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From Bohème to Broadway: The Stories Behind the Music

Before you head to Symphony Park for our final Summer Pops concert of the season, be sure to brush up on all the drama behind your favorite Opera and Broadway tunes with this handy guide, courtesy of Opera Carolina's Artistic Director, James Meena. 

Introduction to Act III from Wagner's Lohengrin
Lohengrin is a romantic opera in three acts, first performed in 1850. The story is taken from medieval German romances and is part of the Knight of the Swan legend. King Ludwig II of Bavaria named his castle Neuschwanstein Castle after the Swan Knight. It was King Ludwig's patronage that later gave Wagner the means and opportunity to complete, build a theatre for, and stage his epic Ring Cycle. The most popular and recognizable part of Lohengrin is the Bridal Chorus, now famous as "Here Comes the Bride," usually played as a processional at weddings. The orchestral preludes to Acts I and III are frequently performed separately as concert pieces.

Musetta's Waltz from Puccini's La Bohème 
Marcello and his friends are in Paris' famous Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve having supper when Musetta, the famous beauty and Marcello's Ex, enters with her latest sugar-daddy, the doddering Alcindoro. When she sees Marcello, who she still loves, she mercilessly teases him by singing this famous waltz: "Wherever I'm seen, everyone stops and takes me in from head to toe."

Amor ti vieta from Giordano's Fedora
Count Loris Ipanov has killed his wife's lover, who was engaged to Princess Fedora. Fedora does not know the circumstances behind her fiancé's murder, but suspects it was Ipanov, who has been exiled from Russia as a murder suspect. As fate would have it, Fedora and Ipanov meet and he declares his love for her in this passionate aria: "Love forbids you to not love. Your soft hand which rejects me seeks my hand. Your eyes express "I love you", even if your lip says "I won't love you."

Habanera from Bizet's Carmen
The gypsy Carmen has a unique view on men and love: "Love is a rebellious bird that nobody can tame, and you call him in vain if it suits him not to come. Nothing helps, neither threat nor prayer. One man speaks well, the other's quiet; it's the other one that I prefer. He's silent but I like his looks. Love! Love! Love! Love!"

La donna è mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto
The Duke of Mantua has a similar view about women as Carmen, but far more dangerous and abusive. "Woman is fickle. Like a feather in the wind, she changes her voice -- and her mind. Always sweet, a pretty face, in tears or in laughter -- she is always lying. The man who trusts her is always miserable. The man who confides in her -- his heart will break! But one never feels fully happy who does not drink love!"

Sull' aria from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro
The aging Count Almaviva has grown tired of his wife, and he intends to seduce her maid, Susanna. The women set a plan in motion to exchange coats and meet the Count in the garden late at night. The Count will think it is Susanna, when it is his own wife, and everyone will know how unfaithful he can be. To set their trap, the Countess dictates a letter that Susanna will deliver to the Count.

Che gelida manina from Puccini's La Bohème
Rodolfo is a poet. When he meets his neighbor, the seamstress Mimi, it is love at first sight. In this famous aria, he explains who he is, what he does and how he lives. "Who am I? I'm a poet. What do I do? I write. How do I live? I live. In my poverty I am a rich man. Verses of love and of dreams are my riches."

Chi il bel Sogno from Puccini's La Rondine
Magda is an aging beauty. Borne a peasant, she came to Paris at an early age to find her place in the world. Lacking money or skills, she becomes the mistress of the wealthy Rambaldo. At an evening party she is hosting for her patron, the poet Prunier entertains them with the story of Doretta, an aging beauty who never found true love, but he can't quite come up with the ending. Magda supplies it for him: "One day a student kisses her on the lips -- it was a revelation: It was crazy love! Crazy intoxication! Who could the subtle caress of such flaming a kiss ever describe? Ah, my dream -- my life! Who cares about riches if it never flourishes happiness! Golden dream to be able to love like this."

No puede ser from Zorozábal's La Tabernera del Puerto
La Taberna del Puerto is a Zarzuela by Pablo Sorozábal. Premiered in 1936, it tells the story of sailors in a small fishing town in northern Spain. Juan is using the beautiful Marola to manipulate Leandro into a crime. When Leandro learns this, he exclaims: "It can't be. This woman is good, she can't be wicked! In her eyes, like a strange light, I've seen she is unhappy. Those eyes that cry don't know how to lie. Gleaming in her eyes I saw two tears, and my hope is that they will gleam for me. Vivid light of my hopes, be merciful with my love. Because I can't pretend, I can't be silent, I can't live!"

O mio babbino caro from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi
Rinuccio Donati, heir to the wealthiest family fortune in Florence, loves Lauretta Schicchi, the daughter of the clever 'new man' Gianni Schicchi. The young couple want to be married but the Donati family and Gianni Schicchi want nothing to do with it. "What will I do for these people?" Schicchi yells: "Nothing!" How does a sixteen-year-old girl in love reply? "My dear Daddy. If you don't let me marry Rinuccio I will throw myself in the river." Dad's -- What would you do?

La calunnia from Rossini's The Barber of Seville
In this prequal to The Marriage of Figaro, the young Count Almaviva has come to Seville to woo the beautiful Rosina (later the Countess), who is the ward of Dr. Bartolo. Bartolo will do anything to prevent this. His servant, Basilio claims to be a master conniver. He will start a rumor against the Count which will drive him back to Madrid. He explains: "A rumor begins like a gentle breeze. Little by little it grows, hissing, flowing, buzzing from ear to ear until it explodes like a cannon. And the object of the rumor is sent home packing!"

All I Ask of You from Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera
In 1984, Lloyd Webber contacted producer Cameron Mackintosh to propose a new musical. He was aiming for a romantic piece, and suggested Gaston Leroux's book The Phantom of the Opera as a basis. They screened the 1925 Lon Chaney classic and the 1943 Claude Rains motion picture versions, but neither saw any effective way to make the leap from film to stage. Lloyd Webber then found a second-hand copy of the original, long-out-of-print Leroux novel, which supplied the necessary inspiration to develop a musical: "I was actually writing something else at the time, and I realized that the reason I was hung up was because I was trying to write a major romantic story, and I had been trying to do that ever since I started my career. Then with the Phantom, it was there!"

Song to the Moon from Dvořák's Rusalka
The mermaid Rusalka has fallen in love with a human -- the Prince. Now she wants to become human herself and live on land to be with him. Rusalka's father, the Water Sprite, is horrified and tells her that humans are evil and full of sin. When Rusalka insists, claiming they are full of love, he says she will have to get help from the witch Ježibaba. Rusalka calls on the moon to tell the Prince of her love. "Oh, moon, up in the deep sky, Your light sees distant places, You travel 'round the wide world, You look into people's houses. O, moon, stay for a moment, Tell me where is my love! Tell him, silver moon, that I embrace him, that he should for a while remember his dreams of me. Tell him who waits here for him."

Au fond du temple saint from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers
Childhood friends, Nadir and Zurga, are reunited after many years. They recall their friendship that was almost ruined when they both fell in love with a Hindu priestess. They swore never to set aside their friendship for her. "From the holy shrine, like a phantom she rose, a girl that haunts my soul. A hush descended around her. Look -- Behold the goddess. She lifts her veil -- Blessed site. The people fall to the ground at her radiant beauty." When the priestess returns to their village, their friendship is once again tested.

Maria from Bernstein's West Side Story
West Side Story was conceived by Jerome Robbins, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and script by Arthur Laurents. Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the story explores the rivalry between the Puerto Rican Sharks and the white gang, the Jets. Tony, a former member of the Jets and best friend of the gang's leader, Riff, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in musical theatre.

Nessun dorma! from Puccini's Turandot
Puccini's final opera is set in mythical China. The Princess Turandot has declared that only the nobleman who can answer her three riddles is worthy of her hand. Calaf, the prince of Mongolia has come to Beijing, escaping the coup d'é-tat that has made him an exile. A stranger to everyone in Beijing, he answers Turandot's riddles, but he wants her to marry him out of love. He sets his own riddle: "No one knows my name -- Tell me my name by morning, and you can kill me." The Princess orders that No One May Sleep (Nessun dorma) until his name is revealed.

Posted in Summer. Tagged as summer pops.

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