Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More C.L.O.-isms

I haven't done a music post in a while, but I can't think of much to write about, so I'll let someone else do the talking: here are a few good but randomly-selected quotes from the greatest living opera critic, Conrad L. Osborne. These all come from the 1967 edition of High Fidelity's Records in Review.

On the young Verdi (in the opera Nabucco):

He had nerve -- as much, in his way, as Wagner had in his. He was obviously persuaded that his musical vision of a scene would simply sweep away the need for radionality or consistency. His idea of an effective overture at this stage of his career is a case in point: one starts with a rather awful (but direct) melodic idea, very simply -- even crudely -- set forth; one repeats it, one alternates it with one or two contrasting ideas, not bothering with any real development; then one repeats it again, faster and louder, and works up to a conclusion. For some reason, the ideas no longer seem so awful, nor their presentation so rough; through pure determination and persistence, he makes you fight on his ground, where he always wins.

On Franco Corelli as Calaf in Puccini's Turandot:

It is a prodigious piece of vocalism. Here is a role in which command of a ringing top, the ability to sustain long, arching lines, and the art of maintaining a reasonable legato while giving or withdrawing volume add up to nearly everything; and when we add the exmplary clarity of Corelli's enunciation, the generosity of his temperament, andt he sheer virility and vitality of his tone, there is really not much left to talk about. One is fortunate if in a lifetime one encounters a tenor capable of singing through the whole thing with freshness and volume, and without embarrassment at any point. When such a one is found under the same roof with a similar Turandot [Birgit Nilsson], a sort of operatic millennium has arrived. Yes, he uses the scoop [attacking a note from below instead of hitting it directly], eleven or twelve times -- or rather a sort of gulp in attacking a high note that swallows up part of its value. A number of Italian tenors use the trick, presumably to make sure the throat is open, and it can be annoying, particularly on repeated high notes, as in "Nessun Dorma." In Signor Corelli's case, there seems no reason why he could not hit the note on the button if he made up his mind to; but of course the thing is actually of supreme unimportance. Musically, he is on excellent behavior, unless one chooses to be upset over a high A natural which he holds for several pages while striking the gong, as in the house. I like it -- provided it sounds like this.

On the traditional cuts to Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor (it used to be customary to perform this opera with whole scenes chopped out and little bits of music cut here and there for no particular reason):

As in the case with so many nineteenth-century Italian operas (Trovatore is another example), there are also, traditionally, brief cuts made apparently for musical reasons, but with no basis except in pedantry of the pickiest sort -- one sees four bars out here, a line there. (I have a mental picture of an aging Kapellmeister in charge of such matters back in the Damrosch/Grau era, irascibly scratching out bars of Italian trash -- bad enough that Mme. Smbrich insists on singing the thing at all.) An instance is a two-line excision made in Enrico's first long solo in the scene with Lucia (lines two to four, p. 67 of the Schirmer vocal score), a perfectly solid bit of development with some interesting off-beat accents and a fine chance for the voice to open out on the ascent to the E natural. There is simply no reason to cut it; yet the only times I have heard the music are in the London and Victor recordings, and when one asks a conductor why it is cut, one will get "Oh, that's never done" for an answer. A poor reason.

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