Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
Our neophyte opera critics, Elizabeth and Shawn, seek technical enlightenment at the Met.
As someone who is conducting a production of Il Trovatore in Italy right now, I can tell you this: in the score the percussionists are already fully engaged in the pit (timpani, triangle and bass drum), so the anvils are usually hit by a music staff member in the wings. in my experience the task is upon the youngest repetiteur of the company (possibly with earplugs).
Given the general high level of musicianship of Opera Houses Choruses nowadays, one may see the hitting done on stage by particularly musical members, but you must remember that at the times of Verdi the opera choruses were mostly made of non trained singers who could hardly read music, let alone be trusted with tempo-keeping hitting of instruments while singing.
Last but not least, depending of the size of the anvils, the noise is so overwhelming that no fellow singer or orchestral player would tolerate it in the pit or onstage (although with a huge stage like the Met’s this may not be too much of an issue).
All of which reminds me that the best version and guidelines for any production of “Il Trovatore” can be found in “A Night at the Opera” by the Marx Brothers.
The anvils, of course, are hit by official members of the Anvil Smiters Union. Anyone else – and it’s out-brothers-out, I can tell you!
The 2005-2006 season began with a gala performance of Act 1 of the Marriage of Figaro, Act 2 of Tosca (yes, only act 2 – no one sung act 3) and Act 3 of Samson et Dalila.
The Met Database tells you everything – no need even for Google.
THE CAST SHEETS FOR THE RECENT ROH RHEINGOLD NAMED ALL FOURTEEN ANVIL
NEVER SEEN THAT BEFORE, NOT AT ANY OPERA HOUSE.
Two thumbs up to the Marx Brothers comment . I was watching it ( in Chennai, South India ) just last night before going to bed for……. the umpteenth time. And, as always, Groucho’s ” There’s a brace of woodpeckers in the orchestra” and the segue from the Overture to Take me out to the ballgame segment had me in splits .
If you enjoyed the “Trovatore” versión by the firm Marx, Marx and Marx, you might surely enjoy the two greatest interpretations of anything ever composed: Florence Foster Jenkins’ rendition (no other term is more adequate) of the 2nd aria of the Queen of the Night (in this case, Nightmare is the right term) from Mozart’s Magic Flute; and Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant” overture in an execution (also the proper term) by Spike Jones and his Grand Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra.
Trovatore really is an evening of schlock. Some ‘nice’ tunes but, honestly, what a ridiculous story. Can’t even remember who played the anvils in our production which, funnily, ‘boasted’ the same tenor, so cannot lay claim to have hosted the four greatest singers in the world.
Author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator.
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