A few off-the-beaten-track selections for the classical music anti-Valentine’s Day of your dreams!
1: Lulu Suite — Alban Berg
Nothing says Valentine’s Day in classical music quite like a serialist score, murder, suicide and Jack the Ripper! In the famous “Lied der Lulu” aria from Act II of Alban Berg’s Lulu, Lulu asks her husband for a divorce, while singing a hugely demanding aria ranging from middle C to a high D above the staff. The role has a long association with Canadian sopranos, as Teresa Stratas premiered the 3-act version at the Paris Opera in 1979, and Barbara Hannigan now holds the distinction of not only expertly singing the role of Lulu, but conducting the Lulu Suite while she sings the fiercely demanding aria. Check it out:
2: Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18, Mvmt. 2, “Adagio Sostenuto” — Sergei Rachmaninoff
It’s hard to forget the iconic opening scene of Bridget Jones’ Diary, where Renee Zellwegger drunkenly sings along to Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself.” After the hit release of Carmen’s song, the artist was contacted by the estate of Rachmaninoff about Carmen’s basing of his song on Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto’s second movement. (Rachmaninoff’s estate now receives 12 percent of the royalties earned by the song.) Whether you like the Eric Carmen version or not, this Rachmaninoff movement makes a perfect lonely Valentine’s Day backdrop.
3: Je ne t’aime pas — Kurt Weill
Who would’ve thought a German composer could write something so quintessentially French? The Jewish composer Kurt Weill briefly lived in Paris during his flight out of Nazi Germany, which might explain his flawless grasp of French sensibility and ennuie. Composed for the French cabaret singer, Lys Gauty, this song features heartbroken, almost over-the-top sentimentality. Anne Sofie von Otter’s version is perfect enjoyed alone with a bottle of wine while gazing out at a miserable cityscape (preferably in Paris).
4: “In uomini, In soldati “, Cosi fan tutte — W.A. Mozart
Though Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte often gets a bad reputation for its anti-feminist plotline and outcome, the character of Despina certainly makes a case for feminism and not falling victim to the wiles of love (particularly with men). In this aria in Act I, she instructs Fiordiligi and Dorabella not to trust men, but rather to love for one’s own pleasure and vanity. Those not looking to settle down quite yet might appreciate Despina’s words celebrating the pleasures singledom can bring.
5: “Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht “(Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) — G. Mahler
Ah, nothing like some Mahler to really depress your Valentine’s Day. This first movement from his “Songs of a wayfarer” (with texts by himself) was inspired by the composer’s hopeless love for soprano Johanna Richter, or as we might say now, Mahler’s one-that-got-away. The piece moves from D minor into Mozart’s tragic key of G minor, with oboes (d’amore, ideally) and clarinets illustrating the singer’s despair.
6: “Sempre libera”, La traviata — G. Verdi
Alright. Everyone knows how Traviata ends for Violetta (SPOILER ALERT: she dies). And yes, she does follow her heart and end up running off with the love of her life. But! That doesn’t mean she doesn’t get to sing one of the greatest single ladies’ anthems of all time at the end of Act I. Beyoncé, step aside, Violetta’s got this one down in her thrilling cabaletta, “Sempre libera” (“always free”). Here’s the ultimate diva giving her rendition.
LUDWIG VAN TORONTO