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Memorable Opera Duets and Arias
Aria: Operatic Solo
The aria, that is, operatic solo, is why opera buffs attend performances. Opera is the Olympics of Singing, and the solos are the main events. There are also some fantastic duets.
Here are a few of what I consider the best.
("Let No One Sleep") from Turandot by Puccini
Context: A Chinese princess, Turandot, offers her hand in marriage to any man who can answer three riddles she poses. If a suitor fails, he'll be beheaded. The Prince of Tartary takes the chance, and answers all three riddles correctly. Turandot begs her father, the Chinese emperor, to prevent the marriage, but he insists it take place as a matter of honor. However, the Prince makes her an offer: if she can guess his real name before dawn, she can kill him anyway. Turandot accepts, and then proclaims that EVERYONE in Beijing is to stay awake that night, trying to guess the Prince's name, and if it's not guessed, EVERYONE will be killed. (Pretty cold, wouldn't you say?)
This was the signature song of the late great tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
O Mio Babbino Caro
("O My Dear Father") from Gianni Schicchi by Puccini
Context: Rinuccio and Lauretta, daughter of Gianni Schicchi, want to marry, but Gianni Schicchi initially wants nothing to do with Rinuccio's family because they are elitists and greedy. But Gianni Schicchi relents after hearing his daughter's plea that she will kill herself if she can't have Rinuccio.
Libiamo Ne' Lieti Calici
("Let Us Drink from This Goblet of Joy") from La Traviata by Verdi
Context: Violetta, a courtesan (lady of free morals) in Paris, gives a party. ("La Traviata" means "fallen woman".) Violetta sings this famous drinking song. If it doesn't make you want to hoist one, you must be in a coma.
Listen to Placido Domingo, José Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti (The “Three Tenors”)...
("Always Free") from La Traviata by Verdi
Context: At the above mentioned party, Violetta has met Alfredo, and wonders if he could turn out to be the love of her life. But she decides that she must be free to be with anyone in her life, and sings the aria.
The first minute of the video is dialogue. The singing begins at the one-minute mark. You might want to scan ahead to the singing.
Canzonetta Sull' Aria
("A Little Song on the Breeze") from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart
Context: Countess Rosina Almaviva, wants to get proof of her husband Count Almaviva's infidelity. She gets her maid, Susanna, to invite him to have an affair. The method used is a note dictated by the Countess, which is a metaphorical invitation to a tryst in a garden. The duet is basically the contents of the note.
This duet was featured in the 1994 prison movie The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. In the movie, the Robbins character tries to calm the prisoners in the prison yard by playing the duet over the public address system. The Freeman character says about the song (ironically since the song is about entrapment):
"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think it was something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than a person in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage, and every last prisoner in Shawshank felt free."
Sous Le Dôme Epais Où Le Blanc Jasmin
("Under a Dome of White Jasmine" — popularly called "The Flower Duet") from Lakmé by Delibes
Context: In nineteenth century India, Lakmé, the daughter of a Hindu priest, and her servant Mallika, are gathering flowers by a river.
Have you ever attended a live operatic performance?
Près des Remparts de Séville
(“The Seguidilla”) from Carmen by Bizet
Context: Carmen, a young woman imprisoned for starting a brawl, seduces her jailer into allowing her to escape. Sample lyrics (translated):
I will go to the place of my friend, Lillas Pastia.
I will go to dance the Seguidilla
And to drink Manzanilla
Yes, but all alone, one gets bored,
And the real pleasures are for two;
Here it is the weekend;
Who wants to love me? I will love him!
Who wants my soul? It¹s for the taking.
Un Bel Di
(“One Beautiful Day”) from Madame Butterfly by Puccini
Context: I saved the best for last! My all-time favorite aria is sung by the legendary Maria Callas. It's 1904, and Pinkerton, an American naval officer stationed in Nagasaki Japan, makes a marriage of convenience to a young Japanese woman nicknamed Butterfly. But Pinkerton leaves, and Butterfly sings the aria, which describes her expectation that one day Pinkerton will return.