I sat down to watch a DVD of Verdi’s Otello last night and got as far as opening up the plastic case before I decided that it was too late for this kind of racket. Shakespeare plays, and operas based on Shakespeare plays, always make me think of teaching, and memories of assigning Shakespeare plays always evoke memories of student questions like “what does ‘tupping’ mean?” or “so, was he like, African, or was he like black black?”
These are not unreasonable questions by any means – although the second one required a little unpacking – but there is a time and a place for everything. (And for the record, I assigned The Tempest in a course on the Atlantic world once, and it worked like a charm. Ditto Hamlet in my favorite seminar ever, Death in Early Modern Europe. I am always mildly surprised when I assign Shakespeare and it works, because there’s a lot I don’t know about literature and literary theory, and I tend to go into it convinced that I am bound to miss something important.)
But so as to avoid rehashing either ‘Awkward Questions I Have Known’ or ‘Earwormopera’s Greatest Pedagogical Triumphs’ I decided to leave Otello alone and ended up drinking a gin and tonic (I had guests last weekend, and there was leftover gin. I am not a lush – but waste not want not, right?) and listening to Donizetti. I always get a kick out of the overture to Roberto Devereux, mostly because I know it’s quoting ‘god save the queen’ but it’s the same tune as ‘my country tis of thee’ and this is funny. Also, I love the part with the tympani at 6.15 or so. This overture has a ‘carnival of anachronism’ feel to it – as does the opera.
Also, about Rossini. After thinking about Il Barbiere yesterday I went and listened to a recording I have of six of Rossini’s overtures by the LSO/Abbado. These are great little pieces – part of me enjoys them more than I do significant portions of his operas. They’re fun in the most straightforward way, e.g. the bit from the one to Signor Bruschino where some of the string players seem to be clacking their bows against their stands, or the march-like one with the drum rolls for La Gazza Ladra. I also like L’Assedio di Corinto with that THUMP THUMP BA-THUMPTHUMPTHUMP pattern. (Re: the previous sentence – I guess they invented musical notation for a reason, didn’t they. It’s not the main/opening theme; it’s a different one that comes up e.g. at 5.05 and again at around 8.00 in this version.)