Remembering Joe Green: Giuseppe Verdi Turns 200
By: Brad Kronen
SELECTION IV: THE WITCH'S ARIA FROM VERDI'S UN BALLO IN MASCHERA
You never forget your first time.
Ummmm hearing opera, that is, especially the operas of Verdi.
My first exposure to the Maestro was oddly enough through the medium of film. The year was 1988 and the college I attended was located near a foreign film theater where I would regularly visit rather than do things like homework or term papers, etc. It was there I saw “Aria”, a cinematic collage in which various film directors of repute were asked to make and direct their own movie scene focusing on the music from the opera of their choice. The film’s first scene directed by Nicholas Roeg was a silly assassination melo-drama, but the music chosen for it permanently altered me, since it was from the piece that got me addicted to both opera and Verdi's music, “Un Ballo In Maschera” in English, A Masked Ball.
The film’s opening scene had 2 female voices, back to back, starting with the very lowest, or contralto, to the very highest range of the human voice, aka coloratura soprano. The juxtaposition of the vocal line from the bottom of the female register to the top does not occur in sequential order in the original piece from which both were taken. The display of extreme vocal dualism was sequentially spliced due to the artistic liberties taken by the director, who wanted to emphasize the immense diversity of vocal range in the art form of opera. The 2 snippets were taken from the high soprano character of Oscar and the low contralto part of the witch, Ulrica from Verdi's Ballo.
The lower of the sung pieces ended up being one of my all time favorites, Ulrica's Witch aria, with the interpretation being sung by one of my most admired singers, whom I had the immense honor of eventually meeting, the great Shirley Verrett. Ms. Verrett's Ulrica can be heard on the youtube clip.
Little did I realize with that first hearing of The Witch’s Aria how the piece would eventually become my work anthem, being that I am one of your favorite astrologers who also has the portentous perspective of prophecy, or if you REALLY want to take the dramatic fun out of it,
I can see the future and junk, just like Ulrica says:
“Nulla, piu nulla ascondersi
Al guardo mio potra
Del suo tremendo amplesso
La face del futuro"
"Nothing, but nothing is witheld
From my gaze!
The tremendous embrace of
The Face of the Future!"
Verdi's piece of magic and incantation unto itself is quite significant in operatic history, since it was the aria sung by the first African American to sing upon the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, when the great contralto, Marian Anderson, (seen in picture) sang the role of Ulrica during her one and only operatic performance in front of a live audience on January 7th, 1955.