Did you know that there is a unique Dewey decimal number just for books written by or about William Shakespeare? A few days ago I went to the library to check out a copy of Twelfth Night, hoping to have the time to read it in the next month before seeing a production in May, but I was blown away by the sheer number of books that have been written about a single man’s works!
Anyway, thinking about Twelfth Night reminded me of poem in the play, “Come away, come away, death,” sung by a clown as entertainment for a duke. In the play, it serves merely as amusement, and it certainly is an over-dramatic lament, but it has been extracted and set to music numerous times by various composers. One setting, by Gerald Finzi, a 20th century British composer, has become one of my favorites. I first discovered it on the album The Vagabond, which also happens to include one of my favorite song cycles by Ralph Vaughan Williams, sung by Bryn Terfel (so many things to love!). This set of songs, with texts by Robert Louis Stevenson, demonstrates Vaughan Williams’ ability to write perfect but playable piano accompaniments. Each one is just suited to the text and supports the singer while retaining its own independent musical value.
I highly recommend the entire CD, but for now, check out “Come away, come away, death” and “Youth and love“.
Last week, my school put on a production of the well-known opera, Aida by Giuseppe Verdi. I was not in the production, but had the chance to see it three times, and it was worth it. It was a huge undertaking – there were almost 250 people in the cast and orchestra. The sets, costumes, and props were all spectacular in the truest sense of the word, and the soloists were all fantastic singers and convincing actors.
The opera relates the story of an Ethiopian princess (Aida) who, while in captivity in Egypt, falls in love with an Egyptian commander (Radames), and he loves her as well. Unfortunately for both of them, the Egyptian princess (Amneris) is also in love with Radames. At the end of the first scene, Radames has been chosen to command Egypt’s armies against the invading Ethiopians, and Aida, caught up in the excitement of the moment, joins the Egyptian court in encouraging Radames to return victorious. As they leave, she rebukes herself for wishing for the victory of one who will be fighting against her own father, but remains torn between her love for Radames and her loyalty to her people.
One of the most moving scenes occurs in the second act. Aida and Radames have been discovered as Radames unwittingly revealed important military information to Aida and her father, the Ethiopian king. Aida has escaped, but Radames has been captured and is being tried for treason. Amneris struggles with herself as she realizes that she is responsible for Radames capture and imminent death – in her jealous rage, she had alerted the guards. Now she stands and listens as Radames is accused of treachery and remains silent, refusing to defend himself.
You can hear music from these two scenes here.