If you have ever payed our Turl Street shop a visit, you will likely be more than aware of our affinity for opera. Come rain or shine, morning, noon, or night, a sparkling aria is never far away on our shop playlist! In honour of our new Opera Librettos Journal, I felt it would be opportune to talk to our resident opera aficionados, Azeem and Kirsty, about their (current) favourite arias. Lo facciamo?
Azeem - Ebben? Ne Andrò Lontana, La Wally, Alfredo Catalani
A permanent fixture on our playlist, the title of Catalani's most famous aria translates to 'Well then? I'll go far away', and chronicles protagonist Wally's decision to leave home forever. The aria was actually written before the rest of the opera in 1878 - entitled Chanson Groënlandaise - before Puccini decided to include it in La Wally, which was first performed in 1892.
Wally's father has asked her to leave as a result of her wishing to marry Hagenbach - the son of her father's greatest enemy - and refusing to marry the man her Father has chosen for her. As a result, Wally decides she will go 'Quite far away, and perhaps [...] will never more return', suggesting that she would rather take her chances wandering 'somewhere in the white snow' than be without Hagenbach. Wally returns a year later after her father's death, and following many difficulties, Wally and Hagenbach are finally united in their love in the closing moments of the opera. Tragically, however, after professing his love to Wally, Hagenbach triggers an avalanche that crushes him. Overcome with grief, Wally jumps to her death from atop the mountain, and the curtain falls.
Due to the logistics of the avalanche in the final act, the opera is very rarely performed, but it has been recorded numerous times - most notably with Maria Callas as Wally. This 1954 recording is Azeem's favourite version of his most beloved aria. Azeem says that this aria is the one that most resonates with his life, and that the themes of family have made it even more meaningful to him since his parents sadly passed away in the last few years. While La Wally may not often be performed, this aria is on regular rotation in our Turl Street shop, and has become a staple of the ambience we attempt to create in our corner of Oxford.
Kirsty - O Soave Fanciulla, La Boheme, Giacomo Puccini
Perhaps Puccini's most famous duet, 'O Soave Fanciulla' - translating to 'O Gentle Maiden' - ends the first act of his 1896 opera La Boheme, which documents the the lives of a poor seamstress and her friends in fin de siecle Paris. Based on an 1851 novel by Henri Murger, La Boheme is a staple of our shop playlist, but 'O Soave Fanciulla' remains its highlight for Kirsty. For her, the mixing of the tenor and soprano is the finest example of its kind in operatic duets, and she believes that no other aria conveys the theme of love with quite as much force as La Boheme's highlight.
Mimì, the poor seamstress whose life the opera revolves around, has called upon her neighbour Rodolfo, a poet, as her candles have blown out, and she has no matches left. Once her candles are re-lit, and she has recovered from a feeling of faintness that overcame her, Mimì attempts to return home, but realises she has lost her key. Rodolfo finds the key and hides it on his person, eager to spend more time with Mimì, and the two begin to realise their feelings for each other. Rodolfo sees Mimì's head haloed in moonlight and proclaims 'Oh, sweet face bathed in the soft moonlight. I see in you the dream I'd dream forever!': after a some romantic back and forth, the pair exit the stage exulting 'Beloved! My love! My love!' in blissful unison. The depth of feeling in this duet is only rivalled by the raw emotion of Rodolfo weeping over Mimì's eventual death, after she succumbs to her consumption moments before the opera closes.
Our Newest Operatic Creation
We firmly believe that bittersweet tragedy of these arias - with their unrealised love, turbulent and short lived protagonists, and abiding emotional impact - is always best enjoyed through live stagings of the respective operas, and we try to attend as often as we can. We have long wanted to create a journal hat could accompany us on these important visits, and as such we have created the Opera Libretto Journal.
The journal has been thoughtfully designed to allow for an original language transcription of your favourite arias on one side of the journal, with the translation on the other side. With 72 pages, the journal can hold many of your most beloved librettos, but is still svelte enough to fit into a jacket pocket or handbag, allowing for it to accompany you to your favourite opera houses around the world!
The Opera Librettos Journal is available in our Turl Street shop, or on our website here. We hope to see you all at the next performance of La Boheme with your journal in hand!
Stay safe and well, Scriptum blog readers x