Don’t Get Into a Testosterone Match with a European Nightingale

This is the porch of St. Blaise’s church, the venue for tonight’s concert of operatic overtures and arias. The performance closed this year’s Dubrovnik Summer Festival.

This is the bell tower immediately to the left of the church. Its giant bell was silenced for the duration of the concert. 

Reports don’t always agree, but the common knowledge is that nightingales do not live in the United States. I believe I have never heard one sing in America, and generally the traffic is too noisy in Berkeley Square for the bird who sang for Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Carmen McRae, Glenn Miller, Perry Como, and even Bobby Darin.

This nightingale–the one Keats described as “pouring forth thy soul abroad/ In such an ecstasy”–lives in this bell tower. He has a good view of the church porch and, for tonight’s purposes, of the conductor of the Slovenian Philharmonic. The bell enclosure produces a most resonant sound, propelling waves out into the square of stone buildings and marble pavement. The day’s tolling of the bell is rich, sonorous, reverberant. You can feel the vibrations in your afternoon glass of mineral water mit gaz. The tower was not built for the higher pitched song of the nightingale, so it is somewhat surprising what those small lungs can project from thirty meters up. His breath control is such that he can hold his solid tone right through to the end of the echo of his introductory trill. When he’s in sonata form, you can hear the B section in sustained echo right through the recapitulation of  A.

The bird loves music making and chirped merrily along as the orchestra opened with the overture of Verdi’s Sicilian Vespers. Indeed, what could be more appropriate than to introduce a bit of birdsong to the monastic life. Next, when soprano Inva Mula sang “Merci, jeunes amies” from the same opera, our bird contributed little more than a little obligato to nudge the soprano along.

But when Leo Nucci came forward, all white dinner jacket and over-sized teeth, and started to sing Figaro’s famous aria, the nightingale’s manhood was clearly challenged. And he had the high ground. And he was not limited to the notes as written.

Nightingales, like American mockingbirds, are mimics, and, apparently, they learn with great speed. “Figaro, qua, Figaro, la, Figaro qua, Figaro la

Figaro su, Figaro giu, Figaro su, Figaro giu,

Pronto prontissimo son come il fumine,

Bono il factotum della citta!

And damned if our bird didn’t get it, tune, tempo, accelerando, though maybe his accent was a little on the Croatian side of the Adriatic.

The competition was more fearsome than not. The soprano was spared almost entirely; our nightingale had no beef with her. But the baritone intruded on turf where he did not belong and we had the sing-off for the favors of–but then, Figaro doesn’t get the girl in this one, does he?

Didn’t win the sing off either.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Get Into a Testosterone Match with a European Nightingale

  1. How I wish I could have been there to hear it! (And too bad they weren’t playing The Pines of Rome, or some Messiaen!)

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