A colleague asked me recently to help a mutual friend who was going to be doing a radio program on wine in opera. There's more of it than you think. Some years ago, knowing that I have an interest in opera, an Italian men's club in San Francisco asked me to speak to them on the topic, and I dug up some recordings of moments in opera that deal with wine.
I sent our mutual friend my notes from that presentation, and over the weekend was reminded of yet another. Here in Aspen, the students in the opera program at the Aspen Music Festival present scenes they've been working on at a weekly master class on Saturday mornings. One of the scenes was from Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio. In it, the hero, Pedrillo, tries to get Osmin, the pasha's big righthand man, drunk, so he can spring his fellow travelers free. He tempts Osmin with wine, who succumbs. They sing a funny duet, "Vivat Bacchus!"
Drinking songs are a staple of 19th-century opera. Composers used them to set up boisterous scenes. One of my favorites is in Act I of Verdi's Otello, in which the composer used the moment to etch indelibly the fraught relationship between Iago and Cassio.
Another of my favorite wine moments in all of opera is the beginning of Act III of Verdi's Falstaff. The fat knight pulls himself out of the Thames. Wet and bedraggled, he sinks into a chair outside the Garter Inn, his favorite tavern. He calls for a glass of hot wine. As he drinks it, his sings a marvelous paean to wine, underlined by some of Verdi's most colorful orchestral effects.
Mozart's Don Giovanni sings a whole aria to wine (it's commonly known as the "Champagne Aria," although he never specifically mentions bubbly). Late in the opera, the servant Leporello pours the Don some wine and he recognizes it as Marzemino (a relatively obscure northern Italian red).
Donizetti's Elisir d'Amore is full of wine references. Among other things, the elixir of love turns out to be cheap Bordeaux, and there's a great scene in Act II when Nemorino (the tenor), emboldened by what he thinks is the elixir, toys with Adina, with whom he is in love. It's a delicious duet, full of sweet music and wry humor.
A humorous scene in Act III of Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier involves the title character, a young man played by a mezzo soprano, dressed as the Marschallin's maid, pretending to have a rendezvous with the lecherous Baron Ochs. At one point she sings, "No, no, I don't drink wine," as he tries to ply her.
A few others:
* From Verdi's La Traviata, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (Brindisi), a tenor and soprano duet with chorus
• From Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana: "Viva il vino spumeggiant "(another brindisi), tenor aria
• From Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus: "Champagner hat's verschuldet," a true aria to Champagne, sung by the soprano
Do you have a favorite wine scene in an opera?
Julianne Mackenzie — August 15, 2007 10:48pm ET
Scott Oneil — UT — August 15, 2007 11:29pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — August 16, 2007 12:54am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — August 16, 2007 12:58am ET
Scott Oneil — UT — August 17, 2007 6:14pm ET
Mike — Niagara — September 4, 2007 8:58am ET
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