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Contralto
Verdi, Giuseppe: Oberto
Act 2: Recitative, Aria and Cabaletta, “Riccardo! E chi gli resta…Oh, chi torna l’ardente pensiero…Più che i vezzi e lo splendore” (Cuniza)

Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Aria Talk1/1/2009

Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
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Mezzos who adore Verdi can have a frustrating time in their careers, since everyone’s voice doesn’t necessarily fill out to the point where Il trovatore’s Azucena and Don Carlo’s Eboli actually seem realistic possibilities. There’s no need to live without Verdi altogether, however; his operas present you with two excellent options (especially welcome for a mezzo who would prefer to avoid trouser roles). If you’re most comfortable in a high tessitura, there is Giulietta in Verdi’s Un giorno di regno (she has a ravishing scena that I discussed in the December 2003 “Aria Talk”). If you’re more of a young contralto, look at Cuniza in an even earlier work, Oberto, as your initial venture in Verdi. In this, the master’s very first opera, challenges are certainly present but they’re entirely reasonable. The vocal line can offer you considerable enjoyment in itself, while also enriching your sound and refining your musicianship.

In the 13th century, Count Oberto and his daughter — the first of Verdi’s Leonoras — both crave revenge: Oberto for his defeat in battle at the hands of Cuniza’s father and Leonora for being abandoned by Riccardo, who’s planning to marry Cuniza instead. Outraged at his betrayal of Leonora, Cuniza plans to yield Riccardo to her. In the lilting andante of her cavatina, she expresses her sadness over lost dreams of love. In the ensuing cabaletta, she resolves to lead Leonora to Riccardo herself, proclaiming that her own heart will offer Leonora comfort and friendship.

The cavatina’s Bellini-esque line is centered very much in the middle of the voice, although midway there is a sustained high F#, a moment requiring especially glowing tone. The second section takes on a little more urgency, with some lovely arpeggiated descents. Particularly graceful handling of gruppetti (turns) is essential throughout both cavatina and cabaletta. The latter, as usual in early Verdi, is wonderfully jaunty, with frequent trills adorning the line, along with repeated jumps down to low B.

Score: Kalmus
Recording: Ruza Baldani in complete opera (Orfeo label)
Timing: either 7:30 (deleting first half of cabaletta) or 6:00 (deleting both recitative and first half of cabaletta)
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