Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Knit Me an Aria


Wotan had taken away her immortality, but at least she still had her knitting needles.

I'm an opera fan, and while I don't listen to operatic music exclusively, I do find it highly suitable as a background for knitting.

A love of opera is much like a love of knitting: one feels compelled to spread the joy. To that end, I give you my off-the-cuff list of opera arias, duets, and scenes that pair well with certain types of knitting.
  1. For knitting 2x2 rib. "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's The Barber of Seville. It may only be true for continental knitters (of which I am one), but if you can get the alternation of your knitting and purling to fall in with the rhythm of Figaro's patter, you can build up a head of steam and finish your sweater or cuff ribbing in record time. Don't try to keep up with the final molto allegro, though. You'll put your eye out.

  2. For knitting something for your sweetheart. "Deh vieni, non tardar" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. My favorite aria from my favorite opera. Simple and calm, but filled with the buoyant feeling you get (at least, I hope you do) when you think of the person you love.

  3. For knitting lace. "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio," from Verdi's Falstaff. When it's properly performed, the texture of the music is pure gossamer.

  4. For ripping back a little. "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinen Herzen," from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). The first line of this notoriously difficult, fiendlishly angry aria translates to "A vengeful Hell pulses within my heart." Enough said.

  5. For ripping back a whole lot. "Ah, chi mi dice mai" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Another vengeance aria. Includes the delicious and appropriate lines "I will destroy him. I will rip his heart out."

  6. For weaving in ends or sewing seams. "Dome epais" from Délibes's Lakmé. Awfully Enya for something written in the last century. If this won't keep you calm and balanced as your project nears completion, you need to switch to decaf.

  7. For dancing madly about the room with a really cool just-finished object. "Je suis Titania" from Thomas's Mignon, "Son vergin vezzosa" from Bellini's I Puritani, or "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. All sunny and frolicsome, to put it mildly. You get to be the queen of the fairies, a sprightly virgin, or a love-smacked Juliet Capulet. Take your pick.

  8. For lying down very still in the dark after completing your first Fair Isle or Aran sweater, an Orenburg lace shawl, or some other absolutely epochal project. Isolde's Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. "Liebestod" means "love-death" and the character in question is simultaneously dying of, and being transfigured by, love. This is for celebrating achievements bigger than a new hat or a shrug. This is for the projects that lift you up to the next level of knitting.

  9. For trying to collect yourself when the #$@%^! pattern just isn't working, or you just found a @$#%^ error five rows back. "A vos jeux, mes amis," from Thomas's Hamlet, "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice" from Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, "When I am laid in earth," from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca, "Addio del passato" from Verdi's La Traviata. All mad scenes or pre-death arias. Have a good cry. You'll feel better.

  10. All-purpose. "Song to the Moon" from Dvorák's Rusalka, "Mi chiamano Mimì" from Puccini's La Bohème, "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise, "Gold is a fine thing," from Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love).
Oddly enough, I can't think of a single instance of a knitting aria or scene* (although the opening of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel is often staged with Gretel knitting). One wishes Isolde had been a knitter. With a sweater or shawl to occupy her on that sea voyage, she could have kept her hands to herself and left Tristan alone.

And of course, it would have been therapeutic for Cio-Cio San (aka Madama Butterfly) to have a hobby, instead of staring through that damned telescope all day watching for Pinkerton's ship. After completing her first sweater–a well-known booster of self-esteem–maybe she'd have grown a backbone and decided to cut her losses, take the kid, and marry that nice Prince Yamadori.

On the other hand, there are quite a few songs and arias that either reference or actually involve spinning. But that's another entry.

*If there are some I don't know of or have forgotten, I guarantee other opera buffs reading this will let me know. We're a garrulous bunch.

36 comments:

Marilyn said...

Now I understand why I love Die Zauberflote so much. It's because I rip out small bits. Der Fogelfanger bin ich ja-stets lustig heissa hopsasa! That's a good one for finishing something fun and dancing around.

I do think that Violetta could have done better for herself by knitting a shawl rather than be bothered with Alfredo. And Aida--there's another loser babe who would have done well to take up the needles rather than get buried alive.

Any other opera buffs out there? It may be only you and me, kid.

LornaJay said...

Umm - I've always thought the thunderstorm from Wagner's Ring was a good fling-it-in-the-corner-it's-all-gone-wrong sort of theme....

Actual vocal bits: not exactly opera, but the Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem was a good ripping out chorus too.

Carol said...

Oh my. Since my opera experience is limited to The Bunny of Seville and the Gilligan's Island where they put Hamlet to the music of Carmen ("Neither a borrower nor a lender be, To-re-a-dor), I guess I'm gonna have to print out that list and go to ITunes. Do they even have opera on ITunes?

Thank God you're back. I missed you.

Lucia said...

Thank God, indeed. I don't actually listen to opera all that much, but my all-time favorite salutation on a letter (remember letters?) is "My dearest namesake of the madwoman of Lammermoor" -- from my DH, of course. Do you suppose you could work a mad scene from Lucia into your list?

Has A Tale of Two Cities ever been made into an opera? (And if not, why not? Everything else has.)

Calvin said...

Great post, Franklin! I think my favorite operas, in order are:

1. La Traviata
2. Le Nozze di Figaro
3. Die Zauberflute
4. Don Giovanni

I like to knit to anything by Vivaldi or Bach. The list could go on and on.

I think the final scene in Don Giovanni in which the Commendatore comes to drag Don Giovanni off to hell is quite gripping.

Of course, any self-respecting queen (pun, intended) would have to admit to wanting to be able to sing Der Holle Rache Kocht. Just thinking about hitting all those high notes makes me all flustered with delight, LOL!!

Christina said...

I love it. To iTunes I go. Tra-la-la.

ted said...

Not exactly opera, but there is the "Dies Irae" from Berlioz's Requiem, in which the choir and orchestra are surrounded by 4 brass bands. The effect is a stunning confusion of lost souls wandering in chaos, which you might be feeling if the knitting instructions make absolutely no sense to you.

Anonymous said...

I only hear the more popular songs from certain operas alot when I judge Miss America local pageants. Two minutes is a long time when Bad Opera or Bad anything is being performed. :) Thanks for the list and I'm also off to Itunes to get opera and to hear how it really should be performed.

Pat

Beth said...

My voice lessons will never be the same. I'm working on Je Veux Vivre right now, as a matter of fact. And my voice teacher will love your illustration. She has spent much of her career in opera, (worked for several years with the Chicago Opera Theater, among others), and will appreciate your intelligent treatment of the icon, as well as the humor.

beadslut said...

Cherubino's aria is a really good piece to start a project with. Usually towards the end, I've switched to Carmina Burana, and then to Aerosmith or Cheap Trick.

What a frightening thing to discover about one's habits.

Rachel H said...

I can't say I've knit anything while listening to opera yet. Must give it a try.

I DO love your illustration though! Will it be appearing in the shop perchance?

katherine said...

Not opera, but ballet -- about six or seven years ago I went to see Sleeping Beauty in Paris, a revivial of Nureyev's choreography, in which there is a memorable moment involving dancers, en pointe, knitting.

Sister Sue said...

I must admit, I was worried at first that Traviata wasn't going to make the cut! Silly me!

Adele said...

Last month I saw Opera Australia's production of La Boheme - my first-ever opera.

As the auditorium opened to the audience, the curtain was already open revealing two levels of an apartment block (open to the front, like a giant doll's house). The upstairs neighbours were an elderly couple, and the wife knitted in front of the tv (it was a contemporary staging) for most of the first act.

Jan said...

For cruising down the rows, there is "Che faro senza Euridice?" also by Gluck or "Ach, ich fuhl's" from Die Zauberflote". Another good one for mourning the soon-to-be-demised project is "Adieu,notre petite table" from Manon. OK, how many of us aging vocal students are there who knit???

Lee Ann said...

If I listen to Puccini's arias, I'm too busy crying to see the stitches.

If I listen to the Barber of Seville, all I can think of is Bugs Bunny's "The Rabbit of Seville," and then I'm laughing so hard I'm crying and I can't see the stitches.

Love opera. It's too bad it blinds me and risks felting.

Kathy Merrick said...

Franklin, I just love you. Mwah.

Kate said...

Thank you for this list! Don't forget the lovely intertwining duets and trios of Handel- especially "Julius Caesar" (Graham Pushee in particular in this role). I'm glad you mentioned my favourite revenge aria "Ah, chi mi dice mai" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. A woman with attitude only lacking a set of steel DPN to carry out her threat.

Sahara said...

Franklin, your post has got me started. I am knitting a scarf that HAS to be done for a birthday this week, and I'm losing momentum. Largo al factotum will be just the thing, as I am a continental knitter too.

See ya, I'm off to throw on Rossini, have some wine and ZOOM!

Anne said...

I'm an opera fan too. The dulcet tones of a fine tenor are great to knit too. Try anything by Wunderlich or Josef Schmidt. Bel canto is very soothing when things go awry. Hot young tenor Juan Diego Florez is a favourite on my CD player at the moment.

Marilyn said...

I'm not an aging voice student but an aging violinist and guitarist who wishes she had learned the piano and might do it once the loom is conquered.

Gimme a C, a bouncy C.

David said...

Very enjoyable post, even though I neither knit nor listen to opera.

sooner said...

That was a miracle.

Sneaksleep said...

Have never quite managed to get into opera, though not for want of trying by my dad's best friend. Other compositions by my beloved Baroques (esp Vivaldi, Bach, Haydn, Handel), however, make wonderful music to knit by. Or to do nearly anything by, for that matter. Has anyone every tried jazz or techno as a knitting sound track? They always helped me with paper-writing in grad school.

Linda said...

I think J'ai perdu mon Erydice fits every conceivable occasion in all lives, but am not biased in any way.

Kris said...

Thanks for the opera tutorial! Great post.

Catherine said...

You've just combined two of my greatest passions - opera and knitting! While i'm a big opera buff, i also cannot think of one instance of knitting during an opera. I'm sure you could delve into the issues of opera, the characters, society, blah blah blah.


By the way, i stumbled across your blog and you are making me homesick! I'm from Chicago,currently knitting and singing at K college, and missing boystown with a passion.

Katy said...

Not exactly any thing close to opera, but I costume for a children's theatre and I sneak onstage knitting into shows every chance I get. If there is a character with few lines and ages of onstage time with nothing to do, I make them learn to knit so they stay focused. So far, no one has noticed.
While knitting, I prefer to listen to sports. I don't really listen, it's just noise in the background. If I try to knit while listening to something I want to pay attention to is on, I either stop listening or stop knitting.
I love your blog.

Cheryl said...

I've not tried it myself, but "Vissi d'arte" seems like it would be perfect for starting a new project.

I have seen Sweeney Todd performed by opera companies. Mrs. Lovett knits, and refers to knitting a sweater in "Down By The Sea".

kbsalazar said...

The mad scene from Boris Gudonov for knitting heavy yarn on huge needles. (Tenors are highly overrated. Give me deeper voices, any day).

The duets from Magic Flute for miles of autopilot stockinette in fingering weight. (Especially for self-stripers).

And the triumphal march from Aida for that last bit of finishing, especially if you can time snipping that last end to the march crescendo, and end with a flapping flourish of the finished piece at the right place. :)

Deborah C said...

Franklin, some of my all-time favorite operas are listed! I had no idea so many of us knitters also love opera. I detest Wagner (I know, I know, I get points taken off), so I agree that the triumphal march from the second scene in Act 2 of Aida is what I would play when finishing a major work. And for when I'm near tears because something's just not working, Mimi's aria from Act III (don't remember the name of it) when she finds out she's dying.

Anonymous said...

um - is it acceptable to post a comment almost a year after a post? Sorry just found your blog...

ANYWAy - I just wanted to tell you - I didn't know how to knit at the time, but thanks to my crocheting during studio class, my voice prof had me crochet during my minor role in one of our opera scenes (I had two real roles, but i got to be the other lady waiting in Menotti's (I think it's Menotti)The Consul... (so I sat for most of the scene (while the girl sang her aria) crocheting depressed-ly on some really boring grey yarn...

So... there are operas that can easily involve knitting in the staging at least....

Marin said...

Also late to the game, but I'd like to throw one into the mix:

Perhaps not for knitting, per se, but for that moment when you first open and fondle cashmere, alpaca or silk in your very own living room and you know for sure this beautiful, soft, fuzzy crack is all yours:

O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi by Puccini

that girl n said...

Piangerò la sorte mia from Giulio Cesare - when it all goes a bit pear-shaped, perhaps? Nice raging coloratura bit in the middle, as well :-) (Still reading from the front, so still nowhere near caught up, and why, yes, I *did* just start that aria in Thursday's lesson...)

Amanda said...

For #7, I'd add the Jewel Song from Gounod's Faust.

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