AFTER the dazzle of day is gone,
Only the dark, dark night shows to my eyes the stars;
After the clangor of organ majestic, or chorus, or perfect band,
Silent, athwart my soul, moves the symphony true. —Walt Whitman
MHS:This is one of my favorite things in the universe,* and you are one of the few people I know who can appreciate how weird and wonderful it is. There could be no truer or more loving friend than you.
AKS: No rhetoric, you know that the “bookends” are among the most precious gifts I’ve ever received. This,this, or (since winter is coming) this?
AL:Tiens, je ne connais personne de plus kewl que toi. Zibou à C et à J aussi.
JJB: One of my happiest memories is of singing this with you pounding away on an upright. Let’s make some new memories soon! Oh, and here’s something for those boot-licking, Tom-of-Finland moments (more on that to follow).
*Actually, I prefer Kozlovsky, who is even weirder! Ah, they used to SING Wagner back then…
You are a hero to us all and a wonderful friend to me. Thank you. Though none of these selections, I think, is fully worthy of you (okay, maybe the Pinza/Ponselle and our irresistible friend), here is a bouquet of a dozen roses for you.
When we sit in the sukkah, we experience our vulnerability, but we feel safe because we sense G‑d’s surrounding presence… We learn that all the external structures we build in our lives to protect ourselves from the experience of our vulnerability are unnecessary. Furthermore, they separate us from our true selves, from other people, and from G‑d…
The sukkah imparts a deep teaching more powerful than words alone could ever convey. In truth, all human beings are children of G‑d and the world is G‑d’s house. —Melinda Ribner
Sukkot begins tonight. vilaine fille wishes you and yours a joyous and healing festival.
From one of the half-dozen or so people I know who have a profound understanding of early Ottocento opera:
Even “Soffriva nel pianto” was bad
Levine did conduct three things well: the E-major chorus when the murder was discovered, the little orchestral bits in the mad scene itself, and the tenor’s final scene. Too little too late, but credit where due…
I was laughing during the mad scene, so I did not focus on the little orchestral bits; and my patience was exhausted by the final scene. Well, I won’t be revisiting this Lucia.
I always eliminated the knife when singing Lucia. I thought it was a useless and old-fashioned business, that the action could get in the way of the art, and realism interfere with the truth. —Maria Callas
A juvenile literalism informed Mary Zimmerman’s staging. A huge moon hovered over Lucia’s mad scene—you know, because she’s a lunatic. A too too solid “ghost” paraded onto the stage during “Regnava nel silenzio,” and the shade of Lucia herself inflicted the fatal blow upon the grieving Edgardo. (Explain that one to me.)
Lucia shred her wedding veil while singing of her terrestre velo;trema ogni fibra brought on an ague fit; vacilla il piè an acute case of rickets or osteoporosis; gioia che si sente e non si dice found the girl holding a finger over her lips. (As my Neapolitan grandmother used to say: Hai fatto la scoperta di Cristoforo Colombo!)
And the photographer setting up a family portrait during the sextet? Heaven knows I’m no fan of “park and bark,” but the sextet is a collective howl of rage, jealousy, anguish, and astonishment. It needs no embellishment, least of all a photographer’s flash punctuating the final chord.
Why did they let someone who hates Lucia direct the opera? Why did they let someone who hates Lucia conduct the opera? Levine’s tempos were as lumpen and gluey as the pasta they serve in Germany.
There were two brilliant touches during the mad scene: First, the absence of the traditional flute cadenza following the first part of the scene (Natalie Dessay seemed to be hearing it in her mind, like those of us in the audience who know and love Lucia); second, the way the choristers drew close to the raving Lucia, mesmerized by her erotic reveries, underscoring their (and our) voyeuristic fascination with the prima donna who enacts and gives voice to our own fantasies.
Why was this Lucia set in the Victorian era? Lucia is a dark, feral tale of rival clans, blood-hatred and blood-lust. The Wolf Crag scene doesn’t call for one poof in formal evening dress with a stick up his butt calling on another poof who is relaxing in an armchair by the cozy light of a hurricane lamp. Sconvolto sia l’ordin di natura, e pera il mondo! Furor, madness, is the order of the day, not the prissy ways of high society. There was no tension between the genteel surface and the violent substance. Arch and sophomoric like a Monty Python skit gone bad, the onstage doings repeatedly drew titters of the laughing-at-not-with variety.
Two thousand years ago, Vergil, unlike the perpetrators of this Lucia, knew that madness was intrinsic to the animal and human condition—even Orpheus, the most powerful of artists, loses Eurydice because of the madness that overcomes him without apparent cause or warning. (Poor Donizetti presumably had some inkling of this, too, as tertiary syphillis ate away at his brain.) The madness that we fear and seek to control is, in fact, the most “natural” thing of all, the source (and the undoing) of both art and love, though Vergil (like Donizetti) gives expression to this disorderly force by means of densely intricate craft. (Vergil was not the first to explore these themes, though he did so with unsurpassed acuity.)
Lucia’s insistent engagement with madness, sex, and death is part of the generalized vertigo of early Ottocento opera, to which the dull and the pea-brained remain impervious. The prima donna’s embellishments and “improvisations” are, of course, the fruit of supreme artifice, back-breaking work, and painstaking forethought. Tenor (this kind of tenor) and ground are confused, madness and divinest sense (thank you, mother Emily), the male composer’s “authority” and the female interpreter’s “license.” The flights and ornaments of early Ottocento opera give voice to the mute, the buried, the real (in a Lacanian sense).Lucia, Puritani, Sonnambula, and similar works will always elude the grasp of those resistant to these truths. Such masterpieces neither want nor need ideucce, the literal, positivistic glosses of dimwits and cowards.
I can give you the musical highlights in one sentence: Stephen Costello as Arturo sang beautifully, with gleaming, compact tone and jaw-dropping confidence. If train wrecks are your thing, read on.
Mariusz Kwiecien, who used to be a wonderful singer but now mostly bellows, barrelled his way through “Cruda, funesta smania” as if it were Mascagni, failing to articulate cleanly any of the little notes. John Relyea was a woofy Raimondo.
Marcello Giordani overcame a rough start to turn in a moving, honestly sung death scene. His voice is now too beefy for this repertoire—Gabriele Adorno, Pinkerton, and similar roles suit him best. He managed a sustained mezza voce in “Verranno a te,” but one could see and hear the excruciating effort it cost him. In any event, my Met Edgardos alone include Don Peppino, the much-underrated Frank Lopardo (on a night when he was phrasing like Tito f*cking Schipa), and the peerless Don Alfredo. Giordani, fine and conscientious artist though he may be, is not an Edgardo of comparable pith.
Giordani was also a poor match, vocally, temperamentally, and physically, for the Lucia of Natalie Dessay. Let’s get this over with: She slipped, and she kept singing! Whoop-dee-f*cking-do. In truth, she might have done herself, the audience, and poor Donizetti a favor if she had stopped singing.
“Soffriva nel pianto” was sublime—inward, heart-wrenchingly phrased, flickering and opalescent in its colors, and unforgivably slow. Overall, Dessay’s tone was bleached and anæmic, her passagework careless, and her highest notes glassy, frayed, and painful to hear.
Dessay has undergone surgery for nodules on her vocal cords. After a long and beautiful career, it would be no disgrace for her to focus on less demanding repertoire—though it would be a disgrace for her to go on singing as she did last night. Her twitchy, moto perpetuo acting often struck me as larded on, an attempt to compensate for a basic lack of vocal goods. In terms of tonal beauty, musical polish, and engagement with the text, she cannot hold a candle to the supposedly mediocre Ruth Ann Swenson—whom, I take it, we are no longer supposed to like because she’s plump. Oh, well.
The conducting merits no further comment. To think that this company once presented Lucia led by Sir Charles Mackerras, in a lovingly prepared edition.
By the way, though I was up late, pounding and twisting my pillow, I still did cardio and weights this morning—before dawn. You will not defeat me. The spirit of Maria watches over me.
Update: I made a few small edits and added one link for clarity. Thanks to all who have linked to and commented on this post. I will acknowledge you tomorrow.
Giordani as Edgardo… Can he possibly top the girly, achingly vulnerable portrayal of Giuseppe Filianoti? And will Don Peppino himself deliver on his promise, given his recent and protracted illness? (He reportedly is well now, in Hamburg rehearsing for his role début as Hoffmann in what sounds like a wild staging.)
Remember, people: In Donizetti’s time, Lucia was considered a tenor’s opera.
Listen soon: The audio file will be available for only a few days.
(Sorry about the bleeding chunk: After a day of fasting and nine hours of davening [plus Friday night’s prayers], I can’t handle basic file editing. I did pray for you all, though—that you be blessed with all good things and stay as sweet as you are.)