This third opera in the series from the New York Metropolitan Opera that I watched yesterday was of a 2015 livestream. It was a little different from the other two. For one thing, it had more set pieces where a performer sang a solo uninterrupted, allowing them to really show their virtuoso skills. The female lead playing Leonora had plenty of occasions to sing what I typically think of as occurring in opera where a soprano holds apocryphally glass-shattering high notes for a long time with a kind of rapid up and down tremolo effect (I am sure there is an operatic term for it.)
The physics involved in the art of vocal destruction seem straightforward enough. But although stories of powerful singers shattering wine goblets, vases and eyeglasses abound, real instances of this feat are suspiciously missing from the historical record. The famous tenor Enrico Caruso was said to have had the ability, but after he died his wife denied these rumors. What gives?
Then in 2005 the Discovery Channel television show MythBusters tackled the question, recruiting rock singer and vocal coach Jamie Vendera to hit some crystal ware with his best shot. He tried 12 wine glasses before stumbling on the lucky one that splintered at the blast of his mighty pipes. For the first time, proof that an unassisted voice can indeed shatter glass was captured on video.
Vendera’s glass-breaking wail registered at 105 decibels—almost as loud as a jackhammer. Not many people can muster the lung power for that kind of noise. Opera singers train for years to build up the strength to produce sustained notes at volumes above 100 decibels.
When watching films or reading books, I am usually picky about the plot, wanting them to be coherent and plausible. With opera, I have had to throw that expectation out the window. It seems like the story is just a device, however flimsy, to string the music together, not that there is anything wrong with that. In this particular opera, the story was particularly wacky, confusing, and implausible but I was thrown for a loop by a really unexpected twist at the very end, something that M. Night Shyamalan would have been proud of. I did not see it coming.
At the end of this opera at the curtain call, flowers were thrown on the stage, something that I had earlier commented on did not happen in the other two. A bouquet was thrown at the female lead who played Leonora but I was surprised when the second male lead who played Count di Luna had a whole lot of loose flowers thrown on the stage for him, while the principal male lead who played Manrico got loud applause but no flowers. I later learned that the singer who played di Luna had just returned from brain surgery and that the audience was showing its apprication that he had recovered enough to perform so well. He collected the flowers from the stage and graciously gave them to the two female leads.
As far as I could tell from their accents when interviewed after the performance, none of the main performers were Italian so I began to wonder whether they had to learn the language in order to sing or they just memorized the words phonetically.
The next opera that I will watch today is another one by Verdi, the 2018 production of La Traviata. For us low brow types who do not even speak Italian, having two operas with such similar names by the same composer is guaranteed to cause us confusion when trying to remember them later. I learned that ‘trovatore’ means ‘troubadour’ (though troubadouring (if there is such a word) plays a highly marginal role in the opera) while ‘traviata’ means ‘fallen woman’. These translations might help me keep things straight later.
After three straight tragedies, I am in the mood for a happy ending today but tonight’s title referring to a fallen woman does not give me much hope of getting one. But for laughs I can always watch A Night At the Opera with the Marx brothers because a big scene involved them creating havoc during a performance of Il Trovatore.
You can never get enough of the Marx brothers.