Monday, November 28, 2005

"Ebben, andro lontano"

I had the very great fortune to live in Paris for a year in 1984-5, when the second new wave of French cinema was going on. I spent a fair amount of time in darkened rooms watching "Subway", "Betty Blue", re-runs of "Diva", just drinking in the visual style and the matchless "cool".
I remember the first time I watched "Diva", and the first time I heard this aria. Now, when it comes to emotion and despair, I have always tended to believe that blues is the appropriate medium in which to express one's feelings. But watching and hearing Wilhelmina Wiggins Fernandez perform this not once, not twice, but at least five times throughout the film, I came away with renewed respect for opera, and indeed classical music.
I don't suppose I can discuss this aria in the same way I blog about popular songs, but, hell, it's all there in the voice. The sense of oblivion, emptiness, fear, and sheer pain. There's no out-of-control wailing; no raw, hoarse, rasping whisper of an utterly drained spirit. Instead, there's a pure, soaring voice that climbs further and further, as if making the desperate climb to the top of the mountain before hurling ones self off the edge of the precipice. The pain gathers momentum, the sadness encompasses all until with a final, incredible, defiant note, all turns to darkness. I defy you to hear this and not have to comb down the hairs on the back of your neck afterwards.

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