George Bernard Shaw called Rossini ”the supreme master of clap-trap.” Rossini wrote of Wagner: “He has great moments, and dull quarter hours.” No live opera or Met opera this weekend. We took solace in the DVD. First a life of Rossini and then, in anticipation of the Met broadcast, a cheap DVD of Le Comte Ory. I needed music and alcohol to assuage the soul.
The past week has been distant travel to mines in the far north of Canada. Nine flights, I count. All on time, and all comfortable. First Air and Canadian North are to be commended, as are the airports at Edmonton, Yellowknife, Ekati, and even larger Vancouver. First Air and Canadian North still serve you food–not good, but when you have risen at 4:30 and are still flying at 8:00, a breakfast in the plane is welcome.
No long lines to get through security—the week before we took an hour in Denver to get through security. No wonder American are disgruntled and want to throw the politicians out lock, stock, and barrel. If the government cannot get you through security in less than an hour, how can they run the country? At least, in Canada, it is a breeze through those smiling ladies who ask for your boarding pass and admonish you to take coins from your pocket. I have vowed never to go to Denver again—why suffer the indignity of standing like a fool while union employees growl and scowl and pretend to work?
In a fly-in-fly-out camp, I ate too much rare steak and drank too much milk. Alcohol is not allowed and all you can do is eat and work. We worked until late every night–what else is there to do? The sun shone on new snow and it was a relief to get outside and stomp around the impoundment. But the demands of the grim message I brought, demanded attention to the details, and a polished presentation to management. What I told them was, however, not new. I found on a dusty shelf a report from fifteen years ago that said pretty much what I said. But nobody had read or recalled that report. They needed a new, expensive consultant to remind them of old plans and promises. Sad how collective memory is a myth on most mines.
Back to this evening’s opera. Shaw was obviously wrong. He had probably seen only The Barber of Seville. Not Tancredi, William Tell, Cenerentola, or those early one-act farces such as The Silken Ladder. Or maybe he had and knew of what he wrote. Rossini produced forty operas before retiring at the age of thirty-seven. Keep in mind he lived through two marriages and umpteen mistresses until the age of seventy-six. In all those years of retirement, he composed but a few religious works and a collection of songs, some portending death. Whoever said you get bored in retirement? After this last week, I am happy to try it again. Particularly as I contemplate a trip (postponed) to a small African country.
Contrary to Rossini, I like Wagner’s music, although I admit that he could have benefitted from a strict editor helping him cut some out. But what? That is my dilemma; I could not bring myself to cut one note, they all count. Much as I revel in Verdi, the fact is that for a good evening drinking brandy, the three bel canto composers, Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini are tops. Their music is the rock-and-roll of the times. The kind of thing that Rolling Stone, the magazine, extolls every second week. Yes I read that magazine from cover to cover and spend fortunes on the music they write about. I do not write about it, for they do it better than I ever could. I stick to opera writing. How I would like to read their take on a modern opera.
My DVD of Le Comte Ory is tight and fun. It is spoilt by that stupid convention of a trousers role: a contralto singing what was a castrati role. With so many good counter-tenors these days, why do this irritating thing? Better, just transpose the voice down an octave or two and give us a male playing a male’s part. Seems the Met is also giving us a trousers role–damn and shame on them for being slaves to this silly and irritating convention. How do you attract the young to opera, net alone voting, if you insist on what is almost disgusting: pseudo porn-style woman-on-woman scenes.
For those who, like me, have not previously seen the opera, I do not retell the story. It is enough to say that there is a chorus of dishevelled maidens and a randy hermit–plus enough on-stage seduction and implied off-stage sex to make the prude blush and the religious splutter. Set in the time of the Crusades, we have some politically incorrect joy at the blood of Saracens, but then who these days knows what a Saracen was?
No matter, for the opera contains the most amusing chorus of drunken men pilgrim sisters (nuns?) yet seen. This scene alone is worth going to your local cinema to watch the Met opera of this opera. Juan Diego Florez is the count–I can hardly wait to see him, dressed as a nun, singing his way to the lady’s bed—where she is ensconced with her lover, a woman dressed as a man. He climbs into bed with both; the result is an even funnier scene and trio than the drunken knight nuns.
Some have written that this opera contains Rossini’s greatest love music. They are wrong. This is opera buffa; the music is great lust music; music to drink absinth to–as I did with a bottle newly bought at the government liquor store this morning. You should be sober for the Met production; but either way, go see it. For if my cheap DVD is any guide, this is more than superb clap-trap; it is a pure diamond of opera and comedy, however mined.