Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Different people caught in the same crisis

The most beautiful thing I did in New Mexico was go to the opera. You exit the highway, drive about a mile up into the mountains (though, as I said to Eric, they might be hills; as a midwesterner, any tall landmark is a mountain to me), park your car, and eat your dinner in the parking lot by candlelight. The Santa Fe Opera is open air. When Donna Anna was grieving over her father's body at the beginning of Act I, it got so quiet you could hear the june bugs.

Here is what Peter Hall has to say about Mozart in Exposed by the Mask:

Ensembles--a trio, a quartet, a quintet, even a sextet, depend for their drama on the direct address of the audience by the characters. The text that they sing is all the same, but the individual meanings are different, because their motives and their moods are different....

Mozart is using a device which is unique to opera. If four people speak at once in a play the result is incoherence, even if they are saying the same words. Even if their speech is drilled with the utmost precision the effect is abstract and inhuman. And to be comprehensible, they have to speak in time: that is, speak in unison. With this complete uniformity, no difference of attitude will be audible. But in opera, and particularly in Mozart's operas, we can look at each one of the four characters for a split second and then move on to the next, comparing their different attitudes as they sing different phrases. Our eyes cut between them, like a shrewdly operated camera. Each voice must be audiblke, yet they all make a musical whole....The same words reveal the painful comedy of different people caught in the same crisis.

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