My holiday music playlist this year is a bit more religion-friendly than usual since I've been spending way too much time with some really religious people of late. The Mormon missionaries I hung out with are required by their mission rules to avoid music that aren't church-based or classical instrumental. That quite foils my attempt at introducing them to many of my favorite tunes since the best bits of the juiciest opera tend to involve more passion than so chaste a post- and pre- polygamy religion can handle. But, a bit of compromise goes a long way in making and keeping friends who don't think the same way I do about things, so I made my favorite missionaries a custom CD of relatively religion-friendly opera and classical for Christmas. Here it is!
1. VILLA-LOBOS: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 [Elina Garanca]
2. MONTSALVATGE: Madrigal - El cant dels ocells [Garanca]
3. Bulgarian folksong: Svatba [Cosmic Voices of Bulgaria]
4. MOZART: Cosi fan tutte: Soave sia il vento [Lorengar, Berganza, Bacquier]
5. HUBAY: Le Zephyr [Mirijam Contzen & Valery Rogatchev]
6. MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo
7. MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana: Regina coeli [Julia Varady]
8. Armenian folk hymn: Soorp [Isabel Beyrakdarian]
9. Rumanian hymn: O, ce veste minunata [Roberto Alagna]
10. Bulgarian folksong: Day mi, Bozhe, krila lebedovi [Vesselina Kasarova]
11. VERDI: La forza del destino: La vergine degli angeli [Leontyne Price]
12. SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila - Danse Bacchanale
13. MENDELSSOHN: Violin concerto in E minor [Tasmin Little]
I know I gave her a hard time in a few early reviews of her recordings, but Elina Garanca has been growing on me quite much. The voice is just to die for, and her musicianship is exquisite. She still isn't as keen on varying her vocal color as I'd like her to, but I'm finding her live performances a lot more engaging now than a few years ago. I love her in recital pieces, though. While the opera tracks from her Aria Cantilena CD leave me cold, Villa Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and Montsalvatge's arrangement of the Catalan madrigal, El cant dels ocells, are great showpieces for her gorgeously flawless sound... and even benefit, I think, from her detachment. The first is a nature-loving chant, and the latter an intonation of the nativity as witnessed by the birds. I wonder if ancient Bethlehem was home to the same sorts of birds that live in Catalan now... but that's besides the point, I think.
One of my all time favorite recordings has to be the first CD of Le mystere des voix bulgare, which features this really cool Boyar wedding song, Svatba. Sung by the Cosmic Voices of Bulgaria Women's Choir, I thought its rousing spunk might spark celestial thoughts in a few listeners. It helps that the tune somehow transfers really well into the farewell trio from Mozart's farcical opera, Cosi fan tutte. The story is silly, but sometimes even the flakiest of ladies are capable of some really benevolent benefaction!
Of course, benevolent benefaction should prudently be taken in small doses or else immediately followed up by an upshot of merry laughter. I would supply my own, but imposing my mischievously evil laughter onto others this time of year could very well be considered bad form, so I outsourced it to a good humored pair of laughadelic violinist and pianist instead, belly-quaking to Jeno Hubay's The Zephir.
People often ask me what my most favorite opera is. It's not an easy question to answer since there are many favorites and they tend to appeal to me differently depending on my differing moods. The safest choice that I can always listen to, though, is Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana... with its gorgeous intermezzo and, since we're being friendly to religious listeners here, Easter hymns. Well, I know it isn't Easter yet, but at least it's better suited to the occasion than Turiddu's lusty Siciliana or his spatty duet with Santuzza (my favorite parts of the show! But then I'm a heathen).
While roaming around youtube checking out various clips by my favorite singers, I chanced on this rather cool one of Isabel Beyrakdarian singing an Armenian hymn. I liked it so much I looked up a few more Armenian songs, then decided to branch out a bit and searched for hymns from other countries with famous opera singers I know of, and hit pay dirt with Roberto Alagna's rendition of the Romanian hymn O ce veste minunata (he isn't Romanian, but his then wife, Angela Gheoghiu, is). Of course, that also led me to Bulgaria and this clip of Vesselina Kasarova singing 'Give Me, God, Wings of the Swan' with the Cosmic Voices of Bulgaria.
I figured to close the CD with a proper Italian opera prayer, Leonora's prayer from la forza del destino, but there was a lot of room left on the blank disc, so I couldn't resist filling it up with a few instrumental favorites. First off the bat, just because I can only stand listening to so much religious music without a proper break, the 'or classical instrumental' escape clause that the Mormon mission gave their missionaries is my main excuse for breaking out of the pious mode with the (in)famous Bacchanale Scene from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. After all, the story is biblical!
Amazed that there was still so much room on the disc after all that, I turned into a spoiled brat and put in my favorite recording of Mendelssohn's famous and extremely popular E minor violin concerto that just about every concert violinists has recorded. There are tons of awesome renditions of this thing around, but the fiddler who strikes it closest to my ideal combination of fleet-fingeredness and passion is the rather not that well-known (at least on this side of the Atlantic) English virtuoso Tasmin Little. The lass makes me dance... three legs and all!