Friday, May 22, 2009

More opera sob stories

That was fun yesterday, exchanging opera sob stories! I am just reading the most recent comment, about "The Marriage of Figaro." Why is that comment-writer anonymous? "Figaro" fan, stand up and be counted!

But anyway. Do not get me on to "The Marriage of Figaro."

I think I could cry through that entire opera, start to finish!

Not to give the impression that I am a nut not in control of my emotions. But there is something about opera, about that combination of music, words and drama, that triggers tears in a way that other music does not. Does not usually, anyway. I can think of a few concert-hall pieces that do it, too.

In "The Marriage of Figaro" it used to be the first act that got to me the most. All these characters keep appearing, and you get the beautiful "Non so piu" and the Countess' "Porgi amor."

But now it is the last act that overwhelms me. All of them in this garden, every melody more beautiful than the last. I remember writing once that it reminds me of the finale of a fireworks display. He just sends of those melodies soaring off one after another, so you are just sitting there with your mouth open.

This "Pace, pace," so beautiful. Wow, a clip with a translation! That never happens.

Here, from the same production, is "Deh vieni non tardar."

"The Marriage of Figaro" just gets that bittersweet note just right. I have read that it inspired Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" and that makes sense. It is such a cliche about not knowing whether to laugh or cry but that is what both those dramas do to you.

Someone else yesterday mentioned the Trio from "Der Rosenkavalier." That is a weeper! For sure.

The Presentation of the Rose...

... gets to me too.

That is a beautiful poster for "Rosenkavalier" at the top of this post. I love opera posters and one day when I am rich perhaps I will collect them.

Thinking about "Figaro" and "Rosenkavalier," which I go through life doing a little too often, here is one thing I keep coming back to. I think that this bittersweet magic, a composer cannot plan on it. You cannot set out to do it. I think it just happens. I think Mozart was probably just doing what he did, cranking something out on deadline, having a little fun. Strauss probably saw it as a neat exercise, writing an opera that paid tribute to Mozart and would also, fingers crossed, make him a lot of money.

Then they created these great operas.

These operas that make us cry.


  1. This isn't about opera, but I like the passage in the memoirs of Louis Vierne (French organist/composer) who, as a boy heard Cesar Franck improvise on the organ at St. Clotilde Church in Paris. It affected him so deeply that his mother worried about him. Vierne later had Franck as a teacher and told him about this early experience. Franck asked him why he found it so beautiful. Vierne said "Because the music sang, my heart was stirred, I felt as if I were in another world. I felt good and unwell at the same time. It made me think of heaven, where such singing is heard."
    Footnote: Vierne's father got it. He told his worried mother it only meant the boy was destined to be a musician.

  2. I am anonymous! (I like that line from Seinfeld, where he donates openly to charity but "anonymous" gets all the praise, although anonymous has made it clear who he is by word of mouth!)