Monday Music: Assisa a pie d’un salice (Rossini)

Now that Easter is over, we are reverting to my other current musical obsession, which would be Shakespeare operas!  I told my teacher a few weeks ago that I wanted to have an Elizabethan / Shakespeare theme for my exam, only I had way too much repertoire, and she responded by suggesting a few more operas to look at… This was not entirely helpful.

One of the ones she suggested, however, was Rossini’s Otello, and specifically Desdemona’s Willow Tree aria.  I’d been looking at this one, but couldn’t quite justify it in my (already excessively long program), but of course now I had to look at it again, and quickly realised that I am constitutionally incapable of resisting Rossini (it’s all those tiny little hemi-demi-semiquavers that do it for me.  I have no self-control when it comes to teeny tiny notes…).

Judge for yourself whether you could resist this.

You see my problem.  It really is quite, quite beautiful.  Frederica von Stade is also entirely gorgeous in this, treating it with both the delicacy and the drama it deserves.

(oh, and incidentally, I keep running across people saying that Otello wasn’t one of Rossini’s better operas.  If this is a sample, I beg to differ)

I don’t yet have a translation of this that I like, but it does pretty much follow the pattern of Shakespeare’s Willow Tree song for Desdemona, with the young woman consumed with grief as she sits beneath the willow tree, and finally killing herself.  This is not directly relevant to the action of play or opera, but in both, it is sung by Desdemona towards the end of the story, at a point where she has realised that Othello is bitterly angry and jealous through no fault of hers, and probably suspects that he will eventually kill her – the song thus carries emotional resonance for her, and anticipates her subsequent death.

I could sing this forever.


7 thoughts on “Monday Music: Assisa a pie d’un salice (Rossini)

  1. filkferengi says:

    Have you heard the album “Songs of the Cat” with Garrison Keillor & von Stade? It’s lots of fun!


  2. 5-tails says:

    Oh, interesting! I knew about Verdi’s Otello, and saw a soprano take out the Herald-Sun Arias with his version of the Willow Song, but figured you were set for Verdi. I didn’t know Rossini had done one as well.

    It’s lovely indeed, though at 9 minutes it’d be 20% of your recital programme in and of itself…


    • Catherine says:

      Well, one of the legitimate variations of this aria is just the three main verses… which makes it 4 minutes. So that’s what I’d probably wind up doing, and I can save my dramatics for the Verdi Lady Macbeth…


  3. […] one of my favourite Easter carols on it, after which I reverted to my Shakespeare obsession with Rossini’s version of Desdemona’s Willow Song, which is stunning but also offends my Italian father by making no bloody sense when you try to […]


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