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Donizetti, Gaetano: Les Martyrs
Act 2: Aria, “Valeureux habitants de l’antique Arménie…Amour de mon jeune age” (Sévère)
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.
Do you crave an Italianate vocal line when singing in languages other than Italian? Donizetti gives it to you in fine style in Sévère’s entrance aria from Les Martyrs, an ideal piece for a voice that has moved beyond Don Pasquale’s Malatesta to weightier material. By the way, if you really enjoy this aria and want to try it in Italian, no problem (Les Martyrs is the French version of Donizetti’s Poliuto). In Mytilene, capital of Armenia in 257 A.D., the citizens joyously welcome Sévère, the new Roman proconsul. He declares himself ready to protect them from the evil represented by Christians — identified by him as “that impious sect who sow the seeds of discord and error among you.” He turns inwardly in his aria to recall his youthful love for Pauline, whom he longs to see again. (Sévère has no idea that she, thinking him dead, has married Polyeucte, city magistrate, who has secretly become a Christian).
This may not be the most imaginative of Donizetti’s baritone solos, but its demands are not inconsiderable. A sense of the character’s strength and conviction — the feeling that here is a leader — is vital, conveyed entirely through the eloquence projected from the very first moment of recitative. There is contrast that follows in the aria, where the line must be phrased with the instinctive grace that marks the true romantic baritone.
Score: Out of print, but check with Classical Vocal Reprints, 800-298-7474
Recording: Renato Bruson in complete opera, Myto #MCD 972.154
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