Thursday, April 12, 2007

How revolutions end (plus another opera)

This post on StandFirm really disturbed me. And I have to think that it disturbs many people who are on the revisionist side. How many of them, when this whole experiment with "inclusiveness" and new liturgies began, thought that they'd end up scheming to use the RICO statute to throw other Episcopalians in jail? Is this how they imagined they'd be spending their old age? But this is always the way with revolutions. They start off with bright hopes, and lots of dreamy "Wouldn't it be wonderful if only...?" reveries. And they end up with hard and haggard men and women, cursing and grinding their teeth, and shouting "Ecrasez l'infame!"

This puts me in mind of a new opera I've just discovered: Umberto Giordano's 'Andrea Chenier' (I think it's currently being performed at the Met). Some scenes are on YouTube - this one in particular I like. It's the aria "Nemico della patria?!", sung by Carlo Gerard, a former servant who is now an important figure in the French Revolution. Here he realizes how far he has fallen since his days of innocent idealism; now he signs fake accusations to send innocent men to the guillotine.

An enemy of the state?
It's an old story, but luckily the public still swallows it.
(He writes)
Born in Constantinople? A foreigner!
Studied at St-Cyr? A soldier!
Traitor! An accomplice of Dumouriez!
A poet, who subverts hearts and morals!
Once, I was happily free of hate and revenge.
I was innocent and strong,
I felt like a giant.
Yet I'm still only a servant.
I've changed masters - now I serve violent passion.
Worse yet, I kill and tremble.
And as I kill, I weep.
I was a son of the Revolution.
I was the first to hear her call.
And I shouted in unison with her.
Have I lost faith in the dream of my destiny?
My glorious mission once blazed before me.
To rekindle the people's conscience,
To dry the tears of the suffering,
To make the world a Pantheon.
To turn men into gods.
With one kiss, to bring all mankind into a loving embrace.

This isn't the most perfect rendition, musically speaking, but it's the one I enjoy watching the most. Sherrill Milnes was 61 when he performed this, and had been retired for some years; he was a brilliant baritone, but suffered from health problems in the 1980s and injured his voice. But he's got such presence, I really like him here, even if his voice is not what it was at the peak of his career.

Another segment, from the early 1960s (in black and white) still has lovely sound, with Mario del Monaco in the title role. Here he sings a love song to his homeland, which turns into an attack on the aristocracy and clergy who ignore the poor and suffering. Lots of sweeping passion and emotion; del Monaco or Corelli, I can't say which is best, I like them both. I don't know what it is about this music, but I just love it - I think it's the long, sustained deep notes in the strings, combined with the harp. Gets me every time.

This is what they call 'verismo' - sort of flowing and almost "conversational", instead of the usual structure of arias strung together with recitatif. It reminds me a little bit of the way Wagner operas are put together. But the odd thing is, I really like this opera, and I just HATE Wagner.

It's my fault - somehow I can't respond to Wagner. I try to listen to him; this fall, the CBC broadcast the entire Ring cycle, and I would turn it on and think, 'This is it. This time, I'm going to discover the secret - the wonderful thing about Wagner, and I'll love him like other people do.' And without fail, I listen for about 15 minutes, think, "Hmmm, well, THAT's a nice tune. If they'd sing a bit more of that...oh, they've gone on to something else... What's the orchestra doing now? That's not the same thing the singers are singing!...Is that SUPPOSED to sound like that? Is this all written down, or are they just making it up? Hey, look what's on the Weather Channel..." and I'd wander away and the radio would be switched off, and my Wagner experiment would come to another inglorious end.

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Blogger Nicholodeon said...

The Met performer Andrea Chenier last Saturday. My own family went through a similar experience with the Russian Revolution.

Fortunately, my godmother got out in 1919 through Crimea; and godfather stayed to fight in the White Army and got out through Turkey in the 1920s.

The Anglicans have brought their present misery upon themselves; may they sleep in the bed which they have made.

9:36 am  
Anonymous Ellie M said...

The American Revolution is the only one I can think of that didn't immediately create a regime as vile or worse than the one that preceded it. Think Iran under the Ayatollah, Cuba under Castro, the Soviet Union that replaced the Czar. I wouldn't want to live under any of them.

Re Wagner: I have a wonderful CD of his "greatest hits" that uses only the instrumental music and leaves out the vocals. "Ride of the Valkyries" without the screeching sopranos is quite stirring, and "Forest Murmurs" would be a great background to meditation. Give it a try, I think you'd enjoy it!

11:09 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

I listened to that Met performance on the radio! I'd heard several excerpts from 'Andrea Chenier', and I really liked them, but I wanted to hear the whole thing to decide if I wanted to buy a cd of the entire opera. Needless to say, I was at CD Warehouse on Monday, getting a copy!

ellie, I'll try a collection of instrumental music by Wagner. You're right, without the singing, it's a lot easier to follow. I've got a collection of assorted opera pieces, and one of them is the overture to 'Rienzi' by Wagner. I've never even heard of this opera, but the overture is quite nice to listen to.

I've read an argument that the American Revolution, despite its name, was not really a revolution - not like the French and Russian ones were. It wasn't an attempt to obliterate the past and remake man and society. There was no redrawing of the calendar, no obliteration of religion, no sense that the way people have always lived is corrupt and must be reinvented. I think it was more that Americans felt that the King and his government had become something they originally were not, and that they had to take back the freedoms that in the past had been theirs. Yes, they replaced a monarchy with a republic, but I think the Americans really wanted to protect and preserve normal life, which was becoming crushed and deformed by tyranny. They weren't trying to invent an entirely new way of life. Real revolutions are not that common

9:24 pm  

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