Muti works with everyone on the words and the precise expression of every moment. He is also looking for what American acting teachers and stage directors call the "arc" of the character. With Zancanaro, he tries to get at the unstable nature of Carlo - a good-natured, clever storyteller, driven by a force he doesn't understand. In his effort to find out whether the strange person traveling with Trabuco is his sister, Carlo asks the peddler, "Who is that person - personcina - with you?"
"This strange word, Giorgio - `personcina' - what do you think it means?" They discuss the word, which in context is a trap. "How would you trick somebody with a word, Giorgio?" Zancanaro has no idea.
"Well, Giorgio, you could say it like this" Muti demonstrates with a slightly poisonous charm. "Or you could try it like this." This time Muti smiles, but his eyes flash with anger. "Or perhaps you could see what happens when you throw the word out." He shrugs and gives a staccato reading.
Zancanaro sings it the same way every time. Muti takes about an hour on the inn scene aria, "Son Pereda, son ricco d'onore." It's important to Muti that its three sections be fall of different colors yet form a link. "Giorgio, this man tells the story. He's making it up as he goes along, it's loose, and he is having a good time. You can play with the rhythm." Muti sings it as though it were a funny Schubert song, full of quirky color.
After several times through, Muti moves on to the middle section. "Giorgio, listen to this." Muti plays the accompaniment with fury.
Finally, Muti sings it. He starts with an easy smile and absolute charm, savoring the swinging rhythm. Then suddenly, when the destiny theme erupts, his eyes cloud over, his face becomes fixed, every word is a dagger, and the final phrase is a vicious thrust. Muti - in character -- takes a short breath, laughs and shrugs, then returns to the jaunty tune, but this time, Carlo, as Muti sings him, can't quite lose the edge.
"You see, Giorgio, if you sing somewhat like that, you help the whole scene. That is the opera - the strange world. No one is what he seems. It is like Pirandello -- where is the mask and where is the real person? You remember Pirandello, Giorgio? And the chorus and Preziosilla and Trabuco and even Leonora offstage, you make them richer, for they can respond to you."
Zancanaro sings it exactly as he did the first time through.
But Salazar, understandably, wants to get into the aria proper, which is treacherous. Muti tries to help. "I will relax the rhythm for you," he promises "Don't worry" When it comes to "Deh! non m'abbandonar," he says, "I will watch you and breathe with you. If you have a little trouble I will hurry and save you."
He shakes his head. "I will go back over the camp scene and to the end of the opera. Licitra will sing Alvaro, Cura will watch. Lukacs will sing Leonora."
She looks him up and down. "You know, I am very sorry not to be singing with you!" She throws her head back and her laugh resounds around the theater. He and I both see the irresistible and beautiful young woman she was. And we get a hint of that glorious voice.
Since Sunday was mother's day I thought I would include the following bit of declamation from Cilea's opera L'Arlesiana. "To be a mother is Hell!!" (Esser un madre e'un inferno!!) As sung by Claudia Muzio.