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Laughing out Loud Part 2: More of our favourite comic moments in opera

Look on the sunny side of opera with a handful of the art form’s jollier moments.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

24 April 2015 at 10.47am | 1 Comment

‘Vivat Bacchus, Bacchus lebe!’ from Act II of Die Entführung aus dem Serail by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Pedrillo has to rescue his master Belmonte’s fiancée Konstanze and his own sweetheart Blonde from Pasha Selim’s harem. The most important thing is to get Selim’s surly overseer Osmin out of the way. In this gloriously farcical duet, Pedrillo persuades the teetotal Osmin to drink wine laced with a sleeping draft. Initially Pedrillo’s zesty melody contrasts with Osmin’s growling hesitations. However, Osmin is quickly won over and in the second half of the duet joyously leads the melody, accompanied by a full battery of Turkish percussion.

‘Ah! Che il cor non m’ingannava… Quando il vento improvviso sbuffando’ from Act I of Il turco in Italia by Gioachino Rossini

Selim has arranged a rendezvous with Fiorilla but instead finds himself reunited with his former lover Zaida – just as Fiorilla’s former lover Narciso and her husband Geronio arrive, closely followed by Fiorilla herself. Rossini brilliantly evokes the growing chaos. The dramatic music for Fiorilla’s arrival gives way to a pensive slow section in which all lament their various wrongs (gleefully observed by the poet Prosdocimo, who’s using their troubles as dramatic inspiration). A spirited catfight breaks out between Zaida and Fiorilla (cheered on by Prosdocimo), and the finale culminates in one of Rossini’s celebrated crescendos, the music growing ever faster and louder as everyone agrees that nothing and no one is more dangerous than women who are rivals in love.

Finale to Act II of Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi

Falstaff’s tête-à-tête with Alice Ford is rudely interrupted by her jealous husband’s arrival. Alice and her friends Meg Page and Mistress Quickly cram the fat knight into a large laundry basket. While Ford furiously searches the house for Falstaff, his daughter Nannetta snatches a few moments with her sweetheart Fenton. Their romantic melody and Ford’s choleric outbursts contrast wittily with Falstaff’s lugubrious moans from within the hot laundry basket. Finally, Falstaff is unceremoniously tipped into the Thames to ironic fanfares from the orchestra and cheers from Ford’s household.

The Will-Making from Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini

Gianni Schicchi has agreed to help the greedy Donati family by impersonating their rich relative Buoso, and making a will in their favour. No one can choose who should inherit Buoso’s three greatest assets, so the family leave the decision to Schicchi – who, one by one, leaves all three to ‘my beloved, devoted, affectionate friend Gianni Schicchi’. Puccini portentously heralds each of Schicchi’s bequests with dramatic slowing of pace, shivering strings and sudden crescendos, and wittily conveys the family’s fury in their increasingly violent expostulations. They can’t accuse Schicchi openly though – as he reminds them in a sinister little tune (sung sotto voce as he continues his bequests), they will each have a hand cut off and be exiled from Florence if they confess to forging the will.

Finale to Act II scene 1 of Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten

In the absence of virtuous girls, shy young Albert Herring is crowned not ‘May Queen’ but ‘May King’ of Loxford for his good behaviour. At a banquet in Albert’s honour, his friend Sid laces his lemonade with rum to liven him up. After several speeches from local dignitaries, Albert is asked to speak himself – a prospect he dreads. He finally chokes out ‘thank you very much’, and in response the company cheer him with a pompous chorus ‘Albert the Good! Long may he reign!’. To the sound of the ‘potion motif’ from Tristan und Isolde, Albert swigs his lemonade – which, with its lacing of rum, gives him terrible hiccups. As the party collapses in chaos the orchestra hammers out a demonic version of ‘Albert the Good’.

Read the first part of our Laughing out Loud series of blogs

Which is your favourite comedy moment in opera?

Il turco in Italia runs until 27 April 2015. Tickets are still available.
The production is given with generous support from Judith Portrait and The Friends of Covent Garden.

Falstaff runs 6–18 July 2015. Tickets go on general sale on 31 March 2015.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Kevin B responded on 21 May 2015 at 6:43pm Reply

    I must admit that the Patrice Caurier / Moshe Leiser production of Il Turco in Italia was the funniest opera I've ever seen, but a lot of the laughter came from the visual gags that the directors put in.

    From the fleecing of the tourist in the first scene to a 'reformed' Fiorella waltzing off with the muscle bound beach boy at the end, the audience was laughing out loud.

    The biggest giggle, where I was sitting, came when the rear of the taxi containing the re-united Zaida and Selim started bouncing up and down.

    For sure the directors had some great material from Rossini and Romani to work with and the cast and crew did a great job of playing out the gags, but kudos to everyone involved.

    My most unexpected smile came during The Flying Dutchman when the Geordie wives went out to meet their lads when the boat came in, but my most sympathetic smile always goes to poor Cherubino in the Marriage of Figaro.

    I still remember, fifty odd years ago, the embarassment of being an adolescent boy flooded with strange hormones and even stranger feelings. I even remember what a fool I made of myself when I first got drunk.

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