Classical Pieces You May Have Missed--1

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Der Hölle Rache from The Magic Flute Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

This is one of the great, fascinating and incredibly difficult arias in the repertoire. As a result it is rarely sung well. But when it is, I don't know of any piece of music that can produce the thrilling effect of this one.

The Queen of Night (a baddy if there ever was one) upon finding out of the "betrayal" of an associate hands her daughter a knife and says:

My heart's aflame
with burning fiery vengeance.
Death! Death and despair are
Death and Despair are blazinge,
Burning Free!

If you cannot
bring on the pain of death upon Sarastro
Then you are nevermore my child to me.
YOu're nevermore my daught to me. Ah!
My duaghter you cannot be. Ah!
My daught you cannot be to me!
Disowned forever be!
Abandoned you will be!
Destroyed forever be!

All that nature dare.
Disowned, abandoned, be destroyed.
All that nature dare. Ah!
All that nature ever dare.
Unless. . . success. . .
Sarastro is demolished!
Hear, hear, hear!
Gods of vengeance,
Hear a mother's prayer!

(tr. Daniel Libman)

Okay, not what we'd call a role model for modern mothers. Nevertheless, this is opera and emotions tend to run a bit high in the course of things. (To hear a very fine counterbalance to this song, also listen to Papageno's song a bit later in the piece. A fine duet between two bird cathchers talking about all the children they will welcome into the family.)

Okay, once we get past the drama, what's so great about this piece of music? It is sung by a coloratura soprano--one skilled in a very ornamented and elaborate way of singing. In addition, my guess is that it must have parts that extend to the very highest vocal range of that soprano, because if the voice is good and the soprano hits the notes exactly right, they ring with flute-like tone and cease to sound as though formed by voice at all. The effect is truly astounding. From singing we get the impression that we have embarked on a flute solo. Beautiful doesn't begin to describe the impact of this piece sung well. It is, in fact, an absolute show stopper.

Now, because the piece is so difficult it hasn't found popularization in cartoons (The Barber of Seville, and "Kill da Wabbit" Ride of the Valkyries) or much other popular media. However, if you listen closely during the talent competition in Miss Congeniality the Opera singer sings this aria.

Do yourself a favor and check the disk out from the library. If you can find the performance by Lucia Popp, get it and have a listen. You'll be glad you did.

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As a flutist, I find it interesting that the coloratura strives to sound like the flute ....while the flutist strives for his instrument to produce a sound like the coloratura!



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 29, 2005 9:01 AM.

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