If Music be the Food of Love, Play on…

“And still, after all this time,

The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with

A love like that,

It lights the Whole Sky.” ~ Hafez

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you are able to share it with someone who loves and respects you.  Not everyone is involved in a romantic, intimate relationship when the 14th February rolls around, but you will almost certainly have friends or family who will show you that you’re in their hearts and minds.


There are as many shades and facets of love as there are surfaces on a finely cut diamond, and each touches us and lights up our life in a unique and special way. The most important thing is that somewhere in your life you give and feel love, even if it’s for yourself. Traditionally Valentine’s Day focuses on romantic attachments, but love is too all-encompassing to be identified as purely a romantic attachment.

Love kept even our best philosophers busy identifying its purpose and meaning;  but probably the most beautiful words used to express it came from the Sufi poet Rumi.


However, that being said, the voice of a lover is music to savour, as are the notes that spring from a composer’s quill onto lined parchment in a fever pitch of delirium. Their passions and desires, those deep feelings for the object of their affection that would make their heart explode if they weren’t cathartically hauled and wrung from their chest cavity, bursting with love and in some cases, anguish.

The most beautiful, exquisite and soul piercing music has arisen from heartbreak. Unrequited love is such agony, even as it is for two people who long to be together but must live apart. Sometimes being in an unhappy relationship is worse than being alone.


For those in the early stages of romantic love it is like nothing you’ve ever felt. But you are not in control. Those crazy, heady sensations that take over your mind and body whenever that someone special is near is disconcerting. Even if they are far, they are always there, by proxy in your heart. It is like being at sea with no compass and no sails, at the mercy of the elements. Even after the heat of the initial infatuation has cooled a bit, there will be something you cherish from that bond. You can never truly erase such a powerful connection.

And nor should we, because the highs and lows and everything in between make us who we are. We suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and we survived.  If you were a composer, a songwriter or writer, you cleansed the pain by creative force of will. But you first had to be consumed by the searing flames to do it.


There must be more music and songs written in the name of love than any other subject. Those souls caught in the throws of passion or the depths of despair can relate to what someone else once lived through, what they transmuted into art and culture for the benefit of others.

Is it possible to define this emotion that dominates us so? The lack of it in childhood can cause untold misery, or betrayal turn love into hate. For we cannot have one without the other, the constant companions of our duality. But what if love is more than a feeling? Feelings and emotions are fleeting, by their nature temporary.

‘It struck me tonight how music mirrors life. Fleeting ephemeral moments, made up of beauty, sadness, joy, hope and despair. The melodies are created in both major and minor keys. Flowing and fleeting. You can’t hold onto it, or keep it from changing. Our emotions possess the evanescence of a note.’ ~ The Virtuoso

Real, true love is transcendent and unconditional; a state of being in the world. It’s treating all beings with kindness, compassion, benevolence and lovingness.


Lust is too destructive and romantic love without a deeper regard will never blossom into a more lasting relationship. It would be hard to cope with everyday life if one were permanently in a state of euphoria and ecstasy. Although some historical figures gave it their best shot, such as the infamous Marquis de Sade. He took something divine in nature and used it for his own perverted pleasure and hedonistic impulses.

Intoxication and rapture by their very nature can be addictive…


Let’s not beat about the bush, we’re all here because two people once loved each other and physically embraced their love. It’s a miracle and not to be treated lightly. However, the Garden of Eden has many thorns and stinging nettles growing in its pristine beds. As Shakespeare so perfectly put it, the course of true love never did run smooth…

So let’s celebrate this invisible force called love, this ethereal yet palpable potion that is strong enough to make men kill and women weep. It can bring untold joy, or pain like no other. Blessed are we who have basked in its magnificent rays, for however long.


I have often pondered how and why two people are attracted to each other and at what point that becomes love. Perhaps each possessed an energy field that the other needed? Their coming together fulfilled the yin and yang of each other’s energy. But there’s also alignment – of one’s values, interests and outlook. We each speak a different archetypal language, so there are many twists and turns for us to navigate to our happy ever afters!

The concept that Plato suggested that we each have a twin soul is an intriguing one. The other half of our soul…

And if you did ever feel like your heart had been ripped out and stomped on, that person gave you the opportunity and reason to love yourself again.


Maybe the closest definition I can come to is that love’s purpose is to put us in-touch with our higher selves, to imbue us with soul stamina, to evolve and grow our capacity to love.  We are all worthy of love, and when we give love there is never any shortage from this infinite well. It keeps us in tune with our heart.

Now to poetry and music. I’m merely following Shakespeare’s advice because I’m an inveterate romantic and glutton when it comes to love!

Rumi’s eternal love verses are succour for the soul….


Shakespeare, from one of my all-time favourite films!

Percy Bysshe Shelley:

There is nothing more powerful than music to capture feelings and as a portal to our emotions, to a time, a place or a person…

Baroque Beauties:

Thomas Tallis – If ye love me:

 Purcell – ‘My dearest, my fairest’ (Jaroussky & Scholl):

The Fairy Queen – If love’s a sweet passion by Veronique Gens:

Handel – Semele ‘Endless Pleasure, Endless Love’ by Kathleen Battle:

In 1852 the young Richard Wagner became infatuated with a beautiful writer, poet and song composer, Mathilde Wesendonck, also the wife of the wealthy businessman who had bestowed his generous patronage on Wagner.

Mathilde Wesendonck by Karl Ferdinand Sohn c. 1850

Mathilde Wesendonck by Karl Ferdinand Sohn c. 1850

Their love affair seems to have been intense, (at least from Wagner’s perspective), occurring at the same time he was working on his Tristan poem. The final consummation of Tristan’s hopeless love for Isolde, the wife of his liege lord, could only be achieved in death. Wagner also set his beloved’s poetry to music, in his Wesendonck Lieder. Their relationship was hastily ended when Wagner’s first wife Minna discovered a love letter and threatened to show it to Mathilde’s husband Otto.

There can be no doubt that Mathilde was Wagner’s Isolde…

In Tristan and Isolde he perfectly expresses the hopeless, languid longing that was clearly pulling at his own heart strings:

 Tchaikovsky’s immortal Rome and Juliet Fantasy Overture:

Beethoven – Violin Romance No. 2 in F major, Op. 50 with Christian Ferras:

Beethoven – Romance Cantabile in E Minor for piano, flute, bassoon and orchestra:

Brahms – Violin Concerto in D Major, ‘Adagio’, with love oozing from Itzhak Perlman:

Dvořák – Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F minor, Op. 11 with Jodef Suk:

Kriesler – ‘Liebeslied’ (love’s sorrow) with Yo-Yo ma and patricia Zander:

Liszt – Romance oubliée with Guido Schiefen and Eric Le Van:

Liszt – ‘Liebestraume’ No. 3 in E-Flat Major (Love Dream) Harpist unknown:

Liszt – Consolation No. 3 with Nathan Milstein and Georges Pludermacher:

Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 20 K. 466, 2nd movement ‘Romance’ with Friedrich Gulda:

Chopin – Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, 2nd movement ‘Romance’:

Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 2, the romantic, dreamy 2nd movement:

Contemporary Classical:

Paul de Senneville – Mariage d’Amour with Richard Clayderman:

Nino Rota gets the sax treatment with Kenny G:

Adam Hurst – Longing:


My Funny Valentine:

A Kiss to Build a Dream on:


Opera arias are in a league of their own when it comes to love!

‘O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe’ (‘Descend, o night of love’) from Act II of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Tristan and Isolde rapturously hail their ‘night of love’ to an exquisite melody drawn from ‘Träume’ (‘Dreams’) of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder:

Mozart – Voi che sapete with Cecilia Bartoli and Jean-Yves Thibaudet:

Bellini – A Te, O Cara from I Puritiani – Pavarotti & Sutherland:

Berlioz – Les Troyens ‘Nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinie’ (‘O night of intoxication and infinite ecstasy’) from Act IV. Dido and Aeneas finally admit their love in this exquisite duet:

Saint-Saens – ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix’ from Samson et Delilah:

Bizet – Carmen ‘La Fleur Que Tu M’avais Jetée’ by Plácido Domingo:

Puccini – Tosca ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (and the the stars were shining), Pavarotti:

Beethoven’s beautiful aria of wedded love, ‘O namenlose Freude’ from Fidelio:

Verdi – La Traviata (the fallen one) – Maria Callas is supreme in this heart-rending performance of E strano! E strano!

Duke Orsino:

If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

~ William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3)

Purcell and the King’s Singers:

Until the next time, with all my love!

An Introduction to the Outstanding World of Opera

“No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.” ~ W.H. Auden

If I could sing this post I would! Except you wouldn’t thank me, I can’t sing in tune so I tend to warble alone in the car…

Opera - stage curtain

Welcome to this week’s performance! The sumptuous curtains have been pulled back so you can catch a glimpse of a wonderful and varied cast of characters, divas and arias. Opera is the most colourful realm of musical drama. When text, (libretto) and music (usually singing) combine, it can result in heart-stopping moments of exquisite human expression. 

I’ve always enjoyed classical music, even as a youngster, but it’s only been in the last decade that I’ve really come to appreciate opera more fully. I must have matured and grown into the art form.

My mum took me to see Puccini’s romantic tragedy, ‘La Boheme’ at the Royal Opera House when I was about eighteen; we sat up in the stalls, almost in the roof if I recall. I don’t remember who the singers were – but I do remember their passion.

The old Burgtheater by Klimt c. 1889

The old Burgtheater by Klimt c. 1889

I loved the drama, the costumes, the live singing and music, but still it wasn’t until a good few years later I went to see Madame Butterfly, again at the Royal Opera House. We had better seats this time. Kleenex tissues were very much in demand during that performance!

Stephen Fry and comedian Alan Davies undertook an ‘operatic’ experiment in conjunction with the Royal Opera House, to monitor their cardiovascular output and physical markers during a performance of Simon Boccanegra, with a view of measuring their emotional responses throughout the performance. It was undoubtedly impactful on both of them, even Alan, who was not an opera fan. The Science of Opera:


The first known surviving opera was written in 1600 to celebrate the wedding of Marie de’ Medici and Henri IV of France, and was composed by the duo ‘il Romano’, Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) and Jacopo Peri (1561 – 1633).

L’Euridice is more of a drama set to music with some divine choral sections; the first attempt to combine text by Ottavio Rinuccini with vocal music. This type of early performance; a fusion of music with solo vocals and choral ensembles to combine both literary and visual arts evolved over 400 years, into the opera we are familiar with today.

A period performance of the entire work with Nicolas Achten and Céline Vieslet:

Orfeo ed Euridice

Over a century later composer Christoph Willibald Gluck would become inspired by the ancient Greek mythical tale of Orpheus, son of Apollo; legendary musician, poet and prophet (bard for that matter). His music dramatises Orfeo’s journey to Hades to appease the furies with his music in order to bring his new bride, Eurydice back to life, in his 1762 opera, Orfeo ed Euridice.

Orpheus leading Eurydice from the underworld by Jean-Baptsite Camille Corot

Orpheus leading Eurydice from the underworld by Jean-Baptsite Camille Corot

It was a box-office hit in Vienna when it premiered at the Burgtheater on 5th October, and was then revised and expanded further by Gluck for its French premiere at the Paris Opéra on 2 August 1774 as Orphée et Eurydice.

A superb clip of American tenor Richard Croft singing ‘J’ai perdu mon Eurydice’ by Gluck:

Offenbach wrote his operetta, ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ in 1858 as a satirical send-up of Gluck’s earlier opera. The ‘Infernal Galop’ from Act 2, Scene 2, is infamously referred to as the ‘can-can’. Saint-Saëns took poetic license with the Galop, by slowing it to a crawl, and arranging it for the strings to represent the tortoise in The Carnival of the Animals.

I really have the urge to don stockings and kick my legs right now!

Baroque Opera

The great Baroque opera composers were Händel, Purcell, Monteverdi and Vivaldi, who I think must have written as many operas as I’ve had hot dinners!

Monteverdi’s music marked the crossover from the late Renaissance to early Baroque, and he also wrote an opera about, yes, you guessed it, Orpheus! ‘L’orfeo’ was written and first performed in Mantua in 1607.

Orfeo by Cesare Gennari

Orfeo by Cesare Gennari

In fact, I was flabbergasted to learn that a total of 71 Orphean operas (not all completed) have been written between 1600 and 2015.

Cecilia Bartoli as Euridice in Haydn’s L’anima del filosofo ossia Orfeo ed Euridice, ‘Al tuo seno fortunato’:

Georg Friedrich Händel composed 42 operatic works of varying genres that were written between 1705 and 1741. He achieved great success with his operas after he settled in England. Many of his works were premiered at the opera house in the Haymarket, initially the Queen’s Theatre which then became known as the King’s Theatre.

One of my favourite Händel arias is ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ (let me weep) from his first opera, Rinaldo, published in 1711.  Arleen Auger has the purest, sweetest voice in this remarkable recording:

Barbara Bonney ‘Thy hand, Belinda…When I am Laid in Earth’ by Henry Purcell:


His partnership with Venetian librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte created some of the most memorable operas ever written. From the tale of the philandering rake, Don Giovanni, to the complicated marriage of Figaro, to the outlandish Magic Flute with a psychotic Queen of the Night, as well as others such as Idomeneo, Cosi fan tutte, La Clemenza di Tito, Mitridate, Lucio Scilla and Zaide to name but a few.

Opera quote-opera-is-when-a-tenor-and-soprano-want-to-make-love-but-are-prevented-from-doing-so-george-bernard-shaw-79-81-87

Diana Damrau isn’t taking any prisoners in her stunning rendition of the ‘Queen of the Night’ aria:

A really beautiful clip of Cecilia Bartoli and Jean-Yves Thibaudet performing ‘Voi che sapete’ (with translation) from the Marriage of Figaro:


Dear Ludwig only wrote one opera in his lifetime, about a dutiful wife, Leonore, the early title of the work that would become known as ‘Fidelio’. It contains his hallmark themes of heroism and courage at its core. Leonore disguises herself as a prison guard in an attempt to rescue her husband, Florestan, from death.

Marilyn Horne – Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?


His iconic opera, Carmen, based on the eponymous novella by Prosper Mérimée, about a feisty and fickle young gypsy woman who captures the heart of a soldier, Don Jose, is one of my favourites. It broke with convention at the time of its premiere in March 1875, and was received with indifference. However it has become hugely in popular over the years.

Carmen lithograph by Pierre August Lamy c. 1875

Carmen lithograph by Pierre August Lamy c. 1875

The story follows Don Jose’s total immersion into infatuation, obsessive desire, love and jealousy against the back drop of a parched, proletarian Seville. The music portrays his eventual downfall as he becomes a deserter and vagabond, consumed with malicious intent towards Carmen –  the woman who has spurned him. If he can’t have her, then neither can his rival for her affections, toreador Escamillo…

It has many wonderful, memorable arias and evocative orchestral music that capture its passionate and tragic themes: the key ingredients of unforgettable opera.

Les tringles des sistres tintaient (Chanson Boheme) – Angela Gheorghiu:

Jonas Kaufmann as Don José with a poignant performance of the Flower Song ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’:

I love this seductive, slinky performance of “L”amour est un oiseau rebelle” by Elina Garanca in the Metropolitan Opera staging of 2010:

A steamy scene ‘Près des remparts de Séville’ from the film of Carmen made in 1984, with Julia Migenes and Plácido Domingo:

Bizet’s Carmen has also provided inspiration for ballets and instrumental music.

The Italians are in the house!

Somehow the dramatic nature of opera suits the Italian psyche, after all, it originated there, and none were more successful in this genre than Guiseppe Verdi. He composed famous operas such as the romantic tragedy La Traviata, the epic Aida, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Otello, Il Trovotore, Macbeth, Falstaff, La Forza del Destino, Simon Boccanegra and many others.

Verdi blows my socks off with this colossal classic from Nabucco. Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves:

The drinking song from La Traviata with Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrbko:

Hot on his heels is Giacomo Puccini, a true romantic at heart. Among his best-loved operas are, Tosca, La Boheme, Turandot, Madame Butterfly, Manon Lescault and Gianni Schicchi.

Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon are superb in this romantic duet from La Boheme ‘O soave fanciulla’:

We musn’t forget Gioachino Rossini, who penned some very memorable tunes, including The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola, William Tell, La Gazza Ladra and Otello.

The Barber of Seville

The Barber of Seville

During his meeting in Vienna with Beethoven in 1822 at the age of thirty, when Beethoven was fifty one, profoundly deaf, curmudgeonly and losing his health, he still managed to note in his conversation book:

“Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.”

Other Italian opera composers of note were Bellini, Donizetti and Mascagni. One of my favourite arias is Casta Diva by Bellini (Chaste goddess…turn upon us thy fair face, unclouded and unveiled). A fabulous live vintage recording of Maria Callas packed with pathos:

Italy produced the finest tenor in opera history with Luciano Pavarotti. That man was born to sing! For me, no one can top his powerful, emotive and distinctive voice.

E lucevan le stelle (Tosca):

Here he is singing the immortal ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Turandot as an encore:


We perhaps think of his wonderful, warm, lush violin concerto, his romantic symphonies and his immortal ballet music, but this Russian heavyweight wrote a grand total of eleven operas, his most popular being Eugene Onegin.


Probably the closest rival to Verdi for the King of opera crown, Richard Wagner’s operas were usually epic in subject matter, long, very long, with romantic music, involving lovers, mythical characters, gods and large ladies.  And did I mention long?! Brünnhilde is an icon in her own right. So much so, she was even featured in a cartoon!

A beautiful recording with Anne Evans in Brünnhilde’s Immolation from Götterdämmerung:

When it comes to Wagner I can only listen in small doses. I’ve often joked that the ears can only enjoy for as long as the derriere can endure!

Wagner’s 13 impressive operas: Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot, Rienzi, Der Fliegende Hollander, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, The Ring of the Nibelung (Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung), Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger and Parsifal.

This made the hairs on my arms stand up! Ponte Singers – Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhäuser:

It doesn’t get more beautiful than this! Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra give a masterclass in building sublime, unresolved tension to an eventual, satisfying crescendo in this performance of Tristan und Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod:

For opera aficionados! Verdi vs Wagner – the 200th birthday debate with Stephen Fry:

I hope I have manged to give you a well-rounded introduction to opera if you’re not already a bit of an enthusiast, in which case you probably know more than me!

Of course there are those who poke fun at opera, even muscians! But we’ll let the irreverent Victor Borge off the hook; after all he was incredibly funny. A night at the opera like no other!

I’ll probably re-visit opera again one day, there’s far too much to cover in one post, and I know you’ve all got things to do and places to be.

For my swan song I’ll leave you with a poignant, sensual aria from Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saens –  ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix’ sung by the queen of sopranos, Maria Callas:

“Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings.” ~ Robert Burns