Demi-Monde

Exploring the “Half-world” of society through the interweaving of classical and contemporary repertoire such as Faure, Brahms, Rossini, Schumann, Lloyd Webber, and Yeston.

  1. Faure - Automne 2:27
  2. Brahms - Die Mainacht 2:49
  3. Webber - I'd be surprisingly good for you 1:42
  4. Chen - Behind Joy and laughter 1:41
  5. Bach - Erbarme Dich 6:00
  6. Mozart - Als Luise si Briefe 1:24
  7. Yeston - Unusual Way 2:33
  8. Schumann - In Der Fremde 1:41
  9. Faure - Apres un Reve 2:13

Act I

Faure – Automne
Brahms – Die Mainacht

Romanticism as a cultural movement emerged during the sweeping social changes of the early days of the Industrial Revolution. Hence it is not surprising that the themes of nostalgia and being lost would resonate with the legions of the newly-dispossessed. Faure’s Automne embodies this nostalgic regret for a (rose-tinted) simpler past, while Brahm’s Die Mainacht expresses the sense of displacement and interruption of daily life through the Romantic device of (melodramatic) lost love.

Chen – Tanka I (Nameless Stream)
Webber – I’d be Surprisingly Good for You (Evita) / Nothing Like You’ve Ever Known (Tell Me on a Sunday)

Before Cats, Lloyd Webber wrote songs that melded adult situations with a pop sensibility. Yossano Akiko marked the birth of the modern female voice in Japan through her activism and poetry; instead of silence or veiled allusions as the times dictated, she transformed the tanka form to express the prosaic and “degraded” thoughts and desires of every (wo)man.

Chen – Behind Joy and Laughter (De Profundis)
Bach – Erbame Dich (St. Matthew’s Passion)

Oscar Wilde’s last letter written in prison (De Profundis) is a massive tome that vacillates between rage and stoicism about his situation; how despite his talent and success, he is still marginalized by society due to his sexuality. In Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, the alto solos intervene for the characters narrating the Passion. Although these are some of the most gorgeous music every written, it is worth noting that the alto solos are reserved for repentance – which makes it an early example of the association of the low female voice with degradation.

Brown – Stars and the Moon (Songs for a New World)

In the 19th century, demimonde was used to refer to women on the fringes of respectable society with extravagant lifestyles supported by wealthy lovers. Jason Robert Brown’s song reinterprets this theme for contemporary times.

Rossini – Cruda Sorte! Amor Tiranno! (L’italiana in Algeri)
Rachmaninoff – Prelude Op.26 No. 4 [Chris Foley, Piano]

Rossini’s comic heroines are proto-feminist archetypes by constantly outwitting a central (oppressive) male figure. In Cruda Sorte Isabella is captured by the Algerians; tje slow cavatina opening is a conventional lament at her cruel fate and longing for her lover. However, as the fast cabaletta section begins, she summons up courage and assesses the situation. Realizing that all men are susceptible to the charms of a pretty woman, Isabella resolves to use her “fragile sensuality” against her male captors.

Saint-Saens – Mon Coeur s’ouvre ta Voix (Samson et Dalila)

Delilah is one of two women in the biblical canon that gets her way (in a manner of speaking). Like Isabella, she transforms the perceived “weakness” of her gender into her source of power in Saint-Saen’s aria of calculated seduction.
Act II

Mozart – Als Luise si Briefe …
Yeston – Unusual Way (Nine)

A juxtaposition of songs about “fallen women” seduced by a Casanova, written more than two centuries apart shows us not much has changed. One rarely comes across songs about fallen men in standard repertoire.

Chen – Three songs from Vicious Cycle
(One Perfect Rose, From a Letter from Lesbia, Godspeed)

Dorothy Parker’s “wisecracks” were subversive elements that provided access to thoughts and desires liberated from social gentility by masquerading under the guise of humor (while her contemporaries were mired in thickets of metaphoric frailty)

Schumann – In der Fremde
Duparc – La vie Anterieure

The romantic motif of the solitary wayfarer in Schumann’s In der Fremde is the precursor to Baudelaire’s flaneur of modernity. Although both figures are an expression of the anomie experienced during those periods of social change, Duparc’s La vie Anterieure illustrates the flaneur’s rejection of lofty Romantic ideals over the prosaic and taboo.

Rossini – In si Barbara (Semiramide)

The extraordinary turnover of population in preindustrial times resulted in a large strata of illegitimate families that were outcast. In opera plots, any “illegitimacy” is often the result of hidden or mistaken identity, thus providing audiences with titillation as well as heroes that are really “one of them”. In si Barbara is sung by Arsace who upon learning the Queen is his mother and the deceased King his father, vows revenge on the conspirators.

Lippa – Maybe I Like it this Way (Wild Party)

Andrew Lippa’s song brilliantly captures the conflicting impulse to flee, and justifications for staying for people caught in abusive relationships.

Faure – Apres un Reve
Gluck – J’ai perdu mon Euridice (Orfee et Euridice)
Strauss – Morgen

Faure’s song of forlorn seeking and Strauss’ song of optimistic reunion provide a dramatic arc for Gluck’s famous aria. The story of Orpheus is perhaps the most literal treatment of the notions of a “half-world” as well as the redemption of a fallen woman by a noble man; narrating the story of how Orpheus travels to the Underworld to rescue his wife only to lose her again in the nether region between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Stephen Chen, Mezzo
Christopher Foley, Piano

Fri, 17 Nov 2006 | 8:00 PM | Heliconian Hall
35 Hazelton Avenue, Toronto, ON