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Tenor
Giordano, Umberto: Siberia
Act 2: Aria, "Orride steppe" (Vassili)

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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Budding spinto tenors seem intent on sticking with Canio and Cavaradossi in auditions, but there's a lot of other material out there to choose from! Giordano, for example — a composer capable of much more than just Andrea Chénier. His Siberia, with a text by Puccini's co-librettist Luigi Illica (inspired by works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy) is loaded with dramatic excitement, especially where the central soprano/tenor/baritone love triangle is concerned. Their music is — well, just plain hot. If you've got the full-bodied instrument for "Orride steppe" and are able to give it the necessary passion, you can tear the audience apart with it.

The early-19th-century plot begins in St. Petersburg, where we meet the beautiful courtesan Stephana. She's the mistress of Prince Alexis, but she also has to contend with her pimp and first lover, Glèby (the baritone), who still lusts after her. She falls in love with the officer Vassili, who has no idea of her relationship with Alexis. Upon finding out, he's shocked but also violently jealous. When the prince catches Stephana and Vassilli together, he duels with the latter, who wounds him. Vassili is arrested and transported to Siberia. He can hardly believe it when Stephana arrives, having renounced her life of luxury to share his fate. Although ecstatic to see her, Vassili is nonetheless miserable about what the future holds. He gives way to despair in his aria, which describes the horror of the natural scene surrounding him — the scorching summers and freezing winters, the awful winds. He considers the land "a hideous coffin filled with grim skeletons, which heaven has cursed."

As with most verismo repertoire, the aria requires a very solid lower-middle register (the first two phrases hover around low E). Although Giordano is generally writing short phrases throughout, those notes must be bound together in a sensitive, heartfelt legato in the first and last of the aria's three distinct sections. The middle section is more vigorous and biting than the other two (when Vasilli speaks of the dreadful rains that follow the Siberian summer). The aria really gathers steam in the final minute, including a thrilling ascent to B-flat for the final phrase, "maledetta dal ciel."

Score: Sonzogno (aria also available separately from Classical Vocal Repertoire, www.classicalvocalrep.com)
Recording: Amadeo Zambon (Opera d'Oro label – CD); Jeong-Won Lee (Dynamic label – CD)
Timing: 3:35
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