Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Say goodnight, Graziela

A-sung over at Wellsung meditates on the debased state of love in Rigoletto as embodied in the character of the Duke:
On a related note, isn't it funny that La Donna e Mobile, maybe the cruelest number in the show, has become its jaunty calling card?
...and touches directly on something that's been bugging me in opernregie lo these...lo these however many minutes I've been at work, trying to come up with things to think about that don't involve work itself. I don't think I agree entirely about the nihilistic take on love described over yonder, linkwise, though I find the idea compelling, but I'm going to use it as an excuse, nay, a jumping off point for my own sermonette.

Was it not Adorno who dreamt up the idiotic notion that Wagner was the first composer to write music that reflected two conflicting emotional states simultaneously? Fine, maybe it wasn't, but some guy in college told me it was. Anyway I think perhaps audiences, as imagined by directors anyway, have all become pre-Wagnerian in our abilities to hold it in our heads that any character might have a complicated inner life.

The Duke must be a monster, as must the Count in Figaro. Susanna, while I'm on Figaro, must be 100% faithful in deed and spirit or our ideas about monogamy might develop little cracks in them. Doesn't it strike anyone else as more interesting to have these people change their minds once in a while? I have long kvetched that the reason so many productions of Figaro could be piped into hospitals for use as a sedative is encapsulated in the way the duet "Crudel, perche fin'ora" is played. Seriously, I'm getting back to Rigoletto in a flash. As my friend Emily used to say, "There is a point. I am famous for getting to the point."

"Crudel," as we see it done, is a comic little number, wouldn't seem out of place in the Catskills in 1950. The Count is a vile lech and Susanna a clever little minx who keeps slipping out of his clutches because she's true blue to her big boy. As she gets all mixed up and says no, she won't meet him in the garden and, yes, she's gonna fool him, the audience titters, and tittering is not a natural action; it's something we learned from sitcoms. But, say, just for kicks, why do you suppose she gets mixed up? Read the scene as prose and it is not confusing, least of all for a whippersnapper like Susanna.

C: So you'll come to the garden [for kinky outdoor sex]?
S: If that's what you want, I'm there.
C: And you're not yanking my chain, right?
S: Nope. I'm not yanking your chain.
C: You'll be there?
S: Yep.
C: You're not foolin'?
S: Nope.
C: So you'll be there?
S: Um...Nope! Tee hee hee oops I mean yeah!!! Math is hard!!!

Once upon a time, listening to the wonderfully subtle recording Matthias Goerne and Dorothea Roschmann made of this scene, I dared to dream of a production in which the Count, who is probably getting plenty of ass anyway, gets so hot and bothered about Susanna because in fact he loves her. I'm not saying he loves her well or purely, but there's something real going on there. And Susanna gets flustered not because she's suddenly Totally Hair Barbie, but because she loves him a little, too. We don't always love who we should, y'know? [cf. A Life of Maury D'Annato: Volumes 4-17]

And so to Rigoletto, and the Duke. So much fucked up royalty, so often. The Duke is a beast but he needn't be that and nothing more. It's a harder sell, because long about the quartet, he's pretty much up in Maddalena's bidness, but it sure makes his duet with Gilda more exciting, and if you ask me, no musico-fictional figment could emit the musical line of "Addio, addio! Speranza ed anima!" with nothing but a good blowjob in mind. (I hokked the same chainik about Cosi some postings back: Il Core vi Dono is either a little bit serious or it's crap.) By the same token, I think Gilda is a little less, well, Sutherlandy if she's not carved out of soap. You could imagine, if you tried, that Trebs' Gilda wanted to get her rocks off once she figured out that papi and Giovanna weren't the only possible people she could be hanging out with, right? Embodiments of Platonic Love don't have such good makeup.

So I'm not saying every Rigoletto henceforth should sing La Donna with a quizzical look of self doubt or anything. I'm just thinking if the character is well drawn elsewhere, it won't be an anthem of awfulness, but rather might have a shading of sad irony to it that is in line with our conflicted inability to deny that it's irresistably, in the words of A-sung, jaunty.


Anonymous said...

Hi Maury,
I know we're all supposed to think that Mozart and da Ponte secretly laced their comedies with all kinds of insights into the dark side of human passions and such. But I don't get your point about the humor/seriousness mix in "Crudel, perchè fin'ora"... You distort and telescope the titter-evoking exchange though I feel certain that you must be aware of how it goes. Not least, there would certainly be no "Ummm" in the prose version; the point is that Susanna is responding automatically, without really listening to what the Count's questions, so her mixing up "Sì" for "No" is because she is *not* pausing to think of her response. I've never seen this exchange played as ditsiness; she's distracted is all. And the Count is horny. I don't see or hear any evidence for Susanna really being in love with the Count on any level. These are characters behaving with fairly clear-cut dramaturgical motivation. Is Susanna planning to participate in a ruse to reveal him as a philanderer *and* have sex with him in the garden? Do you mean that she's feels a conflict about entrapping him? That she's not siding with the Countess and all womankind? I don't see it... 'splain me!

Maury D'annato said...

Howdy Anonymous,
Well, there's no "Math is hard!" in the Italian either. It was fairly clear I was taking gigantic liberties for the hell of it, no? In fact, the point is even clearer if it's translated literally.

C: So you'll come to the garden?
S: If you like, I'll come.
C: And you won't decieve me?
S: No, I won't decieve you.
C: You'll come?
S: Yes.
C: You won't decieve me?
S: No.
C: So you'll come?
S: No.
C: No?!
S: Yes!

Alright. I'll concede. It could be slapstick, and there's no reason to think it's not. Except that it's only very mildly funny, and I think we laugh, if we do, faute de mieu. There are singers like Popp who make it sweetly endearing, but...what I'm really trying to do is talk my way out of being tired of Figaro, I guess. If you love it as it is, by all means, go. Enjoy it. Laugh. For me, it looks more like dramaturgical habit than dramaturgical motivation, and they feel less like stock characters if they don't always feel the most understandable thing.
And no. I don't think she's gonna do him in the garden, but I think it's less of a Perils of Pauline routine if she's not repulsed by him. If the story is truly about coercive sex, it's not much of a comedy.
So that's where I'm coming from, but if you still think I'm on crack, I'll understand.

Canadian Basso said...

Reminds me of a production of Giovanni I did, where the director's Great Vision was the fact that throughout the show, the Don is the only character who doesn't lie. The whole show was about him as an honest womanizer - a guy who frankly admits to his lust. Every other character becomes twisted with anger and frustration at this guy who refuses to lie the way they all do.

For my part, it made for an aggressive opening duel, including an accidental suicide to kill the Commendatore... and the finale becomes a test of character for the Don.

I'm not sure that that's the best way to play the show, but it's at least interesting. It's one of the great things about the Don, is just how flexible his character is (think of London versus Siepi). It was at least a worthwhile experiment to have him as a hero.

All Mozart has that flexibility written into it, but we are often trained not to think of it.