Get in There and Fight

Fight scene from Il Trovatore.(Photo: Flickr/ Il-Trovatore)
Fight scene from Il Trovatore.(Photo: Flickr/ Il-Trovatore)

One of the many blessings of this job is an immersion in many kinds of music.

Twenty years ago my knowledge of chamber music was limited at best. I knew the Beethoven symphonies and some of the Haydn, a few Mahler thanks to an unhinged college roommate who thought he was Mahler. Schumann, Schubert,  Bruckner, now a favorite, Shostakovich, all of this was foreign to me.

However over the years I have grown to at least admire them all and love several. No, you won’t find me in the front row of a concert of Bartok Quartets.  I’m not yet at the point where I can appreciate performances of pure music. That is, music existing only to be judged as music, with no other “agenda” or no back story.  But the primary reasons is that these types of music do not lend themselves to filth.

This is musical perfection:

This is filth:

OK it’s an opera and the film quality is lousy but you can hear what is going on. Verdi’s Il Trovatore is the ultimate feast for singers. There are four great roles. The story is impossible, even for opera so nobody cares. It’s all about taking your place in place of your colleagues to be front and center. A work like this lends itself to the “Get in There and Fight” school of performance.

I once saw Trovatore with four Italian singers who literally threw each other around. The soprano was a tiny lady who shoved, kicked and mauled the tenor or God forbid the mezzo or anyone getting in her way. Chivalry?

The tubby tenor with a glorious voice gave it right back to her. There was a race to the footlights every five minutes. Huge skirts and swords and bucklers a jangle. Fantastic singers and Giuseppe Verdi’s great music.

That’s the wonderful thing about Il Trovatore. Verdi always wins.

Oh< yeah, you sneer. It’s only opera. It’s camp and it’s ridiculous. True. Sometimes. But remember in opera we are dealing with people in often perilous situations. A placid approach, paging (Renee Fleming) does not work.

Filth is not confined to vocal music at all. What would you rather hear from a pianist or a violinist? Perfection. Gorgeous tone. A predictably marvelous performance. Or the occasional mistake, a drop of intonation, and the sense that performance can be dangerous.

The musical tightrope. That’s built-in to Verdi and Puccini and Beethoven.

I watch Richter’s performance and admire how he owns not only the piano and the score and Beethoven himself. Music is important. Music has presence and performance of music requires skill and talent and above all personality. Technique without personality can be perfection. And boring.