Classical Music for the Season: 5 arias for Fall 2016

  1. Casta Diva from Norma, by Bellini: This is one of the most famous arias of all times. Legendary renditions include those by Maria Callas and Montserrat Caballe. Written to be sung in Bel Canto style, Casta Diva is one of those arias that test a singer’s mettle through technique to raw talent. The bold high notes are balanced by smooth, lilting lows, all best articulated by a true Soprano Lirico-Spinto.

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    Montserrat Caballe, Norma (Paris, 1972)
  2. Non Piu Mesta, from La Cenerentola by Rossini: A treat for the ears, Non Piu Mesta is Rossini at his best. Rich, deep notes set to an astonishingly florid melody, this aria is meant to be sung only by the very few and unusual Mezzo-Sopranos, who have the edginess of dramatic voices and the agility of coloratura voices. Recommended rendition ? Cecilia Bartoli, hands down ! Her notes are sharp, clear and crisp like a Gatling gun at work. And her well rounded and full, chesty voice tempers the music, allowing for the almost 4-minute aria to be one’s major highlight of the day.

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    Cecila Bartoli, La Cenerentola (Whitsun Festival, 2014)
  3. Der Hölle Rache (Queen of the Night), from Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), by Mozart: This German aria is from an opera that fulfills all the good stereotypes associated with western classical music. Poetic Libretto? Check. Continuity in melodic patterns ? Check. Stratospheric notes? Check. Drama, Drama and more Drama? Check. Watch this opera with a special eye for the amazing ‘Queen of the Night’, an aria that demands exceptional vocal control in addition to an overly accessible top range. Specifically meant for Dramatic Coloratura Sopranos, this aria is one of the toughest and most famous pieces performed in the last century. Check out the brilliant Diana Damrau singing this aria with effortless aplomb.

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    Diana Damrau, The Magic Flute (Metropolitan Opera, 2011)
  4. Stride La Vampa, from Il Trovatore, by Verdi: Magic and mystery are no strangers to the world of Opera. Based on the play, El Trovador, this opera has all the elements of a good story. There is love, heroism, betrayal, sacrifice and an augural gypsy, whose oft delphic storytelling prowess is best captured by the aria ‘Stride La Vampa.’ A hauntingly beautiful melody is brought alive by the vibrato of a heavy, dramatic voice when this aria is sung correctly. Written for either a Contralto or a Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano, this song has been performed wonderfully by Dolora Zajick, an artist who has been called ‘one of the greatest voices in the history of opera.’ Honorable mentions include Elina Garanca and Maria Callas.

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    Dolora Zajick, Il Trovatore (Metropolitan Opera, 1988)
  5. Habanera, from Carmen, by Bizet: No conversation about opera can be complete without talking about Carmen, the enigmatic gypsy. Among the most famous arias of all time, Habanera is fiery, seductive, rich, edgy and sinful goodness, all rolled into one. Sung by many, many great opera singers, it is difficult to choose any one who does justice to this piece of art. Among the numerous names that immediately come to mind, the name of Maria Callas stands out. Artiste Extraordinaire, Callas was a true Assoluta. While she casts an otherworldly spell with her Casta Diva, as the desirable and passionate Carmen, she connects to something earthy that is hidden within each of us.
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    Maria Callas, Carmen (Hamburg, 1962)

    Note: All the pictures have been taken from various archives that document opera and its legends. I don’t own any of these photographs.

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