Music and Art: Opera

Explore artworks from across the collections as you listen to a selection of opera music recorded by the Princeton Opera Company (POCO). POCO is Princeton’s only student-run opera organization. Its members proudly share the operatic art form with the Princeton arts community through fully staged opera productions, recitals, master classes, performances of opera scenes, and new music collaborations. POCO collaborated with the Art Museum’s Student Advisory Board (SAB) to thematically pair artworks with arias and art songs. An aria is an accompanied song by a solo singer from an opera or oratorio. An art song is a solo song written to be sung in recital, typically accompanied by a piano and often set to a poem. We invite you to read the SAB members’ personal reflections below.

Mosaic pavement: Apollo and Daphne
Mosaic pavement: Apollo and Daphne, late 3rd century A.D.

"Una furtiva lagrima" (L'elisir d'amore, 1832, Gaetano Donizetti, 1797–1848)

Performed by Seyoon Ragavan '21 

“Una furtiva lagrima,” from the opera Lelisir d’amore (Elixir of Love), tells the story of someone using a love potion. This aria occurs right after Adina drinks the potion, when Nemorino believes that she returns his love. Nemorino’s expression of unrequited love reminds me of the Roman mosaic in the Museum’s collections that depicts the myth of Apollo chasing Daphne; both portray the end of a long pursuit. In the mosaic, Apollo’s pinky just grazes Daphne’s shoulder as he catches up to her. Each piece brings me to the edge of my seat, anticipating whether the affection will be returned. Regardless of the results, these works are extremely powerful to me because they convey the intense effect that falling in love (or lust) can have on anyone. 

Grace Rocker ’23

River View
River View, 1889
Alfred Sisley, French, 1839–1899

"Va Godendo" (Serse, 1738, George Frideric Handel, 1685–1759)

Performed by Madeleine LeBeau '24

This impressionistic Baroque aria captures the joy and folly of love by comparing victims of love to a freely flowing river; River View by Alfred Sisley captures the beauty and movement of a river flowing. To me, Sisley’s thin, impressionistic brushstrokes capture movement and joy on a sunny afternoon, celebrating the site as a place of renewal and delight. Sisley seems to depict the cheerful sounds that “Va Godendo” evokes, capturing the joy and airiness of love. 

Shelby Kinch ’22

Tu est moi (You are me)
Tu est moi (You are me), 1960
Niki de Saint Phalle, French, 1930–2002

"Non Più di Fiori" (La Clemenza di Tito, 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756–1791)

Performed by Grace Matthews '22

"Non Più di Fiori" comes at a critical point of La Clemenza di Tito: the soprano, Vitellia, expresses feelings of resignation and fear as she prepares to confess her role in an assassination attempt on Emperor Tito. For me, the spread of weapons in Tu est moi by Niki de Saint Phalle evokes the essence of betrayal and violence, much like Vitellia’s initial intentions. The artist explains that the title, Tu est Moi, can sound like “You and me,” “You are me,” or “Kill me” when spoken. I believe that these phrases correspond well with Vitellia’s arc; “You and me” could be used to describe Vitellia’s initial plot with Sesto to assassinate Emperor Tito, “You are me” could also refer to the guilt she feels for implicating Sesto in her plot, and “Kill me” could represent her confession, trading her life for Sesto’s. Ultimately, they are both shown mercy, which I find analogous to the fixed position of these weapons, mementos of violence that are immobilized in plaster. 

David Timm ’22

Fall of Troy
Fall of Troy, 1979
Romare Bearden, American, 1911–1988

"Padre Germani Addio", (Idomeneo, 1781, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756–1791)

Performed by Laura Robertson '23

This aria is from Mozart’s opera Idomeneo and is sung by the Trojan princess Ilia. In this aria, Ilia is conflicted; she resents Greece for the fall of her father in the Trojan War but finds herself infatuated with a Greek prince. It reminds me of what I see as a similar contradiction in Romare Bearden’s Fall of Troy. I interpret Bearden’s inclusion of Black figures in this foundational Greek myth as a rejection of the exclusion of Black people from the “Western” canon of art and literature. It seems to me that Bearden is both validating the “Western” canon by choosing this myth as his subject and at the same time questioning its validity by reimagining it. Like Ilia’s discordant emotions, for me this painting evokes resentment toward the Greek art-historical monolith while simultaneously validating it. 

David Timm ’22

Was Ever Love
Was Ever Love, 2009
Sally Mann, American, born 1951

"Après un rêve" (poem: Romain Bussine, 1830–1899; music: 1878, Gabriel Fauré, 1845–1924)

Performed by Emily A. Cruz '22 

“Après un rêve” (After a Dream) is a French art song that speaks of the happiness a person feels when they dream of being with their lover. For me, Sally Mann’s tender portrait of her terminally ill husband evokes both the softness of sleep and a bleak sense of approaching death. This photograph captures the bittersweet sentiment that the couple will only be able to sustain the fantasy of being together forever in the realm of dreams.

Isabel Griffith-Gorgati '21

The Augur
The Augur, 2019
María Berrío, Colombian, active New York, born 1982

"Ganymed" (poem: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749–1832, music: 1817, Franz Schubert, 1797–1828)

Performed by Hannah Bein '22

“Ganymed,” a poem set by Schubert, tells the story of the young girl Ganymed being seduced by the Greek god Zeus’s creation of the beauty of spring. For me, María Berrío’s The Augur similarly communicates this connection between humanity, spirituality, and nature, as different species of birds, emphasized by their outsized depictions, swirl around a woman’s head. I’m particularly drawn to the care Berrío used to portray the setting around the woman—the individually laid out blades of grass and bird feathers highlight the beauty and importance of the landscape. 

Lois Wu ’23