I am enough of an optimist that I will write this post for May 21st even though some people say this day will be the end of the world. But I am enough of a pragmatist that I have decided to wait a few days to do the laundry.
All of this talk, both rapturous and apocalyptic, has put me to mind of what is known in German opera as the Schlussszene: a great dramatic closing scene that only a word with three consecutive S's could convey. A Schlussszene is not so much the end of an opera as slamming the whole thing shut with a bang. These are not unique to German opera. Tosca’s leap off the Castel Sant’Angelo is a pretty good one. In a completely other way, Porgy getting on a cart led by a goat to find Bess in New York does not have the visual or musical wallop of more famous scenes, but it goes straight to the gut because we know what will happen to him.
Because I know you somewhat better now than I did a couple of months ago (this is my 21st post), I can hear you saying that the greatest Schlussszene is the Immolation Scene and finale of Götterdämmerung, which brings Wagner’s Ring Cycle to a thrilling conclusion. And you are right.
But there are others. I love the end of Lohengrin, where many things happen in less than 90 seconds all narrated by a thrilling orchestra. The scene is great because singing, acting, chorus, stage effects and orchestra are all doing something that leads to an amazing climax. I think the conclusions in Andrea Chénier and Les Troyens, which you have seen in earlier posts, are pretty great too.
I have one more that is more in keeping with the themes of today. Mussorgsky’s magnificent Khovanschina is less well known than his Boris Godunov, but I actually prefer it. Khovanschina ends with religiously devout people, so-called “Old Believers,” setting themselves alight in their church rather than give in to the modern forces they consider sinful. This is group immolation, which is more impressive even than Brünnhilde doing herself in.
The YouTube clip from the Bolshoi in Moscow does not communicate the effect as well as the production at the Met, which returns on February 27, 2012 after a long absence.
I invite each reader of the blog who survives May 21 to write in and describe your greatest closing scene in opera -- your favorite operatic Schlussszene If I am here on Monday, you will read about the Teatro Grattacielo, another excellent small opera company in New York doing a worthy performance on Tuesday May 24 at Rose Hall. I hope to see you there, if fate allows.