- Letter to the Black Dog Opera Library, to Accompany a Defective CD
Enclosed you will find Aida, ordered from catalog B-8309 and shipped February7. Although rather new to opera, I knew this is the one that ends with the lovers sealed in a tomb, alive, singing, so I did not question the echo that joined the production at the beginning of Act III (Disk Two). I assumed the effect part of Verdi's orchestration, a foreshadowing, perhaps a faint reprisal of the priestesses' song in the temple, deep inside the temple. So I listened to nearly the entire opera believing the fading, quavering sound Verdi's nod to longing, distance, this a part of Aida as it is of most art. How could the recording be flawed? On page 61 of the accompanying Black Dog book, there is a photograph of the recording session, Birgit Nilsson unassuming in her knee-length, floral-print shift and sturdy white espadrilles, Franco Corelli and the featured cast [End Page 133] straight-backed at their music stands, mouths open wide as they face the tiers of the empty opera house. Dutiful, full of concentration, they seem unaware of each others' bodies even as their voices wind and meld. They are so far inside of their own bodies they touch the origin of song. What I am saying is, it seemed unlikely, to me, that the session was flawed, not finally. I thought the sound was supposed to waiver as though broadcast on a rainy Saturday afternoon, the lonely 15-year-old carrying his radio from window to window hanging tin foil on the antennae, the song there-then-not-there, then there again, like love, like my first sight of France: three men fishing from the dock at Dieppe, their silver lines glaring or invisible in the sun-shot fog. Aida is an opera of contrasts, the score replete with both grandeur and intimacy, notoriously rough on singers without solid technique, so I took the CD's flaw to be breath control, an orchestra practiced to perfection. Even when the disk began repeating the same phrase over and over again, at first I thought only of the lonely, lovely 15-year-old playing a vinyl record, lifting the arm of the RCA record player [End Page 134] to play a piece of the piece again, and again because the song leaves too quickly, it is gone before we are ready for it to be gone. Please, if you will replace this Aida, I will be, across the miles, ever yours.
Suzanne Cleary is the author of Keeping Time (Carnegie Mellon UP). Her poems appear in Mississippi Review and Southern Poetry Review, and she is the winner of a 2004 Pushcart Prize.