Sunday, February 14, 2010

O Namenlose Freude!

The florists of New York City are overflowing with bouquets of all sizes and, it seems, every imaginable shading of aesthetictaste or lack thereof. German and Swiss chocolates are excitingly prominent in drugstores. Couples wander shamelessly embracing. Young men and maidens can be overheard anxiously or eagerly speculating on how various gestures will be received by the object of their affections. On this Valentine's Day, I have been sitting in my apartment doing work for the coming weeks (le sigh), and thinking about love in opera. First love, fading love, impetuous love, love of slow growth, unrequited or instantly reciprocated, touchingly innocent or sexually obsessive... que nul ne sait apprivoiser.

So, with this dizzying variety of relationships to choose from, which romantic opera duo do I select as my banner couple for lovers? I've spent most of this week considering amorous pairs and saying, "No, not quite..." And then it seemed perfectly obvious. So my unsubstantiated, entirely subjective choice is: Leonore and Florestan, from my beloved Beethoven's only opera. Separated for over two years before the story begins, and for over half the length of the opera, this husband-and-wife pair give the opera its subtitle--conjugal love--and fight crime with Enlightenment ideals. And I love their relationship. It's not musically and textually rhapsodic in the way that many operatic couples are; there are no "sun of the soul" "flower of my life" "dream I have always desired" effusions. But Florestan, when he is unable even to imagine earthly freedom, still remembers her, desires her, imagines the touch of her hand. And Leonore, for her part, looks back to the rhythms of their shared life as the highest possible delight.

All together now: Awwwww. And while they don't get flowery metaphors, they certainly do get ecstatic duets. Maybe it's just my German side coming out, but, with Beethoven's music, I find "O Namenlose Freude!" as moving as any poetic declaration out there. Not to mention the Act III moment where she sets him free. I always promise myself I won't get choked up... and it works about as well as when I promise myself that watching "Roman Holiday" for the millionth time. Without further ado, the duet when they are finally reunited properly.

You can buy the DVD from which the above excerpt is taken here. (Yes, the quality really is that fuzzy. I think it's still fabulous, but caveat emptor.) Or you can buy an also-exciting--and much better preserved--one, from Vienna with Kollo to Janowitz's Leonore under Bernstein, here. While Klemperer's tempi and Vickers' vocal style are both matters of taste, I personally adore the classic EMI recording. And I can never have too much Fidelio... because who doesn't want to believe in that kind of love for two hours of glorious music? The finale may be found here. And (I am deeply convinced) They Lived Happily Ever After. Which is to say, no matter how traumatized they were, no matter how corrupt 18th-century Seville was, no matter how difficult it was to breathe deeply and readjust and pick up their life again... that they would have been sure of each other. Nie wird es zu hoch gesungen!

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