The Welsh Dragon, Real Madrid, Placido Domingo and opera

It has been a sad week in many ways, losing a friend, seeing our beautiful coastline spoiled with oil after a totally unnecessary event etc. but I often find that when I am in need of a little reflection and comfort, I turn to music.

And rugby. The mighty Welsh dragon takes on the cheese munchers tonight and it will be Wales, Wales, Wales all the way! They are young and fearless and talented and coached by a Kiwi and rugby is their religion too. What is not to love? And what a final it would be, Wales against New Zealand! Would I have divided loyalties? Er, no. Sorry, dragon, love you to bits but when the final is on, the red is parked at the door. Only black allowed.

I am reminded of the post concert speeches after the Domingo/Jenkins concert in Christchurch. John Key told Warbling Barbie that we would support Wales right up until they made the final. Placido chimed in with he was sorry Real Madrid didn’t play rugby, for they are his team. 20 years ago he slapped his hand against his heart whenever he spoke of them. And I suddenly thought, imagine all the Real Madrid superstars turning up for training to be told, “today we are going to run with the ball. Forget your kicking skills, today we play rugby.”  What a sight that would be to see. I suspect they would still beat some of the minnows at the World Cup, or maybe not, maybe I am doing Georgia, Namibia and Russia a disservice.

 Actually I may have been the only person reading the report of the party speeches who knew that Placido has seen a game of rugby, well, half a game. When he was here in 1992 he met a group of airline stewards from Areolias Argentina in the lift at the hotel. They were here to play a team of Air New Zealand stewards at Baylin Park in Titirangi. Of course, they got talking and they enthusiastically invited him to watch. He announced that he was going to a rugby match that afternoon, pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and said “Baylin Park” and something that sounded not at all like Titirangi. People offered to go, but no, he took himself (with a car and driver I hastily add) and had a very enjoyable 40 minutes watching rugby. Later that night he rewrote the rules using table condiments and professed himself fascinated by the scrum.  The follow-up was that he had invited them to the rehearsal for the concert but hadn’t told anyone and as the rehearsal was getting underway a very confused security guard came to the promoters and told them there was a determined group of Spanish-speaking rugby players at the gate who had a personal invitation from Maestro Domingo. He heard this and rushed over to the gate, arms outstretched, and welcomed each one of them like a long-lost brother. Such is the charisma of the man.

That brings me to opera. Music is a funny thing. It is so much in the ear of the listener. And a love of opera seems to be almost an inherited gene that springs up from time to time in a family. My great-grandmother travelled for days by horse and buggy to hear Caruso when he came to New Zealand at the beginning of the 20th century. My Grandmother loved some arias. My Uncle loved opera and my mother does, but her brother and sister don’t. I do, but my three brothers don’t. I have heard the same piece of music described as the voice of God and as two cats fighting. Sometimes it is hard to understand why someone doesn’t hear what you hear, but the truth is, they don’t.

I used to think that you should hear the aria in the opera to really understand the meaning of the lyrics, now I think that is too pedantic, but it does help if you know what emotion the singer is trying to portray and what the song is about. My favourite all time piece is:’ Che Gelida Manina’ (Your tiny hand is frozen) from Act One of La Boheme, preferably sung by Luciano Pavarotti. I also love ‘O Soave Fanciulla’ (the Act One duet) with Pavarotti and Mirella Freni. There was a French soprano called Regine Crespin and her rendition of ‘Un Bel Di’ (from Madama Butterfly) brought me to tears the first time I heard it and sometimes still does. Dame Kiri’s ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ is right up there with ‘Vissi D’Arte’, Callas or Birgit Nilson. It is worth finding recordings by some of the singers from eras past too. The Tosca duet with Leontyne Price and the (almost) incomparable Giuseppe di Stefano and Jussi Bjorling singing something like ‘Ch’ella mi creda’. I could go on and on.

Just to show you I am not completely immune to modern music, I like The Killers and Scouting for Girls and Adele and Sissel. If you have never heard Sissel, seek her out. She is Norwegian and she sings everything from punk to classical and her voice will make you catch your breath.

Above are the two voices of Sissel.

And this is my favourite opera singer in one of my favourite movies and he sings one of my favourite songs.

P.S. GO THE WELSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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