Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's (Still) 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.


Ron said...

For a number of Manhattanites what they know of Brooklyn comes from Looney Tunes, also!

Would songs about Canadian dollar coins count as Loonie Tunes?

Or was it Claude Levi-Strauss the guy who composed the music for the spinning space station in 2001 and designed the pants Kubrick wore when he shot that bit also?

Janet said...

Ron, I assume you would be amused to know that our two-dollar coins are referred to as Twonies. Loonies and Twonies. Looney Tunes gets free advertising in every pocketful of change.

SippicanCottage said...

Ron's about as pleasant a person as I've encountered on the Intertunnel.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I comment occasionally at American Digest--that's how I found your blog.

I thought of you when I read this:

Thought you might be of interest.


SippicanCottage said...

Gray- Thanks for reading and commenting.

That was very interesting indeed. There's a nice little clip of Caruso singing something from Aida in the left-hand column. The narrow range of the recording technology doesn't make it much less extraordinary to hear Caruso go up and get it with power. He must have been astonishing to sit in front of.

A Vault In Paris

Anonymous said...

I mean: "Of ineterest TO you."

Hahahaha! Good. (Sorry. I was tired and had a couple Sierra Nevada's in me.)

Me? I'm a Wagner guy. Big, bombastic, preposterous.... The grand daddy of Heavy Metal.


Anonymous said...


Ha! F'ed it up again.... ('Cuz I'm tired and got a couple Sierra Nevadas in me)

verification word: unctrite

I knew Unc Trite. He never did anything important....

Ron said...

Canadians build their humor into the naming of their coins, but we just cut to the chase and put our best jokes into the banking system directly.

Every time on the teevee they mention why they're spending a trillion dollars, I just fill in the punchline, "To Get To The Other Side!"

As is his wont, Sippican praises me more than I deserve. He is a true Roman, in the best sense of the word, without all the blood 'n' gore 'n' stuff...