That Di Quella Pira Moment In Great ExpectationsSaturday, February 05, 2011
|Love her, love her, love her!
Around 1973 my friend Jorge Urrechaga came to visit me in our home in Arboledas, Estado de Mexico, a suburb of the urban sprawl that Mexico City had already become.
Our daughters were 5 and 2 but that did not prevent Urrechaga from demonstrating in his fine tenor the finer moments of Italian opera. Urechaga adored Giuseppe di Stefano and had no time for the up-and-coming Luciano Pavaroti.
Urrechaga told me, “I want to take you to a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. A fine young Mexican tenor is going to be singing Manrico and I want you to listen to his rendering of the ultimate high C in the aria “Di quella pira”. I had no idea of what he was talking about. Eearlier in the late 60s I had attended two ferformances at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires with my then new operaphile girlfriend Susy Bornstein. It was December in Buenos Aires. This meant that it was hot and I only had one suit a black wool one I had purchased in Austin, Texas many years before. Before the curtain went up for Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel I was on fire! Susy took me to another opera (without me knowing that the two operas I ultimately saw at the Colón were not really from the standard repertoire), Gluck’s Orfeo ed Uridice.
Urrechaga was telling me stuff that was over my head. He convinced me to accompany him as he had told him we would see the opera from three vantages points. The first was inside a TV van that was transmitting the performance, the second was a press box which he said he knew was always empty and the third up in what he called the gallinero (the chicken coop) were at one time patrons would have had to stand at heights that were extremely rarified in oxygen content when you considered that Mexico City was already 2240 meters!
This time I had a light gray pin-striped suit from El Palacio de Hierro department store. The young Mexican tenor was Plácido Domingo. Mexican considered him Mexican because he had moved when young to Mexico City with his family who had a zarzuela (Spanish light opera) company. In fact his mother sang with frequency at the famous review/vaudeville theatre, Teatro Blanquita.
When the time came I heard Domingo belt out the high C not knowing until later when Urrechaga explained it to me that Verdi had never written the note in question.
Still, anybody who ever goes to performance of Il Trovatore, anticipates with some pleasure ( a perverse one perhaps) the tenor in question might choke and not make it!
When my friend Paul Leisz and I had the distinct pleasure of watching a dress rehearsal performance of the Gateway Theatre’s ( A Blackbird Theatre Company co-production with Persephone Theatre, Saskatoon) of Dickens’ Great Expectations (adapted to a play by Errol Durbach) I waited for the “Di quella pira” moment. To me every film, every concert, every symphony, every play has a “Di quella pira” moment. We all may wonder how Christopher Gaze as Richard III might approach the Shakespeare play DQP moment when he says, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
The DQP moment has to be the one I will note below in its entirety as it is extremely powerful and beautiful. I must report here that Susan Williamson’s (she plays Miss Havisham) rendering is passionate and just about perfect!
Then, Estella being gone and we two left alone, she turned to me, and said in a whisper,--
"Is she beautiful, graceful, well-grown? Do you admire her?"
"Everybody must who sees her, Miss Havisham."
She drew an arm round my neck, and drew my head close down to hers as she sat in the chair. "Love her, love her, love her! How does she use you?"
Before I could answer (if I could have answered so difficult a question at all) she repeated, "Love her, love her, love her! If she favors you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces,--and as it gets older and stronger it will tear deeper,--love her, love her, love her!"
Never had I seen such passionate eagerness as was joined to her utterance of these words. I could feel the muscles of the thin arm round my neck swell with the vehemence that possessed her.
"Hear me, Pip! I adopted her, to be loved. I bred her and educated her, to be loved. I developed her into what she is, that she might be loved. Love her!"
She said the word often enough, and there could be no doubt that she meant to say it; but if the often repeated word had been hate instead of love--despair--revenge--dire death--it could not have sounded from her lips more like a curse.
"I'll tell you," said she, in the same hurried passionate whisper, "what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter--as I did!"
When she came to that, and to a wild cry that followed that, I caught her round the waist. For she rose up in the chair, in her shroud of a dress, and struck at the air as if she would as soon have struck herself against the wall and fallen dead.