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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

The Don Draper of opera?


Hold on to your socks, we're all over the map today.


On studying Falstaff


(Adolf Schrödter: Falstaff und sein Page, 1867)


I haven't had an opportunity to sit and listen to the opera with score in hand, though it's on my agenda for this week, largely because I have to build a new supertext score, which necessitates a page-by-page approach to hearing the opera. But I have had it on in the background all week. And it's true, what everyone says -- this is an opera built on one tiny wonderful musical moment after another. Chris was right: this is my kind of opera. I'm not naturally predisposed to the big hulking standalone arias. You guys, I fell asleep during Casta Diva one night when we were doing Norma. (I know. It's embarrassing.) This kind of swift, fleeting, lively score is much more my style.


And I'm about to say a second sacrilegious thing. You know what Falstaff reminds me of? This:


I KNOW. I'm sorry. I did just compare Verdi to cartoon music. But ... it's so similar! I've been thinking about why this was my initial reaction, and it's related to something Maestro Manahan said in our cast meet & greet last week. He mentioned that Falstaff is an opera that's taking place in real time. Because of how it's composed, the action of the opera doesn't screech to a halt so that a character can soliloquize about love or death or having tuberculosis or whatever. Even Ford's aria, which is probably the longest anyone bellyaches about one subject throughout the whole show, could still feasibly be an actual conversation someone has with himself about his (perceived) rotten cheating spouse.


Also, the music underscores the humor in a really .. obvious? way. I mean, Mozart's music also highlights the comedy in his plots, but it's far less obvious to the ear -- or maybe just to MY ear. (As a complete aside, Virginia Opera's Glenn Winters has a FANTASTIC series of blog posts about just these such moments in Figaro. I wish I had noticed some of this stuff while we were doing it last year!). In Falstaff, the music is, in a way, a completely separate character, as comedic as the actual characters onstage. The music is hard at work both making you laugh and indicating that the characters are being funny.


On Sir John Falstaff


(Francis Philip Stephanoff: Falstaff and Mistress Quickly, c. 1840)


I've been thinking about the character of Falstaff, how he manages to be loathsome and charming all at once. I mean, in many ways he is truly despicable, but simultaneously, paradoxically, very difficult to dislike. And maybe it's because it's Monday morning, so Sunday night is fresh on my mind, but really, the fat knight is not unlike Don Draper! (That's Mad Men's main character, in case you're not familiar).


Okay, stay with me. I know -- Don Draper is a dreamboat and Falstaff is a plump aging knight. But come on:

• Both men have oversized appetites: Don Draper for the LADIES, John Falstaff ... also for the ladies (and also for food, and wine, and napping, and general gadding-about)

• Both men have a seemingly unwavering, rock solid belief in themselves as God's gift to the lady folk, despite the fact that each is also kind of icky

• Both manage to convince people to do their bidding, even though they are bossy and sometimes irritating and not terribly nice and, again, occasionally kind of icky

• Despite all of the above, they're still somehow (HOW?!) kind of attractive, or at least charming, or at the very least very challenging to hate.


That's my big scholarly moment of the day. I have been through Merry Wives of Windsor but have not yet had a chance to tackle the two Henry IVs. The Falstaff I've encountered on the page so far is pretty much the exact version of the character you see on stage -- which, duh, since the opera is mostly based on MWW. But I am curious about the Falstaff from Henry IV, who Boito drew from for the opera and who, by all rights, is a more interesting Falstaff than the one in MWW. Did you know that, as the story goes, Queen Elizabeth I found the Sir John of Henry IV (part 1) so compelling that it was she who requested that Shakespeare give him his own spinoff? And then gave him just a few weeks to write it, of course, because that's what you do when you're the queen.


A whirlwind introduction to MOLA

In very exciting personal news, this coming weekend, 4/26-29, the music librarians of the Oregon Symphony are hosting this year's MOLA conference. MOLA = Major Orchestra Librarians Association. In other words, the music librarian mafia is coming to town!!


For those of us in this profession, having our own association means having a built-in support group for those days when your electric eraser dies or one of your brass players tells you three days before rehearsal that her music is lost or you cannot for the life of you figure out the best way to hand-build folders for your upcoming gala concert. (Of course, NONE of these are true life experiences. Ahem.) And this weekend, a couple hundred of them are descending on our town to chat about copy machines and library storage choices and, yes, erasers.


I attended the conference in Omaha in 2010 (as a recipient of the yearly conference internship, which gave me financial assistance and an opportunity to work the conference in a very hands-on way), and I can't tell you how wonderful it was to suddenly be in a room with a hundred other people who know exactly what I do for a living and can commiserate/laugh/help. This is in many ways a lonely profession: I work alone in the library (for the most part), and in town there are only two other music librarians! Few people truly understand the ins and outs of preparing music, so to suddenly be among your own kind, so to speak, is a thrill.


I'll be doing triple duty this weekend -- attending/working the conference, proctoring the opera's horn auditions, and setting up for (and saying benedictions over) Falstaff orchestra rehearsals, the first of which is Saturday morning. On Sunday morning I, along with the symphony librarians, will lead a librarian 5K, and then I'm moderating a panel colloquially titled "OH GOD I HAVE TO PUT AN OPERA/BALLET GALA TOGETHER HELLLLLLP." This is my first time leading a conference panel and I am vaguely daunted -- oh god, public speaking! don't we become librarians so we don't have to do any public speaking?!? -- but thankfully the three other folks on the panel are decidedly awesome.


So on Monday if the blog is a little late it is probably because I have dropped dead from exhaustion. Wish me luck!!


Overheard in the studio, Eduardo Chama (our Falstaff) edition

On why you should come to the show:

"Listening to a CD -- it's like kissing a photo of your girlfriend. But coming to a performance is like kissing your girlfriend."


On how to make sure the supertext keeps up with the music:

"Just put 'Read the book'."


On his return to Portland:

"I got fat and old just for this role. I don't recommend it."



For more info about our production of Falstaff, go here!


For more info about MOLA, mosey on by here.

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