Let’s start today’s post with this terrific video of an early scene in Verdi’s Macbeth in which our title Thane encounters witches in a barren landscape. Riccardo Muti conducts . . .
Ghosts, witches and the devil often appear in opera, and you will discover them all in this month’s Halloween playlist from Classical Archives. If you’re a subscriber, CLICK HERE and start listening. We hope our selections bring you some goose bumps and add to your enjoyment of the holiday.
The Devil First Appears in Busoni’s Doktor Faust (Playlist Track 1)
Gounod and Boito both wrote operas that tell the Faust story. For this month’s playlist, we have selected something less familiar, from the opera Doktor Faust by Ferruccio Busoni. One difference is that Busoni chose to cast Faust as a baritone and the devil as a tenor.
In this scene, Doktor Faust is haunted by ghostly voices. In a brilliant theatrical stroke, the sixth voice is that of Mephistopheles, the devil himself, who calls Faust by name. We will hear Wolfgang Koch as Faust and John Daszak as the devil. Tomas Netopil conducts the Bavarian State Orchestra and Chorus.
The Commendatore Drags Don Giovanni to Hell in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Playlist Tracks 2-6)
Don Giovanni murders the Commendatore at the very start of Don Giovanni. Later, the Don looks at the statue of the Commendatore that sits atop his mausoleum and invites it to dine with him. And here in the final moments of the opera, the statue arrives for dinner and demands that the Don repent his sins. When the Don refuses to do so, the statue grasps the Don’s hand in a granite clasp and drags him down to hell. In an appropriate response, everyone rejoices after he is gone.
This classic performance features baritone Sesto Bruscantini as Don Giovanni and bass Nicolai Ghiaurov as the Commendatore, along with a stellar cast. Carlo Maria Giulini conducts the RAI Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Rome.
Macbeth Encounters the Weird Sisters for the First Time in Verdi’s Macbeth (Playlist Track 7)
No retelling of the Macbeth story would be complete without the Weird Sisters, the witches Macbeth discovers on a barren plain early in the play. Verdi depicts them splendidly, capturing their cackling wickedness with masterful musical strokes. Karl Böhm conducts the chorus and orchestra of the Vienna State Opera.
Banquo’s Ghost Appears to Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth (Playlist Track 8)
The ghost of the murdered Banquo confronts Macbeth, who with the words, “Fuggi, regal fantasima” (“Flee, regal phantasm”) begs the specter to go and leave him in peace. We will hear the monumental baritone Sherrill Milnes in this track, accompanied by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus under Karl Böhm.
The Séance Scene from Menotti’s The Medium (Playlist Tracks 9-12)
No Halloween listening experience would be sufficiently chilling without a séance, and we have selected one that is both frightening and terribly sad, as a mother is visited by the spirit of her daughter. This excerpt from a performance of Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera The Medium comes from the Chicago Opera Theater Ensemble, conducted by Lawrence Rapchak.
The Witches Plan Dido’s Destruction in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (Playlist tracks 13-16)
This opera by Henry Purcell tells the story of Aeneas’s tragic dalliance with Dido, Queen of Carthage. In this scene, witches plot to send a spirit disguised as Mercury to command Aeneas to leave Dido and Carthage and sail away. All that happens, Aeneas sails for Italy – and Dido commits suicide at the opera’s end. Listen especially for the chorus, “In our deep vaulted cell,” which mimics magnificently the sound of an echoing cave. (Purcell was indeed a genius.) This lively coven of witches is drawn from the Clare College Choir of Cambridge, conducted by Nicholas McGegan.
Orpheus Pleads with Hell’s Furies in Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice (Playlist Track 17)
With the words “Laissez-vous toucher par mes pleurs” (“May you be moved by my tears”) Orpheus begs the hostile spirits of the underworld to let him bring back his beloved Eurydice from the realm of the dead. We will hear the great tenor Nicolai Gedda and the Conservatory Society Concert Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Louis de Froment.
The Devil Rejoices in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (“The Soldier’s Story”) (Playlist Track 18)
Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat is not exactly an opera and the devil in it is not exactly a singer, but we end this month’s listening with the jaunty music that Stravinsky composed for the devil as he cavorts away at the end, leaving destruction in his wake.
Let’s close today’s post by watching this historic video of the final scene from Gounod’s Faust. Jerome Hines is a chilling Mephistopheles, Nicolai Gedda an unparalleled Faust and my old singing teacher Phyllis Curtin, usually noted for her interpretive excellence, proves that she could really deliver the vocal goods . . .
There is much more operatic devilry to explore . . .
We apologize if we have omitted some of your favorite operatic ghosts, goblins, witches and devils. If we have, please let us know so we can enjoy them too, and add them to our Halloween playlist next year. Trick or treat, and all good wishes.