This rich selection of arias ranges from the dawn of Italian opera to the late nineteenth century. Arranged chronologically, the pieces encompass historically and artistically significant operatic modes as well as many varieties of airs, from the earliest flowerings of Florentine monody through the refined stylings of the golden age of bel canto and the freer, more dramatic fashions of the early twentieth century.
The collection opens with Giulio Caccini's sixteenth-century madrigal, "Amarilli, mia bella," which was written in the course of the attempts to revive authentic performances of ancient Greek drama that resulted in the birth of the Italian opera. A pair of arias from Le Nozze di Figaro — "Voi, che sapete" and "Deh vieni, non tardar" — offer excellent examples of Mozart's gift to opera's development: the expression of characters' mental, moral, and physical states by musical means.
Other highlights include Bizet's "Prés de remparts," from Carmen; "Mon Coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" and "Amour! Viens aider" from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila; "Gerechter Gott!" from Wagner's Rienzi; Verdi's "Saper vorreste" from Un Ballo in Mascera and "O don fatale," from Don Carlo; Handel's "Lascia ch' io pianga," from Rinaldo; plus arias by Monteverdi, Weber, Rossini, Donizetti, and other composers. Lyrics appear in the original languages and in English translations.
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