Why is he calling her his thesaurus?

Today’s morning name was the Italian phrase il mio tesoro, and there’s no mystery where it came from: on my overnight iTunes, the 1959 Carlo Maria Guilini recording of Don Giovanni had reached Luigi Alva singing “Il Mio Tesoro” just as I woke. What was odd was that my still sleep-addled brain was puzzling over why Don Ottavio was calling Donna Anna his thesaurus.

Attribute it to an overactive mental-association apparatus connecting It. il tesoro ‘treasure’ (but also ‘darling, honey, dear’) to Engl. thesaurus referring to a specialized type of dictionary (derived ultimately from Greek). In this case, one reproducing a historical connection between It. tesoro ‘darling’ and It. tesoreria ‘thesaurus’, which are, etymologically, second cousins, more or less.

After this, on to the aria, with performances by Alva, Araiza, and Domingo.

Big background note. From Wikipedia:

(#1) Francico Araiza in costume and mid-aria

“Il mio tesoro” (or “Il mio tesoro intanto”) [‘my treasure, my beloved’] is an aria for lyric tenor voice from scene 2 in act 2 of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni [K. 527]. It is often performed in recitals and featured in anthologies of music for tenor. In the aria, Don Ottavio, a young nobleman, urges the listener to assure his (the nobleman’s) beloved fiancée, Donna Anna, that he intends to secure vengeance for her against the man who murdered her father.

The first verse, with a fairly literal translation:

Il mio tesoro intanto
andate a consolar,
E del bel ciglio il pianto
cercate di asciugar.

‘My treasure, meanwhile, go and console her. And from her beautiful eyes, the tears, try to wipe (them) away.’

Little linguistic background notes.

Note 1: It. tesoro is of the masc. grammatical gender, regardless of the sex of the person referred to. To Don Ottavio, Donna Anna is il mio tesoro, not *la mia tesora.

Note 2. Possessed nominals in Italian generally involve both a definite article and a possessive adjective, as in il mio tesoro: il mio libro ‘my book’ (*mio libro), il mio piede ‘my foot’ (*mio piede). But kinship terms lack the article: mio padre ‘my father’ (*il mio padre).

Note 3. On the –eria suffix of It. la tesoreria ‘treasury, thesaurus’: cf. Engl. ‘place’ –ery in bakery, brewery, cemetery, distillery, fishery, grocery, nunnery, nursery  (both ultimately related to Latin –ario).

Word histories. What is firm in all of this is that both It. tesoro and Engl. thesaurus track back to Greek

< Latin thēsaurus, from Ancient Greek θησαυρός (thēsaurós, “storehouse, treasury”). The earlier history of the Greek is unclear. The earliest sense of the Greek word was probably ‘place for storing goods, storehouse’.

From this, two routes diverge, independently of one another.

The route to Roget: ‘storehouse’ > METAPHOR ‘dictionary, encyclopedia’ (a place for storing information about words or about ideas) > NARROWING (with the publication of Roget’s Thesaurus in 1852) a particular type of dictionary, ‘compendium of words in synonym groups’

(As for  Roget and his thesaurus, they have a section in my 9/27/18 posting “Mike Lynch”.)

The route to endearment: ‘storehouse’ > NARROWING ‘storehouse for valuable things, treasury’ > METONYMY ‘thing in such a storehouse, valuable thing, treasure’ > METAPHOR term of endearment for a person of value to you, ‘beloved, darling’

These accounts are somewhat speculative, and need textual backup in the relevant sociocultural context.

Sing, Don Ottavio, sing! About the performance of Don Giovanni that came up on my iTunes, from the Warner Classics on its Legendary Opera Recordings:

Don Giovanni’s special amalgam of dark drama and sparkling comedy is captured with startling immediacy by Carlo Maria Giulini [in 1959]. The Viennese baritone Eberhard Wächter faces a particularly formidable pair of noble ladies: Donna Anna in the form of Joan Sutherland (in one of her rare recordings for a label other than Decca) and the Donna Elvira of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

The cast, in addition to these three and Alva as Don Ottavio: Leporello, Giuseppe Taddei; Il Commendatore, Gottlob Frick; Masetto, Piero Cappuccilli; Zerlina, Graziella Sciutti

The “Il Mio Tesoro” from this recording doesn’t seem to be available on YouTube — but, remarkably, the whole opera is, here.

On the other hand, here’s a tape of Alva’s performance of the role in 1960, at the Festival d’Aix, with the orchestra under Gabriel Dussurget:

(#2) Alva at Aix

On Alva, from Wikipedia:

Luis Ernesto Alva y Talledo, better known as Luigi Alva (born 10 April 1927) is a Peruvian operatic tenor. A Mozart and Rossini specialist, Alva achieved fame with roles such as Don Ottavio (in Don Giovanni), Count Almaviva (in The Barber of Seville) and Fenton (in Verdi’s Falstaff). He retired from the stage in 1989.

Next up, Francisco Araiza. From Wikipedia:

(#3) Araiza at the Teatro alla Scala, orchestra under Riccardo Muti, from a 1998 DVD

José Francisco Araiza Andrade (born 4 October 1950), is a Mexican operatic tenor and lied singer who has sung as soloist in leading concert halls and in leading tenor operatic roles in the major opera houses of Europe and North America during the course of a lengthy career. … Araiza initially came to international prominence singing in Mozart and Rossini operas, but in the 1980s broadened his repertoire to include Italian and French lyric tenor roles and Wagnerian roles such as Lohengrin and Walther von Stolzing. He was made a Kammersänger of the Vienna State Opera in 1988. Now retired from the opera stage

These two were specialists. Then there’s the generalist Plácido Domingo, who does, however, cultivate Mozart and Rossini:

(#4) Domingo with the Münich Radio Orchestra under Eugene Kohn, recorded 1/9/91 (when Domingo was about 50)

On Domingo, from Wikipedia:

José Plácido Domingo Embil (… born 21 January 1941) is a Spanish opera singer, conductor, and arts administrator. He has recorded over a hundred complete operas and is well known for his versatility, regularly performing in Italian, French, German, Spanish, English and Russian in the most prestigious opera houses in the world. Although primarily a lirico-spinto tenor for most of his career, especially popular for his Cavaradossi, Hoffmann, Don José, and Canio, he quickly moved into more dramatic roles, becoming the most acclaimed Otello of his generation. In the early 2010s, he transitioned from the tenor repertory into almost exclusively baritone parts, most notably Simon Boccanegra.

But wait! YouTube has some amazing things, and they include a very long audio compilation (just short of 3 hours) of 42 tenors doing “Il Mio Tesoro”, which you can view here. #1 is Alva 1959, #3 is Araiza 1978, and #7 is Domingo 1991.


6 Responses to “Why is he calling her his thesaurus?”

  1. Jens Fiederer Says:

    It’s pretty natural to a German. We used to use “mein Schatz” (my treasure) as an endearment. Those are are still German almost certainly still do!

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    Further to Italian -eria, English -ery: There’s also German -erei, which can also mean, more or less, “stuff having to do with”.

  3. Robert Coren Says:

    I grew up (more or less) on a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Don Giovanni from ca. 1960, conducted by Ferenc Fricsay and featuring a remarkable cast headed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the title role, and as far as I’m concerned Ernst Haefliger’s performance therein of Il mio tesoro is unbeatable.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      There are passionate proponents of particular singers (and passionate derogators of others). For that reason, I was at first reluctant to discuss *any* performances of the aria, but I decided that would have been unfair to my readers who are not so intimately attached to this opera. So I chose three performances I admired (for different reasons) that I could easily get on YouTube.

      I do remember Häfliger’s performance (and Fischer-Dieskau’s) with pleasure, but I haven’t listened to it for some years. I should probably go back to it. (Häfliger 1958 is #13 in the lineup of 42, so it’s out there.)

  4. xi ju Says:

    yeah, well to WHOM is Don Ottavio singing the aria? WHO is “the listener”?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Think of it as a soliloquy, with Don Ottaviospeaking his thoughts out loud, for anyone who might be listening (but especially for us, the audience).

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: