Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rigoletto and Aida

     On Sunday, I went to see Rigoletto at the Coolidge Corner with all the other old folks, many of whom were Russian. It was even better than Don Carlo had been because Leo Nucci, singing and acting the role of Rigoletto, has an unimaginably expressive face. It was such a pleasure to watch him, something only possible  through these filmed versions. 
     I've only been to two operas, both of which were entangled with other emotions that going to the movies on a Sunday morning doesn't have. The first was Aida in the Baths of Caracalla when I was nineteen, my first and only trip to Europe. 
      I had been sitting in the tiny living room-kitchen in Danny's miniscule apartment in Little Italy when his father phoned. At some point during their conversation, Danny put his hand over the phone and asked, "Do you want to go to Italy?" And I said, "No." But he had the tickets for our passage within a week. 
     When Danny was a boy in Rome, before the war, his father had left to start a factory making guitar strings in New York. Perhaps Danny was nine or ten. He told me little about his childhood except that his mother's father had been a prominent doctor with a practice in Rome, but given to spendthrift gestures such as regularly treating villagers for free in his hometown in the Abruzzi mountains. He was so close to financial ruin that his daughter was obliged to marry this manufacturer, a man hardly matching her intelligence or status,  in order to keep her father afloat.
      I know that Danny slept in his mother's bed for a long while after his father left and became a member of a fascist youth, a brown shirt marching with his friends, that his parents had had a bitter relationship and hadn't seen each other since his father left Italy. 
     Danny had eventually followed his father to New York, in part to study. I imagine that he was shocked to learn that his father was planning to visit her. Clearly he was unable to allow this to happen without his presence. And he didn't want to go alone. 
     I had chosen this unlikely man out of not entirely conscious necessity, someone to rescue me from living in my father's apartment on Charles Street in Greenwich Village. I'd been too sick with ulcerative colitis to start Bard College that fall, so I'd had to move with him, spoiling my father's escape from the suburbs, from ever, as he put it, mowing a lawn again. 
     The apartment he had chosen for himself was on the top floor, one huge studio with many windows, a skylight and a tiny bathroom. He'd been forced to build partitions to close off my single bed, but they were his height and made of woven furniture webbing. The only door in that place was to the bathroom where he often slept in the tub at night. He was continuing to drink at the same rate as he had all through my years of high school so Danny, someone who worked with investments and was twelve years older than I was, seemed like a better evil.
     By the time I got to see Aida, we'd been to Brussels for the World's Fair, had a brief glimpse of Amsterdam and taken the train to Rome where I was, evidentially, the object of much worry. Only later did I learn that his father had paced those marble floors all night, making sure that Danny wasn't ever in the bedroom where I was sleeping, his mother's dark, formal room with the high canopied bed. I can only imagine what his parents felt about this American girl, a choice they must have considered hardly appropriate for their son.
     At the same time that my presence was causing consternation, a spinster cousin from New York was visiting, a trip planned around finding her a husband. We often went as a group to a cafe in order to meet some fellow that the marriage brokers considered a plausible match. The one that I favored seemed like a good candidate and we all saw him several times. They were even permitted to walk alone, talking, and it all seemed so promising until someone discovered that he'd been institutionalized briefly and he was dismissed.
     Though I had learned a little Italian and understood some of what was being said, I was too aware that my presence was unwelcome. My happiest times were in the morning when I went into the tiny kitchen where Gemma, the tiny old woman who had been with the family for years, gave me a glass of yogurt that she had made. And she smiled at me.

1 comment:

  1. I go to the the high definition live broadcasts from the Met. Russians abound!

    So many vivid details from that time, your acute sense of being a foreigner in that strange high canopied bed.