Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Juan Diego Florez Breaks Met's Ban on Encores


Donizetti's opera La fille du regiment (Daughter of the Regiment) may be best known for the aria Ah mes amis, notorious for bearing all of NINE high Cs. For that reason it's called the Mount Everest for tenors. And Monday night, Juan Diego Florez not only hit those difficult notes, he did an instant encore.

What's the big deal? Encores are banned at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

That's not all: last year, JDF did a encore (or, its Italian equivalent, bis) of that same aria in Milan, where the practice of bis was banned by Toscanini.

First, here's the deal with that aria. From Wikipedia: "(The) 9 high Cs....come comparatively early in the opera, giving the singer less time to warm up his voice. Many lesser tenors do not quite hit the notes (hitting B natural instead), especially as they come in rapid-fire succession and require considerable vocal dexterity."

Now here's the deal with the ban on encores.

"Bear in mind, an encore in an Italian opera house is not the same as an encore in most places – that is, at the very end of the concert. Rather, their version of an encore (a French word) is called bis (the Italian word for again, as in biscotti, the twice-baked cookie.) The bis is done in the manner of an instant replay. The audience doesn’t want to wait for the very end of the opera (or even an act of the opera). So with prolonged applause, cheering and calls of “bis! bis!” the conductor picks up the aria again, and the singer pipes up - this time usually out of character. I’ve read that the bis has been requested at the end of a death scene, which entails the now-dead character resurrecting temporarily to appease audience demand, then reassuming the death pose when the opera action resumes. As I’ve noted in previous posts, ludicrousness is just one of the things that make me love opera so! But Toscanini hated the way these encores broke the flow of an opera and put a ban on the practice." (From my blog entry last year.)

Watch the video of Florez singing Ah, mes amis.

Here's the New York Times' account of the encore: Ban on Solo Encores at the Met? Ban, What Ban?

Before JDF, it was Luciano Pavarotti who thrilled audiences with his high Cs. You can read more about the allure of that note, and why Pavarotti's execution of it took the opera world by storm, in this blog entry.