“Le spectre de la rose” from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été (Summer Nights) is both delicate and grand, one of those songs that really sticks with you. The ghost of a rose, plucked and worn by a woman at a ball, appears at her bedside. The rose fills her room with its intoxicating scent, whispering words of love and reassurance. He tells her not to be afraid, and like a prince from a fairytale, he happily accepts his death for just one evening by her side: “My destiny was worthy of envy, and for such a beautiful fate, many would have given their lives.” Somehow, Berlioz manages to convey this passion without schmaltz, but with a dreaminess that could soften the most guarded of stoics.
In anticipation of NYFOS’s program Lyrics by Shakespeare, performed on August 8 as part of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, we are featuring a week of songs inspired by Shakespeare on Song of the Day. It will be held in the intimate Kaplan Penthouse so seating is limited; get your tickets today!
Today’s Shakespeare song moves a bit further from his actual words, with an adaptation of this famous scene from Hamlet. Hector Berlioz sets Ernest-Wilfrid Legouvé’s text depicting the death of Ophelia, here performed by Anne Sofie von Otter with Cord Garben at the piano.
From Caramoor’s Manager of Artistic Planning, Ellie Gisler Murphy:
Hector Berlioz, the French romantic composer more known for his large scale works, symphonies, operas and oratorios, than for his song writing, gave us the infectiously carefree and flirtatious “Villanelle” from his song cycle Les Nuits d’Eté. Berlioz was a prolific diarist and letter writer, but wrote little about this set of six songs that he wrote in installments, however we can make some guesses as it was written between 1840 and 1841, while his marriage to his wife crumbled and he began an affair with the soprano Marie Recio (who would later become his wife). The song cycle itself follows a love affair, from the first whispers of young love in the spring (represented by the ebullient “Villanelle”), through a death and mourning period and ending with the promise of new love.
As a stand-alone, “Villanelle”, the first song of the set is one of the most interesting melodies in song literature and surely (at least for me) one of the most fun to sing—it radiates exuberant joy, mirroring the uncontained wonder of the first real warmth of spring and the first hints of a new love.
The whole song cycle is sung here by the lovely Dutch soprano, Elly Ameling
Summer is full of nature, and it’s the time we usually get out into it, and let our senses partake of the beauty, inhale smells, and feel warm breezes on our skin. Then there is the plucked flowers perspective. Death is imminent, but the rose lives on as an unworldly comfort to us still in nature. Here is the translation of the Berlioz’s “La Spectre de la Rose” from Nuits d’ete. And following the translation, the link to the song performed by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She is the rose whose art visits me at night, and whose love and I can still feel in her voice.
Open your closed eyelid
Which is gently brushed by a virginal dream!
I am the ghost of the rose
That you wore last night at the ball.
You took me when I was still sprinkled with pearls
Of silvery tears from the watering-can,
And, among the sparkling festivities,
You carried me the entire night.
O you, who caused my death:
Without the power to chase it away,
You will be visited every night by my ghost,
Which will dance at your bedside.
But fear nothing; I demand
Neither Mass nor De Profundis;
This mild perfume is my soul,
And I’ve come from Paradise.
My destiny is worthy of envy;
And to have a fate so fine,
More than one would give his life
For on your breast I have my tomb,
And on the alabaster where I rest,
A poet with a kiss
Wrote: “Here lies a rose,
Of which all kings may be jealous.”
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