Encore! A History of the Encore At the Met After Javier Camarena's Repetition Last Friday
On Friday April 25, Javier Camarena surprised audiences at the Metropolitan Opera with an encore during the performance of "La Cenerentola." Interestingly enough, he made history becoming the third tenor in the past 70 years of the Met to do so.
After having sung the Cabaletta portion in the second act to the aria "Si, ritrovarla io guiro," the Mexican tenor responded to the audience's ecstatic applause by repeating the aria. In the past 70 years, the Met has only had two other tenors encore. The first was Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti in 1994 when he performed Puccini's "Tosca." Later in 2008, Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez broke the ban when he repeated the second part to "A Mes Aimee" in Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment." In 2012, Florez once again made history when he repeated "Una Furtiva Lagrima" in Donizetti's "L'Elisir D'Amore." The occasion was even more historic as the performance was recorded on the Met's Saturday radio broadcasts and also marked the last performance of John Copley's production of the opera. There were also a number of encores during the 2010 run of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale." During Act three, the duet "Cheti, Cheti, immantinente" was repeated at every single performance by Mariusz Kwiecien and John Del Carlo.
Encores used to be common practice in the 19th century but fell out in 1920s when the opera's drama became more important than the vocal fireworks. However, while the Met did not permit these practices, European theaters continued to allow encores. In 2005, Rolando Villazon made headlines when he repeated "Una Furtiva Lagrima" in Barcelona and Vienna. Performances of those runs were recorded and later released on DVD. Florez also did a number of encores around the world in "La Fille Du Regiment." One of those performances also went to DVD.
Throughout the history of the Met the encore was an important part of performances, and even made some of the artists more famous. One of the first encores performed was in 1883 during a presentation of Verdi's "Il Trovatore," when Giuseppe Kaschmann repeated the famous baritone aria "Il Balen."
That same year Robert Stagno repeated "La Donna e Mobile" in Verdi's "Rigoletto." That aria continues to be a showcase for tenors as they continuously use it for recitals and concerts as an encore.
A year later the famous soprano Marcella Sembrich decided to use Bellini's "Ah non giunge" from "La Sonnambula" as an encore at the end of Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia." It was not uncommon to bring arias from different operas during that time period. In addition to the encore, it was also a practice to ignore Rossini's original music for the lesson scene and put something else in. Sembrich customarily used "Deh torna mio bene (Proch)" and "Someday (Wellings)." These pieces were done to accentuate the soprano's virtuosic abilities.
Other arias that were inserted included Benedict's "Il Carnevale di Venezia," Rossini's "Nacqui All'affanno" from "La Cenerentola," and Rossini's "Bel Raggio" from "Semiramide."
The use of a different aria would continue until 1954.That year, Roberta Peters reinserted the composer's original aria "Contro un cor," which was used until 1971 when Marilyn Horne decided to insert Rossini's "Tanti Affetti" from "La Donna del Lago."
Another soprano who took advantage of the time was Nellie Melba, who showcased her vocal fireworks in Ambroise Thomas' mad scene from "Hamlet." She performed the scene after singing the role of Gilda in Verdi's "Rigoletto."
In 1895, Melba also encored the trio from "Robert le Diable" alongside Edouard de Reszke and Jean de Reszke. They sang it after performing Gounod's "Faust."
Melba was also famous for singing the mad scene from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" on the premiere of Puccini's "La Boheme" at the Met in 1900. The soprano sang the scene after each of the eight performances.
Tenor Franceso Tamagno also rewarded the Met audience in his last Met career performance with an encore of "Di quella pira." He was performing his signature role Manrico in "Il Trovatore."
Other famous encores came from Frieda Hempel who repeated her song "Keep the Home Fires Burning" during a performance of Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment" while Florence Easton repeated "O Mio Babbino Caro" in a performance of Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi."
With Camarena and Florez having broken the stigma on the encore it will be interesting to see if the practice re-emerges or if it continues in obscurity.