Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Elektra and La Cenerentola Both Debuted on February 25; Nelson Eddy's Connection to Elektra

Gino Quilico
Rossini's comic masterpiece "La Cenerentola" and "Elektra," Richard Strauss' bloody story of revenge couldn't be more different in mood or music. However, both debuted on this day in history almost 100 years apart. La Cenerentola debuted at the Teatro Valle in Rome in 1817 and Elektra in Dresden in 1909. We thought it would be fun highlight these two great works, despite neither being known as vehicles for barihunks.

The role of Don Magnifico is usually performed by older compramario singers, but here is barihunk Jason Hardy singing "Miei rampolli femminini"

La Cenerentola actually rivaled Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" in popularity for decades before mysteriously following out of favor. It found new life during the 1960s, as a series of great mezzos began taking on the title role. In 1899, Jules Massenet had success with his opera "Cendrillon," which is also based on the Cinderella story.

Rossini's libretto actually varies substantially from the actual story, which may have contributed to its decline in popularity. In Rossini's version, the wicked stepmother is replaced by a stepfather, Don Magnifico and the Fairy Godmother is replaced by Alidoro, a philosopher, and the Prince's tutor. Cinderella is identified not by her glass slipper but by her bracelet.

Gino Quilico sings "Come un'ape ne' giorni d'aprile" from Rossini's La Cenerentola:

In the opera, the Prince of Salerno, Don Ramiro, changes places with his valet, Dandini, and then meets the girl of his dreams - Cenerentola (Cinderella). Meanwhile, Cenerentola's stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, fawn over the fake prince (Dandini). When Cenerentola is left alone, weeping, the Philosopher, Alidoro, takes her (dressed in beautiful clothing) to the palace, where she is an immediate hit with everyone - including Dandini. Confusion reigns when the identity of the real Prince is revealed.

The great ensemble "Questo è un nodo avviluppato"

Richard Strauss' "Elektra" is a one-act opera set to a German-language libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, which he adapted from his 1903 drama Elektra. The opera was the first of many collaborations between Strauss and Hofmannsthal. Elektra is musically complex and requires great stamina from the singers and orchestra. The role of Elektra is one of the most demanding in the dramatic soprano repertoire. Nevertheless, it solidly entrenched in the standard repertory and is certainly one of the most popular operas based on classical Greek mythology.

Nelson Eddy: The first Orest in the U.S.

The first United States performance of the opera in the original German was given by the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on October 29, 1931 with Nelson Eddy as Orest. Eddy, of course, would become one of Hollywood's biggest movie stars. However, he had a succesful career in opera before being forever remembered as Jeanette McDonald's singing partner in a series of musicals. 

Nelson Eddy sings "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Barber of Seville":

In 1924, Eddy won the top prize in a competition that included a chance to appear with the Philadelphia Opera Society. By the late 1920s, Eddy was appearing with the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company and had a repertoire of 28 operas, including Amonasro in Aida, Marcello in La bohème, Papageno in The Magic Flute, Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, both Tonio and Silvio in Pagliacci, and Wolfram in Tannhäuser. Eddy also performed in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas with The Savoy Company.

Leonie Rysanek as Elektra and Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau as Orest.

The plot of Elektra is based upon the great Greek tragedy of the same name by the tragedian Sophocles. The unrelenting gloom and horror that permeate the original play produce, in the hands of Hofmannsthal and Strauss, a drama whose sole theme is revenge. Klytaemnestra (Clytemnestra), helped by her paramour Aegisth (Aegisthus), has secured the murder of her husband, Agamemnon, and now is afraid that her crime will be avenged by her children, Elektra (Electra), Chrysothemis, and their banished brother Orest (Orestes). 

Eberhard Wächter was a great Oreste
Elektra, who is the personification of the passionate lust for vengeance, tries to persuade her timid sister to kill Klytaemnestra and Aegisth. Before the plan is carried out, Orest, who had been reported as dead, arrives, determined upon revenge for his father's death. He kills Klytaemnestra and Aegisth; Elektra, in an ecstatic dance of triumph, falls dead in front of her horror-stricken attendants.


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