Friday, September 29, 2006

Wish I'd Said That

Brian, standing around The Standing Room, dishes the San Francisco Opera's Ballo in Maschera:
I thought the mind-numbing boringness of the production was an inspired directorial decision. It perfectly conveyed exactly how boring life must have been in 18th Century Sweden. The authenticity was chilling.

Oh my.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

This Magic Moment (one in a series)

Jacques Offenbach, Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann, m. 42

"Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour," the duet that begins the Venice act of Hoffmann, is a piece that starts out enchantingly lovely and then switches midstream to an almost terrifying level of beauty. Everyone who's heard it knows that. But listening to Kiri Te Kanawa and Frederica von Stade sing it in Berkeley the other night, I was struck — not for the first time — by the fact that you can spot the exact moment where the switch occurs.

It comes at the end of the first measure that the two women sing together. Nicklausse has the melody first, alone, and then Giulietta joins in in unison. So far, so good. But at the end of that bar they peel off into parallel thirds, and as the vocal texture splits in two there are suddenly about 600 more colors in the house.

The trick is all the more stunning for being so simple. The enchantment of women's voices in parallel thirds is well attested (cf., for instance, "Mira, o Norma"). But the delayed onset here gives the whole thing an almost pedagogical feel, as though Offenbach wanted to draw your attention to it through a before-and-after juxtaposition. "This is a melody," he says. "But this is a thirds!"

In Which We Learn a New Word

The magnificently melancholy A.E. Housman wrote it, and Lukas Foss set it to music in his (not very interesting, secondo me) Time Cycle:
When the bells justle in the tower
    The hollow night amid,
Then on my tongue the taste is sour
    Of all I ever did.

So the bells do what, now? Justling would seem to have the true onomatopoeic thing going (à la rustle) and of course bells and onomatopoeia are friends from way back. But bells bong and clang and tintinnabulate — they don't susurrate.

Turns out, weirdly enough, that "justle" is merely a variant of "jostle." Evidently the poet's attention isn't drawn by the noise of the bells at all, but by their efforts to elbow one another out of the way.

Bells. Go figure.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

From Your Mouth...

From an otherwise incomprehensible New York Times op-ed about television programming:
The majestic glacier that is network television is very gradually melting. Many young viewers, particularly males in their 20’s, have been stolen away by such lures as the Internet, iPods, the Xbox and opera.