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Wagner, Richard: Lohengrin (1850)
Act I: Prayer, "Mein Herr und Gott" (King Henry)
Aria Talk •
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.
What should a bass choose to sing if he's auditioning with Wagner? Hans Sachs/Die Meistersinger (for bass-baritones, really, more than true basses) and Marke/Tristan und Isolde are too long, the Landgrave/Tannhäuser is just this side of dull, Hagen/Götterdämmerung doesn't make much effect out of context. King Henry/Lohengrin is best; although short, the aria shows fine range and lets you display every bit of vocal beauty you possess.
In Antwerp in the 900s, Henry the First (known as "the Fowler"), King of Germany, arrives in the ruler-less Duchy of Brabant to exhort citizens to make up an army for fighting the Hungarians. He finds a messy situation: The recently deceased duke's heirs, a youthful brother and sister, Gottfried and Elsa, were to be under the charge of Count Friedrich of Telramund. Friedrich was to marry Elsa, who rejected him. Now he's spread the lie that Elsa has killed Gottfried. When Henry calls for a knight to defend Elsa, no one appears until she prays, at which point a knight appears as if by magic, in a small boat drawn by a swan. He announces that he will fight Telramund in Elsa's defense and will marry her, on the condition that she wait a year before asking his name or origin. Before the fight begins, Henry offers a brief prayer, asking God to prove, through the fight, who has the truth in his favor.
The aria covers nearly two octaves: you need not just secure sustained full-voice high E-flats for the opening, but also a genuinely sonorous low F later on. This is one of the greatest legato tests for a Wagner bass — your tone must flow in the smoothest possible manner from phrase to phrase. There is one basic mood — grandly noble and dignified — therefore the challenge is posed to you to create variety through your textual coloring. You should have no problem with that, however, since one can do so much with such a strong text. To a singer who's willing to work in detail, expressively speaking, phrases like "Durch Schwertes Sieg," or "Der Reinen Arm gib Heldenkraft" are a real gift.
Score: Schirmer or Breitkopf & Härtel
Recording: Gottlob Frick (EMI "Great Recordings of the Century" series); Kurt Moll (Deutsche Grammophon); Franz Crass (Orfeo)
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