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American Music from A to Z in the NLS Music Collection: B is for BAD!

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We’re continuing with another alphabet-themed blog themed series and today the letter is ‘B.’  The cheer “Bravo!” was considered, (how did that start as a shout of approval?) or the usual Three B’s of classical music, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but instead let’s go down the road of temptation and check out…the Bad Boy character roles of opera.

While not always the case, the lovers and hero parts in opera are usually written for the tenor.  The anti-heroes (OK, the villains) are usually baritones and basses.  However, the Queen of the Night, a coloratura soprano role in The Magic Flute belts out two scary arias when she gets worked up. I wouldn’t want to be on her bad side.

The first character that comes to mind for absolute pure evil is Iago, from Otello by Verdi. He stops at nothing and is merciless to get what he wants for himself. He manipulates his commander Otello, uses his wife to accomplish his evil acts, and outwits his competition to achieve his ambition. He also destroys a pure soul, Desdemona and indirectly destroys a valued and trusted leader, Otello, who kills himself.  All just so he could be in charge. What a guy.

Next, we have the villain, Scarpia from Tosca by Puccini. He is from the nobility and accustomed to getting his own way.  It worked for him until he met his match (and death!) at the hand of the beautiful singer Tosca. I like Tosca; she has a mind of her own.  But after questioning her faith in God (“Why?  Why should I have to submit to this horrible man after all I’ve done for art?”) in Vissi d’arte, she improvises and stabs him just as he embraces her in a breathtaking, dramatic moment. Until then, Scarpia was handling enemies of the state in his unique style…torture.  Again, what a guy.

Continuing with more examples from the noble class, I present a two-for-one.  One gets his just reward, while the other gets away with his wanton lifestyle.  Don Giovanni by Mozart had superlative skills in seduction; whether it was to win the title of all-time champion seducer, or just an action of folly, he was relentless in his conquests. However, he finally went too far when he murdered the father of his next conquest, and had to answer for it.  In a very, very hot place. The other member of the ruling class was a young Duke, just out for a good time (and a tenor role, by the way.) The Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto  creates an illusion as a poor young student to win the heart of Gilda, a sweet innocent young woman who has been hidden away from the evils of the world by her father, Rigoletto.  Of course she falls for him, head-over-heels, but through a series of miscommunications becomes a murder victim, in an arrangement set in place by her father. It’s a heartbreaker, but she forgives her father as she is dying, and the Duke continues to party on. By the way, there are great sound effects in the orchestration of this opera, especially in the last act during a storm.

And, as we’re considering American music in this series, one of the hottest shows from Broadway has incorporated many facets of the hip-hop medium, and is now a classic. Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda presents a case study of envy run amok. Aaron Burr, with his  place already assured in American history as a patriot, (legally) assassinated one of the best examples of what this country can offer, given an opportunity. It was the accepted code of the time, but it was bad. Very bad.

I have saved the worst for last.  With Faust, (chosen by two composers, Gounod and Berlioz) we have a character who is willing to trade his disillusionment of life for a return to innocence.  Big mistake. The Devil hears this and shows up to make Dr. Faust an offer he should have refused. There is fallout for all parties involved, especially Marguerite, a young innocent woman seduced by Faust, courtesy of the Devil. When the Devil comes to collect, he condemns Marguerite; however, as the opera closes heavenly voices sing her praises and she is saved.  As for Faust, well….he has to carry this guilt. Eternally.

Here are some of these titles in the NLS music collection.  And remember, yielding to temptation and pleasures can bring momentary satisfaction, but don’t make it a lifestyle.  Just remember Don Giovanni.

Braille scores

Otello, libretto (BRM25376)

Ave Maria, (Desdemona’s prayer before her death) from Otello (BRM09940)

The Willow Song, from Otello, (BRM01449)

Tosca (libretto) (BRM24738, BRM24732)

“Vissi d’arte” from Tosca  (BRM22579)

Don Giovani libretto (BRM24728, BRM 24731)

“La ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni (BRM29153)

Rigoletto, libretto (BRM26051)

“Caro Nome” from Rigoletto, (BRM24322)

“La Donna è Mobile” from Rigoletto (BRM22351)

Hamilton (BRM36785)

Faust by Charles Gounod, libretto, (BRM24729)

Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz, libretto,(BRM34722)

Audio books

Otello: Commentary by Alfred Glasser (DBM01597)

Otello, The Metropolitan Opera (DBM01437)

Michael Barclay Lecture on Otello (DBM01344)

Otello, Ann Thompson (DBM01389)

Otello, Bridget Paolucci (DBM01309)

Tosca, Commentary by Alfred Glasser (DBM01601)

Michael Barclay lectures on Tosca by Puccini (DBM00769)

Tosca by Ann Thompson (DBM01399)

Introduction to Puccini, Tosca by Thomson Smillie (DBM03429)

Don Giovanni, Commentary by Alfred Glasser (DBM01558)

Don Giovanni, Narrated by Father Owen Lee (DBM01310)

Don Giovanni, Chat by Ann Thompson (DBM01268)

Michael Barclay Lectures on Don Giovanni, (DBM00761)

Introduction to Mozart, Don Giovanni, Thomson Smillie (DBM03417)

Rigoletto, Commentary by Alfred Glasser (DBM01598)

Michael Barclay Lectures on Rigoletto (DBM00768)

Rigoletto, Ann Thompson (DBM01403)

Introduction to Verdi, Rigoletto by Thomson Smillie (DBM03421)

Faust by Charles Gounod: Commentary by Alfred Glasser (DBM01593)

Faust, Chat by Ann Thompson (DBM01267)

To borrow any materials from the NLS Music Section, you may access BARD or request a copy on digital cartridge or braille by contacting the Music Section by phone at 1-800-424-8567, option 2, or e-mail [email protected].

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