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Cilea, Francesco: L’arlesiana
Act 3: Aria, “Esser madre è un inferno” (Rosa)

Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Aria Talk1/1/2009

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.
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There are innumerable examples of one aria from a particular opera becoming widely popular while an equally effective aria from that same opera remains strangely neglected. Take L’arlesiana: Tenors everywhere are devoted to “È la solita storia,” but the mezzo’s “Esser madre” is both more challenging interpretively for the singer and even more moving for the audience.

L’arlesiana finds the title’s “girl from Arles” loved by Federico, son of Rosa Mamai. Federico is astonished upon being presented with letters that reveal the girl’s fickleness. Rosa is desperate for him to marry sweet Vivetta instead. He’s on the verge of doing so when Metifio, who loves the Arlesian, tells Federico he’s going to kidnap her. Jealousy so overwhelms Federico that he attacks Metifio and only Rosa’s intervention prevents bloodshed. In her highly dramatic soliloquy, Rosa bemoans her lot: For her, motherhood has been hell from the day her son was born. She’s had no rest and her pains to make him a strong, honest man have been useless. If his jealousy leads to his death, she’ll die, too. She prays that God will pity her.

While not crossing the line into vulgar forcing of the voice, you do have to sing this with real guts. The range is quite manageable but negotiating it securely and observing the expressive markings won’t do the job completely. Make yourself go beyond that: dig way down to your depths to register this woman’s pain, moving through the text line by line, responding extremely specifically to each thought as it comes to her. The life in the legato should come above all from your conviction with the text. Anyone with incisive, truly idiomatic Italian can have a field day in this piece.

Score: Sonzogno
Recording: Elena Zilio, complete opera, EMI Classics #66762; Gianna Pederzini, operatic recital, Preiser “Lebendige Vergangenheit” series #89146
Timing: 4:00
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