Saturday, April 26, 2008

A nit at the opera

My way or the wrong way!

You can't beat the American Record Guide when it comes to insightful reviews of classical recordings and videos, as well as informative reports on live performances around the world. Every issue is a feast of nearly 300 pages. One might think that this generous offering should be enough to sate any music aficionado, but resident curmudgeon and editor David Vroon cannot resist the opportunity to serve up lagniappes on proper behavior.

Vroon routinely decries the state of society (we're in the hands of barbarians) and music appreciation (we have tin ears and popular music is perverse). I'm sympathetic—to a degree—and it's difficult not to admire someone who knows everything about everything and is willing to share the bounty of his omniscience. An unsigned squib appears as a filler on p. 232 of the March/April 2008 issue. Although it's unattributed, I think I recognize the lion by his paw:
Word Police: Brava and Bravi

There is an English interjection: Bravo!

It has no feminine or plural form; interjections do not get declined. When you hear “Brava!” or “Bravi!” you are listening to a pompous ass—or you are in Italy.

By the same token, a great female player is a virtuoso, same as a man. And it's piano concertos, not concerti.

Why do these people pretend to be Italians? What is wrong with English?
The writer knows what is proper and would appreciate it if we were to emulate his impeccable example. Let us pass gently over the opportunity to make sport of a sententious finger-wagger calling someone a pompous ass. Let me instead perform a dutiful examination of conscience. I do believe that I have sinned.

There were three occasions when I was privileged to see and hear the phenomenal Birgit Nilsson at the San Francisco Opera. She sang Isolde in Tristan und Isolde, the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. From piano to forte—or should I say “from soft to loud,” Mr. Vroon?—the diva's voice left us vibrating in sympathetic delight. When she took her curtain calls, I'm quite certain that I yelled “Brava!” quite vigorously, as did several other people in the audience.

Those other people were pompous asses, of course. I, on the other hand, always cheer in Italian at the end of a German opera. Tanto meglio!


Anonymous said...

I totally say "Brava!" too. I am a pompous ass ahead of my time, but I really didn't think that was the reason. Now who's the bigger pompous ass? Me? Or the kvetch in the magazine?

Porlock Hussein Junior said...

Wow, blogspot is really outdoing itself these days in jamming together distorted little letters in its Turing test, isn't it? Fortunately, this robot is programmed to push Preview repeatedly until offered something that can be disambiguated by a mere human being. But I digress.

Your gentle passing-over of the opportunity (is this a seasonal item? Groucho: and over here are the levees. Chico: oh, that's-a the Jewish section? Groucho: We'll pass over that.) is a classic of [whatever the name of that rhetorical figure is]. Cicero would be proud.

I recall, too many years ago, preparing to go and join my father in celebrating the first 70 years of his highly successful life, deciding that it would be good to bring some of San Francisco's finest chocolate formed into the 5 letters BRAVO. When I ordered, the clerk who was selling the chocolate, no doubt expecting this to be delivered post-performance to some musician, checked on the gender of the recipient to be sure I didn't commit a solecism by using the wrong vowel.

Funny, she didn't look a pompous ass. But she was in San Francisco, so she must have been.

Shygetz said...

Just shout "Huzzah!" and be done with it.

The Ridger, FCD said...

On the other hand, using the gender-specific version allows you to cheer the proper recipient when only one in a duet deserves it ... well, unless it's like Dôme épais le jasmin, of course.

Corbie said...

I'm not a pompous ass, but, someday I'd like to play one on TV. Mr. Vroon, on the other hand, is just a plain ol' everyday ass. The word "brava" appears in the OED. I think they're a little more expert in the English language than Mr. Vroon. "Bravos" or "bravoes", if you prefer, *is* English and is another name for desperadoes, *not* the plural for "brava" or "bravo". Since both of the latter *are* oddly enough Italian, it might be nice to use the Italianate plural, "bravi". "Viruosa"? Also in the OED. As for the plural of "concerto", I have to give him his due. A "concerti" is just that, a singular "concerto". He still wins the pompous windbag competition hands down, though, along with Curmudgeon of the Week, but it is hoped that he'll at least take Miss Congeniality some time.

Lost in a web of words....

Nullifidian said...

Vroon was also at the center of a controversy several years ago when he made a passing, sexist comment in a review of a CD by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and then compounded it in his obstreperous response to a letter, which read, in part:

"We cannot rewrite the canon. All the great composers were white males, and no amount of research
will change that (unless someone proves that Beethoven was a black female!)."

The man has to be manifestly ignorant not to know that prior to the 19th century, the "canon" was whatever happened to be playing at the moment. Even Bach was largely forgotten, not to mention the excellent female composers of prior eras, and that the "canon" was consolidated in the latter half of the 19th century during a time period where it was assumed that women were intellectually inferior to men. In a roundabout way, Vroon was simply assuming his conclusion, and in a tone which admitted no space for reasonable disagreement.

I would love to sit Vroon down with a copy of Louise Farrenc's piano quintets and have him explain to me why they are inferior to Schubert's and Schumann's, although I'm depressingly certain I already know the answer—she's not in the "canon"!