Thursday, December 25, 2014

You Who Know What Love Is

Frederica von Stade sings Cherubino's "Non so piu"; in the recording I grew up on, it was Fiorenza Cossotto
Today’s formative-album replay: Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro (highlights, Guilini/Schwarzkopf). Why did any composer, including Mozart, bother to write anything after Figaro? Could they not hear that Western musical drama had reached its peak and nothing--not a thousand Valkyries or Toscas, let alone MacHeaths or Sweeneys--would ever come close? That’s honestly the way I feel after a fresh encounter even with just this exquisite highlights reel, which was my introduction to the work’s capacious, smiling perfection (neck and neck with a quite-good student production at USC, and another a few years later at the LA Opera). Don’t get me wrong, I love all of Mozart’s operas and plenty of others; but there’s something about the confident, supple, utterly sympathetic but unobtrusive voice of the composer here that makes it all sound both as natural as talking and as heightened as, well, opera. That these lusty, flawed, foolish but refreshingly adult characters sing their love, anger, calculation and contrition makes seamless sense here, in a way I find true in very few works of even the best music-theater, because Mozart’s score is so fully invested in every moment; he does not miss a beat, dramaturgical or otherwise. To my ears (and other organs), it seems the most fully, richly dramatized music ever made.

It doesn’t hurt that Da Ponte’s impish libretto is the ideal playground for Mozart’s mature style--for a composer who feels and can express emotion so directly, even overwhelmingly, that he is drawn, seemingly inevitably, to the masks, feints, and layers that conceal and confound honest human relations, all the better to finally, movingly rip them away. The text’s overlapping plots and deceptions, which crucially include a large serving of self-deception, would be merely sex-farcical if they weren’t underlaid and driven by music of such undeniable, passionate empathy, even for the ostensible villain, the Count. The registers of voice here--the way Mozart indicates characters’ class, age, emotional state, indeed psychological essence--are breathtakingly nuanced. As I think of my favorite example, I have to confess a sort of rooting interest: I’m realizing now that what may have finally sold Figaro for me, who after all first encountered it a tender, horny age, was Cherubino, the hormone-addled teenaged messenger, for whom Mozart wrote some of his most sensitive, lovely and funny music; the way the character worshipfully bleats “donne” (women) captures a whole universe of sweet, painful ardor. That Cherubino is a pants role, played most often by young, sexy mezzo sopranos--well, there you have a recipe for a lifelong infatuation. Original Facebook post here.

No comments:

Post a Comment