Some really great theater can happen when opera composers play with the conventions of the genre.
In the comment section of the “What’s Opera Doc” post, Eph brought up a great bit in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Pinkerton, the brash American lieutenant interrupts his aria almost mid phrase to offer his guest a drink of Milk punch or Whiskey. It’s a funny and surprising moment of reality, and reminded me of another, even more extreme example of arioso interruptus.
Stravinsky actually presses pause on an aria and then restarts it half an hour later.
In Act II, Scene 3 of The Rake’s Progress, Baba the Turk, the hero’s new wife, enters a plate smashing tirade of jealousy. Literally plate smashing. It’s in the score. (“Scorned! Abused!”) In the middle of a ridiculously extended vocal candenza, Tom reaches the end of his nerves and plops his wig over her face, causing her to freeze in place, mid-aria.[audio:http://musicvstheater.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Rakes-Progress-Baba-Before.mp3|titles=Rake’s Progress Baba Before]
At the top of the next act, our now bankrupt hero’s properties are being auctioned off, including the still motionless Baba. When this “unknown item” fetches the highest price by far, the auctioneer removes the wig and Baba springs to life, continuing the aria exactly where she left off a full 25 minutes earlier (depending on the length of intermission). She continues her tirade, this time directed at the auction attendees. (“Sold! Annoyed!”)[audio:http://musicvstheater.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Rakes-Progress-Baba-After.mp3|titles=Rake’s Progress Baba After]
That’s some pretty funny stuff. (As opera goes.) It should be pointed out that this opera was composed in 1948-1951, right around the juncture between modernism and post-modernism, which makes a lot of sense for those of you who for whom that sort of thing makes sense. (See what I did there?)
(Excerpts from the London Digital recording with Riccardo Chailly and the London Sinfonietta.)