February 28, 2012

Singing while hysterical


The day did not get off to a great start when I asked Peter why he still hadn’t taken Wolfgang’s paperwork to the Post Office (which is the standard way of doing it over here*) to get this year’s sticker, which he had said he would do.  —I only think of this after Peter has gone to bed, of course, and have then forgotten by morning again.  Clearly Peter has only thought of it in the morning, before I get down to the mews.  I haven’t got a copy of the insurance, he finally said to me today.  What?  Peter doesn’t drive any more, but he’s still on the form and should still have a copy of the new one.  No.

            . . . Neither do I.  Now I am a total flake with my head full of bell methods and Benjamin Britten folk song arrangements** and puppies and the rival virtues of beginning kanji books, but I’m usually pretty reliable about basic life stuff.  Like the frelling insurance policy for the frelling car.  BUT I COULDN’T FIND IT.  PAAAAAAAAAAAAAANIC.  Peter, however***, rang the insurance company, where a nice friendly woman said oh, yes, this happens all the time, we’ll put a copy in the post TODAY.  Now I get to start worrying about the frelling Royal Mail.  Yes, a first-class envelope should get here by tomorrow or at least Wednesday . . . but if it doesn’t arrive till after 5 pm on Thursday, first I will enshroud our local PO in aerosol Cool Whip†, and then I will drive to Muddlehampton practise anyway on the assumption that traffic cops will not be out in force after dark on a small back road in the wilds of Hampshire.

            Anyway.  I was not only hysterical but shrill with adrenaline by the time Peter rang the insurance company, and due to baby-sitting difficulties Nadia had asked if I could have my voice lesson early today . . . so I had to leap into the perilously-poised-on-the-brink-of-illegality Wolfgang and bolt away not having sung myself in first.

            It was going to be a DISASTER.

            It wasn’t a disaster.  How did that happen?  This breathing thing, this opening your mouth and letting the air in without making a big deal of it, this is really cool.  You just sort of breathe and everything settles down and you have all these possibilities.  Although Nadia says that for my next trick I want to learn to sound like I’m enjoying myself.  O Waly Waly wasn’t too bad but Dove Sei . . . hey, it’s an aria from an opera.  This is very threatening to the amateur coward.†† 


Did you hear that the Met is going to put on ‘Rigoletto’ this coming season? Set in the ’60’s Las Vegas. With the Rat Pack, mobsters and all that.  Yikes. Glad I watch it on the radio. 

Ewwwww.  I saw Jonathan Miller’s famous New York mafia version in some revival or other and I might have liked it better if I’d seen the original, when it was a new idea.  As it was I didn’t like it at all.  I thought it was sordid for the sake of being sordid, and I think what makes opera work—at least 19th century swirly romantic opera—is that it’s not sordid, even when some of the characters are.†††  Since Miller I swear everything has been given a New York mafia version:  Turandot.  The Magic Flute.  Eugene Onegin.‡  So now it’s Las Vegas?  Uggh.  Clearly this is one I’m going to watch on the radio too. 


I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard at an opera synopsis since I heard Anna Russell explain Seigfried’s women relations in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. 

Since I consider Anna Russell to be the apex of the musical food chain, I am deeply flattered.  

Diane in MN

That great icon of nineteenth-century French literature, Victor Hugo, is responsible for this farrago. 

Yes, Hugo is responsible for Rigoletto too—don’t know if there are any more Verdi operas to accuse him of ruining the libretto of?‡‡  The funny thing is that Peter says that he thinks the original Hugo play isn’t quite the platter of reeking lunacy that ERNANI clearly is.  Someone with good working French could look it up. 

According to the radio commentary, Verdi chose this play over some other subject and closely supervised his librettist.

WHAT?  I knew Verdi was one of my heroes it is a very good thing I never met.  And if I catch the rascal in the Elysian Fields some day we are going to have words.  GAAAAAH.  ERNANI is the sort of drooling nonsense that makes you throw popcorn at the screen and yell, HIRE ME! ‡‡‡ 
The commentary also referred to Elvira as a feisty sort of girl, at least as far as telling the king–she, too, being unsure of what exactly he was offering her–that his proposal (proposition?) was either too noble or too base for her. 

Yes.  I am probably wrong, because I don’t think Verdi or his librettist was particularly interested in making the mere girl clever, but this is one of the bits that I thought worked—and it made me want to rewrite the rest of the scene to fit.  I heard it that she was extrapolating from what he was saying—which was mushy seducer’s drivel—and turning it into something precise that she could then scorn. 

If she’d been seriously feisty, after listening to Silva and Ernani going on about the horn and the knife and the poison in the last act, she’d have grabbed the knife and stabbed Silva instead of herself, putting the frelling testosterone-poisoned boy idea of honor in its place. 

Yes, although slightly in her defense, Ernani sends her on a wild goose chase to get her off stage while he moans to de Silva about his miserable childhood (which is course terribly relevant).  When she gets back she is perhaps understandably nonplussed by the situation.  I was so busy that night frothing at the mouth about the wide and lurid range of the plot insanity that I never got around to saying that Elvira does in fact stand up for herself—and that Meade plays her as such.  She’s still a Verdi heroine, and it would certainly be possible to turn her into a wailing little victim—which Meade with, one assumes, some help from the director, signally does not do.  Hvorostovsky makes an excellent job of being a brute, but Meade is the only character you could bother having empathy with.  Despite her curious partiality for Ernani.  Although I suppose given her other choices. . . . §

I agree with you about the singing, though. And Hvorostovsky. 

No even remotely heterosexual woman with circulating blood in her veins would disagree with me about Hvorostovsky.  


I think the ROH ought to ask you to do the plot synopses in the programme leaflets for their repertoire. Although I suppose the sound of an entire audience giggling might tend to detract somewhat from the dramatic tension of what was happening on stage? 

No, no, it would widen their audience base.  It’s a great idea!  Who do I send the highly professional inquiry, with appended samples, to? 

* * *

*Yes, you can now do it on line.  We’re old, okay? 

** I sang for Oisin last Friday for the first time in . . . yonks.^  And after acknowledging, in what I don’t want to believe was a surprised way, that I’ve got louder, he REALLY ACTUALLY LITERALLY IN FACT SUGGESTED that we try some of the Britten folk songs again.  Yaaaaaay.  They’re huge fun, but hairy, because the accompaniment has nothing to do with what you’re singing and, well, if you know Britten’s music, he . . . had an interesting mind.  I also like to think that there was a certain amount of friendly self- and mutual-torture going on, since he wrote at least some of the folk song arrangements for his partner Peter Pears and himself to perform together.  Old married couples . . .  

^ I may have told you that I went in the week before with a long fulsome list of totally adequate excuses why I hadn’t brought anything to sing.  He looked at me a minute and then said, You mean you bottled out.

            Um. . . . 

*** It’s his job in this household to maintain sanity under stress. 

† Supposing you can get Cool Whip in the UK, about which there seems to be some doubt.  Personally I think Cool Whip would reach its product zenith as a nonviolent protest device, but then I am a crunchygranolahead who only eats organic chocolate.

†† I should be taking heart from the fact that it’s usually sung by countertenors who are (usually) not very loud.

^ Yes I know there are qualities other than loudness.  But on pitch and loud is all that is really necessary in a choir singer.  

††† Someone needs to blow a horn and make that duke kill himself.    

‡ I hope I’m joking.

‡‡ Yes I know Hugo didn’t write the librettos.  But I’m not in a charitable mood.  And it was his frelling translation of frelling Shakespeare that led to the libretto of Verdi’s FALSTAFF which I hate so much I’m glad I don’t understand Italian so I can listen to the music and not have a clue what’s going on. 

‡‡‡ I have this reaction to a lot of movies. 

§ Unless she gets a contract out of the king detailing the terms he’s going to set her up for life in after he gets bored with her.  This is still the choice I’m backing.



Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.