Saturday, January 30, 2010

Il suo nome è...

When pressed to name my favorite singers, I usually (after a deep sigh) begin a list so long that it threatens to become meaningless for my hapless listener. I do slightly better when asked to name my favorite interpreters of specific operatic roles. Calaf, for instance. He's not an easy character vocally or psychologically (as Mr. Domingo once said, "He's a little bit crazy, that boy!") But Puccini tenors have a way of making me go weak at the knees, and this crazy prince is no exception, from "Padre, mio padre!" to "Hai vinto tu!" I like to think that he's won over, not by a "horrible fascination," as Liu says, but by the fear in the princess's eyes, and the conviction that she can and must be a warm, interesting human being... and that he's the one to drag her down from her tragic heaven. And so, the mesmerizing melodies spin out, in longing, in anger, in hope, in love. I would love to hear Fabio Armiliato's Calaf, but there's no recording yet. In the meantime... who IS Calaf?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Grandi, enormi, ed imponenti

A 1987 New York Times article heralding the opening of the Zeffirelli production of Turandot, after a rather awed description of its marvels, concluded that friend and foe alike could not fail to gasp. By 2002 a different critic for the paper was calling it "a veritable symbol of operatic excess." Well, perhaps. Acrobats and parade dragons and dancers with parasols and silk scarves (not to mention gilded pagodas, tiered staircases, and rotating platforms over symmetrical pools) are not all necessary to an effective production of Turandot. But I think the formalized excess with which the ice princess hedges herself round (and about which Ping, Pang, and Pong complain so unforgettably in Act II!) forms a rather nice contrast to the passion of her nameless suitor who has nothing left to lose--except, of course, his life.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Je ne sais si je veille

I listened to several recordings of Massenet's "Werther" this past week, preparing myself for the Great Telecast Event. Then I reread Die Leiden des Jungen Werther, driven by terrible feelings of guilt. If Massenet had been inspired by Goethe's masterpiece to write an opera so darkly, intimately beautiful, surely I should give said masterpiece another try (my horrible, shameful confession is that I did not like Werther when I read it in school.) I don't know what was wrong with me the first time. Perhaps I failed to pick up on the self-awareness and gentle self-mockery with which Werther evaluates his own impressionable, impulsive nature. Perhaps I was too immaturely looking for "the main story" of Werther and his passion for Lotte, rather than absorbing all of Werther's experiences. In any case, this time, like thousands before me, I was drawn in, pulled along, and overwhelmed.

Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore

Poor Tosca's cri de coeur has perhaps suffered from being so very beautiful. It's become--perhaps it has always been--a showpiece. We're accustomed to hearing it as a proof of technical facility and artistic accomplishment. And I admit, I know I've sat back in a university recital hall thinking, "Fine, show me," instead of honorably doing my best to think of the devout, passionate woman caught in an impossible situation in 1804 Rome. Tosca has garnered praise and blame for its melodramatic tendencies, and I'm not denying that a soprano being asked for sexual favors (ahem) by a corrupt baritone police chief in order to save her tenor lover from execution has, to put it mildly, rather an air of the contrived about it. But who can remain unmoved when Tosca sings what has sometimes been called her credo: her almost childlike enumeration of her good deeds, her unquestioning giving of herself in love, in charity, in song, ending with the heartbroken, unanswerable "why?"

Thursday, January 21, 2010

L'anima ho milionaria!

It's true that I have the very great fortune to live in a metropolis which boasts one of the world's great opera houses. For an opera-obsessed little girl in a big city, there may be no better place of refuge than the Met, with its sleek opulence, its friendly staff, and reliably glorious music (not to mention tickets for $20 and under at any non-gala performance.) However, when one is obsessed with opera, there are always more worlds to conquer. Right now, all over the world, opera is happening. While I cheerfully embrace the lofty-goals, low-income existence of a graduate student, there are times when I wish I could fly to Milan for Rigoletto, or budget a week at Bayreuth.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dich grüsste mein Herz mit heiligem Grau'n

If opera tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it art form, surely it has no more polarizing practitioner than that prickly, erratic, quite possibly insane man, Richard Wagner. A musical critic and priest once delivered a lecture series on Wagner tellingly subtitled "The Terrible Man and his Truthful Art." (Available for purchase here.) The man himself was famously inspired by Nietzsche, and the movements of anarchism and nihilism. In turn, Wagner's music inspired Ludwig II of Bavaria to build what is arguably Europe's most recognizable castle (complete with Wagnerian murals and an awesome grotto). It inspired George Eliot, and Marcel Proust, not to mention countless writers of movie and TV music. And yes, it also was embraced by the man whom the inimitable Charlie Chaplin is spoofing here, accompanied by the Lohengrin overture.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chi son? Chi son?

My name is Lucia, but no one calls me Mimi. I can't answer the question of how I came to be interested in -- obsessed with -- opera except very vaguely, or through reciting a string of small anecdotes so long as to create tedium for the listener. I only know that I retain surprisingly sharp memories of the tidbits of opera which I was fortuitously exposed to in my youth, via public television broadasts or creaky VHS tapes. I had an upbringing steeped in classical music, with opera being a strange exception, represented only by a handful of LPs. Maybe it was partly the frisson of the forbidden which roused my curiosity. Maybe it was simply the beauty of the music which accompanied the public radio scheduling alerts during the French program I listened to on Saturday mornings though high school.

Si Puo?

Almost any introduction seems overly grandiose for a blog intended to fulfill a very personal desire: sharing what I love about opera, and what I'm learning about it. Why not keep an opera journal instead? Because I believe that you, ladies and gentlemen, signore e signori, sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, mesdames et messieurs, fellow opera-lovers or skeptical opera-avoiders, have a lot to give me. This might mean taking a second to confirm across cyberspace that you, too, get choked up every single time you hear "O hehrstes Wunder!" It might mean correcting me in egregious error (please do!), or exulting in some semi-obscure tidbit, telling me you think I'm dead wrong (or right), or sharing something--a name, a recording, a resource--that I haven't found yet. Whatever it may turn out to be, I am excited by the possibilities. Andiam!


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