Six musical highlights of Festival 2018

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Whet your appetite for this year’s Festival with these musical highlights from all six operas.

These moments capture emotions from intimacy to authority and vulnerability to despair, with clips from Madama Butterfly, Saul, Der Rosenkavalier, Giulio Cesare, Vanessa and Pelléas et Mélisande.

Saul – ‘O Lord, whose Mercies numberless’

As Saul’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, the young hero David sings this delicate aria to calm the King’s troubled mind.

This aria offers a moment of pause and contemplation, a striking contrast to Saul’s madness and the exuberance of the chorus in the oratorio’s first half. The prominence of the harp echoes David’s biblical story, and the beauty of the music prompts us to consider the better, more enlightened future that David could offer the Israelites.

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Madama Butterfly – ‘Un bel dì vedremo’

This unforgettable, heart-breaking moment in Madama Butterfly musically mirrors young Cio-Cio San’s thought processes as she waits in hope that her beloved Pinkerton will return to her (although we know, and perhaps, in her heart, Butterfly does too, that he has abandoned her).

By constantly returning to the same note – a persistent musical idea she just can’t relinquish – the music helps us feel Cio-Cio San’s anticipation and disappointment along with her.

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Der Rosenkavalier – ‘Marie Theres’! Hab’ mir’s gelobt’ (final trio)

In this trio from the end of Der Rosenkavalier the world-weary Marschallin realises that she must give up Octavian to the younger Sophie, even though she still loves him.

The music is sensual and mature, and the three female voices weave into each other in a startlingly intimate, even erotic, way.

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Giulio Cesare – ‘Va tacito’

In this scene we see the final confrontation between Cesare and Tolomeo. Cesare is firmly in control, positioning himself as a silent and furtive hunter, moving in on his prey – Cleopatra’s villainous brother.

The gently cantering rhythm of the aria – martial without ever over-stating its case – conveys Cesare’s quiet authority, in marked contrast to the florid, too-protesting intricacy of Tolomeo’s own arias.

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Vanessa – ‘Must the Winter Come So Soon’

This beautiful moment from Barber’s Pulitzer Prize winning opera is a showcase for the character of Erika. Its musical composure and contained emotion stands in contrast to the title character’s more showy numbers, reflecting Erika’s quieter, more contemplative nature.

Touches of dark woodwind give this aria its distinctive, wintery colour, and many mezzo-sopranos have used it as a concert piece. Festival 2018 offers you the chance to hear it in its original context, as part of Barber’s densely woven, compelling psychological tale.

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Pelléas et Mélisande – ‘Mes longs cheveux descendant’ (The Tower Song)

Mélisande sings from the top of a high tower at the beginning of Act III of Debussy’s dark and delicate fairy tale. The sweetness and innocence of her song makes us realise that she has not yet been broken by the harsh kingdom of Allemonde.

Drawing on a folksong style, the passage’s lack of accompaniment emphasises Mélisande’s free spirit, which cannot be bound by the controlling darkness of her new world.

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