Friday, October 28, 2011

Viva VEnerRDI! Gilda vs Violetta

For your weekly injection of opera (that is, for those of you who don't take daily injections) I'll take a break from my beloved Traviata, to take about my second favorite Verdi opera, Rigoletto.

Since an opera can only be as great as its heroine*, let's start by comparing Gilda and Violetta. I'd wager most of you would agree with me that La Traviata's Violetta is one of opera's all-time greatest heroines. She is mature and worldly-wise. On the surface she's as cold as ice, but inside she is a volcano of passion. A woman who, when confronted with love for the first time in her life, tries to fight against it, but eventually gives in, only to discover a depth she never knew she had. A woman who recognizes the tragedy and hopelessness of her life and sacrifices her own happiness for the man she loves.

Gilda is the antithesis of Violetta, and maybe that's why I have a hard time warming to her. She too loves passionately (and very, very blindly). She too makes the ultimate sacrifice, but out of sheer stupidity. At least, that's how it's always seemed to me.

Sweet, naive, silly Gilda. Now, I don't want to be too hard on her, I mean her father has basically kept her under lock and key her entire young life. To say she has been sheltered would be an understatement of vast proportions. (Quite a different background than our independent courtesan, Violetta.) It is all too understandable that she would find a way to sneak out of the house and fall in love with the first young man she clapped eyes on.
Like all young girls, she becomes obsessed with the name of the object of her childish obsession, and even sings a lovely song to it. Problem is, it's not actually his name. In fact, this young charmer is not at all who he's pretending to be (a poor, romantic student) but in reality a cruel, selfish, promiscuous duke. Next week I will get to the heart of the opera (the incomparable 3rd act quartet, when it gets really good and Gilda makes some very bad decisions), but for now, let's listen to Gilda's charming and graceful ode to a name, even if it is a made-up name.

I searched for ages for the best video of this aria, and many beautiful, elegant sopranos sing it very well. But no one with the flawlessness and effortlessness of Edita Gruberova. So try to ignore her excessive age (Gilda should be a teenager, not in her forties) and her sometimes annoying facial expressions, for one of the definitive performances of 'Caro nome'.

*gross oversimplification
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