Saturday, July 18, 2009

Put On The Costume

If you're familiar with opera, Vesti la Giubba from Pagliacci might seem kind of trite. Even if you know little or care nothing for opera, you might recognize it. Seinfeld and Mel Blanc have a long reach.

To be trite is death in modern pop culture. If you're wearing last week's clothes or referring to a passe celebritard's sack of a hotel room to your hipster friends, you can become as hip as a thirty-five-year-old at a house party very quickly. Trite kills.

But many things become trite for a reason. The lingua franca doesn't often become franca willy-nilly. It usually strikes a profound chord that almost anyone can hear. Vesti la giubba is like that. Trite. Profound. The image of the heartbroken clown, putting on a happy face because the show -- and he -- must go on, is almost universal at this point. The tear in the corner of the eye might be a tattoo on a gang member's face now instead of greasepaint. That's universality.

Vesti la Giubba
To act! While out of my mind,
I no longer know what I say,
or what I do!
And yet it's necessary... make an effort!
Bah! Are you not a man?
You are Pagliaccio!

Put on your costume,
powder your face.
The people pay to be here, and they want to laugh.
And if Harlequin shall steal your Columbine,
laugh, Pagliaccio, so the crowd will cheer!
Turn your distress and tears into jest,
your pain and sobbing into a funny face - Ah!

Laugh, Pagliaccio,
at your broken love!
Laugh at the grief that poisons your heart!

Let's be trite and make it into a contest. The Intertunnel is the graveyard where lists and contests among non-contestants go to die. Who sings what everyone refers to as: Pagliacci the best?

The go-to guy for non-opera types is Pavarotti. Guy can sing, but his is nothing special:

The topic and the performer at the right period on their career must mesh. Athletes don't often give their home address as a nursing home or a nursery, either. You need to be mature enough to know which package to lift, but still have the back to do it. Little-known Canadian Jon Vickers does a better job here:

Fargin' Caruso is hard to beat:

They fixed the music up, but you're basically listening to Enrico yell over a phone, and you can still make out the power in the performance. He's from Naples, so yelling and stabbing people comes naturally, anyway.

Giuseppe Di Stefano might have been really sad about a lot of things, including having Maria Callas screeching in his ear so often, including after he went home for a while. His instrument isn't all that earthshaking. He plays it, though.

If you ask me, Di Stefano puts them all in the shade. But I always say that. I'm either being trite, or correct. Or both.


Gerard said...

Trite is the new cool.

Gagdad Bob said...

Everything I know about this subject, I learned from Professor Smokey:

Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my sadness hid

SippicanCottage said...

smiling in the public eye
but in my lonely room I cry
the tears of a clown

A most excellent reference, G Bob.

It always cheers me up to see Gerard's face. Just does.

maxi said...

Oh please, for goodness sake ... never again call Jon Vickers "Little-known Canadian Jon Vickers" because he's one of the greatest tenors of the 20th Century and a household word over here in Europe. We adore him! Each and every opera buff knows him!!

Rob De Witt said...

"Trite" might be better characterized as "universal." I've only sung a little opera (although the Bass roles can be really fun,) and I'm not particularly a fan; still, there's no denying the power of archetypal images and their effect on virtually every culture. I doubt very much that the world will be listening to Mick Jagger 300 years from now.

As far as the singers go, it's gotta be Luciano Pavarotti, who's the technically cleanest and most accessible singer of Italian opera I've ever heard - as well as being the 20th century's most recognizable voice. Whatever his weaknesses as an actor, that sumbitch was a hair-raising singer.