Evenings of Great Songs & the Stories Behind Them
Excerpts from the Program from:

(performed April 16 - 25,1998 in First Church, Congregational in Harvard Square)

 

Praise for Rodelinda

"Rodelinda rang true."
-Richard Dyer, Boston Globe (click here to see full review)

"...a significant artistic success...the impressions of Rodelinda continued to resonate weeks after its run was over."
"...a riveting theatrical experience."
- Peter Catalano, American Record Guide

Synopsis

Setting: Medieval Lombardy, now Northern Italy

Just before his death, the King of Lombardy divided his kingdom between his sons, leaving Milan to Bertarido and Pavia to Gundeberto. He also had a daughter, Edwige. The sons went to war over the inheritance, and Gundeberto promised Edwige's hand in marriage to the Duke of Benevento, Grimoaldo, as a reward should Grimoaldo help him defeat Bertarido. But Gundeberto was killed, likely through some treachery by Grimoaldo. Grimoaldo, still engaged to Edwige, fell in love with Bertarido's wife, Rodelinda, and seized the throne of Milan. Bertarido fled to Hungary and put out a report of his death, hoping to rescue his wife and their young son, Flavio. Grimoaldo built a funeral monument to Bertarido; meanwhile Bertarido returned in disguise to Milan.

ACT I

The Royal Palace

Rodelinda mourns the death of Bertarido. Grimoaldo offers to marry her and restore her to the throne of Milan, but she firmly rejects him. Garibaldo, Duke of Turin, tells Grimoaldo that Rodelinda might accept him if he publicly breaks his engagement to Edwige. Garibaldo has declared love for Edwige and asked her to marry him, and he offers to kill Grimoaldo for her when he sees how angry she is about the broken engagement. Edwige tells Garibaldo not to kill him, but to wait until Grimoaldo returns so she can punish him by accepting Garibaldo's hand while Grimoaldo looks on. Alone, Garibaldo admits he doesn't love Edwige, but only wants to marry her to get closer to the throne.

A Cypress Grove, with the tombs of the Lombardic Kings; among them the monument to Bertarido

Bertarido, in Hungarian disguise, contemplates his own funeral urn, and wonders what has happened to Rodelinda. Unulfo enters, assuring Bertarido of his loyalty. He advises Bertarido it's not safe yet to reveal himself to Rodelinda, and they hide as Rodelinda approaches with Flavio to see Bertarido's monument. Garibaldo appears, takes Flavio hostage, and threatens his death unless Rodelinda agrees to marry Grimoaldo. Rodelinda takes back her son, but to the shock of Bertarido and Unulfo, appears to give in quickly to Grimoaldo's desire to marry her. Rodelinda tells Garibaldo that her first demand as queen will be his head; Bertarido is heartbroken at her willingness to marry Grimoaldo.

Act II

A Great Hall in the Palace

Edwige plans revenge on Grimoaldo. Rodelinda confirms to Grimoaldo that she will marry him, but only if he murders her son before her eyes; she cannot be both the wife of a usurper and mother of the rightful king. The horrified Grimoaldo rejects the suggestion of the more ruthless Garibaldo that he take Rodelinda at her word. But Grimoaldo remains conflicted, saying he no longer has a conscience; he is ruled by love. Garibaldo considers Grimoaldo's behavior weak, and tells Unulfo of his own ambition for the throne. Unulfo plans to help Bertarido and Rodelinda to see each other

The Countryside

Bertarido finds that all nature mirrors his mournful mood. Edwige recognizes his voice, and is amazed to find him alive. She is pleased to learn he only wishes to rescue his wife and son, not to regain the kingdom to which she still aspires. Unulfo assures Bertarido that Rodelinda remains faithful, and tells him it is time to reveal himself. Bertarido compares himself to a swallow driven from its nest but consoled by a faithful mate. Rodelinda learns Bertarido is alive, and longs to see him. Grimoaldo finds them together and demands to know why Rodelinda, who has refused his advances, is in the arms of another man. Bertarido angrily tells Grimoaldo who he is. Grimoaldo isn’t sure; he has rarely seen Bertarido. In any case, he says, the man must die.

Act III

The Royal Palace

Edwige and Unulfo plan Bertarido's escape from prison. Edwige is anxious to atone for coveting her brother's throne. Garibaldo tells Grimoaldo it would be wise to kill the prisoner, but Grimoaldo hesitates.

A Dungeon

Bertarido meditates on his life and fate. A sword is thrown into his cell. Assuming an intruder is his executioner, he attacks with the sword, but is stunned to find he has wounded Unulfo. As he comforts Unulfo with his cloak it becomes stained with blood. They hear noises and leave by a secret passage, leaving the cloak behind. Edwige, Rodelinda, and Flavio arrive, find Bertarido's bloodstained cloak, and assume he has been murdered. Rodelinda wishes for death so her suffering can end.

A Royal Garden

Bertarido, now free, helps Unulfo with his wound. Unulfo says he will bring Rodelinda and Flavio to Bertarido. Bertarido compares himself to a trapped wild animal freed from its chains. Grimoaldo, tormented by his crimes and exhausted by indecision, longs for the simple life of a shepherd, and lies down to sleep. Garibaldo steals his sword and tries to kill him. Bertarido drives off Garibaldo, killing him offstage. Bertarido reappears with his family and returns the sword to Grimoaldo. In gratitude for his life, Grimoaldo returns the kingdom of Milan to Bertarido, and asks Edwige to be his queen at Pavia. All rejoice at being united and once again at peace.

.

The performers

Michael Beattie

Michael Beattie (conductor) has established himself as a musician of exceptional versatility and through his work as keyboard player, vocal coach, and conductor has become a valued member of Boston's musical community. As Associate Conductor and Chorus Master of Emmanuel Music, he has conducted the orchestra and chorus on many occasions. He has toured in Europe and the U.S. as Assistant Conductor of Peter Sellar's controversial stagings of the Mozart/Da Ponte operas. For several seasons, Mr. Beattie has been at the harpsichord or organ for virtually all of Boston's major Handel productions, including those of Emmanuel Music, the Cantata Singers, Boston Cecilia, the Handel and Haydn Society, and the Boston Lyric Opera. He is founding member of Favella Lyrica whose recording of Handel's vocal duets includes some never before recorded. Mr. Beattie has performed more than 150 of Bach's sacred cantatas at Emmanuel Church under such conductors as Seiji Ozawa, Christopher Hogwood, John Harbison, and Christoph Wolff, as well as Music Director Craig Smith. As a pianist, he has performed at the Athens, Banff, and Tanglewood music festivals, as well as Music from Salem. World premieres to his credit include works by John Harbison, Andrew Imbrie, Earl Kim, and Andy Vorhes. Mr. Beattie is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and Boston University. He has been on the faculties of Boston University, the New England Conservatory/Emmanuel Music Bach Institute, and the Walnut Hill School.

Daniel Brenna

Daniel Brenna (Grimoaldo) is completing his Master's Degree at Boston University where he studies with Sharon Daniels. Locally, he has sung the roles of Don Jose in La Tragedie de Carmen (Peter Brook/Bizet) and Lysander in Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream at Boston University, and Aeneas in Dido and Aeneas with the Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society. This summer he will sing the Notary in Don Pasquale and cover the role of Tichon in Katya Kabanova with the St. Louis Opera Theatre Ensemble. He will then return to a Fellowship at Tanglewood, where he plans to continue sharing his passion for the recital stage; in 1997 he gave four recitals throughout Massachusetts with collaborative pianist Karen Ganz, including an evening of Contemporary American Music. Mr. Brenna would like to offer special thanks to Drew Minter for guiding his preparations for Rodelinda.

Susan Cooke

Susan Cooke (Bertarido), founder and artistic director of the Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society, has sung and acted in a variety of roles in opera and musical theater in New Orleans, New York City, Houston, and Boston, including Monica in The Medium, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Fiona in Brigadoon, Dorabella in Cosi fan Tutte, and Dido in Dido and Aeneas. Critics praised her performances as Marsinah in Kismet, the Soprano in Kurt Weill's Berlin to Broadway, and Amy in Arthur Kopit's Wings. A former violinist, Ms. Cooke has also worked as a freelance writer and print and radio news anchor, editor, and reporter in Houston and Boston. Under Carlisle Floyd's direction she wrote the opera libretto, The Birthmark, adapted from a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. She adapted a script and directed the music for the Jerome Kern musical revue, Only Make Believe, which ran for six weeks at The Biggest Little Theatre in Texas, and directed An Evening of Italian Music for CLOS. Ms. Cooke designs costumes for CLOS (with lots of help from the construction department), and writes its narrations and program notes.

Susan Forrester

Susan Forrester (Unulfo) received critical acclaim for her portrayals of Dorabella in Bel Canto Opera's 1997 production of Cosi fan Tutte (Providence, RI) and in the title role of Longwood Opera's production of Rossini's La Cenerentola. Other roles include Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance, and the Sorceress in Dido and Aeneas with the Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society. Ms. Forrester has appeared as a soloist with Masterworks Chorale, Cambridge Community Chorus, and numerous other choruses in performances of Handel's Messiah. In March she debuted with the Rhode Island Civic Chorale & Orchestra in Beethoven's Mass in C, and she has premiered a sacred work (Tanquam ad Latronem) composed expressly for her by Leonardo Ciampa. Future engagements include a concert series with Boston Bel Canto Opera, an appearance with the Thayer Symphony in May, and a June debut with the Boston Bel Canto Opera in the role of Sara in Donizetti's Roberto Devereux at Jordan Hall.

D'Anna Fortunato

D'Anna Fortunato (Edwige) is well-known to Boston, U.S. and international audiences for her many opera and concert appearances and her 28 recordings for Vox, Newport Classics, Harmonia Mundi, and others. Recent recordings include Handel's Faramondo, the Handel aria collection Where 'er You Walk, and Cherubini's Médée, for which Ms. Fortunato won high praise in March 28th's Opera News. She recently appeared with Emmanuel Music as the Queen of Sheba in Handel's Solomon, as alto soloist in Dvorak's Stabat Mater with the Masterworks Chorale, with the Sioux City Sympony in Mahler's Second Symphony and in Verdi's Requiem with the Worcester Concert Association. Last fall Ms. Fortunato sang French melodies and took the lead roles in scenes from Carmen and from Offenbach operettas for the Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society's An Evening in Paris. This spring she will sing Adelaide in Arabella with the Boston Academy of Music, and plans many chamber and recital appearances. Upcoming recordings include the complete vocal works of Gardner Read, the premier CD of Handel's Alexander Balus, a premier recording of Scott Lindroft's Light with the Boston New Music Group, and on the Northeastern label, music of Daniel Pinkham.

Cassandra Norville

Cassandra Norville (Rodelinda) is a coloratura soprano making her third appearance with the Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society. Ms. Norville completed a Master of Music Degree in Voice in 1996 at the New England Conservatory of Music, where as a member of the NEC Opera Theatre she performed The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, Nella in Gianni Schicci, Suor Genovieffa in Suor Angelica, and Elena in Nino Rota's The Italian Straw Hat. Additional roles include Lauretta in Gianni Schicci, the First Lady in The Magic Flute, and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro. She is an active member of the Boston opera community and has appeared in concert and on stage with Prism Opera as the Queen of the Night, and made her debut with the Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society as Belinda in the 1997 production of Dido and Aeneas. Other credits include: Soprano soloist in the World Premiere of John Sarkissian's Song Cycle: The Birds, Central City Opera Studio Artist in 1996, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions New England Semi-Finalist in 1997, and principal artist with the Ohio Light Opera in 1997, roles including Adele in Die Fledermaus, Juliette in The Count of Luxembourg, and Rose in Victor Herbert's Eileen which was recently released on CD under the Newport Classics label. Ms. Norville will soon bid Boston a fond farewell as she begins a new life in Hamburg, Germany where many auditions, and hopefully many performances await!

Julian Petschek

Julian Petschek (Flavio), the son of Carol Petschek and our videographer, Bruce Petschek, is eight years old and attends the Agassiz School in Cambridge. He likes learning to do circus and juggling performing tricks, such as working with a Diablo-a spinning top on a rope, and also does balancing tricks on wheels and balance boards. Some other interests include drawing, pottery, jumping rope, and writing poetry. He has just posed for a statue on the subject of the Irish famine by sculptor Bob Shore, which will be in unveiled in June in front of Borders Books in downtown Boston.

Mark Risinger

Bass-baritone Mark Risinger (Garibaldo) has appeared on both sides of the Atlantic in concert, opera, and recital, in works ranging from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. Recently praised by Opera magazine for his promise on the operatic stage, Mr. Risinger has devoted much of his performing to Baroque music, including Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, numerous works of Handel, and cantatas of J. S. Bach as a frequent soloist with Emmanuel Music, most recently under conductor Christopher Hogwood. He made his English operatic debut last summer as the Sprecher in the Britten-Pears production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, in addition to performing in Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre with the Vancouver Bach Choir as soloist in Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass and Faure's Requiem. Other Boston-area appearances within the last year have included Schubert's Winterreise, Bach's Mass in B-minor, the roles of Pharaoh and Reuben in Handel's Joseph and His Brethren, Monterone in Verdi's Rigoletto, and Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs. The summer will take Mr. Risinger to Glimmerglass Opera, where he will make his debut in the Young American Artists Program in Thomson's The Mother of Us All. He has recorded for Northeastern, Naxos, and Lyrichord record labels.

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan (Director) has performed as a bass-baritone with San Franciso Opera, Western Opera Theater, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, and Seattle Opera, to name a few. He has sung and acted in several television broadcasts including "Live from Lincoln Center" and "Great Performances," has toured extensively as a recitalist, and has appeared in concert with the Chicago Symphony, the Utah Symphony, and others. He has performed over 500 "informances" (informal recitals) around the country as an affiliate artist for the John Deere and Sears Foundations. Mr. Sullivan was on the voice faculties and served as Stage Director for several colleges and universities including the Opera Theater at the University of Nebraska, the University of Arizona, and the Opera Studio Extension Division at the New England Conservatory of Music. He is currently on the voice faculty at Emerson College. He is listed in Who's Who in Opera, and can be heard in recorded performances by the San Francisco Opera of L'Africaine and Die Fledermaus.

 

Handel in London, and Rodelinda

A few years before Handel's explosion onto the London scene in 1711, that city was introduced to Italian opera. The only native English opera had been Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and for many reasons, including Purcell's early death and England's love of the spoken word, England was not destined to have its own world-class opera composer until Benjamin Britten nearly two centuries later. The violent competition between the Drury Lane Theatre and the newer Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket, both producing Italian operas, further aroused the London public's growing passion for the new entertainment. In 1706 the theaters were plunged into such a maelstrom of rivalry, management greed, pay and benefits disputes, and "devious maneuvers of every description," that the Lord Chamberlain had to be called in repeatedly to try to restore order.

The German-born Handel was already highly respected as an opera composer in Italy, the country that had given birth to opera. When at 25 he made the move to London he found a city buzzing with intellectual and artistic activity. Prominent on the glittering social scene were such luminaries as Alexander Pope, John Gay, Sir Isaac Newton, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Jonathan Swift. Handel and his operas would soon become major London fixtures, too, providing much fodder for critics, writers, gossips, and opera lovers.

Rodelinda librettist Nicola Haym was one of those most responsible for bringing Italian opera to England before Handel's arrival. He was active in management at the Drury Lane Theatre and after Handel's enormously successful production of Rinaldo at the competing Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket threatened Drury Lane, Haym joined others in protesting Handel's "new style" of Italian Opera. But he soon joined forces with Handel once he understood the extent of the composer's potential. Haym wrote or adapted the librettos for several other successful Handel operas, including Radamisto, Giulio Cesare, and Tamerlano.

In 1719 the Royal Academy of Music was formed at the Haymarket. It was in effect a corporation established by investors who wanted to produce high-quality opera in London. Despite many problems including mismanagement, it imported the greatest performing artists of the age and commissioned many new operas from leading European composers. It was during this Royal Academy period, which lasted only nine seasons, that many important Handel-Haym operas were produced, including Rodelinda.

Rodelinda's story comes from Paul the Deacon's Gesta Langobardorum, and is also based partly on Corneille's tragedy, Pertharite, Roi des Lombards (1652). The setting is the royal palace in Milan, originally in seventh century Lombardy; we have moved it forward to later medieval times. The plot was the subject of a number of operas, many of them set to a libretto by Antonio Salvi. Haym rewrote this libretto for the composer Bononcini, and Handel used the rewritten libretto for his own 1725 production. Bononcini's opera, intended for the same year, was finally produced two years later in 1727. Critics often cite this libretto as one of Handel's best settings, with its relatively clear plot lines and mostly believable characters.

Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano, and Rodelinda, all major masterpieces, were produced in less than a year during 1724 and 1725. Handel used many of the same singers for these operas, and in Tamerlano and Rodelinda used exactly the same cast: the soprano Cuzzoni (Rodelinda), the alto castratos Senesino and Pacini (Bertarido and Unulfo), the bass Boschi (Garibaldo), the tenor Borosini (Grimoaldo), and the contralto Anna Dotti (Edwige). In keeping with his tendency to center each opera around one strong, central theme, Handel chose for Rodelinda the strength and commitment of married love. Although he never married, his biographers suspect he was in love occasionally, and he clearly was moved by the love and loyalty of Rodelinda and Bertarido. Their duet and several of Rodelinda's and Bertarido's arias make this love immediately clear to the audience.

From beginning to end Rodelinda is filled with vocal and orchestra writing that marks one of the pinnacles of an already-climactic moment in the history of eighteenth- century opera. First we have Handel with all his gifts and all he has absorbed from his studies in Europe settling in a London hungry for opera; as if that weren't enough, just a short time later he is achieving some of his best operatic writing ever, with Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda composed within a year of each other. And yet, Rodelinda has been produced relatively rarely. There have been only a few productions in the United States, and compared to a Boheme or a Carmen or even a Giulio Cesare not many productions worldwide. (For the first time in many years, Glyndebourne will mount a production in 1998.) We can only guess that the problems for producers may be, as they were for us, the difficulty in obtaining useable scores for both singers and orchestra, the writing of three of the parts in alto and tenor clefs, and the lack of a reliable edition of the opera (Handel often added, subtracted, rewrote, or substituted different arias with each new production of an opera, leaving later producers in doubt as to what he wanted in the final version).

A Few Notes on Handel's Operatic Style to the Time of Rodelinda

The road Handel traveled to Rodelinda was a long one, and the very private composer left few clues as to what influenced him in his work and personal life. Yet scholars and biographers have done what they could to shed light on these matters. They tell us, for example, that Handel must have picked up some ideas while working as a young violinist in the Hamburg Opera orchestra. There librettists tended to dominate composers, and the foundation of opera style was simple strophic song and dance, but French and Italian influences slowly trickled down to the Hamburg musicians. From the Italians came a new lyricism, "quasi-ostinato" basses, da capo arias (an "A" section followed by a "B" section with different material, followed by a repeat of the "A" section with ornamentation), sequential vocal melodies, and echoes between voice and strings (listen for echoes in the Bertarido's "nature" aria in Rodelinda,"The Gentle Winds and Zephyrs"). From the French, mostly through Lully in Paris, came syncopated dance rhythms and new interest in the orchestra.

It's thought Handel was exposed to these influences and others, since besides playing in the orchestra he probably had access to now-lost scores of the Hamburg opera composers, especially one of the best ones, Reinhard Keiser. From Keiser Handel probably picked up some of the former's extraordinary feeling for orchestral writing, an interplay of moods and a rapid dramatic pace, and the importance of seizing a dramatic situation and expressing it in highly original and vivid music.

Handel much later showed the influence of the best of Keiser in supernatural or dream scenes, and in incidents of high dramatic intensity where accompanied recitative (the more speechlike parts of the opera in between arias), arioso (more aria-like than "recit" but not quite an aria), and aria are linked for full dramatic and musical impact (for dramatic linking of arioso and accompanied recit note the dungeon scene in Act III of Rodelinda). Among Keiser scenes Handel borrowed are a scene with an idyllic beginning interrupted by gunfire (in Rodelinda, for example, Bertarido's nature aria is interrupted by his sister, who is amazed to hear his voice), a beautiful farewell duet for a pair of lovers in chains (Bertarido and Rodelinda sing a farewell duet just before Bertarido is taken to prison), and a sleep sinfonia with recorders and strings (note Grimaldo's sleep scene). Handel later would succeed even in areas where Keiser was weak. Keiser's characters weren't fully realized, and he couldn't impose an overall design or assimilate German, French, and Italian influences in a cohesive way. His melodies,often striking at first, were rarely developed to their fullest potential.

Handel also seemed drawn to the nature and dungeon scenes themselves. His biographers believe he was fond of nature and the countryside. The dungeon simply must have given a good kick to his imagination, and he clearly sympathized with those unfairly imprisoned.

Handel moved to Italy in 1706, and spent time in several cities, but lived mostly in Rome and Florence in the service of Marchese Ruspoli and Ferdinando de' Medici. He probably learned what he needed to know about the Italians' music much in the way he learned in Germany. It's likely he heard operas by Alessandro Scarlatti, Giacomo Perti, Orlandini and Rocco Ceruti, and Nicola Fago, operas whose subjects included Julius Caesar, Tamerlane, Radamisto, Sosarme, Ariodante, Berenice, and Rodelinda; all would later become leading characters for Handel.

In Italy's major opera center, Venice, Handel could have heard operas by Lotti, Albinoni, Caldara, and again Scarlatti, and he met both Scarlattis, Corelli, Pasquini, Caldara, and Steffani. All but Corelli were opera composers. He also heard many famous singers in Venice, including the two Boschi brothers, the castratos Senesino and Pacini, and the tenor Borosini.

When Handel arrived in Italy, "opera seria" (opera consisting mostly of a series of solo arias) was becoming standardized. There was an accepted division between aria and recitative, and arias almost always were accompanied by continuo alone (a bass line with filled in chords, usually played on the harpsichord, sometimes with a cello also playing the bass line), and rarely by full orchestra. Most arias were in da capo form. The Italians added a full orchestra ritornello section after an aria's A section or at the da capo--a device Handel would use often and expand. The orchestra was enlarged and the oboe was introduced. Duets and ensembles were used rarely, except for the required short chorus at the end of an opera, and this practice Handel continued as well. One reason for the lack of ensemble writing could be the increases in virtuoso writing for solo voice going on at the time, as well as the length of the arias.

While the oldest composers would not have had much to teach Handel technically, he was likely influenced by the current composing stars of the day: Gasparini, Lotti, Caldara, Albinoni, Mancini, Orlandini, and the Bononcini brothers, Giovanni and Antonio Maria. (Handel might have met Vivaldi in Venice, but the latter started late in opera--in 1713, after Handel had left Italy.)

Some critics say G. Bononcini originated the "Handelian style," including expanding the aria, more adventurous treatment of ritornellos and combinations of motives, violin virtuoso passages, and the occasional use of newly-dramatic accompaniments for important recitatives in intense moments, such as for a mad scene. But within a decade of Bononcini's first successful opera, many composers practiced these changes, and Handel might have learned them from any or all of them.

On the whole what set Handel apart from his contemporaries seems to be their predictability, their inability to maintain or develop their best ideas, and their lack of surprise. Handel expert Winton Dean wrote that what Handel probably did learn from his Italian contemporaries was fluency in the treatment of Italian verse, accurate declamation and flexible harmonic rhythm in recitative, increasing experience in writing for the voice and drawing the necessary distinction between vocal and instrumental material, and above all the release of that wonderful melodic gift, so constricted in Almira (Handel's first opera, produced in Hamburg), still partly chained in Rodrigo (his second opera, produced in Florence), and the early cantatas but boundlessly inventive for the rest of his life.

S.C.

The sources used in the above program notes include Handel's Operas (1704-1726) by Winton Dean and John Merrill Knapp, Handel by Christopher Hogwood, George Frideric Handel by Paul Henry Lang, and The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold Schonberg.

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