Mezzo Masterpieces: Bel Canto or Verismo?

Wednesday, 11 November, 2020

INO Artistic Director Fergus Sheil gives us an insight into Tara Erraught's Mezzo Masterpieces concert which he conducts on Sunday 15 Nov. He explains how the programme showcases Tara's virtuosity, traversing an expanse of different emotions.

In the second of INO’s Mezzo Materpieces series, Tara Erraught showcases her virtuosity and unique musical personality in music that traverses an expanse of different emotions. There’s piercing tragedy for Desdemona in Rossini’s Otello and heartache for Nelly in Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini – which is spun out over a seemingly endless flow of melody – a masterclass in the meaning of the term “bel canto” (beautifully sung).

It’s not all dark, however. The signature aria, Bel raggio lusinghier, from Act I of Rossini’s tragedy comes as Semiramide expresses her love for Arsace, not realising he is actually her son. Like the complete opera, this aria is epic in scale, but the ebullience and virtuosity doesn’t hint at the tragedy that comes later. We also hear Romeo’s defiant Act I aria from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and the lesser-known optional extra Rosina aria from Act II of Il barbiere di Siviglia. We bring the programme to a close with one of the bel canto era’s most flamboyant creations – the final aria Tanti affetti from La donna del lago, where Rossini outdoes himself with vocal gymnastics in this happy conclusion.


While all this head-spinning bel-canto repertoire comes from a fourteen year period between 1816 and 1830, the programme also makes a journey to later Italian opera with arias from Puccini’s La bohème (1895) and Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur (1902) showing an altogether different approach which became known as verismo (“realism”). Here characters are more “normal” and emotions are worn on the sleeve.

Rising star soprano Amy Ní Fhearraigh sings two arias where the heroines of the operas introduce themselves in Act I. Mimì is a seamstress looking for a light for her candle, Adriana is an actress preparing for a performance. Both Italian operas are set in the exotic location of Paris, and both involve complicated love stories….