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Isolation Arias: Richard Mantle

In the first of a new series, Opera North’s General Director Richard Mantle shares his ‘stay at home’ playlist.

“Making this selection has been very difficult, not least because I have been enjoying opera and music since attending my first opera in 1961 when The Royal Opera first performed Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Covent Garden.

“I have included only one piece from each composer, otherwise there might have been multiple choices from Wagner, Mozart, Monteverdi, Mahler, Verdi or Britten!”

Listen to full Spotify playlist »

1. Britten, Billy Budd: ‘Billy in the Darbies’

Towards the end of what must be Britten’s masterpiece, Billy has been sentenced to death and contemplates his life and his future.

In this aria, Billy’s quintessential goodness shines through. For me, it is a transcendent moment, as he reconciles himself to the prospect of an afterlife.

2. Verdi, Don Carlo: ‘È lui! desso, l’infante!’

Life is getting rather difficult for them, but Rodrigo (the Marquis of Posa) and Don Carlo reaffirm their friendship in Act Two (four-act version).

This is, for me, Verdi’s finest work.

3. J S Bach, Matthäus-Passion: Opening Chorus

This is the closest Bach came to composing an opera: a consummate marriage of narrative, gripping drama, compelling emotion and music. The St Matthew Passion is a work of monumental complexity, blending biblical prose with poetry and creating a ceaseless rhythmic ebb and flow of action and meditation, motion and rest. It has inspired me all my life.

My earliest memory is of Janet Baker singing the touching aria ‘Erbarme dich’ (Have mercy on me) and there is no more powerful way to begin the story than the wave of sound from the opening chorus, ‘Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen’ (Come ye daughters, share my mourning). A seminal work.

4. Wagner Siegfried: ‘Heil dir Sonne’

In Act Three of Siegfried the opera’s hero wakes Brünnhilde from her sleep and it is at this moment that the whole Ring saga takes off in a completely new direction, as Brünnhilde experiences real earthly love and renounces her godly life. At the beginning of what must be one of the longest and most taxing duets in all opera, Brünnhilde greets the new dawn with the words ‘Heil dir Sonne’, a moment of utter magic and genius.

Watch Opera North’s concert staging of the Ring cycle.

5. Mozart Le nozze di Figaro: ‘Susanna, or via, sortite’

I think Figaro has to be my favourite Mozart opera, not least because of its sublime ending of reconciliation. However, I simply love the trio in Act Two (Susanna, Count and Countess), marking the beginning of a hoax and of huge misunderstanding. Both Count and Countess think they know who’s hidden inside the closet and Susanna has already begun to weave her magic!

6. Schubert Schwanengesang: ‘Liebesbotschaft’

The Lieder cycles of Schubert and Schumann are at the heart of my musical enjoyment, where poetry and music are inextricably intertwined. Schwanengesang, Schubert’s final testament to the world, was the first Lieder recital we staged in the Howard Assembly Room, so it occupies a special place for me and the recording by Matthias Goerne is never far away!

7. Monteverdi L’incoronazione di Poppea: ‘Pur ti miro’

The Coronation of Poppea is an amazing achievement of composition and characterization which ends with one of the most unlikely and erotically-charged love duets for Poppea and Nerone – two immoral people behaving badly but singing gorgeous music nevertheless.

8. Mahler Rückert-Lieder: ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’

In my self-isolation I will just have to have Janet Baker singing the five Rückert-Lieder – lyrical, elegant and intimate – and incredibly moving. I cannot be without the fifth song, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ (I am lost to the world) performed by Janet conducted by John Barbirolli. The final text just says it all …

I am dead to the world’s tumult
And rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love, in my song!

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