Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What's Opera, Doc?

The joke in Seinfeld that everything you know about opera you learned from Looney Toons is both funny and accurate for a lot of us. But what's wrong with having your interest in something profound being piqued by something frivolous or mundane? A map doesn't come full size, because it sure would be hard to fold. And I've noticed that all of Rhode Island isn't really flat and light blue. We accept approximations all the time to give us the general idea.

I like me some opera. I like it as much straight up as when Elmer Fudd does it. And You Tube is good for opera.

YouTube strikes me as a sort of abandoned library. There's all sorts of great stuff in among the debris, but I fear the whole thing will get torn down for condos soon. I pick around in the dusty piles while it lasts.

I found Caruso.

Someone's restored it fairly well. You can hear the compression that comes with being recorded on machinery that greatly restricts the tonal range. But even though it doesn't have all the oomph that you would have heard in the original, you can discern it in there, like a beautiful woman draped in satin.

Opera was for everybody then. Caruso was Sinatra and Elvis and the Beatles first. I think of my own grandfather, Caruso's fellow Neapolitan, hearing these familiar notes in his Cambridge Massachusetts walk-up flat. Life is in those notes. It must have seemed like seeing Jackie Robinson rounding second base to an African-American for my grandparents to hear Caruso sing in the United States. Like a hero; a champion; a god. San Francisco shook itself to the ground with its earthquake, then burned. The paper only wondered: Is Caruso OK?

It is considered trite, a little, that aria from La Boheme; but that's just a measure of its universality and accessibility. Why, Bugs Bunny might even sing that one.

The sentiment is lovely. Que Gelida Manina -How cold your little hand is.

Rodolfo meets Mimi for the first time, and falls in love.

How cold your little hand is!
Will you let me warm it for you?
Why bother looking?
It's dark, and we won't find it.
It's our good luck though,
this night's filled with moonlight,
up here the moonlight could rest on our shoulders.
Please wait, my dear young lady,
and I will quickly tell you who stands before you, and
what I do, how I make my living.
May I?

Who am I? What am I? I am a poet.
What keeps me busy? Writing!
And what do I live on? Nothing!
In poverty I'm cheerful,
I am a prince who squanders
arias and couplets of longing.
And as for hopes and dreams of love
and castles-in-the-air, Miss-
I am a millionaire!
My fortress could be broken in,
robbed clean of the fine jewels I store-
if the thieves were eyes like yours.
And now that I have seen you,
all of my lovely dreaming,
all of the sweetest dreams I've dreamt,
quickly have slipped away.
This theft does not upset me,
because such treasures mean nothing
now that I'm rich with sweet hope!
And now that you have met me,
I ask you please,
Tell me, lady, who you are, I ask you please!

YouTube tempted me with another version: Giuseppe DiStefano.

It's newer,as Giuseppe is my father's, not my greatgrandfather's, contemporary. But the recording is at least as old as I am. I think it might be the best version of it I ever heard.

And I've heard Caruso.

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