Set in the Turkish Embassy in Paris during the French Revolution, the last scene of Act I of The Ghosts of Versailles
is a bawdy romp of Turkomania inspired by the comic operas of Rossini and Mozart.
The Pasha has arranged an entertainment for his guest featuring Samira, an Egyptian diva. She sings an ornate Cavatina
which, while quite Arabic in style, utilizes ornaments and vocal techniques that call the art of bel canto
to mind (both kinds of music rely on ornament and vocalism to carry melody).
Her text comes from the Berlitz book on Arabic phrases and it is followed by a dialogue with a rhieta
(Arabic oboe) that recalls the flute-soprano duos in bel canto
The following Cabaletta
is sung in Arabic on the traditional topics: My love, my life
(Ya hab'eebee, Ya omri),Why did you leave me? How could you do that to me?
etc. A concludinq cadenza of wails ends the number. Samira’s Cavatina and Cabaletta
was introduced by Marilyn Horne and the Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera under conductor James Levine during the world-premiere engagement of The Ghosts of Versailles
, which the Metropolitan Opera commissioned for its centenary and introduced at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in December of 1991. The same artists are featured on Deutsche Grammafon’s video-recording of the work (Deutsche Grammafon 072 530-3: 2 VHS Video Tapes)
Relevant program notes are available on The Ghosts of Versailles
and Phantasmagoria (on Themes from “The Ghosts of Versailles”)