Puccini's Edgar with Scottish Opera
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
When a medieval knight finds himself confronted with the one thing more debilitating than war, will he fall for the orgastic temptations of a seductive life of debauchery, sex and pleasure or will he instead pursue a much purer and truer form of affection in the arms of his one true love?
Without further ado, this is Giacomo Puccini's Edgar.
Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924) was an Italian composer of opera's widely regarded as some of the greatest ever written. It's not unreasonable to presume that more people around the world have come into contact with his music than any other single opera composer, and with good reason. O Mio Babbino Caro, Vissi D'Arte, Recondita Armonia, E Lucevan Le Stelle, Che Gelida Manina, In Questa Reggia, Nessun Dorma all came from the pen of this bold, passionate and utterly extraordinary character who once roamed the cities and vast countryside of northern Italy. His music lived not only then but will continue to live on in his absence, through the beauty of western musical notation, well into the foreseeable future.
Edgar was Puccini's second opera, commissioned by Ricordi after the notable yet humble successes of his first stage work, Le Villi first performed in 1884, and is rather loosely based on a play by Alfred de Musset. A central protagonist, Edgar, upon returning from a life of orgies and indulgence (literally), must decide whether to return to this former life of endless pleasure with his mistress Tigrana or whether to seek a truer path with the pure-hearted Fidelia. As Tigrana shows persistence in her efforts to entice Edgar back, she falls short when Edgar announces his love for Fidelia. Frank, the brother of Fidelia, decides he rather likes the sound of this lifestyle and consequently tries his luck with Tigrana's affections too but fails to win her over. Refusing to stay out of trouble, after angering and mocking many of the local villagers Tigrana escapes to Edgar's house, where Edgar defends her from her pursuers. In turn Edgar changes his mind and offers to leave with her to return to his old way of life, burning his house down as a symbol of contempt to the others in the process. Frank tries in vain to stop them, largely out of love for Tigrana, and is resultantly wounded in a duel with Edgar. Later, upon leaving a wild party, Edgar soon realises his mistake and begins to long for Fidelia once more (ever stepped out of the club for a breather and questioned your life choices?). Although Tigrana tries relentlessly to stop him, Edgar seizes his chance to flee when a group of soldiers arrive, lead by Frank, from whom he now asks for forgiveness for their previous swabbles (i.e. when Edgar stabbed him...). Edgar then leaves with the soldiers and is cursed by obviously a now frustrated Tigrana in the process.
Ever stepped out of the club for a breather and questioned your life choices?
After a long battle with the group of soldiers he has now joined solely to escape Tigrana (random I know) Edgar then decides now would be a perfectly apt time to fake his own death, dressing himself as a monk and denouncing the supposedly dead Edgar. When the villagers and all others except Fidelia in turn denounce Edgar for his life of sin, Edgar reveals his identity and attempts to run away with Fidelia in a dramatic fashion, the only one who stayed true to him (It's okay to dislike him at this stage). However, sadly, of course it's not to be. The bitter Tigrana stabs and kills Fidelia before they can leave and Edgar is left clasping the lifeless body of his love, rapped with guilt, sadness and regret.
To discuss briefly some of the many beauty arias which can be found within the pages of this score, I have chosen two which I feel really tug at those delicate heart strings.
Firstly, "Orgia, chimera dall'occhio vitreo" (Orgy, Chimera from the Vitreous Eye), which Edgar sings at the beginning of the second act. He has realised his mistake in returning to his old indulgent lifestyle, and longs to return to Fidelia, the woman he truly loves. The final few lines of this aria really summarise his feelings rather well.
"Over a clear sky - the profile is drawn, Very pure, infantile - of the angel who loved me... But the flower that she gave me - like a pawn of love, As a symbol of pain - today has changed!" Listen to German tenor Jonas Kaufmann's interpretation of this aria above.
Do we simply want what we cannot have? Are we in love with the forbidden simply for being forbidden?
Second of note is "Addio, Mio Dolce Amor" (Farewell my Sweet Love), perhaps the most famous aria from Edgar. The aria is sung by Fidelia in the third act as a farewell to her true love, who she at this point believes has died a great hero in the heat of battle. The words and music combine together in such an incredibly moving way that, as she asks that Edgar wait for her in heaven, could bring even the toughest of characters to tears. No, seriously. How ever ridiculous the story may have seemed in its entirety, this aria will get you. "Your memory will be my only thought! Up there in your glory, Wait for me Edgar!" Hear a gorgeous performance of this aria given by Angela Gheorghiu above.
So why go to see Edgar? When we emerge from the theatre two hours later, what can we actually take away from it? Here are just a few of the most striking and relevant 'takeaways' present in this timeless story:
1. Don't keep your options open for long.
When you recognise true love, appreciate its rarity, particularly in a 21st-century world where Instagram and magazine covers consistently suggest to us that life is somehow going on elsewhere. It's not. They always look happy and their lives seem perfect because that's the version of themselves that they choose to present. It's not their reality, no one can ever be happy 24 hours of every day. Your relationship will have flaws. They'll be arguments, misunderstandings, things which annoy you. Don't think that just because everyone else seems perfect;y content online that they are, and therefore you'd be better off with someone else. If you love someone, if the good times far out number the bad, if you get those butterflies in your stomach, don't fall for the illusion that perfection is common or even exists at all. Most of the time, the person you want and need the most is right under your nose, not two thousand miles away with an Instagram account. Life is not going on elsewhere so relax and pursue reality, not fiction.
2. Pleasure isn't always king.
Most things which seem pleasant and exciting on the face of it, whether that's hard drugs, sex with strangers, excessive boozing or spending hours of the day shopping and consuming everything on the high street, likely won't bring you any kind of lasting satisfaction or pleasure. In fact, after a surprisingly short time, these things can actually be extremely depressing. It's not uncommon for someone who is in love to slightly long for that little bit of excitement that seems to exist only in the world of those who are single. However, for sure they are likely much more jealous of you and your relationship. Instant pleasures don't last and ultimately mostly leave you with nothing to show for it but regret and embarrassment. 3. Deep down you probably know who your true friends are. Many people will be swayed by the opinions of others, only a few will stand by your side regardless. Don't take those people for granted, you'll need them more often than you think. Be kind and you may find you reap rewards you could never have imagined you could. You can catch a performance of 'Edgar' at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow on Sunday 28th October! For more details see: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/shows/edgar/