Maybe you are asking why I am talking about music again when this blog’s first name is “Murder?” Well, murders happen in opera quite often. Off the top of my head, for instance, you might categorize Tosca as Noir. In that story, a powerful man offers to spare the life of a painter if Rome’s most popular stage performer will trade her lover’s life for sex. She agrees, but she demands that the villain stop her lover’s execution in advance. When she thinks her lover is safe, instead of submitting to Scarpia, she stabs the SOB. Even after his death, his henchman kill her lover. She commits suicide. NOIR, in capital letters. But in the middle of it all, there is powerfully gorgeous music. Like this:
Tosca’s internal monologue says, “I lived for art…. I gave my jewels to charity...I never harmed a living soul… Why, God, did you repay me like this.” Great story telling. That’s a big reason to love the opera.
And at the same time, nothing beats it for spectacle. Here is the opening of Act II of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Aida. I have seen this live at least eight times. I would run, if you told me I could see it again right now. Multiply what you see on your computer screen by a thousand, and imagine enjoying it with 4000 other breathless people. The very definition of spectacular.
Some of you know what a dyed-in-the-wool romantic I am. And what a sucker for the long ago and far away. How could I not treasure a story that begins with a couple falling in love at first sight in a garret in Paris at the end of the 19th Century. What living, breathing woman would not be a goner if a guy introduced himself like this:
There are Youtube versions “Che Gelida Manina” that show this aria in staged performance. But they have subtitles with stilted translations. Let me tell you what is happening and what Rudolfo is saying—
Not really accidently, her candle went out and she dropped her key. As they groped for it in the dark, not really by chance, his hand touched hers. “What a cold little hand,” he said. “Let me warm it up. We’re never going to find that key in the dark. But luckily, it’s a moonlit night, and we’re up here near the moon.” She started to move away. He wanted her to stay. “Wait,” he said, “let me say a couple of words about who I am and what I do, how I live.” With a gesture, he invited her to sit down. “Would you?” he said softly. She did. “Who am I?” he began. “I’m a poet. What do I do? I write. How do I live? I am alive! I’m rich in rhymes and love songs. When it comes to visions and castles in the air, I’m a millionaire. But your beautiful, thieving eyes just dissolved my dreams. I’m not angry that you robbed me. You’ve given me something better to hope for. Now, tell me about you. Whatever you’d like to say.”
That thud you just heard was my heart hitting the floor for the 2749th time.
Opera is not just romantic, it’s sexy. Many years ago, my friend Stan Molner described it perfectly. He and I were in the kitchen of the country house making tortellini al carne from scratch. It took all day. We listened to music to keep ourselves going. When he heard me sigh listening to Pavarotti sing the following aria, he laughed and said, “This music goes right up your skirt, doesn’t it?” Yup.
This man is singing about heaven and earth, and golden dreams. Those words at the end are “Come. Come to the kiss of life, and of love. I am waiting for you. Come, woman. Come to the kiss of love. Yes, of love.” I am ready for the ice bucket challenge now.
If you are not convinced, if you still think opera is foreign territory for you, that you have no connection to it, I dare you to listen to this and not start singing along. Keep listening. At minute 2:07, you WILL start singing. Maybe not out loud, but you will.
I rest my case.
Annamaria - Monday