Bored with quarantine yet? Thought so.
This is a video of a recording session for a very under-appreciated duet from one of Handel’s operas, “Giulio Cesare” first performed in 1724. (Never heard of Handel? Oh, I bet you’ve heard his greatest hit.) I thought you might like to play a little mind game. Position your mouse over the play arrow, but close your eyes before you click it. Wait till after the harmony bit, until they get to the bit where they sing individually. Periodically see if you can guess who is singing, then open your eyes and see if you’re right.
Philippe Jaroussky is a French countertenor. His voice falls within in the very highest male vocal range, the male equivalent of a soprano. Nathalie Stutzmann, on the other hand, is a contralto. She is singing in the very lowest female vocal range, the female equivalent of a bass.
OK. So, in this next blast from the past (1791*), the lady with the spikey crown is The Queen of the Night (Diana Damrau), and she is not a happy camper. Her little rant, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,” is one of those virtuoso, blow-the-dust-off-the-chandeliers numbers. What it is, actually, is Mozart’s take on a royal hissy fit. In German.
In the interest of equal time, lets have some pyrotechnics from the men. This is a little number called “Vo solcando un mar crudele” from the opera “Artaserse” by Leonardo Vinci (no, not that one) first performed in 1730** The role of Arbace is being wrestled to the ground here by countertenor Franco Fagioli. This 2012 French production is remarkable for its period accuracy: All the female roles (that would have been sung by castrati back in the day) were sung by male countertenors in drag, and the singers’ costumes are period accurate. Seriously. Grown men used to walk around in public, in broad daylight dressed just like this guy, makeup and all. (Both men and women wore heavy, clown-white make up in those days. Mostly to cover up small pox scars.)
Yeah, they make faces when they sing. They’re using their mouths and faces to focus and project their voices in much the same way a traditional stage actor does. If you’ll notice, these singers don’t use mikes for performances. This is opera. You’d better put on your big boy knee breeches, because if you can’t hit those high C’s up into the nosebleed seats, you might as well take your ball and bat and go home.
One more by Handel. “Addio, mio caro bene” from the opera “Teseo” first performed in 1713.*** This time with mezzo soprano Natalia Kawałek countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński. This duet is about lovers saying goodbye as he goes off to war.
I’m throwing this next one in because I have the whole opera on CD with Natalie Dessay in the title role. Lakme was first performed in 1883*#. Listen to the echoes she gets in the concert hall. You’ve probably heard something else from this opera on a movie soundtrack or two (like the love scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger, and more recently, in films such as Meet the Parents and True Romance). But this is the aria that brings home the bacon.
Ballet is serious, highbrow stuff. Right? Um, no. . .
*1791 -- the French have been revolting since 1789, Louis XVI is still on the throne, but not for long. The Americans have won their revolution (1783) but are still trying to figure out this states thing and which end is up. Geo. Washington is in the third year of his first term as President. **1730 The year the city of Baltimore, Maryland was founded. A year before Benjamin Franklin founds the first public library in America in Philadelphia. Geo. Washington will not be born for another two years. ***1713 In America the first of the French and Indian wars begins. The treaty of Utrecht ends the war of the Spanish Succession and puts this guy on the Spanish throne. #*1883 Chester A. Arthur is President. The Brooklyn Bridge is finished and opened for traffic. The first Rodeo takes place in Pecos, Texas. Americans began raising funds to build a base for the Statue of Liberty a year ago. My maternal great great grandmother, who immigrated to Texas from Saxony (Germany) at age 6, died two years ago, as did her youngest child, a daughter, aged 2. My maternal grandmother will not be born for another three years.