Monday, February 8, 2010

Una tempesta in cielo...

To start this post off, yet another Shameful Confession: Rigoletto had until this week belonged to the category of Great Operas which I didn't really connect with. I would have had far less shame if my confession were "I strongly disliked Rigoletto..." followed up by musically and dramatically justified reasons. But I just didn't connect. It seemed disjointed: a charming Duke who alienates powerful men while remaining surrounded by toadying courtiers, a jester who is the abused underdog but seems like a horrible person, a "trusted nurse" character who can be bought off with a single gesture, a sheltered girl who takes fearlessness even from feigned love. Oh, and a man with a curse. One minute carefree choruses, the next dramatic imprecations and impending doom... I just didn't get it.

So today, after a morning's vigorous scholarly activity, I checked this recording and the score out of the university library. And I was humbled. Maybe the effort of reading the music was just what I needed to see how all the parts made a whole. Maybe I just needed to be more open to what Verdi was doing. I still think the characters are full of contradictions and paradoxes. But those paradoxes seemed much more human, this time around: dysfunctional and implausible, perhaps, but emotionally possible. (Credit should go to Cappuccilli, Cotrubas, and Domingo for this, as well as to Verdi and Piave.) And of course, what ties all these strange characters, episodes, moods together is the music: construction so close to perfect I can't tell the difference, unrelenting energy, and amazing complexity of sound. Here's a fun experiment: get out the score and read the part for the first flautist, who gets to portray horror, joy, romantic exuberance, or simply the haphazard dripping of rainwater after a storm.

Recommendations for further recordings to seek out will be gladly taken: I have a feeling this is an opera I'll need to spend years getting to know.

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