The curious case of the aria from Madame Sans-Gêne

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Derek McGovern

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Dec 7, 2012, 1:37:28 AM12/7/12
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Out of curiosity, I did an online search today for the libretto of Giordano's seldom-heard opera Madame Sans-Gêne (1915). I wanted to find out much of the aria "Questa Tua Bocca Profumata e Pura" from this opera Lanza actually sings on his exciting (if a little rough!) 1952 home recording, which is featured on our main site here

The answer is exactly half. Mario starts on line five (see beginning of bold section below) with "Sapor d’infanzia e di malinconia," stops to curse (?!) for a moment after "paese" five lines later, and then continues with the rather sharply rendered "l’eco dei dì passati!/ E li rivivo teco." But here's where it gets interesting: after stopping again---this time to complain about the lights---he returns with what I (and probably most other people similarly unfamiliar with the opera) had always assumed to be the ending to the aria. And yet those powerful final lines are not from the aria---at least not from what I can make out---nor have I managed to find them in the rest of the libretto! For example, I hear what sounds like "ora resterai da sol" at the end (though my ears could be fooling me). 

So if the ending is not from Madame Sans-Gêne, then what opera is it from? Nothing rings a bell for me. Don't tell me we have another "unknown aria" on our hands to rival this baffling one! :)   

Here's a link to the entire libretto of Madame Sans-Gêne for anyone who's interested (or has sharper eyes than mine). The role that Lanza sings, by the way, is that of the sergeant/then Duke Lefebvre: 


Questa tua bocca profumata e pura
che la mia di baciar non è mai sazia,
mi fa pensare ai frutti dell’Alsazia
che il natio sol nell’orto mio matura.
Sapor d’infanzia e di malinconia
mi scende al cuore, e nel pensier ridesta
la casa, il campo, la chiesetta in festa
e le campane dell’Avemaria!
Or nelle tue parole cerco e ascolto
l’accento noto del paese, l’eco
dei dì passati! E li rivivo teco,
e cerco la mia patria sul tuo volto!
Laggiù in Alsazia, noi pensammo un dì
andar vecchietti, in pace, a chiuder gli occhi!

I must say, by the way, that it's a credit to Lanza that he wasn't just interested in singing the familiar operatic "lollipops," as one commentator rather sneeringly once put it. 

Cheers
Derek 

norma

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Dec 7, 2012, 5:46:03 PM12/7/12
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Dear Derek,

For some reason I cannot download the recordings on your main site so could not follow your information about this aria.It maybe my I pad as I am sure I could hear it on my computer.
Norma

Derek McGovern

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Dec 7, 2012, 8:56:21 PM12/7/12
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Hi Norma: I'm sure it's your iPad that's preventing you from playing the Madame Sans-Gêne clip. I've checked it on two computers, and it's working at my end.

Cheers
Derek 

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leeann

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Dec 9, 2012, 10:11:29 PM12/9/12
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Dear Derek, I'm curious about whether anything's turned up about the mystery of Lanza's stunning, but apparently improvisational ending to to "Questa bocca tua..."

Not knowing much about this opera at all--but finding with the forthcoming release of Les Miserables on film (Christmas Day in the US) it's kind of interesting to note that the original comedy which begins during the French Revolution and upon which Giordano based his opera was written in 1893--almost 30 years after Victor Hugo wrote his opus on the French Revolution--certainly far from comedic!

Madame Sans-Gêne apparently didn't survive quite as well as Hugo's work, boosted by Les Mis--at least in modern times--even though the play apparently was repeatedly scripted for films--even a 1961 version starring Sophia Loren! In any event, the 1915 Metropolitan debut performance did receive awfully diverse reviews with Martinelli playing the Duke and Geraldine Ferrar, the Madam. A reporter for the Chicago Tribune called Giordano a mediocre talent and said of "Questa bocca tua..." that as the Duke throws himself in his wife's arms to sing the aria in response to an impassioned outburst from her, "...alas! ...both leave us unmoved in our seats."  He's criticizing Giordano, though, rather than Martinelli and Farrar.

But I just wonder how the critic would've responded to this home recording--improvisational or not!  Best, Lee Ann

Derek McGovern

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Dec 10, 2012, 7:57:08 AM12/10/12
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Hi Lee Ann: I haven't had time yet to look through the Madame Sans-Gêne libretto again, but I'm almost certain that the ending on that brief recording is not from that opera. So, yes, another snippet from an obscure (and presumably verismo) opera---and another mystery! 

My guess is that Lanza would have rehearsed the entire Madame Sans-Gêne aria that day, but no one thought to turn the tape recorder on until he was five lines in. And whoever stopped recording when he started cursing the lights must have forgotten to turn the machine back on when he resumed the aria!  But was it creative editing on the part of someone years later to tack on the end of a different aria and make us think we were hearing the actual conclusion of the Giordano piece? Or did whoever was in charge of the tape recorder at the actual session (Betty, perhaps) suddenly remember to turn the machine back on when Lanza was gloriously concluding another aria?

All I know is that the source of the recording was Colleen Lanza (who then shared it with Armando). 

Incidentally, the fact that Lanza was rehearsing this stuff as early as 1952 casts doubt (for me, anyway) over Callinicos' claim in his book that he got the former interested in singing "forgotten" arias during the dark period after the bust-up with MGM. Indeed, Lanza was always interested in the more obscure operas---even as a teenager, he was apparently familiar with the lesser-known works---and, as we know, he even appeared in productions of non-standard fare (Crispino e la Comare, The Merry Wives of Windsor) in his late teens and early twenties. Then there's the unknown aria recording from 1944 and even the surprise declaration (in 1952) that he would like to sing the role of Paolo in Zandonai's seldom-performed 1914 opera Francesca da Rimini. (Mr. Weaver of the Rense and Lanza Legend forums is skeptical about the latter---he posits that Lanza was merely uttering nonsense to see if the newspapers would report it---but I'm inclined to believe that it was a sincere statement. Certainly, it would have been consistent with Lanza's off-the-beaten-track operatic interests, as well as representing an opportunity for him to shine, as Armando has speculated, in a role with which most critics would have been unfamiliar. A potentially smart move, in other words!)  

Getting back to dear old Giordano, he certainly didn't have much luck with his operas after Fedora (1898)---and he had another half-century still to live! Madame Sans-Gêne turned up after a string of works that had failed to fire with either the public or the critics, so that Chicago reporter probably thought he was on safe ground labelling the poor man a mediocre composer. But Giordano did apparently gain some recognition for his second-to-last opera, La Cena delle Beffe (1924), which is, incidentally, the work that several connoisseurs thought might be the source of Lanza's unknown aria.

Mediocrity or not, Giordano wrote some magnificent music for Andrea Chénier, and his "Amor ti Vieta" from Fedora is an operatic gem. I'd be happy with that level of achievement :)

Cheers
Derek   


Derek McGovern

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Oct 5, 2013, 9:31:31 PM10/5/13
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Our main site now features an improved reproduction of the Madame Sans-Gêne home rehearsal. The sound is brighter, and there's more detail. (I was hearing things I hadn't heard before.) Turn it up as loud as you can, and enjoy:

Derek


Derek McGovern

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Nov 15, 2014, 10:28:58 AM11/15/14
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Just a reminder that the Unknown Aria from 1944 is not our only Mario Musical Mystery; there's also the question of what he's singing at the end of this aria from Madame Sans-Gêne. I'd love to hear from anyone who knows the answer! 
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