Suite from Platée
• Baptized: September 25, 1683, Dijon, France
• Died: September 12, 1764, Paris
• Opera composed: 1745
• Premiere: March 31, 1745, Versailles, at the wedding of Dauphin Louis and Maria-Theresa of Spain
• Instrumentation: 2 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, wind machine, harpsichord, theorbo, strings
• CSO notable performances: These performances are the Suite's CSO premiere.
• Duration: approx. 20 minutes
France’s leading musical figure of the mid-18th century, Jean-Philippe Rameau, was born in 1683 in Dijon, where his father was a church organist. Rameau’s early training as a lawyer came to naught, and in 1701 he traveled briefly in northern Italy as a violinist and organist before settling first at Avignon and later at Clermont-Ferrand to play organ and teach. He began composing works for the harpsichord and for church use at that time, and in 1705 he moved to Paris, hoping to establish himself in Europe’s most sophisticated city. Though he published his first book of harpsichord pieces during his three years there, he did not find great success in the capital, and in 1708 he returned to Dijon to succeed his father as organist at Notre Dame. In 1722 he went again to Pairs to publish his Traité de l’harmonie, a monumental treatise codifying the important advances in music theory and harmony during the preceding decades. He became organist at Sainte-Croix-de-la-Brétonnerie, and continued to compose keyboard works while preparing a sequel to his treatise. His work eventually brought him to the attention of La Riche de la Pouplinière, a wealthy tax collector who devoted a considerable portion of his fortune to supporting musicians. La Pouplinière made Rameau head of his household orchestra, and, when he learned of his protégé’s ambition to compose for the stage, put him in tough with the librettist Simon-Joseph Pellegrin. Together they produced the opera Hippolyte et Aricie in Paris in 1733 (Rameau had just turned 50), which stirred the rage of the conservative partisans of Lully's operas when it achieved a fine and unexpected success because of its harmonic audacities and extravagant orchestration. As other successful operas followed—Les Indes galantes (1735), Castor et Pollux (1737), Dardanus (1739)—his opposition increased, notably from that great lover of all things natural and unspoiled, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who contended that the simple style of Italian opera was superior to Rameau’s elaborate French variety of the genre. Despite Rousseau’s venomous attacks, however, Rameau’s acclaim continued, and he wrote steadily for the stage until his death at the age of 81 in 1764; he left nearly 30 examples of the tragédie lyrique and opéra-ballet to supplement his reputation as a theorist and composer for the harpsichord.
Platée is one of the earliest French comic operas. Rameau's librettist, Le Valois d'Orville, based his text on a play by Jacques Autreau that enlisted several characters from Greek mythology in a newly contrived, and rather cruel, farce. Platée is a nymph of numbing ugliness who lives in a great marsh with only frogs and cuckoos as companions. She is blind to her own homeliness, and so is not surprised when Jupiter himself arrives to court her. Jupiter's suit is merely a ploy, however, since his real purpose is to dispel the jealousy of his wife, Juno, by showing her that it would be impossible for anyone to love a girl of Platée's indescribable visage. Mercury informs Juno of Jupiter's whereabouts, and she arrives in time to observe, under cover, the festivities surrounding the mock wedding ceremony. She emerges just before the vows are to be exchanged, tears the veil from Platée’s face, and realizes that the nymph is no rival for Jupiter's affection. Jupiter and Juno are reconciled. At the final curtin, Platée, angry and humiliated, rushes back to her marsh.
Throughout the opera, Platée is not only the butt of the gods’ practical joke, but also the object of almost continuous ridicule about her appearance, a matter that has produced a certain uneasiness in many beholders of the work. Inexplicably, its premiere was given as part of the festivities surrounding the wedding at Versailles in 1745 of the Dauphin Louis and Maria-Theresa of Spain, a woman reportedly untouched by the least evidence of beauty. The work was revived for several performances in Paris four years later, and proved to be an important whetting the French appetite for comic musical theater, which reached a fever pitch when Italian opera buffa invaded the city in 1752. Platée was seen once more, in 1759, and then not mounted again until 1901, when it was given in Munich in German.
Baron Melchior Grimm, a German expatriate recently arrived in Paris at the time, wrote that the opera is “Rameau’s masterpiece and the most excellent piece of music that has yet been heard upon our stage. I came to Paris as prejudiced against your opera as all foreigners are…. To my great surprise, I heard a sublime work, Platée.”
Suite from Les Boréades (“The Sons of Boreas”)
• Opera composed: 1763
• Premiere: July 1982, Aix-en-Provence (fully staged), John Eliot Gardner conducting
• Instrumentation: 2 flutes (incl. 2 piccolos), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, tabor, tambour de basque, wind machine, continuo (harpsichord and theorbo), strings
• CSO notable performances: These performances are the Suite’s CSO premiere.
• Duration: approx. 20 minutes
Les Boréades (“The Sons of Boreas”), Rameau’s last completed opera, was put into rehearsal in April 1763, probably for a performance before the court at Choisy. The production was abandoned for unknown reasons, however, and Les Boréades was not staged before the composer’s death a year later; its theatrical premiere was given in July 1982 at Aix-en-Provence. Cuthbert Girdlestone outlined the plot in his pioneering 1957 biography of Rameau:
The story is laid in ancient Bactria, a kingdom in western Asia ruled by a queen, Alphise, who is bound by tradition to marry a descendant of Boreas, god of the north wind. She is in love with a gallant adventurer, Abaris, of unknown origin, who has been brought up by the high priest of Apollo. As she may not marry him and keep her throne she decides to abdicate. Boreas will have none of this and shows his displeasure through tempest, thunder and earthquake. Polymnia, with Muses and Zephyrs, and finally Apollo himself, intervene in favor of Abaris, whose resistance is strengthened by the possession of a magic arrow, given by Love to Alphise and by her to Abaris. His triumph is determined by the revelation of his birth: he is the fruit of Apollo’s love for a nymph, a daughter of Boreas. He may therefore reign over Bactria and everyone is satisfied except other Boread pretenders, who had played their part in the troubles.
As was characteristic of French opera at that time, the score is filled with colorful and descriptive instrumental numbers.
Three Arias from Partenope
Born: April 23, 1891, Sontsovka, Ekaterinoslav, Russia | Died: March 5, 1953, Moscow
Work composed: 1915-1917
Premiere: October 18, 1923, Paris, Marcel Darrieux, violinist; Serge Koussevitzky, conductor
Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, tuba, timpani, snare drum, tambour de basque, harp, strings
CSO notable performances: Eleven previous subscription weekends | Premiere: November 1926 (Emery Auditorium), Fritz Reiner conducting; Lea Luboshutz, violinist | Most recent: November 2014, Andrey Boreyko conducting; Benjamin Schmid, violinist | Isaac Stern was violinist for April 1966 performances under Max Rudolf.
Duration: approx. 22 minutes
Partenope, founding queen of ancient Naples, is beingcourted by Arsace, Prince of Corinth. Arsace has abandoned Rosmira, Princess of Cyprus, to carry his suit to Partenope. Rosmira, still in love with Arsace, has devised an elaborate plan to win him back, and followed him to Naples disguised as a rival suitor for Partenope’s hand. When they meet and recognize each other, she asks him not to reveal her identity. After seeing Rosmira again, he comes to regret leaving her and sings of his renewed feelings for her in the aria Sento amor (“Love unrelenting”). Rosmira, though still in love with Arsace, refuses to take him back until he has again proven his fidelity to her, and he sings of his despair in the agitated aria that closes Act II, Furibondo spira il vento (“As the wind whistles furiously”). Further complications ensue involving two additional suitors, a battle scene, and the still-disguised Rosmira challenging Arsace to a sword duel (the opera is a comedy in the form of an opera seria) that culminate in Rosmira, claiming she is not yet convinced of his fidelity, ordering Arsace leave her. Despairing, he responds with the poignant aria Ch’io parta? Sì crudele (“And must I, cruel maid, depart?") When they meet again on the dueling field, he says that he will fight bare-chested and demands that his rival do the same. Rosmira judges that Arsace has kept his word not to reveal her identity as proof of his renewed constancy, and makes herself known to all. They are united in the final scene, as are Partenope and another of her numerous suitors.
SENTO AMOR from PARTENOPE
Rosmira, oh dio! Rosmira,
sotto mentite spoglie
di me sen viene in traccia
rinnova le mie doglie, e vuol chi'io taccia
Sento amor con novi dardi
ma il più dolce è il primo strale.
E fra cento accesi sguardi
il primiero al fin prevale
Sento amor ...
Rosmira, oh ye gods! the fair Rosmira,
in disguise, pursues my wandering course,
and follows here her faithless fugitive,
renews my sorrows and enjoins me to silence.
Love unrelenting, with a new arrow,
less pleasing than the first, has pierced my heart.
Amid the languish of each glance I find
my soul inclined more fondly to the first one.
CH'IO PARTA? from PARTENOPE
Ch'io parta? Si crudele.
Parto, ma senza cor.
Ché nel mio sen fedele
nel luogo ov'ere il cor, è il mio dolor.
Ch'io parta? ...
And must I, cruel maid, depart?
I go, but leave my heart with you.
For now, its place
ithin my faithful breast is possessed by my grief.
And must I...
FURIBONDO SPIRA IL VENTO from PARTENOPE
Furibondo spira il vento
E sconvolge il cielo e 'I suol.
Tal adesso I'alma io sento
Agita dal mio duol.
As the wind whistles furiously
And convulses heaven and earth,
So I now feel my soul
Churned up by my sorrow.
—Jonathan D. Kramer
Concerto Grosso in A Major, Op. 6, No. 11
Work composed: 1739
Premiere: March 1739, King’s Theatre, London
Instrumentation: 2 solo violins, cello solo, continuo (harpsichord and theorbo), strings
CSO notable performances: These performances are the CSO premiere of the Concerto Grosso.
Duration: approx. 18 minutes
It has been given to few composers in the history of music to make a fortune from their works. Handel made two. He first arrived in London in 1710 after stocking his artistic cupboard with the most popular operatic conventions of the day, learned during his Italian apprenticeship. More than his compositional competitors, however, Handel brought to these practices a seemingly inexhaustible talent for rapturous melody and dogged entrepreneurship. Soon his operas became all the fashion among elegant Londoners, even though the audience could understand hardly a word of the Italian in which they were sung. Handel got rich.
By 1728, however, the locals were having doubts about what Samuel Johnson called this “exotic and irrational entertainment” which were brought on in no small part by a wildly satirical parody that became a smashing success: The Beggar’s Opera. The taste for stage works in English blossomed, and the old Italian opera went into decline. Handel tried valiantly to sustain interest in the superannuated form, and continued to compose and produce Italian operas for another decade. His proceeds slipped as the public’s enthusiasm waned. By 1728, the fashion for Italian opera in London was virtually defunct, and, along with it, Handel's first fortune. Several years before the final crash of his operatic stock, however, Handel had begun experimenting with a new musical form, a hybrid that he concocted from his luscious operatic style and the old German and Italian works based on biblical stories. The first of his English-language "oratorios" was Esther in 1732, and, when opera no longer provided an income of sufficient heft, he poured his considerable energy into this new form. It was not long before his popularity (and his exchequer) reached unprecedented heights.
Between 1728 and 1740, when Handel was beginning to commit his attention fully to oratorio, he produced a series of splendid concertos that could be used either as intermission features or for independent performance between the parts of his oratorios. The Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 of September-October 1739 could serve a similar function (they did so during Handel's oratorio series later that season) or they could be played by anyone who acquired the music. Handel, in fact, made the Op. 6 Concerti Grossi available for general purchase by subscription, the only of his instrumental compositions to be so published. The works became popular so quickly that Walsh, Handel's publisher, reported the following April, "[They] are now played in the most public places with the greatest applause."
Handel wrote the 12 Concertos of his Op. 6 with astonishing speed - September 29 to October 30, 1739 - most of them apparently completed in a single day. These wondrous pieces, coming some 20 years after Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, the only other orchestral music from the Baroque era of comparable stature, were old fashioned for their day. They used the concerto grosso form - utilizing a small group of soloists rather than an individual player - that had been developed in Italy during the last half of the 17th Century century and been perfected by Arcangelo Corelli with his Concert Grossi, Op. 6, published in Rome in 1714. Handel's entourage of soloists compromises two violins and a cello, which compete/collaborate (the term "concerto" means both simultaneously) with a string orchestra bolstered by harpsichord. The movements, four to six in number, generally alternate in tempo between slow and fast, with some imitative writing spicing the quick sections. Handel's strength, however, was melody, and these Concertos are less densely packed with complex counterpoint than are the Brandenburgs. In expression, though, they are in no way inferior to Bach's masterpieces because of Handel's unfailing thematic invention, sense of tonal balance, harmonic ingenuity and invigoration rhythms. Of the Op. 6 Concerti Grossi, Percy M. Young wrote, "In these works it is tempting to see the peaks of Handel's creative genius. Elsewhere the flame of inspiration may leap momentarily higher, but nowhere else has the consistency of imaginative thought so triumphal a progress."
The Concerto No. 11 in A major is a reworking of an organ concerto (HWV 206) that Handel composed for a performance of Alexander's Feast at the King's Theatre in March 1739, which was arranged to benefit the Society for the Support of Decay's Musicians & Their Families (later more sanitarily named the Royal Society of Musicians). Since Handel devoted the original second movement to his own extemporization at the keyboard, he replaced it in the Concerto Grosso with an Allegro in fugal texture. Preceding this added movement is an opening Andante that is an entertaining juxtaposition of pompous dotted-rhythm proclamations in the style of the French overture and cute repeated-notion figurations that would not have been out of place in a Baroque operatic comedy. The lyrical third movement (Andante), which is prefaced by a solemn chordal passage in slow tempo, is a conflation of a theme from a keyboard sonata by Johann Kuhnau and passages from the overture to Handel's own opera Rodrigo of 1707. A bounding Allegro, full of interplay between the soloists (two violins and cello) and the orchestra rounds out this delightful Concerto.
Two Arias from Rinaldo
Opera composed: 1711
Premiere: February 24, 1711, Queen’s Theatre,
Instrumentation: countertenor soloist, solo violin and solo bassoon concertino, 2 oboes, continuo (harpsichord and theorbo), strings
CSO notable performances: These performances are the CSO premiere of arias from Rinaldo
Duration: approx. 14 minutes
Rinaldo, premiered at the Queen’s Theatre on February 24, 1711, was Handel’s first Italian opera composed specifically for London and his first big hit in England. Its story, brought to the stage with spectacular effects, a first-rate cast and a sumptuous score, was based on Gerusalemme liberata, Torquato Tasso’s epic tale of the First Crusade (1096–1099). In the opera, Goffredo, captain of the Christian armies, has promised his daughter, Almirena, in marriage to the hero Rinaldo if they are successful in liberating Jerusalem from the Saracens. To thwart the Christians, the sorceress Armida, Queen of Damascus, abducts Almirena. Rinaldo follows, imploring the heavens to strengthen him in his struggle to reclaim his beloved (Venti turbini—“Whirling winds, lend your swiftness to my feet”). When Rinaldo encounters Armida in her realm, she immediately falls in love with him and changes her form into the exact image of Almirena to seduce him. Rinaldo is not deceived, however, and sings the lament Cara sposa (“My dear betrothed”) in his longing for Almirena.
CARA SPOSA from RINALDO
Cara sposa, amante cara, dove sei?
Deh! Ritorna a’ pianti miei!
Del vostro Erebo sull’ ara
Colla face del mio sdegno,
Io vi sfido, O spiriti rei!
My dear betrothed, my love, where are you?
Ah! return to these, my tears!
Upon the altar of Erebus,
By the light of my anger
I challenge you, O spirits!
VENTI TURBINI from RINALDO
Venti turbini, prestate le vostre
Ali a questo piè.
Cieli, Numi, il braccio armato
Contro chi pena mi diè!
Whirling winds, lend your swiftness
to my feet.
Heavens, gods, I command you, prepare me for battle
against those who have robbed me of my love!
Two Arias from Rodelinda
• Opera composed: 1725
• Premiere: February 13, 1725, King’s Theatre, London
• Instrumentation: countertenor soloist, 2 oboes, bassoon, continuo (harpsichord and theorbo), strings
• CSO notable performances: These performances are the CSO premiere of arias from Rodelinda.
• Duration: approx. 11 minutes
Rodelinda, premiered in 1725, at the apogee of Handel’s London operatic success, was based by librettist Nicola Francesco Haym on an episode from 7th-century Lombard history (previously rendered into plays by Corneille and Salvi). Rodelinda is wife and queen to Bertarido, who has been deposed by Grimoaldo and forced to flee to Hungary, where he is presumed to have died. Grimoaldo offers himself as a new husband to Rodelinda, but he is refused until he threatens the life of Flavio, her son and the rightful heir to the Lombard throne, a strategy into which he has been goaded by the traitorous Garibaldo. Bertarido, still very much alive, returns to Milan, determined to reclaim his family if not his throne. He makes his presence known to Unolfo, an adviser to Grimoaldo but secretly an ally of Bertarido’s, who goes to the castle to question Garibaldo about his plan to kill Flavio. There Unolfo learns that Rodelinda has been coerced into marrying Grimoaldo and still loves her assumed-late husband. Unolfo sings the buoyant aria Fra tempeste (“Amid the Tempests”) before going to tell Bertarido of his wife’s constancy.
As the opera approaches its climax, Garibaldo urges Grimoaldo to kill Flavio immediately, but Grimoaldo’s resolve wavers as his guilt mounts. Garibaldo, sensing Grimoaldo’s weakness, raises his word to slay him, but Garibaldo is first struck down by Bertarido, who has watched the encounter from a hiding place. In the aria Vivi, tiranno! (“Live, Tirant!”), Bertarido hurls his bloody sword at Grimoaldo’s feet and taunts him to end the life of his rival. Grimoaldo, filled with remorse and gratitude, yields wife, son and the kingdom of Milan back to Bertarido.
FRA TEMPESTE from RODELINDA
Fra tempeste funeste a quest’alma
foriera di calma
già spunta una stella.
E disgombra ogn’ombra di pene
la fè del suo bene,
che splende più bella.
Amid the tempests that afflict his soul
A star has now appeared
To portend calm.
And the constancy of his beloved
Which shines ever more radiantly
Disperses every shadow of grief.
VIVI, TIRANNO from RODELINDA
Io t’ho scampato!
sfoga il furor.
sol per mostrarti
ch’ho di mia sorte
più grande il cor.
Vivi, tiranno, ecc.
I have saved you!
Slay me, ingrate,
give vent to your fury.
I wished to save you
only to show you
that fate bestowed on me
the nobler heart.
Live, tyrant, etc.
“Gia per la man d’Orlando” from Orlando
• Opera composed: 1732
• Premiere: February 13, 1725, King’s Theatre, London
• Instrumentation: countertenor soloist, 2 solo violas, continuo (harpsichord and theorbo), strings
• CSO notable performances: These performances are the CSO premiere of this aria from Orlando.
• Duration: approx. 6 minutes
Handel based three operas—Orlando (1733), Ariodante (1735) and Alcina (1735)—on Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (1516), the epic Italian poem that weaves a fantastic tale of war, love and chivalry around the legend of Roland (Orlando, in Italian), Charlemagne’s gallant warrior who was charged with protecting Christian Europe from both pagans and invading Muslim Saracens. In Ariosto’s plot, Orlando is tempted to abandon his duty to Charlemagne by his love of the pagan Queen Angelica, but Angelica loves Medoro, a wounded Saracen knight whose life she has saved. Orlando is driven mad by jealousy and despair. In Act III, the sorcerer Zoroastro, foreseeing that Orlando will return to his duty to Charlemagne when his reason has been restored, causes him to meet Angelica in a wooded grove, from which a deep cave descends. Orlando, still crazed, hurls her into its depths and believes he has now rid the world of its worst monsters (recitative: Gia per la man d’Orlando—“Now by Orlando’s hand”). When Orlando lies down to sleep, Zoroastro sprinkles his face with a magic potion that causes his madness to pass when he awakens (aria: Già l’ebro mio ciglio quel dolce liquore—“Drugged by this sweet liquid”). When he does, jealousies are forgotten, his sense of duty is restored, and the opera ends happily.
—All notes by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
GIA PER LA MAN d’ORLANDO from ORLANDO
Gia per la man d’Orlando d’ogni mostro
più rio purgato è il mondo!
Ora giunge la notte dalle cimerie grotte,
ed è seco Morfeo, che i papaveri suoi sul crin
porgendo a gustar di Lete l’onda.
Già l’ebro mio ciglio, quel dolce liquore invita a posar.
Tu, perfido Amore,
volando o scherzando non farmi destar.
Now by Orlando’s hand the world
is rid of its worst monsters!
Night descends from the gloomy caves,
With it comes Morpheus, whose poppies
anoint my head,
And makes me taste the streams of oblivion.
Drugged by this sweet liquid, sleep comes upon me.
You, faithless love,
spinning and mocking, will no longer disturb me.