sold more than ten million copies, received a Golden Globe award and led to Bocelli being nominated for a Grammy as "Best New Artist."

His autobiography, The Music of Silence, was published in 2002. He continues to record and perform live to sell out crowds.

Ramon Vinay


Ramón Vinay (August 31, 1911– January 4, 1996) was a famous Chilean operatic tenor with a powerful, dramatic voice. He is probably best remembered for his appearances in the title role of Giuseppe Verdi's tragic opera Otello.

The young Vinay was encouraged by his mother to learn to sing. He commenced his opera career as a baritone in Mexico in 1938. He later switched to tenor, making a second debut in 1943 and forging a successful international career after World War II . Vinay eventually returned to the baritone fold in 1962 and retired from the stage in 1969.
Even as a tenor, however, his vocal timbre retained its dark, baritonal coloration.

Born in Chillán, Chile, Vinay earned particular renown throughout the operatic world for his interpretation of the role of Otello. For a time, he made the part his own. Perhaps his most significant appearance as Otello occurred in 1947, in a radio broadcast of the opera under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. His colleagues on this occasion were Herva Nelli, Giuseppe Valdengo and Nan Merriman, together with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. This performance was subsequently issued by RCA Victor on both LP and CD. In recent years, it has appeared on CDs issued by other companies, notably on the Guild label. Many critics consider it the best complete Otello ever recorded.

A fine actor, Vinay was also the first tenor to sing the role of Otello on television. That was in 1948, in the initial telecast of an entire opera from the Met. He also sang Otello at La Scala, in Salzburg and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In all, he performed it hundreds of times. He is said to be the only opera singer to have sung both Otello and Iago (the baritone villain) in Verdi's tragic masterpiece during the course of a career.
Vinay's overall tenor repertoire was comparatively ample. It also embraced heavy Wagnerian roles (he sang at the Bayreuth Festival in 1952-57), as well as Canio in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, Don José in Bizet's Carmen and Samson in Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila. Apart from Iago, the baritone parts which he performed included Telramund, Bartolo, Falstaff and Scarpia. Ramon died in Mexico, aged 84.

La Scala in Milan


La Scala is a world renowned opera house in Milan, Italy. The theater was inaugurated on 3 August 1778 and was originally known as the New Royal-Ducal Theatre at La Scala. The premiere performance was Antonio Salieri's Europa riconosciuta.

Most of Italy's greatest operatic artists, and many of the finest singers from other nations, too, have appeared at La Scala during the past 200 years. Today, the theatre is still recognized as one of the leading opera and ballet theatres in the world and is home to the La Scala Theatre Chorus, La Scala Theatre Ballet and La Scala Theatre Orchestra. The theatre also has an associate school, known as the La Scala Theatre Academy (Italian: Accademia Teatro alla Scala), which offers professional training in music, dance, stage craft and stage management.

The new theatre was built on the former location of the church of Santa Maria della Scala, from which the theatre gets its name. The church was deconsecrated and demolished, and over a period of two years the theatre was completed by Pietro Marliani, Pietro Nosetti and Antonio and Giuseppe Fe. The theatre had a total over 3,000 seats organized into 678 pit-stalls, arranged in six tiers of boxes above which is the 'loggione' or two galleries. Its stage is one of the largest in Italy (16.15m d x 20.4m w x 26m h).
Building expenses were covered by the sale of palchi, which were lavishly decorated by their owners, impressing observers such as Stendhal. La Scala (as it came to be known) soon became the preeminent meeting place for noble and wealthy Milanese people. In the tradition of the times, the platea (the main floor) had no chairs and spectators watched the shows standing up. The orchestra was in full sight, as the golfo mistico (orchestra pit) had not yet been built.

Above the boxes, La Scala has always had a gallery where the less wealthy can watch the performances. It is called the loggione. The loggione is typically crowded with the most critical opera aficionados, who can be ecstatic or merciless towards singers' perceived successes or failures. La Scala's loggione is considered a baptism of fire in the opera world, and fiascos are long remembered. (One recent incident occurred in 2006 when tenor Roberto Alagna was booed off the stage during a performance of Aïda, forcing his understudy, Antonello Palombi, to quickly replace him mid-scene without time to change into a costume.) As with most of the theaters at that time, La Scala was also a casino, with gamblers sitting in the foyer.[1] Conditions in the auditorium, too, could be frustrating for the opera lover, as Mary Shelley discovered in September 1840:

At the Opera they were giving the Templario. Unfortunately, as is well known, the theatre of La Scala serves, not only as the universal drawing-room for all the society of Milan, but every sort of trading transaction, from horse-dealing to stock-jobbing, is carried on in the pit; so that brief and far between are the snatches of melody one can catch.

The original structure was renovated in 1907, when it was given its current layout with 2,800 seats. In 1943, during WWII, La Scala was severely damaged by bombing. It was rebuilt and reopened on 11 May 1946, with a memorable concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini—twice La Scala's principal conductor and an associate of the composers Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini—with a soprano solo by Renata Tebaldi, which created a sensation.


The theater underwent a major renovation from early 2002 to late 2004. The theatre was closed following the traditional 7 December 2001 season opening performances of Otello, which ran through December. The renovation by renowned architect Mario Botta proved controversial, as preservationists feared that historic details would be lost. However, the opera company was said to be impressed with improvements to the structure and the sound quality, which was enhanced when the heavy red carpets in the hall were removed. The stage was entirely re-constructed, and an enlarged backstage allows more sets to be stored, permitting more productions. Seats now include monitors for the electronic libretto system, allowing audiences to follow opera libretti in English and Italian in addition to the original language.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

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Re: Babylon Nights Tidbit #16 ~ A Night (or Two) at the Opera - Part 1

Unread postby fireflydances » Fri Dec 17, 2010 6:42 pm

Ooo, lovely stuff! I am heading out soon with my daughter so I won't be able to read all of it now, but wanted to thank you. The tidbits always seem so lush a thing, piles of references and pix and little forgotten or never known facts and notions. Truly lovely. I have to finish the other one on operat also -- I feel asleep with the screen open. Really wonderfully done stuff.
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Re: Babylon Nights Tidbit #16 ~ A Night (or Two) at the Opera - Part 1

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Fri Dec 17, 2010 10:24 pm

Thank you, firefly. I am always amazed at the little coincidences and aha! :idea: moments when working on them. I've never been a huge opera fan but I have to admit that I had my speakers turned way up when I was working on these!
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Re: Babylon Nights Tidbit #16 ~ A Night (or Two) at the Opera - Part 1

Unread postby nebraska » Sun Dec 19, 2010 5:47 pm

Wonderful tidbit! :cool: There are many names here that I recognize but knew nothing about.

I love Bocelli! I have two of his CDs and have recently been playing one of them in my car. His voice is incredible! :truefan:

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Re: Babylon Nights Tidbit #16 ~ A Night (or Two) at the Opera - Part 1

Unread postby fansmom » Mon Dec 20, 2010 12:06 am

nebraska wrote:I love Bocelli! I have two of his CDs and have recently been playing one of them in my car. His voice is incredible! :truefan:
When I first heard of him, I wondered how he stayed with the orchestra if he couldn't see the conductor. Then I saw him on TV and learned that the orchestra stays with him instead of vice versa. I guess though, that with a voice like that, musician are willing to do things a little differently to work with him.

Oh, and Liz, I'm sure it wouldn't surprise you at all to hear that I watched Friday before I read this tidbit.

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Re: Babylon Nights Tidbit #16 ~ A Night (or Two) at the Opera - Part 1

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Dec 21, 2010 11:31 am

nebraska, were you singing along? :sing:

Interesting side note, fansmom! :cool: Why am I not surprised you watched that movie!! :lol:
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

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