May 3, 2015

Two more things about the HD Cavalleria Rusticana

My last post was a potpourri of reactions to the Metropolitan Opera's final HD presentation of the season. At the risk of beating a dead mule (that's my sly reference to one of the performers in Pagliacci; WAY  sly, wasn't it?), here's a little postscript. I won't keep you long, I can tell you've got things to do.
Pietro Mascagni: no mercy for tenors

FIRST RANT
First, can I just express how much I wish Mascagni had pitched the Siciliana, Turridu's off-stage serenade to Lola, a step lower. Even a half-step. Just not in the deadly key of F minor. Pretty much every tenor who tackles this solo battles the tessitura like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain; like Atlas bearing the world on his shoulders; like Your Humble Blogger pushing a jeep out of a ditch.

For the less vocally-savvy among you, a brief review; tessitura refers to the general area of the register where the vocal line dwells. "O Lola" never goes above the A below high C; but that doesn't make it easier than an aria venturing up to the C. It's the total amount of time that the tenor must hang around the upper third of his range that is truly tiring.

I've really never heard any tenor sing the serenade without sounding like he was about to pop an aneurysm. I cannot listen to it without my own larynx rising in sympathetic tension and fatigue. The worst moment is the very ending: following big climaxes, poor Turridu has to execute repeated ascending two-note phrases from d to F and then another pair from C to F.  By this time all the tenors are dying. They're all thinking "why did I ever want to sing operas? Just kill me now." The cruelest aspect? Look at the expressive markings. Not only is the tenor about to experience projectile hemmorrhaging, but he's supposed to get softer and softer; Mascagni writes "sempre diminuendo poco a poco" (always getting softer little by little) "perdendosi" (disappearing) and "allontanandarsi" (receding).

Hey tenors - how's that working out for you? Good luck with that.

With even the best tenors, the only things receding and disappearing are their stamina and ability to phonate. And, in some cases, their hairlines, but that's getting into another area. Here's the thing; even in the most opulent and secure of performances, such as in Jussi Bjoerling's recordings, the big climactic moments don't communicate seductive romance; the extremity of the range changes "raw passion" into something more resembling desperation.

Why did the composer have to make it so extreme? Turridu's illicit romance will eventually cause his death, but geez, does he have to start dying before the action begins?

SECOND RANT
The audiences that attend these HD Met Opera deals are stepping on my last nerve. It's petty of me, but then I'm a petty, petty man. Here's the issue:

Every time I am in the audience, the movie-theater audience claps dutifully when the conductor comes out to bow; when an artist finishes an aria; at the end of scenes and acts; during curtain calls; in short, every time the actual New York audience at the Met claps.

I always feel like standing up and addressing the group: "You know they can't hear you, right?" But that discretion and tact which is among my virtues prevents me. Plus I don't want the usher to kick me out.

People, people; why clap when you're watching a performance 700 miles away from the theater (as it is in my case)? I suspect that if these same folks were at home, listening to the same performance on the radio, they would not be clapping. They would just listen.

WELL, IT'S THE SAME THING! Applause and bows are a form of two-way communication. We clap so that the artists will know we appreciated their performances. They bow to acknowledge that gesture of ours; to thank us. But breaking news: it's only two-way if the parties are in the same room!

This concludes my ranting, as well as my take on Cav/Pag at the movies.

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