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Meco all'altar di venere

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Vincenzo Bellini




Norma Synopsis


Norma Libretto


English Deutsch

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Charles Craig sings Meco All'altar di Venere' live - Buenos Aires - 1969

Singer: Charles Craig

Charles Craig sings Meco All'altar di Venere' live - Buenos Aires - 1969
Conductor - Richard Bonynge

Charles Craig was a Londoner, born in the CIty road, the youngest of 15 children. His parents were shopkeepers and no one else in the family was interested in music, apart from an elder brother who owned a few operatic records. The future tenor's first singing lessons came from listening to Caruso in "Vesti la giubba" from Pagliacci. On leaving school he worked at various jobs, in tailoring, as a warehouseman and as an assistant in his parents' shop.

He was 19 when the Second World War broke out and he joined the army. Posted to India in 1943, he landed in an Entertainments Unit and for the first time dared to hope that one day he might have a musical career. Demobilised and back in London in 1946, he auditioned for the newly-formed Covent Garden Opera Company and was accepted - but only for the chorus.

Five frustrating years followed. Craig was given only the smallest parts, servants, messengers, priests and gypsies; but he listened to other tenors from backstage and started to build up a repertory. In 1951 Sir Thomas Beecham, who was to conduct Balfe's The Bohemian Girl at Covent Garden, held some auditions. When he heard Craig, Beecham immediately offered to sponsor him, to provide him with lessons in singing, acting and languages, and also to pay him a salary on which he and his family could live until his career was launched.

IN 1953 he joined the Carl Rosa Company, making his debut as Rodolfo in La Boheme. For nearly four years he toured the British Isles with them, singing Faust, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, the title role of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini and Chevalier des Grieux in Puccini's Manon Lescaut.

In April 1957 the Carl Rosa gave a short season in London at Sadler's Wells Theatre. Craig's singing of Cellini and Des Grieux was greatly admired. He had already sung the Duke of Mantua with Sadler's Wells Opera the previous February; now he joined the company, leaving the Carl Rosa (which was disbanded in 1958). New roles during his first two seasons at Sadler's Wells included Saint-Saens' Samson, Manrico in Il trovatore, Babinsky in Schwanda the Bagpiper and the Prince in the first British professional performance of Dvork's Rusalka.

In 1959, a significant year for him, he made a highly acclaimed Covent Garden debut as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and then sang Cavaradossi in Tosca, with even greater success. Later he sang Turiddu in the new Zeffirelli production of Cavalleria rusticana, twinned as usual with Pagliacci.

Throughout the 1960s Craig's career gathered momentum. At Sadler's Wells he added Nadir (The Pearl Fishers) and Bacchus (Ariadne on Naxos) to his roles, while at Covent Garden (1961) he sang his first Radames in Aida, gaining him engagements abroad: during the next decade singin Radames in Rome, Vancouver, Barcelona, Zurich, Naples and Bologna.

In 1963 he reached another landmark in his career: he tackled Verdi's Otello for the first time with Scottish Opera. Though Craig lacked the physical stature of some interpreters of Otello, his vocal mastery of the role was quite impressive enough to make one oblivious to his height. In 1966 he made his US debut at Chicago as Otello and over the next 15 years sang the part in Vienna, Berlin, Naples, Munich, Venice, Salzburg, Turin, Lisbon, Dusseldorf and other cities - but not in London.

His Italian repertory included many other Verdi operas; he sang Arturo in I Puritani opposite Joan Sutherland at Boston and Covent Garden; Pollione in Norma with Maria Callas at the Paris Opera; Calaf in Turandot and Canio in Pagliacci, which he exchanged for Turiddu in the Zeffirelli double bill, were both very successful roles.

Craig also attempted some of the more heroic German roles. For Scottish Opera he appeared as Florestan (Fidelio), Siegmund in Die Walkure and Siegfried (Gotterdammerung only). At Berlin he sang Lohengrin and at Hamburg he repeated Siegmund, undoubtedly his most effective Wagnerian role. Later, Aegisthus in Elektra became a favourite character part.

In 1980 he returned to English National Opera (as Sadler's Wells Opera had become) to sing Radames, Cavaradossi and, in the following year, Otello, which he had he had still never sung at Covent Garden, although he had substituted for an indisposed tenor with the Royal Opera at Manchester in 1981; then in November 1983, 20 years after he had first sung the role destined to become his most famous, he gave two performances of Otello at Covent Garden in place of Placido Domingo, also indisposed.

Charles Craig's last stage appearance was in 1985 with ENO in Tosca.

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In rammentarlo io tremo.

Meco all'altar di Venere
Era Adalgisa in Roma,
Cinta di bende candide,
Sparsa di fior la chioma;
Udia d'Imene i cantici,
Vedea fumar gl'incensi,
Eran rapiti i sensi
Di voluttade e amore.
Quando fra noi terribile
Viene a locarsi un'ombra
L'ampio mantel druidico
Come un vapor l'ingombra;
Cade sull'ara il folgore,
D'un vel si copre il giorno,
Muto si spande intorno
Un sepolcrale orror.
Piů l'adorata vergine
Io non mi trovo accanto;
N'odo da lunge un gemito
Misto de' figli al pianto …
Ed una voce orribile
Echeggia in fondo al tempio
Norma cosě fa scempio
D'amante traditor!

English Libretto or Translation:

Even recalling it, I tremble!

Adalgisa was with me, in Rome,
At the altar of Venus,
Dressed in pure white
With flowers in her hair.
As she heard the hymns of Hymen
And breathed the holy incense,
Her senses were enraptured
With the joy of love...
Suddenly between us there descended
A horrible shadow,
And the great Druidic mantle
Enfolded her like smoke.
Lightning flashed on the altar,
And the day was veiled in darkness.
Silently, all around,
Rose a tomb?like horror.
The beloved maiden
as no longer at my side.
From afar I heard a sob,
Mingled with the weeping of my children.
Then a monstrous voice
Echoed through the temple, saying:
This is the vengeance of Norma
Upon her faithless lover!