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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Raw but legitimate

Opera’s for middle-aged middle-class wimps, isn’t it? Men who wear cardigans and women who only shop at Waitrose. Not always.

Anna Nicole was a 15-minute Warhol American celebrity. Single mother, briefly married to a fast food cook, no money, bumping and grinding her way round the pole-dancing circuit in Houston, flirting with “escort” work. Her adviser (his occupation is best summarised in a short word beginning with p) said her advancement depended on having a monster boob job. This she did.

Married a nonagenarian squillionaire oil-man who thought she talked purty. He died in flagrante. Her life dissolved into litigation, television stunts, drugs and death.

An everyday story of Texan folk. Suitable for opera? Well, why not? But, see, it’s got to be authentic and that means demotic parlance. No, not just the familiar, old Anglo-Saxon stuff. We’re talking the gamut of modern-day naughty words, with full descriptions of the activities and sometimes even their simulation. You mean, even…? Not only that, but also…! No! Good grief!

Well Mark Turnage who’s had work performed at the Munich Biennale and Aldeburgh and whose oeuvre includes opera, choral works, chamber music and instrumental pieces wrote the music, and Richard Thomas the words. The Royal Opera House in London (better known as Covent Garden) put it on and Mr and Mrs LdP watched it on telly.

One amusing point. A very familiar (short) word, sung at full blast by the singers, appears asterisked in the sub-titles.

But do you know? The whole thing wasn’t half bad. It wouldn’t figure in our Top Ten Operas For Beginners but it’s proof that modern music can handle modern themes. Made me feel sort of grown-up. Erotic? Far less so than, say, Carmen, for which much thanks.


  1. Visited YouTube, where I listened to Callas sing the Habanera, and (heaven help me!) Celine Dion, but I returned a few more times to listen to Anna Caterina Antonacci do Carmen(at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8w9yJdkeryI&feature=related )

    She was sultry, lusty, seductive and beguiling. Plus, she sang the pants off all the others I found.

  2. Habanera starts with a legato downwards swoop (there's probably a technical word for this but, alas, I'm ignorant) - it's not interpretation it's written into the music. It requires control and I doubt many poppers have got this. Antonacci of course could do this backwards if required.

    But there's an even more severe demand on the singer: the libretto is in French, a language that does not lend itself to sexy opera singing (pop is another matter). All opera singers are trained to sing convincingly in several different languages (German and Italian being the two most important) and in rehearsing for Carmen Antonacci will have taken French's shortcomings to heart and made necessary compensations. It's unlikely that a pop singer will bother with such preparation and thus the language will emerge as a series of uninflected sounds.

    Having said that isn't Celine Dion of French, or Canadian, extraction? (Damn you, Crow; I'm going to have to do some research). Oh crikey, Crow, I think you were a little harsh. If I've any criticism I think Dion injects rather too much sexiness. In fact I condemn you to going back and listening to Dion again. Yes she fails with the aforementioned downward swoop and she blurs the "amour" refrains (to which Antonacci gives full, clear and thrilling value) but the rest isn't half bad.

    However there's a reason. Carmen isn't one of my favourite operas and I've only just realised that Habanera has limited dynamics. Meaning that the aria doesn't go too low or too high. By picking an appropriate key to start off in, you and I could sing it (not well but hitting all the notes). It's well within Dion's range and that's why she makes a decent fist of it. And when you translate the libretto (here are the first two verses):

    Love is a rebellious bird
    that nobody can tame,
    and you call him quite in vain
    if it suits him not to come.

    Nothing helps, neither threat nor prayer.
    One man talks well, the other's mum;
    it's the other one that I prefer.
    He's silent but I like his looks.

    Love! Love! Love! Love!

    it's not a million miles away from a pop song. It isn't subtle, is it? (I think that's why I don't like the opera). Anyway, once again I've run off at the mouth, as I do with Tone Deaf, and this re-comment must now be strangled. But thanks for raising the point.

  3. Dion would work if Carmen were written drunk for that scene. I have nothing against Dion, in fact her voice has raised the hairs on the back of my neck and sent shivers all over in other settings, but I prefer the way Antonacci portrayed Carmen of the four or five people I listened to on YT.

    It is that downward slide that I find thrilling; the slide (glissando, is it?) is a thing of beauty done correctly, but sounds slurred in the wrong hands/vocal cords. I think the swoop is one of the things I like most about opera - or wherever it is used masterfully.

    Callas could have done Carmen better when she was younger - and likely did. I loved listening to her sing. Of course, the YT rendition might have been a poor quality recording, so I'll cut her some slack.

    I wonder if Leotyne Price did Carmen? Off to YT to search!

  4. Opera doesn't always work on tv but this one may have been more appropriate. I haven't seen it but have read about it with interest. I can see that it could lend itself rather well to opera. Better perhaps than Klinghoffer which I haven't seen either.

  5. The Crow: In fact that was the first time I've ever heard Dion doing anything. I noticed the recording dated back to 1985 and from the little I've learned about pop, she almost sounded MoR. But then what do I know.

    You're right about horses for courses. Callas was supposed to be renowned for the intensity of her singing (whereas her certainty with high notes was suspect) and she probably did do Carmen. In any case she pre-dates my interest in opera and, on top of that, the operass she favoured - mostly Italian and mostly grand - still don't interest me.

    Congratulations on glissando; there's also the word "glisse" but I'm not sure about the differences.

    I'm pleased as Punch (cliché; mainly Brit) by these anowals of yours to go off pursuing suddenly remembered interests. These exchanges of ours are one of the reasons for doing TD in the first place.

    Plutarch: We saw Klinghoffer on telly; very elaborately staged (on a ship as I recall) and both of us emerged delighted to have been stirred by very modern, rather extreme music. Certainly it worked. Needless to say Israel has condemned it because they say it favours the Palestinians. That wasn;t my impression at the time.

  6. RW (zS): You're not alone. Check out any of his versions of Dies Bildniss on YouTube and you'll see a shared sense of loss in the comments. My Magic Flute has him as Tamino.