Kasarova / Mitridate, Rè Di Ponto, K. 87

This aria, “Già dagli occhi il velo è tolto” / “Now the veil is lifted from my eyes,” caught my attention when I first heard this CD. I had never heard anything from Mozart’s Mitridate, Rè Di Ponto before, and I did read the liner notes to see what the aria was about, but I forget what they said. (I am not feeling phenomenally helpful today. I exhausted all of this week’s ‘helpful’ allotment on undergraduates.)

At first hearing, this aria stopped me short purely in musical terms. My opera Italian (i.e. facility for Italian sung mostly by people who are not Italians) is passable at best, and I caught “son penitito” / “I am penitent” or “I have repented” but that was about all. This one of those arias where you basically do not need to have any idea what is ‘about’ to like it. The emotion is in the music itself and the singer’s tone and phrasing.

I had originally intended to wind this up with the previous paragraph, since I am in San Francisco and dead tired, but something occurs to me. I had a friendly disagreement with someone recently about Broadway shows. Other than a brief Andrew Lloyd Webber phase at the age of twelve (the fact that I am admitting this in public demonstrates, I think, my remarkably maturity and strength of character) I do not really enjoy Broadway shows. I had a roommate freshman year of college who played Rent all the damn time. I have heard Rent described as ‘the poor man’s La Bohème.’ I see where this description is coming from, but such a statement is a gross insult to poor people the world over.

I was challenged a while back to explain what I thought the difference was between Broadway and opera — it’s all musical theater, right? Well, yes and no. If I had to articulate what I think the difference is, I think it’s in the relationship between the text and the music. If you do not understand the language, a Broadway show is going to be basically incomprehensible. Or, at least, even if you get the gist, you’re going to miss quite a lot, because these types of things tend to be fairly texty: a greater portion of what is going on is in the text (and in spoken dialogue) rather than the music. Opera is a little different. If you know the basic outlines of the story, the emotional punch and the meaning are there. More of it is in the music than in the text. I am not saying that you do not need to understand the story to get the most out of an opera or that in opera the relationship between music and text doesn’t matter; neither am I saying that there is no musical communication in Broadway. What I am saying is that the emphasis is different. Broadway tends to rely less on the complexity of the music and more on the words, wheras opera tends to be tilted toward the music. (Thus, the above Mozart video is lovely even if you don’t have a clue what it’s about.)

And of course there are other differences between opera and Broadway. I am not about to start a slinging match over the details, but there are certainly differences in quality/type of voices and in technique; I think there is also a difference in the musical relationship between singers and orchestra. And of course there are genres (operetta, e.g.) that are sort of in the middle. But I think the relative emphasis on music or text is somewhere close to the core of the difference.

14 thoughts on “Kasarova / Mitridate, Rè Di Ponto, K. 87

  1. Spot on about the musical relationship between singers and orchestra/conductor. In musicals the band is frequently disjointed from the performance, being behind scenes or in another room. The days of a pit band for musicals seem to be in the past with the ever increasing complexity of staging. On the odd occasion when the band appears ON the stage there is a wonderful sense of unity and involvement. With operatic performance the orchestra, even in a low-lying pit is visible and the conductor can act as a catalyst taking everyone with her on the journey. She also goes on stage for the bows and is therefore acknowledged as an integral part of the performance whereas in some musicals you have to scour the programme to see who is the MD and the personnel in the band can change with frightening regularity.
    I can think of a couple of songs from musicals which I have loved on first hearing, without knowing anything about them and the text being difficult to decipher. The opening of “End Game” in Chess comes to mind. But then, most musicals would be in English so “homework” before seeing a performance would probably consist of reading the programme notes or a quick ‘net search.
    It’s been a pleasure to listen to the VK aria whilst writing this!

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    1. It’s good to get a conductor’s perspective – thank you!

      (I had something much more interesting to say in response, but I just slogged through a day-long job interview and the gray matter is pretty much dead for the evening . . . .perhaps it will come back to me tomorrow.)

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        1. Thanks! It is indeed in SF, and I really want the job, because in addition to being in a great area it’s also a tenure-track job . . .I am going to be on tenterhooks until they get back to me.

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  2. Great post and great comment!. Now I am rather partial to a spot of Boadway musical (though more of the Cabaret, Sweet Charity era than Rent), but I totally agree. Musicals are a narrative experience for me, and whilst the music can be fantastic, it cannot hold a candle to the transformative experience of sitting in the audience listening to an amazing conductor, orchestra, and amazing singers producing the music of Handel or Mozart. I’ve been thrilled and moved by musicals, but never as enervated or emotionally devastated as at the opera. I’ve cried on occasion at the theatre, but never wept as at the opera. I could live without musicals, I would die without Handel and Mozart.

    PS thanks eyes for luring me over to another great opera blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think some musicals can have a devastating effect when you are a participent rather than an audience member. West Side Story is such an one and, to me, it is the music as well as the storyline. But then WSS is hardly your average score.

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        1. This is true. I’ve never participated in a musical (other than being in the pit orchestra for a high school production of South Pacific) — being a performer rather than an audience member is very different in terms of relationship to the music.

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    1. I didn’t know – thank you for the link. Hearing VK sing it on the recording in the post above made me curious; will have to see if the library has the Salzburg version.

      I’m listening to the live recording on YT right now — it looks like there was quite a dust-up in the comments about mezzos singing castrati roles!

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  3. Ack, I plead guilty, your honor. Some youtubers have a knack for drawing a Smaug out of me. 😀

    Great post. I’ve gotta put the Kasarova Mozart Arien CD on the stereo again soon. I’ve been sort of stuck between her I Capuleti recordings and the RCA Tancredi of late. May is a good time for bel canto spree. 🙂 I think if I have to choose I’d go with the live Salzburg version rather than the studio recorded one just because it is more lively (Maestro Norrington keeps the tempo so brisk that there are moments where I feel compelled to root for VK-Farnace to recover in time for more lung-busting phrase. And she lands them all!!). I also love the studio one… tho more because I’m in awe at how huge her lungs must be to cope with the tempo that Maestro C Davis set. I mean… dudes, if I try to hum along as I listen I’d breathe like 5 times in a single phrase that she doesn’t break even once! Tho it has the great side effect of allowing her to showcase just how solid her lower register is… solid and amazingly agile, and all dedicated to characterization.

    But there I go rambling on again. 😛 Sorry!

    Hey, I don’t know if you watched ‘Smash’, that new TV series about the making of a Marilyn Monroe Broadway musical? My housemate is addicted to it, so I’ve been watching that on Mondays. Its season finale was last Monday with the ingenue nailing her debut… and there is a lot of rave in blogs and reviews about her final Marilyn number ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMh8aRVE5VY ). It’s quite good, tho as I was watching it I somehow kept wondering if the popular audience would prefer that over something like this ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u86F6ndmXt0 ).

    Anyhow! Good luck with the interview!! 😀

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    1. I’ve been meaning to listen to VK in I Capuleti after watching those clips from the broadcast from Germany last week. (And the full recording of Mitridate too – the library doesn’t have the version with her in it, so I may have to cough up the change and buy it)

      I haven’t seen that show – but I think you’re right about those two clips: number one is probably going to get more traction with the average pop audience viewer!

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