A Mezzo's Journey: Music Through Language and Time
ABSTRACT A MEZZO'S JOURNEY: MUSIC THROUGH LANGUAGE AND TIME A GRADUATE VOICE RECITAL by Rebecca Isela Ramirez Master of Music in Music, Performance The repertoire for my voice recital is a representation of music through time, guided by language. Through this journey, five different languages and four different musical eras will be explored, beginning with the Baroque period and ending in the more recent 20th century. We begin with two Italian operatic arias, followed by a 20th century English song cycle, two French arias with complete opposite emotions, two German Lieder by Franz Schubert that move quickly with fear and wonder, a song cycle from Spain by one of the most prolific Spanish composers, Manuel de Falla, and conclude this journey with a comedic number from Leonard Bernstein's opera, Trouble in Tahiti. With music and language, the six sets that I have chosen for my program will give informative and stylistic examples of music from each musical era. Composed in 1738, George Frederic Handel's Serse was a commercial failure. It did not resonate well with audiences and closed shortly after its premiere. But the opening aria, Ombra mai fu, is said to be one of Handel's most known and recognized arias. This can be said because the aria contains a simple yet beautiful melody. Lascia ch'io pianga is another of Handel's arias that is widely performed by vocalists of the past and today. This particular melody has been used twice before but musicians and listeners enjoy the simplicity of the melody and are intrigued by the torment and bliss that this aria's lyrics provide. The second set of the recital jumps ahead to the 20th century with Theodore Chanler's song cycle, Nine Epitaphs. Set to words by poet Walter de la Mare, the cycle centers on a couple walking through a lonely graveyard, stopping at each epitaph and reading what is written on each one. The emotions that are portrayed in this cycle are varied. It begins with a somber piece with the mourning of a child and finishes with a joyous widow who is happy to see her three previous husbands in the ground and awaiting the demise of her current husband. The third set jumps back in time to the Romantic era with the language of romance itself, French. Jules Massenet's opera Werther is a tragic love story. A story filled with heartbreak and regret but with the underlining theme of responsibility and commitment. Va! laisse couler mes larmes is an aria of defeat. The opera's female lead, Charlotte, has accepted that she can't marry the man that she is truly in love with. Her mother passed away earlier in the opera and made her promise to marry a noble man- someone that can take care of her and her sister Sophie. During the aria, Sophie is trying to console her sister but Charlotte wants none of it. She just wants to wallow in her pity. To conclude the first half of the program, I wanted to finish on a comedic note with Jacques Offenbach's Ah quel diner from his opera La Perichole to leave a smile on the audience's faces, especially after all the sadness that was portrayed in the previous aria. This song is widely known as "The Tipsy Aria," and it definitely lives up to its nickname. The second half of the program opens with a couple of German Lieder composed by the Classical composer, Franz Schubert. Der Tod und das Mädchen is a Lied that shows a different kind of relationship because it's a conversation between Death and a young woman. The woman is frantic and is telling death to leave her alone. Death begins to console her and tells her that he is a friend and is here to bring her peace and comfort. Die Junge Nonne is another Lied by Schubert that again portrays a different kind of relationship. The young nun is confused and tormented. She is trying to sort through her inner turmoil that she has been fighting with ever since she devoted herself to the life of a nun. The music itself is deeply connected to the lyrics, depicting the rage that this young nun is feeling, recalling the darkness that she was trapped in before joining the church. It ends with a prayer of Hallelujah, signifying the praise and thanks to God that she has now found her life's calling. Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas is one of his most performed and celebrated sets of Spanish music. The cycle includes seven different songs, bookending the cycle with strong and very dynamically charged music that will keep the listener focused on every word that is being sung, even if the words are not being understood. The songs in between are a change in color and style, from playful and flirty to somber and peaceful with a beautiful lullaby titled Nana. This cycle is a perfect representation of Spain and its culture. Elements of dance, especially flamenco, can be clearly heard throughout and requires much attention to detail while also incorporating a lightness and freeness that is needed with Spanish music. To conclude this program, I chose to perform What a Movie! from Leonard Bernstein's opera Trouble in Tahiti for my final selection. Trouble in Tahiti is set in America in 1950s suburbia and is centered around a couple that is stuck in a rut in a seemingly loveless marriage. What a Movie! has the wife, Dinah, singing about how ridiculous of an idea it is to fall in love at first sight. While mocking it though, you can clearly sense her jealousy of the love portrayed in the movie that she went to see and that she almost wishes that she could experience that as well. The aria itself is fun and quirky, often changing meters and modulating to different keys to keep the interest focused. What a Movie! is an exciting piece of music that does not stop. It continues to move throughout its entirety and the energy never waivers. To sum up my recital, visiting these four music periods was an interesting addition to my studies. I've always enjoyed singing Baroque music and both Ombra mai fu and Lascia ch'io pianga are no different. While some may see them as simplistic, I find them quite beautiful. Chanler's Nine Epitaphs are simply unique. With the augmentation of melodies and strange lyrics, it has been beneficial to me as a musician learn them. Both of the French and German sets were quite difficult to learn because of the language barrier and the Spanish set was a challenge because of the melismatic runs and challenging rhythms that each of those presented. I used to feel that certain musical periods just did not work well for my voice and I felt strongly about this when it came to music from the 20th century. Looking back at all the preparation that my recital took, I've realized that the music from the 20th century were some of my favorites, especially What a Movie! because of how different and obscure it is when compared to the rest of my program.