Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Mirella Freni and one unforgettable opera evening

When I read today that Mirella Freni had died, all I could do was picture her as Susanna in "The Marriage of Figaro." I watched it when it was on TV. I was 14. I'm sure I have written about that here. I will never forget that opera as long as I live.

The production was made for TV and the singers were all good actors. I have seen parts of it here and there over the years on YouTube and such and unlike many movies that I loved in that era, this has held up.

Mirella Freni was so lovely. That last act! My dad came into the family room where I was camped in front of the TV, had been camped for hours. He loved classical music but he did not quite understand my obsession with Mozart. That was why I was watching the opera, I loved Mozart. I did not know a thing about opera but I loved Mozart.

"Isn't it over yet?" my dad asked me. It was about midnight or something.

I said, "No! There's still one more act."

He shook his head in disbelief and went up to bed.

Here is part of that last act. Beautiful Mirella Freni.

Her voice was so glorious. Her makeup and everything are so of that era. That was sort of a golden era of television, you know? The look everyone had.

That opera, that one evening, I never got over it. It made such an impression on me. You had Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the Count and -- already the future music critic, LOL -- I remember when I first heard him and I said, "Who's that?" He was just this giant and I could tell.  I have always known quality when I heard it. I was starstruck and I wrote to him and we had a little correspondence and he sent me two signed pictures of himself. What a nice man.

And I remember overhearing my dad telling my mom, "He'll never write to her." Ha, ha! Dad and I never stopped laughing about that. My father was the greatest. I wish he were still alive. I wish everyone were still alive, you know?

Looking at this production more recently I saw a funny thing I could not have known at the time. Hermann Prey was Figaro and he was always kind of second fiddle to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, I mean as far as their careers went. It was nobody's fault, not Prey's, not Fischer-Dieskau's, it was just the way the cookie crumbled. And in that opera, these two great singers, they worked that. There is one scene where Fischer-Dieskau blows smoke in Prey's face. Fischer-Dieskau was always a smoker, as I understand it. His Count smoked and he blew that smoke in Figaro's face and it is chilling to see.

I will have to find that scene and post it. I have other thoughts on that Figaro and Susanna / Count and Countess situation that I will also have to post. It has been on my mind.

But for now, Mirella Freni. That last scene, so magical. For years I never quite saw that last act the way I see it now. I was too taken up with the first act, with these characters jumping out at you, each scene more magical than the last. I loved Cherubino, who doesn't? In this production Cherubino was Maria Ewing. The singing, the staging, I was just entranced.

However then there is that last act, when Mozart comes up with all these overwhelmingly beautiful melodies and shoots them off one after another like a fireworks display. I wrote that in the paper once because that was how I felt it. It was like a fireworks finale, each creation more gorgeous than the last, and you just sit there with your mouth open, you don't know what to do.

What an opera. What singers I saw, that night when I was 14. Since I have gotten more into my Catholic faith I have been remembering not just to mourn the dead, but to pray for them. Dear God, have mercy on the soul of Mirella Freni. Welcome her into Your kingdom.

Ask her to sing Susanna!

Friday, February 7, 2020

'Porgy and Bess' gets my goat

I went to the Metropolitan Opera's simulcast of "Porgy and Bess" by accident. My friend Meghan mentioned it just that afternoon as we were sketching and we ended up going that night to see it.

These simulcasts, I have finally gotten over my bad experience years ago at "Der Rosenkavalier," and now I enjoy them.When I really like the opera they are doing, it does not take much to make me go. The theaters are not crowded and you can stretch out and watch this long opera with your shoes kicked off, reclining back in these big sleepy seats.

About "Porgy and Bess," Meghan asked me how many times I had seen it.

That stopped me in my tracks. I know all the music to "Porgy and Bess." I weep through "Bess, You Is My Woman Now." However ... I do not think I had ever seen the show.

Not even in movies!

I am very glad I saw it, long story short. It held my attention. I do have some observations but they will have to wait. For now, I hate to start with the bad news, but one thing horrified me.

No goat!

There was supposed to be a goat in "Porgy and Bess." Porgy had a goat and the goat pulled him around in a wagon.

I know this was true from the start because of our friend Al Tinney. Al unfortunately died about 10 years ago so I cannot present him as a witness. However he spoke first hand about this many times. He was some kind of prodigy teenage pianist and he had the job of helping George Gershwin prepare "Porgy and Bess" for Broadway. Al was the rehearsal pianist.

Plus he got an additional gig that afforded him an actual stage appearance. Gershwin, or whoever, gave Al the job of leading the goat onto the stage.

Ha, ha! We would laugh about that, sitting around.  Al did not go into big detail because he was not a talker. Only later did it dawn on me how pivotal his role actually was. It is a big deal at the end of the opera when Porgy gives the command: "Bring my goat!"

That was when Al would come in, leading his goat! In the original production, I mean.

The goat was iconic. I mean, look at this picture!

And the line had a special significance. It meant Porgy was now proactive, on his way, as he sings in his last song. The music author Joe Horowitz even wrote a book about it, about this director Reuben Mamoulian who put in the "Bring my goat!" line. I think it was Mamoulian's idea anyway. I have the book somewhere but I was too busy to read it when it came out.You can read about it here where Horowitz writes about it. And look! It says that Stephen Sondheim called that line "Bring my goat!" "one of the most moving moments in musical theater history."

Now, no goat!

The Porgy at the current Met production just rides around on some kind of scooter. It distressed me. I whispered, "Meghan, there's no goat."


"There's supposed to be a goat."

At the end, Porgy goes, "Bring my cart!"

NOT the same thing!

Give the guy a break.

Bring his goat!