Monday, March 3, 2008

Applause after Iago's Credo?

Credo in unendliche Melodie

I've had one insider answer (hi, Mom!) as to why Guelfi didn't get applause for the Credo last Saturday: Bychkov is not among those conductors who believe in interrupting the flow of drama for applause.

Oi veh -- cue the chin-stroking and the musicological jargon. It's a big debate.

The Italian tradition favors applause after big numbers. The bel canto composers (including early Verdi) clearly expected it, and even the Verismists left room for it. But OTELLO represents Verdi's longest stride in a Wagnerian direction. And Wagner clearly does not favor interstitial applause -- unless it's Wagner himself doing it, as he is said to have once done at a dress rehearsal for PARSIFAL. (Then there are those moments in Wagner when you know there's not supposed to be set-piece applause -- b/c it's Wagner, you know -- but you cheat and sneak it in anyway, like right after a rousing rendition of Ortrud's curse!)

Following Iago's Credo, Verdi neither forces the conductor to stop for applause, nor forces him to move on. Much like (Mom reminds me) Mascagni after Vo lo sapete.

Now, I'm a big Wagnerian opera-as-drama type. So you're guessing my view would be: plow on, and be damned to the singers' egos and fans. Well, you'd be wrong: I say stop and give a baritone a break. He's playing a disgusting character with a lot of tough singing, and this is his only chance for applause, b/c you certainly can't wedge any in after the Brindisi or Era la notte. At least for Met purposes, I'm sufficiently wedded to the House's italianate traditions to take that position.

But Bychkov apparently thinks differently, and these days, that may just be part of the cost of getting a conductor who makes the sparks fly. Fausto Cleva always stopped for applause, and his name is circumstantially linked with innumerable great memories. But face it, do music magazines do Cleva retrospectives? Do record companies issue The Cleva Recordings, Vols. I - XX? You see what I mean. I repeat: Bychkov made the orchestra sound greater than great, and conducted the most orchestrally moving OTELLO I've ever heard. (Maybe I should go back to the Karajan for a comparison, but I know Barbirolli's performance, and he's no slouch.)

Support your local baritone
Besides, the audience has to take some responsibility too. How much do they want to applaud their baritone? I noticed they had no trouble forcing Bychslap to sit down and let them cheer for Renee after Salce/Ave Maria. As one who has (in smaller houses) personally initiated "hands" that would not otherwise have happened, I say: break in with applause for your baritone too, if you like him! Don't be such a damn Saturday-matinee, drove-up-from-Philly kind of crowd that you only clap for the soprano!

Next debate -- NOT!! -- should Iago laugh evilly at the end of the Credo? Correct answer: no. Acceptable alternative answer: yes, if he gets no applause, and if he waves a chainsaw at the conductor.

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