Just returned by taxi to my apartment, and convinced yet again of Verdi’s greatness, whatever that means. Heard Deborah Voigt, Paul Plishka and etc. in Un Ballo en Maschera. I have always had a soft spot for the unbelievable contortions of operatic melodrama–a kind of game played by operatic composers and librettists, working with a small core repertoire of emotions (love, betrayal, duty, honor, etc.), and attempting to wring from this core some new twist, some extraordinary extenuation. In this case, the (at last) honorable king, renouncing his love (his best friend’s wife!), is singing farewell to her to the backdrop of an elaborate masked ball… Somehow this heart-rending duet finds a “match,” a harmony with the waltz of the frivolous crowd. This is stage one of Verdi’s “game;” the lovers are not allowed to part in private, in a separate scena; they must coexist with this unrelated event. This musical correspondence, this crush of events, has symbolic overtones (the dance of life/death, things must go on, love is merely a dance, etc.) But, meanwhile, the conspirators are huddling, preparing to strike, seen by us (the audience) but not of course by the lovers … this is done musically by adding to the waltz just one chromatic note, in a single instrument (obsessive, repetitive, not “musical,” ergo symbolic). This is Stage 2 of the game: a small touch but impossible to miss; held within, not altering the larger musical structure (thus not tipping off the lovers, who are waltzing heedless to doom) but clearly audible to the audience, just as the black cloaks of the conspirators are visible. The death, then, is nearly incidental, passes by with only the “usual” musical attention, because Verdi’s attention is directed elsewhere: to the king’s forgiveness of his own murderer.

The game so far has been about polyphony, about the tragic, bizarre superimposition of layers. In answer to these dislocations–the masqueraded crowd; the frivolity of the ball vs. the tragedy of the impending events; the loyal friend now become murdering conspirator; the dissonant note underlying the waltz; and etcetera–this forgiveness is uttered with total unanimity–assembled crowd, ill-starred principals, everyone. Univocal, concentrated; the act, the emotion, is so intense that it submerges all individual expression.

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One Comment

  1. Geff
    Posted April 25, 2005 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    What sort of asshole would take you to such a soporiphic display or dramatic lack of conviction?

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