Monday, February 13, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day: A Love Story

One of the more humiliating things I had to do during the year I had my ego forcibly beaten out of me in Switzerland was an open-air performance of Pergolesi's justifiably forgotten opera Il Maestro di Musica. The opera house had cast a true bass in the role of Colagianni, presumably because the "personaggi" page of the score does in fact indicate basso. In Pergolesi's day, however, they did not yet make the distinction between basses and baritones. Had they bothered to actually look at the music, they'd have seen the part calls for a lyric baritone.

The bass complained that he could not sing the role, but they basically told him to stop being a baby. Then of course they heard him at a late-stage rehearsal and fired him, because he couldn't sing it. They drafted me.

The music is easy and it's only about an hour long, but there is quite a bit of secco recitative, which is what us snobby types call that operatic form of dialogue accompanied by a harpsichord. There's a real art to secco recitative, and it's not the kind of thing that should be rushed. Alas, sometimes in the opera world you don't have a choice. I memorized it as fast as I could, but still took to the stage more than a little nervous about it. After all, you can fake the real singing part: no one knows the words anyway, and you're not going to forget the tune. Just make pretty noises. Just try faking secco recitative. It only works if you're fluent in Italian and can improvise in alternating, rhyming lines of seven and eleven syllables and can remember the chord progression so as to end your sentence in the correct key.

Oh, you also have to have an accompanist who can improvise along with you. As you can imagine, it's best just to avoid fucking up.

Every June, Zürich holds a citywide summer festival called Zürifäscht, and for this particular year the Opernhaus had decided to contribute Maestro. We were to perform this disaster on a rickety, hastily erected platform which looked like nothing so much as a gallows in a square on the Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most elegant shopping districts in all of Europe.

I was warmed up and ready to go, when suddenly we heard thundering disco music.

Somehow, someone overlooked that our performance coincided exactly with the time and location of Zürich's annual gay pride parade.

Now, Zürich's pride parade takes all of about twenty minutes. (New York's lasts six hours). Still, our tenor was much put out. Imagine, these homosexuals making the great Boguslaw Bidzinski delay a performance! (He also once told me a violinist friend of his couldn't be hired in Europe "because the Jews control all the orchestras." Charming guy.)

We finally got the show underway. We didn't really have an audience. Shoppers would pause for a moment, awkwardly, and then slink away. Some diners at a nearby sidewalk cafe passively sneered at us in that unique Swiss combination of bored disdain.

Things were going pretty well...until we got to a section of secco recitative and the Great Boguslaw skipped...oh, about a page. As fresh as I was to this score -- and given the difficulties of improvising -- I just blanked. I recognized his line, but for the life of me just could not recall what I was supposed to say next.

The pianist, leaning in from the weather-beaten upright that looked and sounded as if we'd purchased it at the auction when Gunsmoke went off the air, tried to prompt me. But given that we were outside on a busy street, a whisper was fairly useless. I gestured subtly, "again, please?" with my hand, but I still had no idea. Finally, since no one was really paying attention to us anyway, I looked straight at her and shouted, "WHAT?"

Oh yes, a performance for the ages. If there's a recording, it surely belongs here.

After that was over, I decided I had earned a drink. Or eight.

Since it was Pride, the bars were packed. And, of course, I ran into Thom. With him was just about the cutest boy I had ever seen.

His name was Dani, and it turned out he was Thom's best friend from childhood. Thom, ever the social butterfly, left us to go say hello to the four million other people he knew and...well, Dani and I hit it off.

[Un]fortunately, I only had about a month left on my contract (I had thrice declined renewal offers) before I returned to America. Had I met Dani earlier, I honestly might have made a different decision. What a sweetie. He was one of only a handful of people I met during that year who offered his shoulder for me to cry on. When we went out, he paid (a most un-Swiss thing to do). He came to see me in Don Carlo. At a desperate time, he restored my faith in humanity.

Dani is a teacher, and not long after I left Zürich he spent a year teaching in a missionary school in a remote coastal village in Ecuador. There he met Enrique.

I got an email from Dani today, in response to birthday greetings I sent him a short while back. He wrote, "I am as happy and as in love today as I was the day I first met him. We're getting married this summer."

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Too bad things went so badly for you in Zurich. It seems like a nice enough place, but the tourist brochure and the way it play out are often quite different...