Dances Suite from Les Boréades
"Scherza in mar la navicella", Aria of Adelaide from Lotario
"Ah che sol ... Mʼadora lʼidol mio", aria of Agilea from Teseo
Gavotte and Entr'acte from Les Boréades
"Lascia la spina", aria of Pleasure from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno
Slavonic Dances in C major op. 46 No. 1, in D flat major op. 72 No. 4 and in A flat major op. 46 No. 3
Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2
Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor
A gala concert on New Year’s Eve – what better way of ringing out the old and in the new! On the three last evenings of 2012, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle invite you join them together with Cecilia Bartoli, who will grace the programme with arias selected from her extraordinary repertoire. Also featured will be exhilarating dances by Brahms and Dvořák that happily combine characteristics of their own idioms with Slavonic and Hungarian folk music.
The ballet music from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s last opera Les Boréades will add a festive Baroque note, while Danse macabre will have the dead tripping the light fantastic: in Camille Saint-Saëns’ symphonic poem, based on a poem by the French writer Henri Cazalis and praised for “uncanny colours” by Franz Liszt, the devil plays the fiddle while the xylophone – making its orchestral debut – imitates the whirling waltz of clattering skeletons. (Saint-Saëns evidently did not take this macabre subject matter all too seriously, later “recycling” the piece to depict the “Fossils” in his Carnival of the Animals).
Overwhelmingly brilliant colours and subtle sonorities also characterise Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, a work for the famous Ballets Russes whose bars of 5/4 drove the original dancers to distraction. In rehearsing for the premiere, which took place in Paris on 8 June 1912, they took to scanning it with the impresario’s name, “Serge Di-a-ghi-lev”. That helped.
Boreas was the god of the North Wind in Greek mythology, and his sons were known as the Boreads. According to certain geographers of antiquity, their homeland was thought to be “beyond the north”: the fantasy land of Hyperborea lay beyond the Caucasus, beyond the kingdoms of the other peoples dwelling northeast of the Caspian Sea. Whereas the neighbouring countries were constantly waging war against one another, only happiness and peace was thought to have reigned in remote Hyperborea. The two sons of Boreas (Borée) who appear in Les Boréades,the last opera of the octogenarian Jean-Philippe Rameau, however, seem to have bestowed those blessings only on their own land. One of them – either Calisis or Borilée – was destined to marry the fair Alphise, queen of Bactria, a country located north of the Hindu Kush. According to tradition she is obliged to take a Boread as her husband, but she is in love with Abaris, and would rather give up the throne than this young man of mysterious origin. Boreas’ two sons resort to their father’s wind-power to lay waste to Bactria, and the father in person abducts the queen in order to extract his demands with torture. The faithful Abaris rushes to Alphise’s aid, and when at last Apollo, the god of light, appears, the god of the North Wind is left powerless. Abaris is revealed to be a certifiedBoread – begotten by Apollo with a nymph from his own line – thus rendering the desired marriage a priori legal. Rameau’s tragédie lyrique ends happily, duly celebrated with a contredanse, though, as the meteorological subject dictates, many of the other dances are animated by winds and storms.
There was no happy ending, however, for the planned staging of Les Boréades in 1764 at the Académie Royale in Paris. Already wafting through the opera is the spirit that a quarter century later would kindle the conflagration of the Revolution, when an antiquated power structure was shattered by a higher authority and an obsolete system of justice replaced by a new one. In the historical reality, the dominion of the ancien régime went down for the final count. Rameau did not live to experience a performance of his last opera. His advanced age notwithstanding, he died unexpectedly during the rehearsals and his score disappeared without a peep into the archives for more than two centuries.
In 1729, the second year of the reign of King George II, George Frideric Handel and the Swiss impresario John Jacob Heidegger set up a new opera company at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, the so-called Second Academy, successor to the defunct Royal Academy of Music. The new business partners opened their first season with the three-act opera Lotario, in which Anna Strada del Pò made her London debut in the role of Adelaida. She remained Handel’s prima donna until 1737 and appeared in no fewer than 25 of his operas and oratorios. The story of Lotario (Lothair), this time not an allegorical fantasy, is derived from historical events of 10th-century Italy overlapping those of Handel’s earlier opera Ottone (Otto or Otho II, king of Germany). His father Otto I (the “Great”) – who later became king of Italy and, ultimately, the first Holy Roman emperor – is Lotario’s title character, but under a “false” name. Handel rechristened him in order to avoid confusion with the older opera, but only ended up muddying the historical waters: there was in fact another Lotario, who reigned as king of Italy before Berengario, Duke of Spoleto, had him bumped off. In the new opera he and his scheming wife Matilda intend to force the assassinated king’s young widow Adelaida to marry their own son Idelberto to secure power for their own descendants. Adelaida takes refuge behind the walls of the besieged city of Pavia, but manages to summon help from the German king and his forces. He promises but only under the condition that she must marry him if he succeeds in restoring peace. Before that can happen, Adelaida falls into the clutches of Berengario, and Matilda paints a terrifying picture of the imprisonment that awaits her if she refuses to surrender to their demands. Refuse she does in a brilliant, resolute furioso aria at the end of Act I, “Scherza in mar la navicella” (The little boat plays upon the sea). Those words sound rather more harmless than the aria is intended. Adelaida’s real message: like the little boat defying the threat of a stormy sea, my heart will not yield to the fury of cruel fate.
Teseo,composed in 1712 was Handel’s third opera for the Haymarket Theatre. The legendary Theseus here does not play his reproachable role of the faithless lover who contemptibly abandons his rescuer Ariadne on a lonely island. On this occasion he is in love with the Athenian princess Agilea, and he is the hero who has fortune rightfully on his side in both love and war. He goes into battle with the Athenians and returns home victorious and eager to rush into the arms of his beloved. But King Egeo (Aegeus) has meanwhile cast off his designated bride Medea and will instead take Agilea to the throne as his queen. Turbulent times for Agilea, who in her emotional turmoil has every cause to fling her voice over hill and dale, to let out furious skyrocketing then nose-diving chains of coloratura, in between to commune with her alter ego, the voice of a solo violin, and with inexhaustible breath to weave endless vocal garlands around it – and yet to survive to the rewarding finale that brings reconciliation for her, Theseus and the rest.
Rome in the early years of the 18th century: The occupants of St. Peter’s throne put opera under the ban – opera proibita: it supposedly corrupted morals and undermined faith. Just as in the USA between 1919 and 1933, when the prohibition of alcohol increased not only virtuous abstinence but also bootlegging, ways of circumventing the prohibition of opera in Rome had already been devised. The nobility and princes of the Church had no wish to forgo their pleasures, least of all during Carnival. Prince Ruspoli and the Cardinals Ottoboni and Pamphilj opened up their palazzi and private theatres to opera-friendly composers staying in Rome. Among those who countered the hypocrisy with sanctimoniousness was the young Handel from Halle, who came to Rome in 1706. What was hitherto opera was now disguised as sacred oratorio. In arias whose operatic suitability left nothing to be desired, virtue and chastity triumphed over sin and carnal pleasure. But this only made sense if the latter two also made their appearance. Needless to add, this all played out not in public but in private circles, before invited guests. Female singers were also forbidden, something not necessarily seen as a deficiency: illusion was everything. Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno: “The Triumph of Time and Enlightenment”. Bearing in mind that “il tempo” in Italian is masculine, one can grasp the erotic double meaning of the title that Benedetto Pamphilj attached to his oratorio text. “Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa” (Leave the thorn, pluck the rose) – the symbolic figure of Pleasure now turns on its seductive charms in the sustained tempo of a saraband.
The furiant is a fast Bohemian dance which can ignite a frenzy of excitement. This can be attributed to its impulsive, seemingly unpredictable metrical structure: the alternation of 3/4, 3/2 and 6/4, like wind shear, propels the dancer or listener, who must react like quicksilver. A century before the Slavonic and Hungarian Dances of Brahms and Dvořák, the furiant was described as a “fury”, and it has remained true to its fiery nature. Polka literally means “Polish woman”, but the Bohemian folk myth maintains that this lively round-dance in 2/4 time with alternating steps – two short and one long – was “invented” in 1835 by the country girl Anna Slesáková of Týnec nad Labem in central Bohemia. Research confirms at least the geographical provenance of the dance, which became enormously popular with the peasantry, townsfolk and in ballet. Antonín Dvořák chose the furiant to open and close his first set of eight Slowanské Tance (Slavonic Dances) – dance no. 3 is a polka– published in 1878 by Simrock of Berlin in a version for piano four hands and another for orchestra, thereby tailoring the work to the requirements of both domestic music making and the concert hall. The two editions sold like hot cakes, whereby the publisher Fritz Simrock (who had also given advice about the title) pocketed the lion’s share while offering Dvořák a pittance, then pressing him into writing a second set of eight Slavonic Dances. All the same it opened the floodgates of fame to the hitherto largely unknown composer. It took him nine years, however, to produce a sequel. Whereas in Op. 46 (apart from No. 2, a dumka), he stuck closely to the folk models of his Bohemian homeland, in the later collection Op. 72 – not without provoking his compatriots – he also let himself be seduced by Serbian, Polish and Slovenian dance types. And once again by the dumka, a melancholy dance of Ukrainian origin, for which Dvořák exhibited his fondness in other compositions as well. All the melodies derived from his own imagination. In the consistently more restrained second group, he found no place for another furiant.
Without a trace of envy Johannes Brahms praised his younger colleague as the “most brilliant musical brain” he knew and warmly recommended him to his publisher Simrock. Dvořák, who orchestrated dances of his own, also insisted on making orchestral versions of five of the Ungarische Tänze (Hungarian Dances) of his friend and champion. Brahms had arranged melodies in “gypsy style” with which he had become acquainted as a young musician through his sporadic concert partnership with the expatriate Hungarian violinist Ede Reményi. “Gypsy music”, allegedly of Hungarian folk origin, was enjoying a boom not only in concert halls and domestic musical circles but also in coffee houses and spa concerts all over Europe. Franz Liszt had already contributed to confusion over the origins of Hungarian music, and Reményi was another whose arrangements propagated the misleading but electrifying impression of authentic “folk music”. Brahms tamed the dances, originally conceived for four hands (some then also for two), with classical procedures – symmetrical forms, metres and periods – but left in enough Hungarian features, or “Magyarisms”, to keep his listeners, including Simrock, happy. Simrock clamoured for orchestral versions and Brahms agreed to transcribe at least three himself, the first, in G minor, as well as nos. 3 and 10. The other arrangements he entrusted to contemporaries or to posterity. In 1874 in Leipzig, he conducted the first public performances of the three orchestrated dances and scored a success that would open a competition with his own piano versions. The publishers ungrudgingly also took on the Bohemian “musical brain” and never had cause for regret.
Dvořák with his Slavonic and Brahms with his Hungarian Dances produced commensurately worthy contributions to the standard repertoire. Brahms began his as early as 1868 and delivered them bit by bit until the first ten were ready, by 1869, then the remaining eleven, by 1880. They were likely candidates to inspire a “Slavic” counterpart. All of these cycles sound like genuine orchestral works, their pianist origins notwithstanding. More precisely: they are devised to make their full effect in every possible scoring – and that, in turn, explains the countless arrangements for large and small forces they have inspired. The violinist Joseph Joachim, with his transcriptions for violin and piano, was one of the first contributors to their widespread popularity.
At the end of the second century AD, the enigmatic Greek Longus from Lesbos, about whose origin and life nothing else is known, wrote a pastoral romance that made him famous: Daphnis and Chloe, a carefully balanced textual composition of words, rhythms and sound. A boy and a girl, exposed at birth, are discovered and raised by a goatherd and a shepherd. An unappeasable longing for one another inflicts inexplicable suffering on the two youths, still ignorant of the ways of love. The change of seasons in the country determines the phases of their developing relationship. Pirates carry off Daphnis, who is bravely rescued by Chloe. Then she is abducted, but freed by Pan. An old shepherd tries to explain the secrets of Eros to them, but in the confusion of their emotions they continue with their innocent childish games. Turning up unexpectedly, the parents, rich city folk, have nothing against a marriage in the rustic idyll and break down all inhibitions. Daphnis and Chloe can now put their previous children’s games into practice, reversing every youthful hardship.
The Russian choreographer Mikhail Fokine drew up a scenario based on Longus’ poem for Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes. Playing for nearly an hour, the ballet Daphnis et Chloéis the longest score ever composed by Maurice Ravel, exploiting vast orchestral forces to conjure an elaborate instrumental palette appropriate to Longus’ linguistic sophistication, but “less concerned with archaism that with fidelity to the Greece of my dreams which is close to that imagined and painted by the French artists of the 18th century”. The ballet had its premiere in 1912 at the Théâtre du Châtelet, in Fokine’s choreography with the title roles danced by Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karasavina, under the musical direction of Pierre Monteux (who would introduce Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring the following year). For the concert hall, Ravel distilled from his complete score two suites of three movements each. The first suite was already conducted in 1911 by Gabriel Pierné; the other followed in 1913 after the ballet’s premiere (when it was first played is not clear). The second suite begins with one of the most impressive scenes in the entire ballet: over hazily brightening flutes and strings there ascend the voices of the piccolo and individual violins: Lever du jour, daybreak, sunrise.
Cecilia Bartoli received her training in Rome from her mother, Silvana Bazzoni. In 1987, she made her operatic debut and in 1988, the just 22-year-old worked together for the first time with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in a production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Herbert von Karajan, Sir Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim also realised the mezzo-soprano’s extraordinary talent at an early stage. Since then, Cecilia Bartoli has regularly appeared with major orchestras around the world – including the Berliner Philharmoniker. She performs in the world’s most important concert halls and opera houses such as the Zurich Opera House, La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, London’s Covent Garden, and at the Salzburg Festival and the Wiener Festwochen. Daniel Barenboim, Lang Lang, James Levine and András Schiff have accompanied her song recitals. In addition, Cecilia Bartoli has worked with many renowned early music ensembles, including Les Arts Florissants, Concentus Musicus Wien, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Il Giardino Armonico, Les Musiciens du Louvre, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and La Scintilla. Cecilia Bartoli’s repertoire focuses on music of the Baroque, Mozart and bel canto, with many of the artist’s projects leading to a re-evaluation and re-discovery of neglected composers and forgotten repertoire. In 2012, Cecilia Bartoli took over as artistic director of the Whitsun Festival in Salzburg, where she also performed the role of Cleopatra in a new production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare and presented the programme Cleopatra virtuosa at the Salzburg Mozarteum. In Italy, the singer has been awarded the title of “Cavaliere”; she is “Accademico effetivo” of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. In France she was named “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” and “Officier de l’Ordre du Mérite”; in Great Britain she was made honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London. Recently, she also received the “Medalla de Oro al Mérito en las Bellas Artes”, one of the highest honours of the Spanish Ministry of Culture, and the “Médaille Grand Vermeil de la Ville de Paris”. Cecilia Bartoli most recently appeared in a Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concert in November 2007 with her programme “La rivoluzione romantica” which was dedicated to the legendary mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran. She was accompanied on that occasion by the ensemble La Scintilla.