Olga Guryakova, My Soul Enraptured

Olga Guryakova, soprano
Constantine Orbelian, conductor
Philharmonia of Russia

CHARPENTIER Louise: Depuis le jour
VERDI: Otello: Willow Song • Ave Maria
VERDI: Don Carlos: Tu che le vanita
PUCCINI: La Boheme: Mi chiamano Mimi
PUCCINI: La Boheme: Addio! Donde lieta usci
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly: Un bel di vedremo
PUCCINI: Tosca: Vissi d'arte
GOUNOD: Faust: Il etait un roi de Thule • Ah! Je ris (Jewel Song)

Olga Guryakova's choice, for her second solo disc for Delos, of beloved arias from the Italian and French repertoires reminds us how easily composers themselves moved between the musical styles of these countries. Don Carlos (1867) was the third and last of the grand operas Verdi wrote for Paris's Opera, but it became virtually an Italian opera, at least in the minds of most opera goers, when he revised it for performance at La Scala in 1884. In her great aria in Act 5, Elisabeth de Valois prays at the tomb of Charles V while waiting for Don Carlos, to whom she had pledged her love in her native France before being constrained to marry his father, Philip II of Spain, for reasons of state. In the outer sections of this French ternary aria, she sings a melody of ehterial beauty as she beseeches Charles V to carry her prayers to the Lord. Among the many recollections in the episodic middle section is one of her homeland, sung as flutes delicately reprise the melody of her initial duet with Carlos; their Spanish garden duet is also recalled, and she fleetingly urges nature to proclaim their love. But as the turbulent string theme from the aria's introduction returns, she realizes that the only peace that awaits her is that of the grave.

Desdemona's Willow Song and Ave Maria from Verdi's Otello (Milan, 1887) represent still another last-act scene in which a female protagonist reflects on her troubled relationship with the man she loves. But the mood of this shattering scene, from the first mournful tones of the english horn, is one of unrelieved sorrow. Desdemona tells her confidante Emilia that Otello has become calmer, but nonetheless she has a premonition of her death. The english horn remains prominjent in the Willow Song, about a girl who was abandoned by her lover, each strophe ending poignantly with the refrain "Salce, cantiamo" (Williw, let us sing). As Emilia prepares to go, the restraint Desdemona has heretofore shown gives way to an outpouring of emotion as she bids Emilia an impassioned farewell. But the tranquil mood soon returns when, borrowing an idea from Rossini's operatic version of Othello, Verdi has Desdemona offer a prayer, in this case one to the Virgin Mary, before Otello's fateful appearance.

Both the vocal and instrumental writing in Desdemona's scene show a debt to French style, and indeed its prominent open fifths and modal harmonies are also present in Marguerite's ballad about the King of Thule from Gournod's Faust (1859). Gournod first conceived the idea of basing an opera on Goethe's Faust during his student years in Italy as a winner of the Prix de Rome, but there he seems to have been more occupied with sacred music than opera. In any case, Marguerite's ballad initiates a double aria in the familiar Italian form, with a substantial intervening section between the principal lyrical movements. during that section she finds a bouquet from her young admirer Siebel but understandably is more impressed by the astonishing casket of jewels left for her by Faust. Its discovery precipitates the cabaletta known as the Jewel Song, the kind of sparkling waltz that Gounod specialized in giving his operatic heroines.

The most obvious French quality of Puccini's La Boheme (Turin, 1898) is its Parisian setting. In the first of her two arias, the endearing "Mi chiamano Mimi, the simple embroiderer Mimi introduces herself to her neighbor Rodolfo, with whom she is simultaneously falling in love. Her pleasures are simple ones, but the aria rises to an emotional pitch when she describes her joy upon seeing the first sun of a new spring season. Minim sings, "Donde lieta usci" after she and Rodolfo decide to break off their relationship; she is dying of consumption, and he feels unable to care for her adequately. Her repeated line "Addio, senza rancor" indicates that she hopes they can remain on good terms as she prepares to resume the solitary life she described in "Mi chiamano Mimi," tellingly, a number of delicate musical allusions are made to the earlier aria.

The violence of Act 2 of Puccini's Tosca (Rome, 1900) with its scenes of torture, finds a moment of respite in the heoine's prayerful aria "Vissi d'arte." In her desperate effort to save the life of her lover Cavaradossi, she has agreed to give herself to the Roman police chief, Baron Scarpia. In the aria, she asks the Lord why, after leading a devout life in which she has never harmed a living creature, she is rewarded to harshly in her hour of sorrow. Prominent in the orchestra is the theme with which Tosca was introduced in Act 1.

In the third of Puccini's trio of popular favorites, Madama Butterfly (Milan, 1904; rev. Brescia, 1904), the heroine's familiar aria, Un bel di vedremo, has a context scarcely less novel than "Vissi d'arte." As the former Japanese geisha girl awaits the return of her America naval officer husband, she describes his expected arrival in precise detail, "acting the scene as if it were really happening," according to the stage directions. First a trace of smoke is seen on the horizon, then a white ship enters the harbor. But she won't go down to meet him; she will wait at the top of the hill. And when he arrives there, she will hide, partly to tease him and partly -- she sings as the orchestra reprises the main theme fortissimo -- so that she won't die from joy at their reunion.

Charpentier's Louise had its premiere at Paris's Opera Comique in 1900, but the composer, a former student of Massenet, began the opera more than a decade before, when, like Gounod, he was in Italy as a Prix de Rome winner. Charpentier had been reluctant to leave his home in Montmartre, and the district takes on an almost idealized state in the opera. It is to Montmartre that Louise, a Parisian working girl, has gone to be with her artist lover after leaving her sternly protective parents. "My dream was not a dream," she blissfully sings in the famous aria "Depuis le jour," yet the aria has a dreamlike voluptuousness that sets it apart from the stark realism with which Charpentier portrayed working class life elsewhere in Louise, the work widely regarded as the prime French manifestation of the Italian versimo spirit.

--George Loomis

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