Friday, December 21, 2012

It's been snowing here for days; and though accumulations are light, the air shimmers day and night with clusters of flakes, and even the tiniest twigs are coated with new white. Our yard looks like a snow globe. In the meantime the cars are falling apart. Already this week I have had a rear brake failure on one vehicle and a windshield-washer pump failure on another, and this morning I have to deal with a dead headlight. Add to these crappy cars and messy roads an intense need for fresh baking supplies, not to mention dog food and toilet paper, and you can guess how I will be unjoyfully spending a few of my morning hours.

As the flurries and I drove home together from band practice last night, I was listening to Boston's Handel and Haydn Society perform their annual rendition of The Messiah at Symphony Hall. I lustily sang along with the counter-tenor (he sounding like butter, me sounding like some demented ugly frog princess) and imagined how lovely it would be to spend an evening listening to The Messiah at Symphony Hall and then walk home among the perpetually falling snowflakes with no broken-down car or slick pavement to distract me from my holiday cheer (as if twenty massacred babies hadn't already pretty seriously distracted me). And then I imagined how difficult it would be not to sing along with the counter-tenor like a demented ugly frog princess but have to sit nicely in my plush seat for a million hours till the program was over, and then it became hard to decide which option was better: the real or the transmitted, the walking sweetly or the driving unsweetly. In theory I am all for live music. In truth I am a terrible fidgeter.

But back to the counter-tenor. My familiar version of The Messiah is the recording my parents had when I was small and which I still own. This is one of those thick four-disk sets that forces a listener to flip the record every ten minutes, and it stars, as bass soloist, the guy who sang "Old Man River" in Showboat. It's very likely that, in 1962 or whenever this was recorded, no one in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had ever heard of a counter-tenor. (Perhaps they still haven't.) So instead the recording features a contralto, and I have to say it took me all of yesterday's ride home to come to terms with this counter-tenor "interloper," who I understand was no doubt more faithful to Handel's intentions but who rolled his r's distractingly and added a touch of coyness to "He Was Despised," a part that I had always taken for granted as "big lady singing a sad song." In real life I am quite fond of the sound of a counter-tenor, but I know that I am also the last person to warm up to change. Call me a reactionary, but The Messiah is its own version of Tolstoyan familiarity. Just don't give me a new version of War and Peace in which Prince Andrey shows up as Prince Andrew. That's all I ask.

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