Monday, 15 June 2009

Puccini and Jussi Björling and being inside music

When I was in my teens I used to listen to Italian opera all the time. I hadn't forgotten just how good Puccini was at what he did, or how good the singers are, but I had forgotten details of this. It's a set of duets, with the great Jussi Björling singing Puccini, Verdi, and Bizet. (I got an iPod for my birthday and I'm listening to all sorts of things I haven't listened to for ages).

Listening to one of these duets - from the first act of Tosca - I've just been admiring how good Jussi Bjoerling was.

The character he's playing is an artist, currently painting a fresco* on the wall of a church. He is interrupted, first by a political fugitive, to whom he is sympathetic, and then by his girlfriend, Tosca. He can't tell her the fugitive is hiding there, because that would be a very bad idea, so he has to lie about the rustling sound she's just heard, but he also has to convince her (perfectly truthfully) that he loves her and the rustling sound wasn't another woman, and specifically not the other woman who actually appears in his work-in-progress. His conversation with her is the duet.

It's not only brilliant singing, producing these wonderful tunes. He makes a clear difference in his voice when the character is lying, when he's telling the truth, and when he's telling the truth and he's totally in love with this woman but he really really wishes she would go away, and he can't make her do that. The combination of all these things is different for every line, and I think it's a wonderful piece of vocal acting.

I think the opportunity to be inside tango music, by dancing it, has hugely improved my appreciation of this sort of music too. It's a closely related style, so it's not surprising. I should listen to some more and see what I find. It's certainly true that because I used to sing very simple Renaissance church music in a choir, Spem in Alium is a lot more to me than just an amazing wall of sound. It doesn't matter that I can't sing Spem in Alium.

I always had the strong impression - based on his operas alone, as I never went into the facts of his life - that Puccini actually liked women as people, which led me to like him more in return. I did read somewhere that women generally liked him too.

* It has to be a fresco because you don't paint an oil painting in the place it's going to go.


Cie said...

your 'being inside music' made me think right away of this! And then you mentioned Tallis...

msHedgehog said...

I love the idea of that thing with the speakers, I've never experienced it but would love to.

(Clicking the link, I'm wondering what Tate Liverpool think "secular" means. I suppose if you thought there was any evidence it had actually been composed for Elizabeth I's fortieth birthday, and you didn't know what any of the words meant, you could think Spem was a secular piece. But even then, it doesn't seem likely, and it seems even less likely that Tate Liverpool actually think any such thing.)

Game Cat said...

When we dance to a good live orchestra, one can feel the bandoneons pulsing through the floor up your feet, and through the air into your head and torso. You can't help but let it in and fill you up. You're not so much "inside the music" as the music is inside you, warming you like a good red wine.

The next time you hear that music played by a DJ and remember the moment, it doesn't ever feel the same again.

msHedgehog said...

@gamecat, Oooo that's lovely!
I love dancing to live music. It's magic.