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Bass
Strauss, Richard: Die schweigsame Frau
Act 3, finale: "Wie schön ist doch die Musik" (Morosus)

Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Aria Talk12/1/2008

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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In Strauss operas the bass is generally a supporting character (Baron Ochs excepted), singing mainly declamatory music. A welcome legato moment for a Strauss bass is the finale sung by Morosus, male lead in the delightful but seldom-produced comedy Die schweigsame Frau. This is a wonderful opportunity for a singer boasting not only a wide range but also a truly mellow timbre. If you begin your audition with, say, Rossinian patter or barn-storming Verdi, the serenely beautiful lines with which Strauss ends Die schweigsame Frau offers a splendid contrast.

In this Don Pasquale-ish plot, Morosus, a retired admiral, loathes noise. Alas, he has a housekeeper who never stops talking! When his barber proposes that he marry some nice, silent woman, Morosus wonders if such a woman can be found. His life is disrupted by the arrival of an extremely boisterous acting troupe; Henry, Morosus's nephew who is also an actor in the troupe, is married to its leading lady. Increasingly outraged by the troupe's behavior, Morosus disinherits Henry. The barber presents the old man with prospective brides, impersonated by troupe members: a vulgar peasant girl, a tiresome bluestocking and a sweet young thing, "Timidia," played by Henry's wife, Aminta. Morosus chooses Timidia who, after a mock wedding ceremony, becomes a shrew. The trick is finally explained to Morosus, who restores Henry's inheritance. With his nephew and Aminta beside him, Morosus falls blissfully asleep as he sings of how beautiful music is (except when it's over), and how wonderful a young, silent woman is (especially when she's someone else's wife).

Strauss begins this passage with glorious middle-voice legato phrases. That all-important word "schön" presents one of many chances for you to color with the sweetest tone you can produce. The vocal line later turns more rangy and grand-scale, but only briefly; there are still chances to ravish the ear in pianissimo (the high E-flat on the word "glücklich," for example). On one of several repetitions of the word "Ruhe" (quiet), Morusus descends down a seventh to low F. Absolute steadiness is needed there, and for his long-held "Ah"'s as he drifts off to sleep.

Score: Schott
Recording: Thomas Quasthoff, "Evening Star: German Opera Arias" (Deutsche Grammophon); Kurt Böhme singing the complete role (Orfeo)
Timing: 3:45
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