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Verdi, Giuseppe: Jérusalem (1847)
Act 1: Recitative, cavatina and cabaletta: "Vous priez vainement… Oh, dans l'ombre, dans le mystère… Ah! viens, demon" (Roger)
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.
In auditions one consistently hears the same Verdi from basses — it's "Come dal ciel" or "Il lacerato spirito." Those arias are terrific, but they don't offer the varied vocal opportunities of a recitative/aria/cabaletta sequence. One of the few Verdi bass roles that does is Roger in Jérusalem (the composer's reworking of his opera from four years earlier, I Lombardi alla prima crociata). Singing elegant French doesn't keep Roger from being a classic Verdian fire-breather. His music pulsates with the invigorating rhythmic energy that memorably colors every early Verdi opera.
The viscount Gaston and the noble Hélène are in love. Her father, the Count of Toulouse, is the sworn enemy of Gaston's family. The two families reconcile, and the Count and Gaston ready themselves to set out together on the First Crusade. First, however, the Count offers Gaston his daughter's hand in marriage. This enrages Roger, the Count's brother, who is infatuated with his niece. In his recitative Roger admits to himself both his passion for Hélène and the evil of which his heart is capable. The cavatina expresses his hope that he can continue to conceal his guilty love. He wants to inspire fear in Gaston, whose death he now seeks. (In your audition, skip the connecting passage: here Roger orders a soldier to kill Gaston, and some soldiers declare their intention to slay their Saracen enemies in the Crusade). In Roger's cabaletta, he calls on the spirit of evil to strike his rival dead. He declares that Gaston may be at this moment praying to heaven, but he will be answered by hell.
From the start of Roger's wide-ranging recitative, you've got to shape the text with intensity, but not with stereotypical-bad-guy exaggeration. The cavatina — a grand-scale andante sostenuto — offers fabulous stretches of legato phrasing, within which dotted rhythms, wide leaps, and arpeggios all play a vital role. Literally every measure is given specific expressive markings — slurs, accents, dynamic contrasts — and you'll strengthen your performance immeasurably if you're conscientious about observing them. The cadenza covers a wide compass, from low A to high F. You'll have a whale of a time with the cabaletta; it's a barn-stormer, in which the vocal line takes some unexpected turns while offering wonderful rhythmic variety.
Score: Downloadable from Musopen
Recording: Siegmund Nimsgern (Bella Voce label – CD); Carlo Colombara (TDK label – DVD)
Timing: 5:20 (includes only one verse of the cabaletta)
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