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Cherubini, Luigi: Médée
Act 2: Aria, “Ah! nos peines” (Néris)
Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
A dramatic mezzo is inevitably expected to show that she can do well when high and loud. However, if those listening to her audition have any taste, they'll also want to hear beauty of tone in the middle register, applied to a well-controlled legato. Néris's aria requires those assets to the utmost.
Fifty-seven years after the premiere of Luigi Cherubini's Médée, the composer Franz Lachner adapted the spoken dialogue into German-language recitatives for a Frankfurt production. The Italian translation of that version (created for La Scala in 1909) was made famous in the 1950s by Maria Callas. When performed today, the opera is more often heard in Italian than the original French. Sing Néris's aria in Italian and no one will question your choice, but search around to see if you can locate a score in French.
The murders committed by Médée have alienated her husband, the hero Jason. He plans to marry Princess Dircé of Corinth, and Médée arrives the day before the wedding. Jason prevents her from seeing their children and resists her pleas that he return to her. Dircé's father, King Créon, grants Médée only one day before she must flee Corinth forever. Her suffering leads her confidante, Néris, to declare in a moving aria that she weeps for her mistress's cruel fate, and that wherever Médée may lead, she will follow.
The range spans from D above middle C to G at the top of the staff. The tone throughout that compass must be warm and flawlessly even. Once you achieve that, you're free to phrase this andantino melody in great expressive detail. The legato must be eloquence itself, but you must also respond to the eighth-note rests that can create a dropping-of-tears effect. Good flexibility is needed for the 16th-note passages shortly before the end. The leap of a ninth (from F# up to G) in the final phrase has to be full-voiced, but it must be contained within the line; any hint of a listen-to-my-big-high-note feeling here will destroy the beautiful sincerity that you've maintained up to that point.
Score: Ricordi (complete p-v in Italian); French — check with Classical Vocal Reprints or a very good public or university library
Recording: D'Anna Fortunato in French on Newport Classics #85622 (CD); Magali-Chalmeau-Damonte in French on Nuova Era #7253 (CD); Fedora Barbieri in Italian on Melodram #20039 (CD)
Timing: 5:00 (Give yourself two or three measures of the intro, but delete the rest, which would add two full minutes.)
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