Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Reading Traviata; Opera in Fiction

Marcia Davenport was the daughter of the legendary opera singer and early recording artist Alma Gluck (1884–1938). Just two years before her mother's death at age 54, Marcia published a novel called "Of Lena Geyer" that develops the life story of a soprano with many similarities to her mother.

Early in the novel an infamous vocal coach named Pizzetti begins to improvise after an informal diner in his New York apartment. Lenzka, who with her mother had followed him to the new world from Prague:

"One evening they were talking about Traviata, with Pizzetti sitting at the piano. He began the introduction to "Ah fors' e lui che l'anima," making comments about the Violetta he had heard the week before.

She should have done it this way," he said, playing, and presently he found Lenzka standing at her elbow. Her lips were moving and her fingers clasped tight together. He looked over his shoulder and nodded his head.

'Cone on, Lenzka,' he said. He played with his left hand and beckoned her with a circling motion of his right arm. 'Come on, sing.'

She began, piano, with a smoothness that Pizzetti said made his insides melt. He thought she had probably never seen the score. She had heard it in Prague and had probably heard him talk about the right way to sing it. How she knew the words he never stopped to think. Actually she had picked them up down on the East Side where everybody walked around singing Verdi arias. In the same way, as a child, she had picked up the German words of Don Giovanni in Prague. As time went on he was to marvel more and more at her extraordinary memory.

She sang through the first part; then at the change to F major she let out "A quell'amor," in full voice, childishly unconscious of what she was doing, but standing like a statue with her head thrown back and her big chest expanded. Pizzetti said that something inside him curled like fire licking at a log. He said her voice was not so big but alive and glowing with force that almost frightened him. Its quality was earthy."

The place in the opera that is quoted is near the end of Act I [1:07] in this recording:

The "change to F major" happens at [2:16]. This is a significant moment in the opera because Violetta is quoting the tune, and key, that Alfredo sang to her in the waltz-duet earlier that evening. The same music is used in act three in G-flat major as Violetta reads the letter from Germont and moments before she dies it is heard in the orchestra, played in A major.

Davenport uses this theme as a form of vocal discovery comparing musical discovery with the discovery of love through this reference to Traviata.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...