Monday, February 6, 2012

Operatic duels, showdowns and face-offs

As even I was compelled to notice, there was a sporting event this past weekend which involved many of my neighbors (not to say much of the country) in passionate partisanship. I observed this so far as to take a break from working for the sake of compiling a list of epic operatic confrontations.

Sometimes La Forza del Destino seems to be little more than a string of confrontations, but Verdi saves the most intense for last, when the revenge-breathing baritone tracks down our unfortunate hero.  He's out for blood, and means to have it. Alvaro begs him to be resigned to the misfortune that has pursued them both, but the baritone insults him for a good five minutes, and it all ends with vows of mutual destruction, which Corelli and Bastianini manage to make exciting and menacing despite being planted motionless and not looking at each other:



Verdi's convention of mutual insults culminating in an off-stage duel appears again at the finale of Il Trovatore's first act. The director of this Covent Garden decided to make the duel with steel coincide with the vocal one. This fits the music, but makes the singers have to worry about footwork and ripostes at the same time as some rather demanding music. (Manrico has a mullet, and the smooth-voiced Di Luna seems to be in better physical shape than his gypsy rival... does anyone know if this production was trying to invert the usual audience sympathies?)




Bizet rejected the convention of the off-stage duel in favor of knife fights, and fighting dirty, right in the middle of Carmen's third act. In my opinion, this 2009 production from La Scala has little to recommend it, but Erwin Schrott and Jonas Kaufmann singing duets and fighting with knives is an asset. I do like that Escamillo is so confident that he seems to balance between being bored by Jose, and entertained by baiting him. Is it just me, or does Kaufmann's Jose seem really skeevy, somehow?



But why should men have all the fun? Here's the scene between Eboli and Elisabetta from Don Carlo, with Bumbry and Caballe. Emotionally, this duet just goes from bad to worse. I'm sure there's no really favorable time to tell the woman whose companion and attendant you are that you've lied to her husband about her and, er, also slept with him. In the middle of the night, in his bedroom, just seems exceptionally bad.



When you're alone in a strange place, on the verge of a dangerous elopement, a strange woman interrupting your prayer with "I curse you!" is not exactly reassuring. The follow-up question, "Who are you?" being answered with "I am a shadow who pursues you, and my name is Revenge! I love the man you love!" has to be downright unnerving. Grace Bumbry and Fiorenza Cossotto have the kind of conversation you'd expect to follow from that opener:



What about bel canto, or the baroque? Perhaps due to my inferior knowledge of these branches of the operatic repertoire, no epic battles spring to mind. I comfort myself with the thought that this may be largely a question of form in the case of the baroque, where everyone certainly spends a lot of time in bravura arias singing about how they are so angry and are totally going to kill that terrible tyrant, or their fearsome rival, or the tyrant who's also a rival. Romeo and Tebaldo almost duel in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Surely there must be more? Tell me what I've missed, Gentle Readers, and share your own favorites.

Edited to add, as per suggestion, queenly ferocity from Donizetti, with mutual menaces from Devia and Antonacci as Mary and Elizabeth:


And Mozart's no less determined women, in this witty confrontation from Nozze di Figaro:

26 comments:

  1. I have only seen the finale of that La Scala Carmen (I think it's the same one) with the rapey Don José but if it's the same, yes that is the skeeviest Don José I've seen.

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  2. The confrontation scene from Maria Stuarda!

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    1. Great idea, Holly (and Stray!); thanks.

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  3. It's a ballet, but if you want actual sports, you need The Golden Age by Shostakovich! Or Debussy's Jeux, though it doesn't really have confrontation it's definitely a post-game thing.

    What about Marcellina and Susanna?

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    1. Exciting-sounding ideas; I will track them down. I can't believe I forgot Marcellina and Susanna!!

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    2. I don't think there has ever been a rendition to top this one:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQVUuZFEYBI&list=FLq5EJx3YhG_C8LqBmFbJjJw&index=8&feature=plpp_video

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    3. Hilarious! Thanks for sharing it!

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    4. OMG I needed that silliness so badly, you have no idea.

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  4. I second the confrontation between Marcellina and Susanna. It wins for pure sass. And the Commendatore Scene-I think that one wins.

    That Jose DOES seem really skeezy, and more than a little mentally off. From what I've seen, the people in that production seem really good at bouncing off the floor like rubber. But rapey? I missed that. o_O

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  5. Here you go: http://youtu.be/Gt0jUXJk2dU

    As my friend said, "I don't know whether that is hot or disturbing." And I said, "I find it disturbingly hot."

    The baggy pleather trousers are a shame, though.

    PS please delete any duplicate comments, for some reason it's not taking my comment --ivisbohlen

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  6. Holy son of a-! That is disturbing. Kaufmann must have been really, really proud of himself for being able to pull off that level of scary.

    That said, while it makes perfect sense for the director to have them do that, I have to wonder how the singers felt. I mean, I'm not sure that I would have felt comfortable if that had been me in either of the roles. I wonder if there are any interviews about this Carmen?

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    1. At the time there was a bit of a sensation, as I recall, because Rachvelishvili was quite young and comparatively inexperienced. I imagine Opera Chic would be a good place to start looking for background and news roundup.

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  7. Inspired post, Lucy (and the inspiration very timely). Skeevy sent me running for the Urban Dictionary, btw. Boy, I didn't think he was skeevy. Disheveled, rattled, maybe. Time to change the bedroll maybe. I have yet to see a really manly charismatic Don Jose who can even compete on the same stage as the mezzo singing Carmen. Would have LOVED to have seen Kaufmann.

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    1. There's a good video recording of Kaufmann opposite Anna-Catarina Antonacci

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    2. Having seen the DVD John mentions, and having had the good fortune of hearing Kaufmann as my first live Don Jose, I don't think he's invariably skeevy (sorry for the slang) in the role... just strongly so in that production. (In the Met production, charismatic yes, dangerous and edgy also yes.)

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  8. have you seen MET Ernani Thursday????
    btw. i will see JK tomorrow, i hope in Faust :))

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  9. "does anyone know if this production was trying to invert the usual audience sympathies?"

    it does :)) why else employ Dmitri Hvorostovsky :)))??

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    1. Well in addition to his other talents and attributes, Hvorostovsky seems to do a rather nice line in Verdi baritone roles. ;) I'll be seeing Ernani this week.

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  10. I watched some of the rugby on the weekend. Was there something else on?

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    1. Apparently Americans have a sport where teams of men charge each other to get possession of a ball, but while wearing helmets...?

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    2. I was at the York/Lancaster game in Brooklyn. Lancaster won in sudden death overtime, but it was a forgone conclusion really.

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  11. No one mentioned the poker scene from Fanciulla. That's a delightful showdown of a kind.

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    1. That's a great one! Another glaring omission on my part.

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  12. bass fight!

    http://youtu.be/IOTm_ec42z4

    x factor

    http://youtu.be/YBFoiYkRIfM

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    1. More brilliant choices! I may have to do a "sequel" post at some point. (Could not guess "X Factor," but chuckled when I clicked through.)

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