Opera Dis&Re ‘Spect

/ Music /

I beg your pardon, I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about opera all my life: I mean to try a few and immediately start to rant. I must revise all such writing here. And it ain’t just opera.

Music has been fundamental to my life since childhood. My love for jazz gradually came to tolerate other music other than Bach: Beethoven, Mozart … Wagner. Recently I’ve noted pleasurable experiences with Puccini, and Verdi. I’m about to plunge further into Verdi deliberately, it’s about time: Verdi was shoved down my throat in around the seventh grade, I gagged. Who did I hurt? the school? No, only me, and Verdi.

Funny, browsing wikipedia the first thing I notice is the encyclopedia’s emphasis that Verdi was closely associated with Italian unification. Schools rehearse us in honoring the world as it is: we’re assigned convention before we join (or launch) any revolutions. This one sticks in my craw: why should I care whether or not Italy is unified? Was Italy unified under the Borgias? Should it have been?

I was taught that the formation of the United States was a good thing, that the preservation of the union was a good thing: let Sherman burn everything, kill everything, between DC and Savanna, free slaves but don’t compensate them … (Who’s gonna compensate me for having been forced to go to school? How can money possibly compensate serfdom? I’d rather have freedom and nothing else than all the gold I can gather. At least I think I would. One would have to be able to test the waters to have a rational opinion.) Now it’s no longer obvious to me that the US should have supported the League of Nations, that the Soviets were wrong to filibuster the UN … Now it’s no longer obvious to me that one god is better than a dozen …

Now I think we should develop a trustworthy cosmology before we have any firm opinions about any of that. Maybe the truth is that the quantity of gods is infinite. Maybe we should still prefer GodA to GodS, maybe not.

All that reminds me further of language. As a kid it was clear to me that English was the greatest possible language. I was glad I spoke English, I was glad that English was the language of NY, the US, my family … Soo much nicer than German, my great grandfather was so right to let German drop: until I realized the effort learning German was costing me, how nice it would have been to have learned it as a child when learning is near automatic. My nice atlas from decades ago has wonderful maps in the back, including language maps: what languages were spoken where, when. Algonquin was once the language of the NY area. How do I know that English is one whit better than Algonquin? or as good? I don’t.
And German seems harsh to me, Italian unintelligible … too vowel-y: but what do I know? What do any of us know?

This will develop as I listen to some Verdi, think about Romantic opera. Sorry it got off the subject quite so immediately.

Jan and I just watched Quartet! Marvelous! We meet a bunch of retired opera musicians, some of them stars, some of them directors, instrumentalists, impresarios … the taste is standard, inherited, approved. But, we meet a kid who does rap. Tom Courtney’s old tenor lectures staff on opera, one kid improvises a rap on the subject. Even the stars have to be impressed. If there’s a genius in the room, it’s that kid.

I loved Tom Courtney in the 1960s, marvelous to see him old and so gorgeous. We watched the movie to see Maggie Smith, but the whole cast was stellar. To say it’s one of her great roles doesn’t add much knowledge to the sum: we all already knew how great she can be.

Something about these old grandes-dames of English theater.

Verdi, Rigoletto

A DVD of Rigoletto arrives, unlucky timing, Jan is off in Mexico, I’ll go ahead and watch it without her. I’ve now seen Act I. My watchword was that Verdi is supposed to be stallar for the human voice. Yes, all these duets and solos seem to be singable, boy does the soprano show off. If only the story weren’t so proposterous. When Shakespeare wants to show shocking things about human social behavior he cast the story in Italy, where every good Englishman knows that people stab each other, rape each other, abuse power: kidnap, kill, claim virtues they abundantly do not have: faith, charity, etc.

I chose Rigoletto because Quartet features some four part singing from that opera. Watching the movie I had no idea what the four were singing about or why anyone gave a damn. Now I see I’m about to hear a super famous aria in a context of story: a duke of Mantua is about to sing La donna è mobile. I was in junior high when I learned that that meant “woman is fickle”. I now see that it’s sung by the duke, a whore master if there ever was one.
2014 12 07 Hold everything: I just actually watched the aria for the first time: wonderful, funny, profound: boy, have I been selling Verdi short. The layers of irony are deep.
A minute later: I’ve just heard “the quartet” for the first time: fabulous, great, I’m prostrate with apology.

back, gotta edit, scrap much: The first thing we’re told about him is that he seduces one woman after another. He is aided and abetted by the court jester Rigoletto. Immediately we learn that Rigoletto has a virgin daughter whose chastity he closely guards, with her obedient cooperation: uh, not quite: she’s encouraged a young man, the duke as it happens, for follow her from church. She doesn’t know he’s the duke, she hopes he’s a “poor student”: what rubbish. But that’s the least of a stack of absurdities: Gilda is loving to her father, obedient: why? she doens’t know his name, she doesn’t know his occupation … she cooperates in being passive chattel, until she rebels and is ready to get laid from the first guy with his hand up her dress. Rigoletto has a nurse for her, the nurse swears to keep her chaste: they’re all adults and these understandings are just getting forged into place?

Anyway, they’re all lying, and when they’re not lying, they’re being fools: they’re all openly hypocrites, assassins, kidnappers: with a calcified power hierarchy: dukes, jails, military …

It’s great music, parts are great theater: still, the implausabilities are Heculean to overlook: Rigoletto hires the assassin to murder the duke: half up front, the balance DOA. Rigoletto disguised Gilda as a man: the assassin is supposed to kill people on a regular basis, but he can’t tell that Gilda is a girl? Rigoletto sees a sack with a body, he pays the balance, then he hears the duke being fickle, then he opens the sack … does he get his money back? Can’t he turn the assassin in? even if he gets caught an executed himself? Never mind, if you’re wrapped up in the music, as I haven’t been for 76 years but am now, there’ll be no time to notice.

Is it possible for music to be good when everything is so preposterous? Yes, slightly, I’m now guessing, for Verdi’s sake.
I’m glad to be watching this just after learning that gentlemen wearing (and wielding) rapiers openly was a new fashion in the Sixteenth Century: like a college kid with a ‘Vette. We see teens liberally stabbing each other in Romeo and Juliet: yes, the Italian nouveau riches were especially bloody.

Hollywood goes over performers with a fine brush, warts and so forth are removed, boobs and butts padded … These opera singers though all have wens, warts and moles … not to mention an extra forty pounds … And we have to listen to them sing about how “beautiful” they are!

Rigoletto cures the courtiers, calls the a cursed “race”. Many would agree, but hold on a sec: at the duke’s he tells them to leave! and they do?! He’s a jester, a buffoon. He has no clout whatsoever.
He works for the duke. Without the duke he hasn’t a pot to piss in: but we see him in his own house?! He tells Gilda to saddle up a horse! his horses! He hires an assassin to kill his boss?! I don’t think so. Where does a jester get the cash? This story is politically confused, economically, socially, historically confused.
I love it, now when Jan is back we’ll watch it again!

But never mind the individuals: the real question should be: are these societies sustainable? Does hypocrisy provide a fertile population base? Italian opera performers have made a lavish living for centuries now: 1850 for Rigoletto.

When Shakespeare has Romeo and friends duel at the fall of a feather, he’s insulting the Italians, the Elizabethans would have enjoyed assuming the worst for their sources of the Renaissance. But here Verdi too seems to be insulting Italian culture! or is it bragging?

2014 12 11 An earlier post on Italian opera, my slow catch-up, heard Aida, La Boheme, and Rigoletto over several months, mentions getting some opera earworms. Man, now I’m infested with them! Trouble is, I haven’t had enough repetitions to know what it is that’s running in my mind: has to be Rigoletto; but which aria? which duet? Anyway, I can see, it’s great fun, great exercise for the voice, makes me want to sing: sing my ass off.

Stories by Age by Theme by Others

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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