An Unfinished Jewel

By Ray Brown

Friday, Dec. 3

Today's 4:00 request comes from Bryan of Blackstone, MA: "…With warmth and vocal subtleties hear how Kiri Te Kanawa performs this delicate Mozart aria from the unfinished opera Zaide." The aria is Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben:

Rest easily, my charming loved one,
sleep, until your happiness awakes;
here, I will give you my portrait,
see how cheerfully it smiles at you.
Sweet dreams, rock him to sleep,
and let his passionate ideas
fully ripen at last,
according to his wishes.

Zaide is singing these words to Gomatz as he sleeps. They are both captured slaves of the Sultan Soliman. She has it a little better than he does, since the Sultan favors her and hopes to win her heart, and he is sentenced to hard labor. They plot their escape, with the help of another slave, and are caught.

We never do find out what happens after that, since Mozart never completed the opera. He sketched out music for fifteen numbers, and then abandoned the project in favor of a more comic treatment of a similar subject: The Abduction from the Seraglio. While the world would certainly be poorer without the score of Seraglio, many of those who are familiar with the surviving music for Zaide believe that we may have been denied an even greater work. This aria, at least, has become a concert staple for sopranos of a Mozartian bent, a category to which Dame Kiri te Kanawa certainly belongs.

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and to help observe that we'll devote the rest of the first hour of today's show to music either written or performed by musicians who faced daunting physical challenges.

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