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1 (Mozart. Le nozze di Figaro). Sop. Rosina, Countess Almaviva. She is, of course, the Rosina of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, now married to her Count. She feels very unhappy because of neglect by her husband. He suspects her of having an affair with a younger man, to which he objects, while at the same time he attempts to seduce other girls, especially her maid Susanna. The Countess plots with Susanna to teach him a lesson. In a complicated garden scene, she swaps clothes with Susanna and the Count accuses her of a relationship with Figaro. When the truth dawns, he has to apologize to her and they are reconciled. Arias: Porgi amor…(‘Grant, love …’); Dove sono i bei momenti (‘Where are the golden moments’). Most of the great sopranos of each generation want to sing this role, which gives opportunity for a range of emotions, from sadness to humour and, in the final scene, loving forgiveness. In this century, these have included Margarete Teschemacher, Aulikki Rautawaara, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Lisa Della Casa, Sena Jurinac, Maria Stader, Hilde Gueden, Gundula Janowitz, Elisabeth Söderström, Ava June, Montserrat Caballé, Margaret Price, Kiri te Kanawa, Felicity Lott, Karita Mattila, and Joan Rodgers. Created (1785) by Lucia Laschi.

2 (Strauss: Capriccio). Sop. Countess Madeleine, a young widow. Unable to decide between her two suitors, the poet Olivier and the musician Flamand. Her brother arranges for an entertainment to be written and performed for her birthday and the two admirers come to represent ‘words’ and ‘music’. Which will she choose? The subject of words versus music occupied Richard Strauss all his composing life, and in this opera he let the Countess Madeleine's two suitors represent those two aspects of opera. Her final choice will give the answer—she arranges to meet both Flamand and Olivier in the library the next morning. Alone and bathed in moonlight, she sings a long aria arguing with her reflection in the mirror the various merits of her two suitors. However, the audience is left guessing—or is there a hint in the orchestral postlude to her aria, with its reference to a Flamand theme? Aria: Morgen mittag um elf! …Kein andres, das mir so im Herzen loht (‘At eleven o'clock! … Your image in my ardent bosom glows’). For the last of Strauss's great soprano roles, all in some way representations of his wife Pauline, this closing aria lasts nearly twenty minutes. Greatly admired Countesses have included Lisa Della Casa, Maria Cebotari, Gundula Janowitz, Dorothy Dow, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anna Tomowa Sintow, Lucia Popp, Elisabeth Söderström, Kiri te Kanawa, Felicity Lott, and Renée Fleming—a roll‐call of great Strauss sopranos, many of whom have also shone as Mozart's Countess—see (1). Created (1942) by Viorica Ursuleac (future wife of the conductor Clemens Krauss, who conducted the first performance).

3 (Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades). Mez. Grandmother of Lisa, the old Countess was, in Paris in her youth, a heavy gambler who lost a great deal of money. A Count told her the secret of three cards which would always win. She revealed this secret to her husband and later to a lover. A ghost then told her that she would die if she revealed it a third time. When threatened by Hermann, she dies of shock at the sight of his gun. She later appears to him as a ghost and tells him ‘Three, seven, ace’. But she has tricked him and he loses. Aria: Je crains de lui parler la nuit (‘I fear to speak of him in the night’). This aria was copied by Tchaikovsky from Grétry's Richard Cœur‐de‐Lion. Created (1890) by Mariya Slavina.


Subjects: Opera.

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