Sunday, June 08, 2014

A Night at the Opera

...Falstaff, which I like more and more and not just because I'm well into my own falstaffian age and figure. Verdi just does astonishing things with continuity (particularly of harmony and orchestration (if you want to explore how weird and wonderful Verdi's harmonic practice is here, let me recommend Ernő Lendvai's deep and eccentric Verdi and Wagner (Bartok and the 19th Century), Volume 1, which is almost entirely about Falstaff (I don't know if there was ever a Volume 2, btw, but Volume 1 has a prominent place on my short shelf of harmony books restoring the so-called half diminished seventh to its proper role in harmonic practice, from Bach and Mozart, through Wagner and Verdi, and onward) and, as for orchestration, let me point two things out: the use of the guitar and natural horn and the use of Nanetta's soprano as a component in an essentially instrumental texture), almost nothing is ever rhythmically where you'd expect it, and the way Verdi moves by misdirection through all of the comic turns, from the sentimental to the droll and from  to farce is just dazzling.  But not easy at all to stage! The farce of the first prank on Falstaff — stuffing him in a trunk while everyone else is playing hide and seek and then dunking the trunk in the moat — needs to be staged with the antic lightness and precision of the Marx Brothers  (the female quartet in the 1st act requires a similar virtuosity) and there are some extraordinary transitions which require extreme sensitivity, most particularly after Fenton's aria, the only real aria in the opera, the last line of which is completed by Nanetta, an echo of their first appearance, but drolly does not go into either a second duet or the soprano aria that might so sentimentally and conventionally follow, for this is comedy and comedy has to move on rather than get stuck in convention.   It's a very difficult piece to play/sing, but it was conducted with exactly the right balance of precision and spontaneity, no score on the stand, by Carlo Franci, soon to be 87 years old, long the house Verdi specialist here at the Frankfurt Opera.

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