On one occasion Chrissie Hynde said the pop music was the revenge of the english by Opera, a genre that never caught on in their language. It sure is bullshit but I love that kind of bullshit. Like saying that good poets are always bad conductors or that redheads are the price to pay for redheads. The first nonsense I remember having read in a novel by Martin Amis, the second was written in a bathroom in Dublin, in a place in Temple Bar where it was claimed that he had worked Sinead O’Connor and they served you food and drink by a curious system of pulleys. I think of Sinéad O’Connor with a broken mind, in that video clip of her only hit, a Dreyer’s Joan of Arc with tears instead of a crown of thorns. I also think of Prince, author of that song. Killed from the same painkillers that killed Tom Petty. Pop nostalgia is either a madhouse or a graveyard.
It was in the 18th century a tavern-hostel for users of the carriages that took them to Madrid or Zaragoza
Whenever you go down or up the Ramblas (you call them that only if one is a polytheist, for the rest: Rambla) and you endure the attraction of the torrents that open to the right and left, you arrive at the Liceu, something that you end up respecting and admiring although come like me from its antipodes of class and music. I do not care much about what programming has been suspended or what strategy they are going to follow in these strange times, but rather I sneak into the establishment in front of them, where I always find familiar people. Its about Opera Café. In the 18th century, it was a tavern-hostel for users of the carriages that led to Madrid or Zaragoza. Years later, it metamorphosed into a chocolate shop decorated in the Viennese manner. The mirrors that are still preserved are from that time. The chocolate shop was renamed La Mallorquina and brought together the Barcelona aristocracy and upper bourgeoisie who stopped before or after attending an Italian-style Zarzuela performance first and, finally, opera at the Liceo Theater, twenty steps, crossing Ramblas, from there. But the Café de l’Òpera was never an exclusive establishment but rather open to bohemianism and the combination of all kinds of opposites: singers, actresses, music lovers from the middle and lower classes, anarchists, conservative politicians, trade unionists and ghouls. Caps, mustaches, fans and top hats. Since 1929 it has been Café de l’Òpera among the sale of Mexican hats, microwave paellas and Messi t-shirts.
I never stay at the entrance tables but go to the back and, at one of their tables, I distinguish Don Roger Alier and Aixalà, historian of art and music, operatic music lover, Catalan born in Venezuela forced by the exile of his parents. He lived his childhood on the island of Java, in the United States, Australia or New Guinea due to the fact that his father, an eminent psychiatrist, was claimed everywhere. His mother was in charge of his education and she, at the age of three, taught him the first rudiments of the piano. Back in Barcelona she studied piano at the Conservatori del Liceu. Promoter, lecturer, head of musical sections, an eminence and… my grandfather’s friend for as long as I can remember.
At first he doesn’t recognize me. I tell him whose grandson I am and, immediately, the puzzle of memory is reconstructed. I remember conversations and discussions in my grandfather’s office, threatening Verdi, threatening Mozart and Alier, always winning Rossini.
“If you want to start, Jaume,” he told me, “start with Donizetti.” It is easy to grasp. Lucia of Lammermoor. And if it can be with Caballé, the better.
Historian of art and music, opera music lover, born in Venezuela forced by the exile of his parents
La Caballé was and continues to be one of his passions. For him, the best, in a crazy job of people who go on stage and jump into the abyss without knowing if their voice will be where it should be, if it will not have disappeared or, at the first bars it will fall to the ground breaking like a glass of crystal. Whenever he mentions La Caballé, Roger Alier’s eyes light up. That season from 68-69 in which he was definitively consecrated at the Liceu first with two Donizetti jewels, Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda, and rounded off the season with Manon Massenet and, surprisingly, a Tanhauser Wagnerian …
–Anja Silja failed for the premiere. They were able to get a substitute but only for one day, Doris Jung, but to cover the next she offered Montserrrat Caballé who embroidered an unforgettable Elisabeth, with exquisite musicality, did all that she knew how to do … do you know what I want to tell you …?
He’s a teacher: he doesn’t expect me to answer.
–La Caballé could do whatever she wanted vocally: coloratura, lyrical flights, her famous vocal “yarns” coupled with that stage and vocal authority that filled the stage without stealing prominence from anyone if not necessary …
I have the feeling that Roger Alier’s nostalgia is more bearable than mine, too based on the cult of youth, the momentum and push of the immediate present. His nostalgia through opera always comes from behind, like a chest that you already had at home and he doesn’t need to be young, handsome, stupid and immortal.
–The first time I went to the Liceu in the first act I said to myself ‘this is nonsense: I will never return’. And look, I haven’t been able to stop going in my whole life.
His voice wears off as I look down the hall toward the street. You have to be careful with nostalgia in this city: it can explode like a bomb at the slightest carelessness.