Tag Archives: arias

Let’s Talk Bel Canto Baby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVdSSWB5-Nk

Lucia di Lammermoor. The Elixir of Love. Norma. What’s one major thing these masterpiece operas have in common? They are all part of the “bel canto” tradition of early 19th-century Italian opera. “Bel canto” directly translates into “beautiful singing,” but the movement is so much more than the beautiful arias that define it.

Norma; Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Norma; Photo: Ken Howard

The titans of bel canto – Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti and Gioachino Rossini – composed music that requires performers to have a number of vocal skills at their command: full, rich and even vocal tone; smooth, fluid musical phrasing; and tremendous vocal agility (the ability to sing a lot of fast-moving notes in a single phrase). These abilities come more naturally to some singers than to others, but even for those gifted singers who were born for bel canto, it still takes a lot of hard work in the rehearsal room to make it sound effortless. The words we use to describe bel canto may sound like gibberish if you don’t study voice, but I can promise you that the difference is quite clear. Check out Maria Callas performing “Casta diva” from Norma below and then contrast it with a non-bel canto piece: Birgit Nilsson singing “Allein, weh ganz, allein” (an early 20th-century German aria with vastly different vocal challenges) from Richard Strauss’s Elektra.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aFaEkvwO2w

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsNAWbslCGo

Still hungry for more information on bel canto? We’ve collected some great reference material to give you a taste of the bel canto movement below, including our top 5 bel canto operas to know.

Bel Canto: Audiences Love It, but What Is It? – via The New York Times

New York Times Chief Music Critic Anthony Tommasini discusses the history of the bel canto we know and love.

Talk Like an Opera Geek: Savoring The Bel Canto Sound – via NPR Music

It’s easy for opera fans to toss around the term “bel canto.” It’s much harder to actually define it. Literally, bel canto means “beautiful singing” in Italian, but it’s so open-ended that it’s come to mean anything from the lyrical trend in Roman cantatas from the 1640s to any particularly lovely snippet of vocalizing from any era. And then there’s the inverse of bel canto — “can belto” — a handy put-down to be flung at any singer who just stands and barks.

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From Allen to Zeffirelli: Gianni Schicchi & Pagliacci on the Silver and Small Screens

Since the July release of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, the internet has been ablaze with stories about opera in film. In the movie, Tom Cruise plays spy Ethan Hunt, who thwarts an assassination attempt during a performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. Rogue Nation is the latest in a long line of films that feature opera performances – utilizing arias to tell a story or illustrate elements of a character’s psyche. Franco Zeffirelli (whose production of Pagliacci returns to LA Opera this Saturday) specialized in making cinematic adaptations of operas in the 1980s, often collaborating with Plácido Domingo and Teresa Stratas. His 1982 adaptations of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are particularly stunning.

Two of the most famous arias to be used in film are “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. The former is a persuasive aria, which Lauretta uses to convince her father Gianni Schicchi to stop fighting with the family of Rinuccio, the man she loves, while the latter is sung by Canio in Pagliacci after he discovers his wife’s infidelity. Both arias have been included in a plethora of films and television shows for decades.

Here are a few examples:

“O mio babbino caro” – Gianni Schicchi

A Room with a View (1985) – In the film, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) is torn between her fiancé Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the free-spirited George Emerson (Julian Sands), after meeting the latter in Florence. “O mio babbino caro” (performed by Kiri Te Kanawa) is the film’s main theme, expressing Lucy’s choice between a light-hearted romance and a passionate romance.

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