There are pleasures that are not guilty. Running, for example. Sleep. Being able to say ‘I told you so’ but not saying it, especially if the other person knows you’re thinking it.
Musically, there are pleasures that are not guilty: I do not feel I have to be embarrassed if I’ve listened to, say, the Amadeus Quartet playing Haydn’s Op. 76 string quartets over and over.
I am only mildly embarrassed about basically wearing additional grooves into this. (Seriously. It’s infectious. Try it.)
But some things I am less eager to admit listening to. At least, not without prefacing the admission with an indication that I know it’s silly, and that I am listening to it in part for precisely that reason.
Item. Donizetti, Roberto Devereux. I get a kick out of this because first of all, the overture has a little riff on ‘God save the queen’ but as all red-blooded Americans know, that tune is REALLY ‘my country tis of thee,’ and thus is wildly incongruous. I think it is perhaps the only opera overture ever to have evoked in me a mental image of Abe Lincoln. Anyway. The recording I have of this I bought because of Beverly Sills, who at her prime had technique like a machine gun. I mean this in a good way. You might not like the way her voice sounded, especially by the 1970s (she didn’t record much early in her career, which is our loss), but the precision and drama and color with which she sang is nothing short of amazing.
Item. “Son vergin vezzosa” from Bellini’s I Puritani. I don’t think I am Bellini’s intended audience for this. I mean, I am an early modernist. I have spent periods of several months living and breathing early Stuart puritanism. And when I heard this, and particularly this aria, I just about busted a gut laughing. Because these are Puritans, and there is this sort of echt bel canto oompa-oompa quality to the score, and the character’s name is Elvira (that name was sort of a thing between about 1775 and 1830, wasn’t it. God knows why.) and it has this idiotic everyone-bobbing-their-heads-to-the-rhythm quality to it. All the same, it is utterly charming.
Item. This recording of Rossini’s Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra. The inanity that is this opera is rescued by Jennifer Larmore, who has the neatest voice. It has this sort of extra layer to the sound. The opera is of the “Everyone said Mary Stuart was so pretty, so she must have been done wrong by Elizabeth” genre of Tudor-themed bel canto opera (YES THIS IS A THING) and Elisabetta gets all the fun bits. (Also, true fact: this is the source of the overture for The Barber of Seville. I mean, it’s the same overture. He basically turned it in twice. I had a student who pulled this kind of caper once with a research paper. Want to hear about that?)
Anyway, I suppose I get a kick out of bel canto Tudors, which is fine, but it’ s not something I normally advertise. There is no real reason for this. I mean, there are probably people out there who listen to nothing but Steve Reich, four minute increments of silence and/or twelve tone serialism (or perhaps even old 33 rpm recordings of twelve-tone serialist pieces played simultaneously by two record players that are slightly out of synch, with the result that the ‘performance’ is distinct each time) and no doubt these people find Mozart bougie and unserious.
This is why some people think classical music is full of snobs.
(Just in case anyone failed to notice, that previous paragraph before the little short one contained a joke that referenced Steve Reich, Arnold Schoenberg AND John Cage. I think I’ve earned my keep for this week, no?)