I am no techno-geek, but I admit to a fascination with Spotify. I love old opera recordings, and am at my happiest flossing to Elizabeth Grümmer singing the Freichütz aria or taking out my lenses as Miliza Korjus warbles a Strauss waltz, complete with insane cadenza and vibrato-less high F-sharp. If at the age of 13 I had been told that I could tune into this stuff through a telephone—in my own bathroom—I would probably have fallen into a dead faint.
And if I wake up in the middle of the night I plug in my headphones and tune into Verdi operas, which are like a lullaby because they are so old and familiar. I am oddly soothed by Italian adults wailing about life, death, and honor. Two nights ago, I dialed up the peculiar, unaccompanied quartet for soprano, mezzo-soprano, and two basses from Act II of Luisa Miller. Somehow I thought it would calm my nocturnal anxieties to hear four opera singers try to stay in tune for two and a half minutes without the benefit of any accompaniment. What can I say, it was 4 in the morning. First I sampled the Luisa of Mara Zampieri in a live performance from Emilia Romagna in 1976; as a chaser, I let Gilda Cruz-Romo serenade me with the same scene in a broadcast from Turin in 1975. Zampieri had a large, dark voice with impressive instrumental precision and a bizarre color—a gritty kind of bronze, with a tight vibrato and an upper register like a siren (sometimes the air-raid kind, sometimes the Odysseus kind). Every note is in place in a wonderfully OCD way, and she sounds simultaneously ice-cold, white hot, and on the verge of madness. It was great to hear her when she was young, before her whole act got seriously strange. But Zampieri is also slightly tiring to listen to—perhaps that was the whole point in the middle of the night. Cruz-Romo is more human and emotional, feminine and a bit sloppy. She cooled me down after Zampieri’s stimulating high-wire act.
Despite an off-stage clarinet softly playing the first note of every phrase to keep everyone in agreement as to where G-major actually is, the Zampieri quartet went out of tune at the very end after holding onto the key for most of the piece. The orchestra came charging in like a corrections officer at the final cadence. Cruz-Romo and her colleagues are much bigger slobs, but they ace the crucial moment at the end: their G-major is the same as the orchestra! With that happy conclusion, I fell asleep.
And now you understand why I always conk out at the opera house.