Wagner, Das Rheingold (1854), Scene iv: Weiche, Wotan, weiche! Flieh des Ringes Fluch!
Oralia Dominguez, Erda
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Wotan
Berlin Philharmonic • Herbert von Karajan (1968)
Wagner, Das Rheingold (1854), Scene iv: Weiche, Wotan, weiche! Flieh des Ringes Fluch!
|—||Vasari, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550), The Life of Paolo Uccello|
Gluck, Orpheus und Eurydike [Orphée et Eurydice] (1774), Act II: No. 32 - Aria & Chorus “Diese Auen sind seligem Frieden” [Cet asile aimable et tranquille]
Maria Stader, Eurydike
RIAS-Kammerchor • Berliner Motettenchor • Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin • Ferenc Fricsay (1956)
Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld, Corot
Yes, I think so. Rigoletto’s particularly bleak for me, back and forth between extremes of menace and despair. Whenever the audience laughed, that night (either at the set design, or the antics and gesturing on stage, or even the music), I kept getting the feeling that a lot more was lost in it than gained by it. If you want to laugh at that Sparafucile line, OK, but by laughing at it you’re going to pass over something essential: he kills for money, it’s the way he makes his living, it’s his profession. One can see him taking out Gilda or the Duke in a very businesslike way, without pleasure or any sort of flourish or superfluous gesture. No rage or hatred, at most impatience or annoyance. Or that’s how I see him. There are more people like Sparafucile in the world than there are “mere thiefs” or “bandits” or “brutes” who kill haphazardly without orders, and just take what they find where they happen to find it. I think of financiers, politicians, soldiers, lawyers, who’ll justify their crimes not by appealing to some higher moral law, which they will not, perhaps cannot understand — but to the laws of their professions, of their natures, of their will, all of which are at least things they can touch and use, adapt to their circumstances, to forge a way through. Or maybe I’m wrong — in any case it’s an easy way to snap the tension and just for a moment disentangle yourself from the tragedy, your personal implication in it.
I got to see it because a friend’s friend was delayed in his flight back from California, and didn’t know what to do with the tickets. Pure luck, in this case. It’s not one of the first operas I’d choose to see, and the seats were well out of my price-range. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Rosenkavalier, if you wouldn’t mind sharing. I would have loved to go to that and Die Frau ohne Schatten. Thinking about Falstaff in January, or Così fan tutte & Arabella next spring.
My seat was in the orchestra, right side, S15, beneath one of the chandeliers, those mirror-clusters that rise with the music, and then sink as it ends. Higher up, above the proscenium arch, there’s the Mary Callery sculpture, a tangled heap of steel and rusted iron: there’s an anchor in it, a bent and twisted rail, scrap metal from a car-crash interwound together until one begins to see something, the scaffolding of tragedy, the rubble after a demolition, a crest for an untitled family. Every time the house lights go on, and the folks move down the aisles toward the bathroom, I’ll look up at that eagle-nest, or that rusted ship’s prow bubbling up out of the sea (that horrible nightmare image I used to have, after I read, as a child, Ballard’s account of his discovery of the Titanic, which seemed to me then and in a way still means not a titanic shipwreck, not an enormous tomb — but a giant down there, sleeping peacefully in the dark and the cold and quiet, the trauma ended or finished, and memory ebbed away in dreams, his all now ancient and ruined).
And that image of the ship’s prow never left me, all through the drama. There’re places in Verdi’s opera which are like nothing else in music: “Pari siamo!”, the noblemen’s mockery (“Povero Rigoletto”), and the jester’s hair-raising answer (“Cortigiani, vil razza dannata!”), the Quartet, the storm-music (“Egli è Delitto, Punizion son io,” and esp. from Maddalena’s “Somiglia un Apollo quel giovine…” down to Gilda’s knocking at the door), and so on. But how about that melody in “Sì! Vendetta, tremenda vendetta!” Or the Duke’s set-piece at the beginning of Act II? The Duke’s love for Gilda somehow coarsens him and makes him even more disgusting, and the malicious, sparkling glee in that vengeance aria is one of the reasons Rigoletto’s one of the most unlikable characters in opera. And since Gilda’s sacrifice repulses me too (she assures her father, while begging his forgiveness for her betrayal, that a love as great as hers for the Duke will win her entry into heaven), there’s no one left.
What surprised me on Wednesday night was where the audience laughed: after the Duke’s first exit (he chased the Countess Ceprano off the stage, while slapping her rear-end a few times); at the end of the second act, when three dancers did a little pantomime in that short interlude between the noblemen’s exit and Rigoletto’s unmasking and self-cursing, when he finds out he’s been fooled, abandoned, his daughter abducted, etc.; and Sparafucile’s line in the third act, “Uccider quel gobbo!…Un ladro son forse? Son forse un bandito?” — “Kill the hunchback!…Am I a thief perhaps? Am I perhaps a bandit?” Sparafucile’s fully aware of the wry humor and cynicism of that line, as he makes clear a couple lines later. He’s also stating a truth, plainly: he’s not a lawless man, and he lives by rules and standards, and however bloody, gritty, and messy his life, he will keep and work within the lines he’s chalked. This is business, he’d say, not murder, theft, dispossession, surveillance, rape, and so on — and he’d be right, if one can say, with Rigoletto, that “We are equals: I have my tongue, he has his dagger; I am the one who laughs, and he the one who kills.”
Some carps: 1) Monterone’s first entrance, with his retinue, into the casino/ducal palace. He and all his men, dressed in Saudi garb (thobes, gutras, igals, sandals), stormed onto the stage and threw the cards around, upset slot machines and tables, etc. Called “sheiks” on the supertitles, and something worse by Rigoletto. 2) Didn’t like the set design in the second scene of the first act, when Sparafucile and Rigoletto meet after the Monterone incident. S. is at the bar, and swivels around to face R. And there he sits for the entire scene. As for Stefan Kocan, in his purple suit with rose boutonnière, I’ve tried to forget him. 3) The car in the third act (Gilda’s tossed in the trunk).
Loved: 1) Sonya Yoncheva as Gilda. Timid in Caro nome, but gained power in the second act duet with Hvorostovsky, who was just incredible. I’d heard him in Eugene Onegin, but this is the first I’ve seen him in action. A huge dramatic presence, and full of conviction for the role — something any Rigoletto needs, even if they don’t fully understand the person they’re playing. I had tears in my eyes in Cortigiani, and in the duet — and Hvorostovsky had everything to do with it, because I despise the character. Yoncheva, a warm, light coloratura, almost soubrettish, is perfect for Gilda, though not for Verdi. 2) The neon lights in the third act, which moved in time with the “tempest” chromatic lightning in the woodwinds. I jumped out of my seat, and the hair rose on my arms. 3) Gilda curled up on a couch in the Vegas pad, end of the 2nd Act, and her father’s arms encircling her — what ambiguities here.
Strange how what stays in the mind, along with the music, is the perfume of the woman who sat ahead or to the side of me — that lingers in my nostrils (and as I remember the music, the scent seems to intensify, a sharp, citric smell, a remembrance (of the music? of what?)). Also strange how they blend together, the music and that scent, which surrounded me all evening, as I looked up at the scrap metal sculpture, and as the rich folks flittered from the aisles to their seats like ghosts in that ominous C minor beginning, or so many bats into the darkness of the theater. And then, one by one, as the titles lit up, that dance music started again. That playful, nostalgic, mocking dance music that can only be Verdi.
Nanni di Banco, Assumption of the Virgin (1414-21), Porta della Mandorla, Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
Vasari, who misattributes the bas-relief to Jacopo della Quercia: “Over the door of [the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore] leading towards the Nunziata…he represented in a mandorla the Virgin who is being carried towards Heaven by a choir of angels, who are playing and singing with the most beautiful movements and in the most beautiful poses, so that it looked as if there were motion and boldness in their flight, something that had never been seen up to that time. Similarly, the Virgin is clothed with so much grace and modesty that She could not be depicted any better, since the folds of the draperies are beautiful and soft, and it looks as if the borders of Her garments, which conform to the body of the figure, disclose even as they cover every turn of the limbs. Under this Madonna there is a Saint Thomas receiving her girdle…The results were so excellent that even today this work is regarded by modern artists as something most rare. On the other side of the Virgin, facing Saint Thomas, [he] carved a bear climbing up [an oak] tree. Just as many things were said at that time about this whimsical creation, so we could add some others, but I will remain silent in order to leave everyone free to think or believe whatever he pleases about this invention.”
The fleeting track made by the vanished foot
In the soft grass, the echo that hollowly rolls,
The shadow that grows blacker,
The whiteness a ship leaves in its wake—
So too the soul, no greater or better, quits souls;
What’s passed leaves what’s passing. Memory forgets.
Once dead, we keep on dying.
Lydia, we exist for ourselves.
Pessoa (as Ricardo Reis), 19 November 1927
|—||Javier Marías, Your Face Tomorrow, Vol. II (2004), trans. Margaret Jull Costa|
The drama which they were to give that year was not new; they had chosen La Griselda, an opera of Apostolo Zeno and Pariati, who worked in conjunction before the departure of Zeno for Vienna, in the emperor’s service, and the composer who was to set it to music was the Abbé Vivaldi, called il prete rosso (the red priest), on account of his hair. He was much better known by this nickname than by his real name.
This ecclesiastic, who was an excellent performer on the violin and an indifferent composer, had trained and instructed in singing Miss Girò, a young singer, born at Venice, but the daughter of a French hairdresser. She was not pretty, but graceful; her shape was elegant, her eyes and hair were beautiful, and her mouth charming; she had very little voice, but a great deal of action. She was to represent the character of Griselda.
M. Grimani sent me to the musicians to make the necessary changes in the opera, both for the sake of shortening it, and changing the position and character of the airs to suit the actors and the composer. I called therefore on the Abbé Vivaldi, and announced myself as having come from his excellency Grimani. I found him surrounded with music, and with the breviary in his hand. He rose, and made the sign of the cross, put his breviary aside, and then, after the usual compliments, ‘What motive, sir,’ said he, ‘procures me the pleasure of seeing you?’ ‘His excellency Grimani has employed me to make such changes as you may deem necessary to the opera of next fair: I therefore wish to be informed, sir, what are your intentions.’ ‘So, so, you are employed to make the changes in the opera of Griselda; M. Lalli is not now then attached to the theater of M. Grimani?’ ‘M. Lalli, who is very old, will always enjoy the profits, the epistles dedicatory, and the sale of books, which I do not care for,—I shall have the pleasure of being employed in an exercise highly amusing for me, and I shall have the honor of commencing under the orders of M. Vivaldi. (The abbé resumed his breviary, made a second sign of the cross, and returned no answer.) ‘Sir,’ said I, ‘I should be sorry to withdraw you from your religious occupation; I will wait upon you another time.’ ‘I know very well, my dear sir, that you have talents for poetry. I have seen your Belisarius, which gave me a great deal of pleasure; but this is a very different affair; it is possible to make a tragedy and an epic poem if you will, and yet not be able to write a single musical quatrain.’ ‘Be so good as to allow me to look at your drama.’ ‘O yes, with all my heart; where is Griselda gone to? She was here — Deus in adjutorium meum intende — Domine — Domine — Domine — she was here this very instant — Domine ad adjuvandum — Ah, here she is. See, sir, this scene between Gualtiero and Griselda is very interesting and touching. The author has tacked a pathetic air to it, but [Anna Girò] is not fond of languishing songs; she wishes something expressive and full of agitation, an expression of the passions by different means, by words interrupted, for example, by sighs, with action and motion; I don’t know whether you understand me?’ ‘Yes, sir, I understand you perfectly well; besides, I have had the honor of hearing Miss Girò, and I know that her voice is not very powerful.’ ‘What, sir, do you mean to insult my scholar? She is good at everything, she can sing anything.’ ‘Yes, sir, you are right; give me the book, and allow me to proceed.’ ‘No, sir, I cannot part with it, I am in want of it, and I am pressed for time.’ ‘Very well, if you are pressed lend it to me a moment, and I will instantly satisfy you.’ ‘Instantly?’ ‘Yes, sir, instantly.’
The abbé laughed at my attempt, and gave me the drama, and paper and ink, resumed his breviary, and walked about, reciting his psalms and hymns. I read over the scene with which I was already acquainted; I recapitulated all that the musician desired, and, in less than a quarter of an hour I wrote down an air of eight verses, divided into two parts. I then called my ecclesiastic, and showed him my work. Vivaldi read it, his countenance brightened up, he read it again, threw down his prayer-book, and called Miss Girò. When she entered, he exclaimed ‘Ah, here is a wonderful man, here is an excellent poet: read this air; this gentleman composed it here without stirring from the spot in less than a quarter of an hour.’ Then turning toward me, he said, ‘I beg your pardon, sir’; and he embraced me, and protested he would never have any other poet than myself. He confided the drama to me, with orders to make some other changes; in all of which he was satisfied with me, and the opera succeeded admirably. I was now initiated in the opera, in comedy, and in the interludes, which were the forerunners of the Italian comic operas.
from Carlo Goldoni’s Memoirs (1787)
Vivaldi, Griselda (1735), Act I, Scene v: “Vede orgogliosa l’onda”
Simone Kermes, Ottone
Ensemble Matheus • Jean-Christophe Spinosi (2006)
Vede orgogliosa l’onda
conosce il mar infido
e pur l’amata sponda
saggio nocchier ardito
spera di ribaciar.
Così quest’alma amante
ad onta del rigore
non teme e non paventa
alfin più bella sorte
spera di ritrovar.
The bold yet prudent helmsman
sees the proud billow,
he recognizes the treacherous sea
but he still hopes to kiss once more
the beloved shore.
Just so, this loving heart,
however harshly it is treated,
does not fear or tremble:
constant in its love,
it hopes in the end
for a happier fate.
|—||Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Foreigner at Home” (1882)|
Nowhere do we more readily receive an idea of the cultural level of a city and its prevailing tastes than in its reading libraries. Listen to what I encountered there, and I need say no more about the intellectual level of Würzburg.
“We would like to have a couple of good things to read.”
“The collection is at your disposal.”
“Something of Wieland?”
“I rather doubt it.”
“Or Schiller, or Goethe?”
“They would be hard to find.”
“What! Are all their books loaned out? Are the people here such readers?”
“Who are the most avid readers here?”
“Lawyers, merchants, married ladies.”
“And the unmarried ones?”
“They may not borrow books.”
“And the students?”
“We have been instructed not to give them any.”
“Well, then, please tell us, if so little reading is done here, where in the world are the works of Wieland or Goethe or Schiller?”
“By your leave, such things are never read here.”
“You mean, you do not have them here in your library?”
“They are not allowed.”
“What sort of books are all these on the shelves, then?”
“Chivalric romances. Nothing but chivalric romances. On the right, chivalric romances with ghosts; on the left, chivalric romances without ghosts, as you prefer.”
“Ah! I see.”
As for ordinary pleasures, one seeks them in vain. Here one thinks only of the future joys of Heaven, completely disregarding the earthly present. One miserable French garden … is their idea of a diversion. But there too everything is as serious and quiet as a cemetery. Never does one see that expression in the eye that promises an interesting answer to an interesting question. Here too the bells toll incessantly, reminding one of the Catholic religion as the clanking of a prisoner’s chains remind him of his captivity. In the midst of a friendly conversation, suddenly there is a ringing of bells, and every knee bends, every head bows, every pair of hands is folded; and whoever remains standing is a heretic.
Kleist to Wilhelmine von Zenge (Würzburg, 14 September 1800)