Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"A Viennese New Year" program and notes

"A Viennese New Year" program and notes:

Christoph Willibald von Gluck Duet: “Va, ma tremo/Ah, mio ben”
(1714-1787) from Ezio, Act I

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Balletto a 4 — Die Fechtschule
(c1620-1680) (The Musical Sword Fight)
Aria 1
Aria 2
Bader Aria

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Aria: “Una voce sento al core”
(1756-1791) from La finta giardiniera, Act II

Aria: “Dolce d’amor compagna”
from La finta giardiniera, Act II

Johann Joseph Fux Concerto Le dolcezze e l’amerezze della notte
(1660-1741) Der Nachtwächter
Menuette & Trio
Fantasie notturne

W. A. Mozart Recitativo: “In un istante”
Aria: Parto m’affretto”
from Lucio Silla, Act II

Aria: “Va pure ad altri in braccio”
from La finta giardiniera, Act III

Johann Strauss II Pizzicato-Polka

W. A. Mozart Duet: “D’Elisio in sen m’attendi/Sposa adorata”
from Lucio Silla, Act I

Since the invention of opera around 1600, leading composers and intellectuals have attempted, once a generation or so, to cleanse their art of the excesses of their predecessors. So it was with Christoph Willibald von Gluck, whose “reform operas” have little of the plot complexities and decorative surface textures of Baroque opera. Instead, Gluck favored a more restrained, naturalistic kind of expression. His 1750 setting of the Metastasian libretto Ezio ennobles a story of revenge and deceit at the highest levels of Roman society. The duet “Va, ma tremo/Ah, mio ben” occurs at the end of Act I, as the general Ezio and his fiancée Fulvia realize that the Emporer’s jealousy may put an end not only to their wedding plans, but to Ezio’s life. The lovers thus pray fervently to the gods to “protect their faithfulness and love.”

A comparable situation causes the two characters of the final duet, from Mozart’s Lucio Silla (Milan, 1772), to express similar sentiments. This story, likewise borrowed from Roman history, includes a pair of lovers who get caught up in the intrigues of a jealous dictator. In this moving duet from the end of Act I, Giunia finds Cecilio, whom she feared dead, and the two express their happiness in tears of joy. Giunia’s great second act scene, part of the second group of arias on tonight’s program, gives a hint of the happy ending to come, though at this point in the drama the heroine is contemplating suicide, thinking she will not be able to rescue Cecilio from the wicked Lucio Silla’s prison.

The remaining three arias on this program are all taken from La finta giardiniera (The Pretend Garden-Girl), an opera Mozart wrote for a Munich theater in 1775. Its plot centers on the relationship between Count Belfiore and the Marchioness Violante, who assumes a disguise as the garden girl Sandrina in order to escape from the violent and abusive count. Sandrina sings “Una voce sento al core” at a particularly delicate moment in the middle of Act II, as she attempts to summon some affection (without success) for her new master, the Podestà, who has just declared himself enamored. “Dolce d’amor compagna,” the flip side of this emotional coin, is sung just a few minutes later by Ramiro, whose love Arminda foolishly rejects; his aria is an ode to unrequited love. Ramiro’s final aria “Va pure ad altri in braccio,” by contrast, is a bit of classic operatic rage, in which he bluntly tells the ungrateful Arminda where she can go.

Around these vocal works are grouped several evocative instrumental selections. Schmelzer depicts a fencing lesson within the parameters of the musical suite, complete with various dances and a “barber’s song” (“Bader Aria”) for the poor fellow whose job it was to bandage up the participants. One wonders whether such a work accompanied some kind of elaborate court ballet with abundant fencing, on the model of Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (which Ars Lyrica and the New York Baroque Dance Company presented here last June).

Johann Joseph Fux, a figure known more for his influential Gradus ad Parnassum (The Ascent to Parnassus), a textbook on counterpoint, was court composer to Emporer Leopold I. During his decades of service to the Viennese court, he composed in virtually every genre, including opera, oratorio, and instrumental works of all kinds. His concerto Le dolcezze e l’amerezze della note (The Sweetness and Tenderness of the Night) is really a suite. It begins solemnly, with a cantus-firmus like “call of the watchman,” but continues in a lighter vein, with characteristic dances and unpredictable “nighttime fantasie.”

A Viennese New Year would not be complete without at least a bit of Strauss, and so — on period instruments, no less — the famous “Pizzicato-Polka” of Johann Strauss II. With(out) our Baroque bows. Happy New Year, one and all!

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