The Great Tenor
This post is part of the 12-part series, Opera’s Most Beautiful Moments. If you haven’t read the introductory post to the series, click here!
Poetry is not greatly concerned with what a man thinks, but with what is so embedded in his nature that it never occurs to him to question it; not a matter of which idea he holds, but of the depth at which he holds it. – Ezra Pound
I wonder if my perception is correct…how few of those in society today understand the great power and elegance of poetic statements? Not only can they greatly influence our life and its direction, but they also have a very great persuasive power (as any listener to a Ravi Zacharias lecture can attest to). I think the more one draws away from the norms of society into whatever he/she continually learns is true and worth doing, the more one loves, respects, and stands in awe of poetry. Now imagine being involved in (or enjoying) an art form that allows you to listen to, or create powerful poetic statements in many languages accompanied by the greatest music ever composed (or hopefully still being composed), and the most incredible use of the human voice possible? I have included many great poetic moments of opera below via Spotify, and I have included the words of these recordings below, in both the original language and in an accurate translation. I hope the following recordings and words help you to explore rather than to explain.
If you haven’t downloaded spotify yet (it is free, has a ton of music, and pays the artists from advertisements that listeners view), click here
Open this playlist in spotify, here.
The exact clips I prepared for the recordings I list here are Recondita Armonia – 1:48-3:00, Manon: Il Sogno – 0:41-2:00 (or to the end), O Suave Fanciulla 0:00-1:14, and In Quelle Trine Morbide – 0:48-1:26.
Recondita Armonia – Pavarotti
I explained this recording once before in the introduction to this series, but if you missed it, here it is again: This is almost the exact recording that first made me consider loving opera. It is so beautiful and poetic. Originally I was inspired by the melody that Puccini wrote at the end of the aria when Pavarotti sings, “Ah! Il mio solo pensiero sei tu! Tosca sei tu!” The aria is about a painter. When he paints different women, he always ends up adding the features of the woman he loves to the painting. The title, “Recondita Armonia” means roughly “Hidden Harmony” and the music that gracefully moves from high to low and settles in the middle, poetically conveys the thoughts of these two women. The last phrase he sings is translated, “Tosca, my only thought is you.” How is that for poetry?
Manon: Il Sogno – Beniamino Gigli
This is arguably the most beautiful aria that I know of in opera, and here I will try to do it justice in an explanation. In it, Chevalier Des Grieux sings to the woman he loves (Manon) and tells her of his dream for the both of them. Here are the lyrics in the original French (Gigli sings it in Italian), and I will translate some of it below for you (French is so gorgeous, and if you want to hear it in the French I have a recording of it in this section, 3. Diminuendi):
En fermant les yeux, je vois
Là-bas… une humble retraite,
Toute blanche au fond des bois!
Sous ses tranquilles ombrages
Les clairs et joyeux ruisseaux,
Où se mirent les feuillages,
Chantent avec les oiseaux!
C’est le paradis!… Oh non!
Tout est là triste et morose,
Car il y manque une chose,
Il y faut encore Manon!
Here is the closest English translation I can give you (forgive any of my French mistakes!):
As I close my eyes, I see
A humble retreat,
a small white house in the woods!
It is in the tranquil shade.
There is light and a joyous stream,
where the leaves sing with the birds!
It is paradise! But no…
Everything is sad and morose,
because one thing is missing,
O Suave Fanciulla – Jussi Bjorling and Victoria De Los Angeles
This is the poetic moment I talk about most often. Rodolfo and Mimi are singing a duet after having fallen in love. Here are the lyrics and what they mean:
O soave fanciulla, o dolce viso
di mite circonfuso alba lunar
in te, vivo ravviso il sogno
ch’io vorrei sempre sognar!
O beautiful girl, O sweet face,
illuminated by the moon,
in you I see the dream I have
always wanted to dream!