Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A storied affair

I need help. I own, by my inaccurate count, over two hundred and twenty collections of short stories. Why? I'm baffled, flabbergasted, appalled: how did things get so out of hand? This is not, of course, the time or place to discuss bibliomania, bibliophilia, addiction, hoarding, or my marriage, the health of which is inextricably linked to the critical mass of books infesting our apartment. No, rather, this is a time to ask: why so many collections of short stories? Do other book lovers have this issue, an issue I didn't know I had? Is there a cure, preferably over-the-counter? I've seen apartments crawling with novels, military history tomes, plays, but never anthologies, at least this many. I would say this discovery makes me feel vaguely perverted, but when your career is in opera, feeling perverted is the least of your worries. Trust me.

Is it really critical to own three versions of Grimm's Fairy Tales? What kind of maniac, biblio- or otherwise, needs at least six different short story collections depicting H.P. Lovecraft's now-mainstream mythos? How many Calvino anthologies does one need? And don't get me started on Bradbury and Borges; e-readers were invented for their endless supply of eerie tales.  Multiple collections of Mark Twain stories, Jack London stories, Roger Zelazny, Stephen King, and Philip K. Dick. Pulp villains, pulp fiction, spies, vampires (when they were monsters, not boyfriends), and let's not forget the erotica. Balzac's Droll Stories, John Gardner, Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Angela Carter, Robert E. Howard, and these are just the multiples! What was I thinking?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Simon Boccanegra: Verdi's middle masterpiece

It is said that the operas of Giuseppe Verdi can be divided up into three major periods: the early, starting with Oberto and ending with Luisa Miller; the middle, beginning with Rigoletto and ending with La forza del destino; and then his late period, starting with the epic Aida and ending with his second, sublime comedy, Falstaff. (In fact, some critics have averred that there is a fourth period just for Falstaff alone, since it departs so radically from what has come before.)  And of those twenty-eight operas Verdi composed, the one I keep returning to with obsessive regularity is Simon Boccanegra, in his late middle period. In almost all his operas, Verdi fuses the political with the personal, but hardly better than in this grand, episodic opera.

The action of the opera takes place in the mid-14th century, where in the space of a week the hero-pirate Simone is elected doge of Genoa, but loses his daughter (temporarily) and her mother (permanently). Many years later, he is reunited with his grown daughter, but faces furious opposition from his daughter's grandfather, her aristocratic suitor, and members of his own regime. Although he manages to unite all the discontented parties, Simone is ultimately poisoned and dies blessing his newly wedded daughter and his successor.

So, why this particular work? What makes Simon Boccanegra as appealing and as important as the popular La traviata, Rigoletto, and Aida?