"Che gelida manina" from Puccini's "La Bohème" Act I. Luciano Pavarotti (Rodolfo), Ileana Cotrubas (Mimì), Teatro alla Scala, 1979
Today is the birthday of one of my favourite composers: Giacomo Puccini, who was born in Lucca, Tuscany in 1858. He wrote many wonderful operas, including Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and the sublime La Bohème, which was written in 1896.
La Bohème was the very first opera that I remember ever experiencing. One Saturday afternoon when I was about eight or nine years old, my parents gathered the family around our brand spankin' new colour television, so that we could see "The King of the High C's", Luciano Pavarotti, perform the role of Rodolpho in a live broadcast... My mother and father's rapturous enthusiasm was contagious, and I remember being captivated by the story and the wonderful music for the entire blissful afternoon.
It was an "ear-opening" experience.
One doesn't really NEED to know what the translation of the words for this aria are... the soaring melody, Pav's incomparable technique and expression practically tells it all... But, perhaps it would help you to know that this aria is sung at the point in the story where the two lovers, Rodolpho and Mimi, first meet in a dark, cold stairwell. Mimi has lost the key to her door, and while helping her look for it, Rodolpho brushes her tiny, cold hand with his own.
Here is what he sings to her, translated into English. Swoon away-- I always do...
What a frozen little hand, let me warm it for you.
What's the use of looking? We won't find it in the dark.
But luckily it's a moonlit night, and the moon is near us here.
Wait, mademoiselle, I will tell you in two words,
who I am, what I do, and how I live. May I?
Who am I? I am a poet. What do I do? I write. And how do I live? I live.
In my carefree poverty I squander rhymes and love songs like a lord.
When it comes to dreams and visions and castles in the air, I've the soul of a millionaire.
From time to time two thieves steal all the jewels out of my safe, two pretty eyes.
They came in with you just now, and my customary dreams my lovely dreams,
melted at once into thin air! But the theft doesn't anger me,
for their place has been taken by hope!
Now that you know all about me, you tell me who you are. Please do!