Maria Malibran (soprano)
(The following article was written for the programme of the Grand Opening of the Clapham Opera Festival 2015)
This year's opening concert takes us back to that age when Opera was the undisputed Queen of Entertainment - the late 18th Century and the 19th Century.
Having started its development three centuries earlier with the experiments of a group of individuals in Florence who wanted to bring back the ideals of Greek theatre - text declamation accompanied with music -, Opera took the Western Culture by storm, evolving from the simple recited words of the 16th century, to the highly virtuosistic writing of the Baroque period and ending in the high drama of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
As one would guess, this Grand spectacle created superstars: singers capable of such displays of vocal opulence that they owned everything, from the audience's adulation to the Theatre impresarios' purses...
This evening we'll revisit some of Opera's grander moments: "Casta Diva" that an adoring Bellini composed for his diva Giuditta Pasta, "Ah, per sempre io ti perdei" that the same composer wrote for the "King of Baritones" Antonio Tamburini, and one of Verdi's favourite characters to compose, the emotionally troubled Azucena from "Il Trovatore" (and who wouldn't be troubled after mistakenly throwing their baby on to a pyre). We'll also hear a bit of Gounod's "Faust" (the most performed opera of its time) and Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann" which sealed its composer's grip on the French operatic scene.
These pieces of music put singers' limits to the test, demanding from them the ability to sing very long lines, burst into displays of agile virtuosity and then deliver dramatic outbursts that project the text and heightened emotions to the back of a theatre.
It isn't surprising then that these arias became the "Top of the Pops" of their time: families would buy the sheet music and have it at the ready to play during their soirees and it was very frequent to hear these arias in music boxes and all kinds of popular settings.
Tonight we'd like to take you back to that Era. We hope you will enjoy the selection of Everything Grand about Opera we made and which will hopefully introduce you to not only everyone's favourites but also to some pieces which in the meantime have been a bit forgotten despite their popularity.