A Night at the Opera
Lyric Soprano Yunah Lee is thrilling audiences in the United States, Europe, and Asia with her “handsomely colored full lyric sound” (Opera News) and her “picture perfect” acting (Berkshire Fine Arts). Her recent performance in the title role in Madama Butterfly in Germany was hailed by Online Musik Magazin as “a revelation,” with her voice “[uniting] the girlish innocence and the wistful sensuality [of Cio Cio San].” Das Opernglass extolled the performance as “thoroughly captivating, above all thanks to Yunah Lee, who is utterly convincing in mood and presentation . . . a commanding and touching performance revealing the highs and lows of Butterfly’s emotions.”
Ms. Lee, who made her New York City Opera debut as Micaëla in Carmen, has been featured to acclaim both by the New York City Opera and numerous other opera companies throughout the world in an impressive roster of operatic roles, including Liù in Turandot, Mimi in La Bohème, Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly, Marguerite in Faust, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, Nedda in Pagliacci, both Zerlina and Donna Alvira in Don Giovanni, and the title role in Rossini’s opera Adina.
Also an active concert singer, she debuted with the Hiroshima Symphony during the 2005-2006 season as soloist in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, has been featured by the New York Oratory Society as soloist in Handel’s Messiah, the Mozart Requiem, Haydn’s Creation, and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and has been featured elsewhere both in other works by Handel and in works by Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Earl Kim, and George Crumb.
Ms. Lee made solo recital debuts both at Carnegie Hall and the Ho-Am Recital Hall in Seoul, Korea, with the Korean recital debut followed by a national tour in five South Korean cities. She was also featured in a Christmas Concert with the Beijing National Symphony in China, and in performances with both the Shanghai Symphony and the Tokyo City Orchestra. Ms. Lee's first recording of “Four Seasons in Korea” with I Musici was released in 2004.
Born in Daegu, Korea, Ms. Lee is a former member of the Juilliard Opera Center. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Hanyang University as a full scholarship student and her Master's Degree at The Juilliard School, with additional studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. She is the recipient of the First Prize award in both the Mario Lanza Competition and the Verismo Opera Competition and was a finalist in the Belvedere Competition in Vienna, Austria.
Over the course of his career, tenor William Joyner has given over 525 performances of 55 different roles, in 12 countries on 3 continents. He has sung in some of the world’s foremost opera theaters, including Teatro alla Scala, Gran Teatro la Fenice di Venezia, Opéra National de Paris, Deutsche Oper Berlin and Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, Washington National Opera, Florida Grand Opera, New York City Opera, and Santa Fe Opera. William Joyner has performed with the Chicago Symphony and the New York Philharmonic, and has worked with some of the greatest maestri of our time, including Daniel Barenboim, Alan Gilbert, Vladimir Jurowski, Kurt Masur, Antonio Pappano, Georges Prêtre, and the late Marcello Viotti.
Born in North Carolina, William Joyner holds degrees from the Juilliard School and the Catholic University of America. He has been the recipient of a Richard F. Gold Career Grant from the Shoshana Foundation, a Sullivan Foundation Award, a Silver Medal from the Rosa Ponselle Foundation, and the Feinstein Artist of the Year at the Washington Opera. He is a member of Actors’ Equity Association, the American Guild of Musical Artists, Canadian Actors’ Equity Association, the College Music Society, the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and SAG-AFTRA.
Mr. Joyner and his family have lived in Ridgefield since 1997.
Overture to Nabucco
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Verdi’s opera Nabucco was an immediate success, both commercially and critically, after its premiere performance at La Scala in 1842 – a fortunate success in view of the fact that after losing two infant children and his wife in quick succession between 1838 and 1840 and experiencing the total failure of his second opera, Un giorno di regno, in 1840, he had contemplated giving up music altogether and was rescued from that decision only because the director of La Scala proved successful in encouraging the grieving and disheartened composer to write another opera.
The story line of Nabucco is a retelling of the biblical tale about the slavery and eventual exile of the Jews during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar; but although the story is anything but a joyous one, the opera is replete with wonderful music, including the chorus Va pensiero, which became and remains one of Verdi’s most celebrated pieces, especially in Italy, where it was quickly adopted both as the marching song of one of Italy’s important political movements at the time and as an unofficial Italian national anthem.
Populated by a variety of themes, the Overture begins with a grand introduction for the brass section that leads, after a somewhat threatening transition, into a quiet variation of the Va pensiero melody. The more spirited music after that juxtaposes themes that represent both the Jewish slaves and the Babylonians in a way that nicely foreshadows the opera’s central conflict.
Tosca, Act III Excerpt
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Scheming to possess the beautiful diva Floria Tosca, Baron Scarpia, chief of the secret police, has imprisoned her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi. Languishing in prison and bleakly anticipating his execution, the anguished Cavaradossi (in the beautiful tenor aria E lucevan le stelle) recalls to mind a starry night when he and his beloved Tosca were blissfully together and in love, tearfully musing that his life is to come to an end at the time when his expectations for the future were at their happiest.
Admitted to his cell, Tosca tells him that she has stabbed and killed the despicable Scarpia as he tried to seduce her, and Cavaradossi’s response is to take hold of her hands and bless them for what they have done. She then tells him that she has money with her and that, with a written pardon she had obtained for him in exchange for agreeing to give in to Scarpia’s advances, his execution is to be only a staged one. Then, after she tells him how he must pretend to die, the two lovers rejoice in their anticipated freedom.
Intermezzo from Pagliacci
Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919)
The well-known plot of Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci movingly underscores the story’s essential tragedy through the way it dramatically contrasts the lighthearted image of life suggested by the circus clown’s laughter and on-stage antics with the dark passions, disillusionment, and often tragic nature of real life.
The Intermezzo, which is played between the two acts, is a brief but beautiful musical statement that begins with a somewhat sad and heart-weary passage that segues, with a sort of nervous energy, into the song-like theme of the opera’s Prologue, the contrasting thematic material effectively reflecting the ambiguity between the world of pretense and the real world.
Lamento di Federico from L’arlesiana
Francesco Cilea (1866-1950)
Federico’s mother’s goddaughter Vivetta is in love with Federico, but Federico is in love with a mysterious girl from Arles (l’Arlesiana), who never appears in the opera and is never referred to by any other name. Bitter and despondent after learning from letters brought by a man named Metifio, who claims to be l’Arlesiana’s lover, that the girl he loves is unfaithful to him, Federico finally agrees to marry Vivetta and try to forget l’Arlesiana.
Easier said than done, however. Efforts to help Federico forget l’Arlesiana fail. In Act II, as he is once again reading the letters proving that l’Arlesiana has a lover, Federico’s younger, somewhat retarded brother enters and begins to retell a story that the shepherd Baldassarre told him about an all-night fight between a goat and a wolf that ends with the goat’s death; but the young boy falls asleep before he can finish the story. In the famous aria Lamento di Federico, Federico alludes to the old shepherd’s story and about how the young boy fell asleep trying to tell it, observing that there is oblivion in sleep and wishing that he, like the boy, could find that sort of oblivion and forget his sorrows. “But I always have her sweet face before me,” he laments, “and peace is forever denied me.”
Ebben? Ne andrò lontana from La Wally
Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893)
Catalani’s opera La Wally is a tragic love story about a young girl (Wally), the daughter of a wealthy landowner in the mountain village of Hochstoff. A public official, Vincenzo Gellner, asks Wally’s father for permission to marry her. Indifferent to the fact that Wally is already in love with a huntsman named Hagenbach, her father tells her that if she doesn’t agree to marry Gellner, she will have to leave his house. The famous aria Ebben? Ne andrò lontana (All right then, I’ll go far away) is her response, letting her father know that she would rather take her chances in the Alpine snow than marry Gellner.
Rákóczy March from La damnation de Faust
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
Berlioz’s opera La damnation de Faust, its story based on the Faust legend recounted in Goethe’s great dramatic poem, was so unenthusiastically received at its initial performance that Berlioz did a bit of revision, inserting a Hungarian march (the Rákóczy March) that he had written earlier and which had been a tremendous success when first performed in Pest, Hungary, hoping that its inclusion would boost his opera’s popularity. Unfortunately, in order to make that work, Berlioz found it necessary to alter the story by having Faust appear on a Hungarian plain, where the march is heard. Such a radical liberty taken with the famous legend naturally raised critical eyebrows. The rousing Rákóczy March, nevertheless, remains a concert favorite.
Roméo et Juliette, Act IV Excerpt
Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
The action of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette is, of course, based on Shakespeare’s well-known tale, where the tragic fate of two “star-crossed” lovers is the result of an age-old feud between the Montagues (Romeo’s family) and the Capulets (Juliet’s family). In Act II Romeo’s friend Mercutio is killed in a duel with Lady Capulet’s nephew, Tybalt, and a bitterly angry Romeo reacts by killing Tybalt. The result is that the Duke banishes Romeo from Verona.
At the beginning of Act IV the two lovers (who have been married by Friar Laurence) are in Juliet’s bedchamber for their last night together before Romeo must leave Verona. In a beautiful and dramatic duet, Juliet tells Romeo that she has forgiven him for killing Tybalt, and they reaffirm their love for each other. As the dawn approaches, heralded by the sound of a lark and the approach of daylight, Romeo is tempted to remain with Juliet in spite of the threat to his life; but they finally have to say their farewells: “Farewell, my Juliet,” Romeo whispers. “Farewell,” she answers, “to you always.”
Overture to Treemonisha
Scott Joplin (1868-1917)
The action of ragtime composer Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha is set in and near a remote Arkansas plantation in the fall of 1884. Treemonisha, the foundling child of Ned and Monisha, had received her name because she had been found as a baby under a tree on a plantation that had been turned over to its slaves after the Civil War. Treemonisha, whom Ned and Monisha had worked hard to give a proper education, had been kidnapped by voodoo men who threatened to throw her into a wasp’s nest after she opposed them for trying to sell her mother “a bag of luck.” She is rescued with the help of her friend Remus at the last minute, and, at her request, the kidnappers get off with only a scolding. The locals welcome Treemonisha as their leader, and the opera ends with a celebratory dance – Joplin’s famous Real Slow Drag.
The overture, with wind instruments strongly favored in the orchestration, is largely a sequence of contrasting themes and moods that reflect both the emotions invoked by the opera’s story line and the nature of Joplin’s music in general.
The Old Maid and the Thief
Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007)
Menotti’s one-act opera The Old Maid and the Thief makes a point that the composer noted on his score: The Devil can’t do what a woman can do – Make a thief out of an honest man.
Miss Todd is an old maid and a busybody whose servant, Laetitia, is determined to avoid her mistress’s fate. When Tom, a handsome wanderer, comes to the door asking for help, Laetitia (impressed by his looks) takes to him immediately, persuades Miss Todd to give him shelter, and promises Tom lodging and more food without cost to get him to stay.
When the town gossip drops by to tell Miss Todd that a thief has reportedly been seen in the neighborhood, Miss Todd warns Laetitia, who immediately persuades her to let Tom stay by hinting that he is in love with her. Subsequently, short on money, Miss Todd, thinking of Tom’s reported love for her, begins to steal from her church and her neighbors and (with Laetitia) breaks into a liquor store to provide booze for Tom to encourage him to stay.
When the town gossip returns the following day with the news that the local police, prompted by the liquor-store robbery, plans to search every house, Miss Todd tells Tom and offers to run away with him, since he loves her. Then, when in total astonishment he tells her that he doesn’t love her at all, Miss Todd threatens to phone the police and turn him in. Laetitia then persuades Tom that the two of them should steal everything they can get their hands on from Miss Todd and run away together.
In the popular aria “Steal me, sweet thief,” Laetitia, musing over how Miss Todd had done everything imaginable to tempt Tom to steal without result, bemoans that there is no greater curse to a woman than a timid man. All he does, she complains to herself, is eat, sleep, and talk about baseball. “How about stealing me, sweet thief,” she hopefully (if only in her thoughts) entreats.
“Here I Stand” from The Rake’s Progress
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
With a libretto by English poet W. H. Auden, Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is the story of the downfall of a near-do-well named Tom Rakewell, who, encouraged by Nick Shadow (who turns out to be the Devil incarnate) walks out on appropriately named Anne Trulove, who truly loves Tom, in favor of living it up in London. Rather quickly, and because of both his character and the devilish Shadow’s influence, Tom ends up in Bedlam, London’s infamous psychiatric hospital. The story conveys an obvious moral: The Devil finds work for idle minds and hands.
In Act I, after Anne Trulove’s father has offered the idle and unemployed Tom an honest job and Tom has turned him down, Tom declares (in the recitative and aria “Here I Stand”) that he can manage fine on his own, living by his wits and trusting his luck. When he adds that he wants money, Nick Shadow takes that as his cue to tempt Tom with the manufactured news that he has inherited a substantial fortune from an uncle he doesn’t know about.
H.M.S. Pinafore, Act I Excerpt
Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), with a libretto by William Gilbert (1836-1911)
On Her Majesty’s Ship the Pinafore, Josephine, the Captain’s daughter, whom Sir Joseph Porter, the Lord of the Admiralty, wishes to marry, is secretly in love with Ralph, who is only a lowly sailor. Her situation is a dilemma for her because she is proud of her social status and realizes that the object of her affection is her social inferior.
In a duet with Ralph (“Refrain, audacious tar, your suit from pressing”) Josephine reminds Ralph of who he is and who she is and tells him to stop trying to win her affection. Then (aside) she comments, “I’d laugh my rank to scorn in union holy were he more highly born or I more lowly!”
Answering her taunt, Ralph, addressing her as a Proud Lady and an unfeeling beauty, tells her that he knows that he is only a lowly tar and that she is the Captain’s daughter and assures her that since she has spoken, he will obey her. Aside, though, he bewails that although she scorns and laughs at his love, he adores her and will bow down to her [wishes] with an anguished heart.
Danse slav from Le roi malgré lui
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)
Complete with ballet sequences (in accord with nineteenth-century French tastes), Chabrier’s opera Le roi malgré lui (King in Spite of Himself), with its setting around the time of the election of Henri Valois as King of Poland, is a comedy in which a French courtier and a Polish princess are involved (with a predictable outcome) in a series of intrigues and disguises. The Danse slave, which is adapted from the introductory music for the third act and which, in the opera, includes a part for chorus, begins with a fanfare that leads into a happy, energetic celebratory Slavonic dance that is only briefly intruded upon by a passage for wind instruments before it joyfully returns.
Excerpts from Giuditta
Franz Lehar (1870-1948)
One of the very few operettas without a happy ending, Giuditta tells the story of an enticing young woman named Giuditta who abandons her husband and runs off to North Africa with an army officer named Octavio. Shortly thereafter, though, the army calls Octavio back to active duty and he has to obey and consequently leave Giuditta. Still later, having deserted the army in order to return to Giuditta, he finds that she has become a nightclub dancer and enjoys her new job too much to give it up. So poor Octavio, having lost his self-esteem, gets a job as a club pianist.
In Welch tiefes Rätsel ist die Liebe, Octavio muses about what a real puzzle love is. One day two people can be total strangers, and then the next day their souls can be hopelessly intertwined. “You are my sunshine,” he sings. “If I can’t be with you, my life is empty. Flowers won’t even bloom for me anymore. You are my destiny, and I love only you. Yes, you are my sunshine.”
In Ich weiss es selber nicht, Giuditta, who has become a dancer and relishes her new job, reveals that she has wondered what it is about her that makes Octavio (and men in general) desire her. Then she admits that when she dances, she knows the reason. Men see that her lips “kiss so hot” and that her legs are sinuous and soft. “My feet seem to float, and as I dance as in a frenzy, I know that they [imagine that] kiss my lips that are so hot,” she muses. “It’s in my blood. I inherited it from my mother, the blood of a dancer. She was beautiful and the Queen of Dance in the golden Alcazar. I’ve often seen her in my dreams. She would hit the tambourine and dance wildly. She has come to life again in me, and I have the same destiny. My lips, they kiss so hot.”
Moonlight Interlude from Capriccio
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
The theme of Richard Strauss’s opera Capriccio poses, in a rather capricious way, the problem of choosing whether poetry or music is the more important of the two art forms. Flamand has composed a new sextet that is about to be rehearsed atCountess Madeleine’s château, and the poet Olivier proposes to write a play to celebrate the Countess’s forthcoming birthday. The two artists actively (and sometimes nastily) debate which of their art forms is more important than the other.
When Flamand declares his love for the Countess, she tells him to meet her the next day at eleven in the library and she will give him her decision. Then, during a festive get-together with dancing and refreshments, the theatrical director La Roche suggests to Flamand and Olivier that as a birthday gift for the Countess they jointly write an opera with the day’s events as their subject.
The Moonlight Interlude sets the mood for the opera’s final scene, in which, as moonlight steams in through the window, the Countess learns that both Flamand and Olivier intend to meet her in the library to learn her decision, and therefore the ending of their opera-in-progress. Still seeking true love and still undecided, she sings of the inseparability of words and music and glances at herself in the mirror in the hope of finding a way to bypass the apparent impasse. She is still no closer to a solution when the butler comes in to announce that dinner is served and the opera ends.
The Moonlight Interlude begins with a lovely, languorous melody sung by a French horn. The theme is then taken up by the full orchestra and developed with swelling intensity before the music ends quietly and dreamily.
Excerpt from Manon
Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
The opera Manon tells the story of Manon Lescaut, who, during the reign of Louis XV, is on her way to join a convent when she encounters the Chevalier des Grieux, who instantly falls in love with her.
She is similarly attracted and the two steal away to Paris together, where des Grieux writes a letter he intends to send to his father, the Comte des Grieux, to ask permission to marry Manon. But Manon learns that des Grieux’s father intends to have his son abducted later that day and is persuaded to leave to find a better life for herself.
After a time, Manon learns that des Grieux, no longer a Chevalier, has become an Abbé (a French ecclesiastic) and is at the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. The scene then shifts to Saint-Sulpice, where des Grieux, on his knees, is reliving memories and praying (Ah! Fuyez, douce image) that he can forget Manon and his love for her. Just at that moment, though, Manon appears, begging him to forgive her for her faithlessness. He furiously tries to resist, but when she touches him (N’est-ce plus ma main?), recalling memories of their love and asking him if her hand isn’t the same one he loved, his resistance is overcome, and they join their two voices in a reaffirmation of their mutual devotion.
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Program notes by Courtenay Caublé