|Eis Christina: Frankfurt's favorite Ice Cream|
Opera has come a long way since its origins in the 1600s and its Golden Age in the 19th century, from which many of the stereotypes of opera have spawned. Familiar scenes of a night at the opera include aristocrats in their box seats, fanning themselves and using their opera glasses to look at anything but the action on stage. In this day and age, opera is a versatile and vibrant art, breaking stereotypes and taking on many forms.
Italian comic opera in the 18th and 19 century, however, was still very structured in its Bel Canto beginnings. So much so, that the audience knew, in the middle of the second half, there would be a chance to go out and get some ice cream - namely, during the Aria di Sorbetto (literally: sherbet aria), a song usually sung by a minor character with no major influence on the plot.
It is such a character that I am playing now in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) - Berta (a.k.a. Marcellina) the maid. I shouldn’t complain - at least I have an aria at all. When Giuseppe Verdi started to dominate the opera scene, the typical Bel Canto structure began to make way for a more realistic verismo style, in which there was no room for fluffy, ignorable arias. Every note had to mean something. This is why Violetta’s Annina, Gilda’s Giovanna, and Leonore’s Ines had no aria of their own. Unlike Mozart’s coquette maids Despina and Blondchen who had very influential roles and significant parts to sing, Verdi’s domestics were simply there to serve their Diva - to set up the emotion for her cavatina (0:22-0:56), to look appropriately concerned while she’s singing it, and to bring the bad news which would then catapult her into a cabaletta (5:45-6:20) -- see this example from Il Trovatore:
Nowadays, opera directors are inclined to put much more emphasis on the drama of opera than on the singing (so do I, frankly). When I played Ines in Il Trovatore, the director told me (and I quote), I was to be “the reflection of Leonore’s subconscious.” A-ha. Well, I must have done something right, because it was then that the über-successful German director Christof Loy hand-picked me to be one of his chorus of anonymous nymphs and shepherds in his production of L’Orfeo in Düsseldorf.
|Ines in Il Trovatore (Bonn)|
|Berta in "Il Barbiere di Siviglia"|
Theater Hagen 2011
Much to my delight, as opposed to the audiences of the 19th century, I know that people are actually there watching and listening to my Aria di Sorbetto, perhaps enjoying my 15 minutes of fame instead of a scoop of Straciatella.
|And another Berta...|
|And ANOTHER Berta ...|