Music Monday #7: Working the Steps

Today I’ve decided to post on a piece I’m actually working on right now, as opposed to something I’ve sung in the past or with which I’m familiar. It’s an Italian aria (aria=opera or oratorio solo, usually focusing on one particular theme) called Selve amiche, written by Antonio Caldera.

No, you should not know who that is. But so that you will: he grew up in Venice and was a choirboy at a basilica. He became the conductor at the court of the Duke of Mantua (you shouldn’t know who that is, either). Two years later, at the age of 31,  he wrote an opera now referred to as Opera pastorale. Of interest in this opera is that it uses the same libretto (lyrics) as La costanza in amor vince l’inganno… which was another opera written by Caldera. But he wrote it all to different music for Opera pastorale. 

Why did he do that? Well, La constanza was written for a public theater in Macerata, with paying guests who bought tickets. Anybody who wanted to see it could see it. What’s distinct about Opera pastorale is that it was performed in Rome in a private theater with invited audience members… and that meant (drumroll, please) women were allowed to perform in it. The character who sings Selve amiche is called Sylvia, and she was played by a woman in Opera pastorale. That wasn’t allowed in Rome’s public theaters at the time, which is how we wound up with a bunch of eunuchs singing soprano.

Poor guys.

Selve amiche is very short and not terribly broad-ranged. It only covers an octave, and a moderate one at that. My voice teacher let me choose from three pieces to study next, and I chose this one for two reasons: I need to work on getting more resonance in my middle range, and I need to work a little more on the close intervals that this piece exhibits in its “runs” (phrases containing a string of relatively fast-paced notes). You don’t care about why I chose it, but I wanted to show you the value in a piece that’s relatively simple, even in opera. They’re not all unapproachable and complicated, and since this aria’s quiet plea is simple, I think its composition matches it well.

Apart from that, it’s just pretty. In the opening scene of the opera, Sylvia is struggling with matters of love, and she wanders into the woods to try to find some solace.

Lyrics and translation:

Selve amiche, ombrose piante, fido albergo del mio core,
Friendly woods, shady trees, faithful shelter of my heart,

Chiede a voi quest’alma amante qualche pace al suo dolore.
This loving soul asks of you some peace for its sadness.

With that simple request, in this simple piece, I ask that you simply close your eyes and listen to Suzana Frasheri sing. Happy Music Monday.

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