Friday, August 2, 2013

Preview: "And yet they'll say that a jealous husband is a madman" -- meet Verdi's Master Ford

Bryn Terfel and Anthony Michaels-Moore as Falstaff and Ford in Act II, Scene 1 of Covent Garden's Falstaff, 2003

Excerpt 1 (three performances)
Is it a dream? or reality?
Two enormous horns
are growing from my head.
Is it a dream? Master Ford!
Master Ford! Are you sleeping?


Excerpt 2 (three performances)
The time is fixed,
the trick fullly planned;
you're cheated and swindled!
And yet they'll say that
a jealous husband is a madman!


Excerpt 3 (three performances)
I'll explode.
I'll avenge the insult!
Let it be praised forever
from the bottom of my heart: jealousy!


by Ken

Some of you will recognize the source of these wonderful excerpts, and I hope those of you who don't will enjoy them just as much. In a moment we'lre going to hear the complete excerpt from which this excerpt is excerpted, and then Sunday we're going to hear (I think) the whole scene from which that excerpt is excerpted.


WHAT WE'RE HEARING . . .

. . . is the monologue of Master Ford, husband of Mistress Alice Ford, one of the Merry Wives of Windsor, from Act II, Scene 1 of Verdi's Falstaff. (Assuming I've gotten the clips arranged right, the three performances of each excerpt are in the same order -- as identified in the clips of the complete monologue below. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the big juicy tune sung by Ford in Excerpt 2 to the line "E poi diranno che un marito geloso è un insensato" is ratcheted up even further in the orchestral postlude to the monologue, heard in Excerpt 3.)

There is much scheming afoot this day in Windsor. The impecunious rotund knight Sir John Falstaff has set in motion a scheme to woo Mistress Ford and her neighbor Mistress Meg Page, not so much for romance as for cash -- their husbands are both rich, and Sir John sees them, once conquered romantically, as cash cows. From Sir John's scheme, the Merry Wives have concocted a scheme of their own, and so have the not-so-merry men of Windsor.

Ford has got himself up as a Master Brook (Signor Fontana) and gone to Falstaff offering him money to woo a certain lady in Windsor . . . one Alice Ford. Master Ford of course has no idea that he has walked into the middle of the wives' scheme, and so when Sir John informs him that nothing could be easier, that in fact he already has an assignation with the lady, "between two and three" -- "dalle due alle tre." Ford barely holds it together until Sir John excuses himself to change, at which point the presumed-cuckolded husband explodes.

Ford's monologue is funny and sad, virtuosic and pathetic. The role isn't enormous, but is written for what we might think of as a "standard Verdi high baritone," with a full, enveloping range up to G. (Although Falstaff calls for more of a bass-baritone, the role is normally taken by a baritone, making Ford the opera's "second baritone.")

As I said, we'll be working our way through this astounding scene on Sunday. For now, here's the whole of Ford's monologue, in the performances we heard excerpted earlier.

VERDI: Falstaff: Act II, Scene 1, Ford's monologue, "È sogno? o realtá?"
Is it a dream? or reality?
Two enormous horns
are growing from my head.
Is it a dream? Master Ford!
Master Ford! Are you sleeping?
Wake up! Look lively!
Your wife is going to the bad
and wrecking your honor,
your house, and your bed!

The time is fixed,
the trick fullly planned;
you're cheated and swindled!
And yet they'll say that
a jealous husband is a madman!

Already names of the most infamous kind
are being whispered around me;
scorn is murmured.
O marriage: Hell!
Woman: demon!
Let blockheads have faith in my wife!
I'd trust my beer to a German,
or my best horse to a thieving Dutchman,
or my bottle of spirits to a Turk,
but not my wife to herself.
O ugly fate!
That hideous word turns in my heart:
Horns! Beast! Goat! Twisted cuckold!
Ah, the horns! the horns!
But you won't escape me! no!
filthy, evil, damned epicurean!
First I'll get them together
and then I'll grab them.
I'll explode!
I'll explode.
I'll avenge the insult!
Let it be praised forever
from the bottom of my heart: jealousy!

Robert Merrill (b), Ford; RCA Italiana Orchestra, Georg Solti, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1963

Eberhard Wächter (b), Ford; Orchestra of the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Fernando Previtali, cond. Live performance, Aug. 30, 1963

[in German] Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Ford; RIAS Symphony Orchestra (Berlin), Ferenc Fricsay, cond. Broadcast performance, 1952


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

As noted, all or at any rate most of Act II, Scene 1 of Falstaff.
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