The Liceu is packed. Illuminated, everyone is all dressed up. Low mummers in the foyer, perhaps the sound of two glasses of champagne that discreetly toast, civilized laughs in the Salón de los Espejos. It is not an opening night at the opera, and although the Barcelona bourgeois continue to shine here, today we will not see big choirs or large decorations. “Winterreise,” the sad collection of Schubert’s lieder, is the main course. And its chef is Jonas Kaufmann, tenor from Munich, almost a baritone, the best of his generation. A powerful and dark voice for a cycle of intense and despair-filled lieder.
While I take a walk before the concert, a bust of Rossini provokes and Pavlovian hit to my stomach. It’s then that I realize that classical music and food are closely related, and the curious relationships between classical music and gastronomy came into my head:
1. Rossini. The great glutton. There are many anecdotes, possibly false, of his love of food, like that he wrote the aria “Di tanti palpiti” from “Tancredi” while he prepared a risotto. Also, that he was a good fried of Câreme, the gastronome; that in Escoffier’s work there are many dishes dedicated to him (the best known are tournedos and cannelloni) and that he inserted food references into his works, like in the “Cenerentola” in which Don Magnífico sings:
Saro zeppo e contornato
memorie di e petizioni
galline di e di storioni
bottiglie di di broccati
candele di e marinati
ciambelle di e pasticcetti
canditi di e di confeti
piastroni di, di dobloni
di vaniglia e di caffé.
(I will have many
memories and requests
of hens and sturgeons
of bottles and brocades
of candles and pickled delights
of pastries and cakes
of fruits and sweets
of slabs and doubloons
of vanilla and coffee).
2. Wine. The fermented must is the star of several fragments, and inebriation is the topic for many others. From the toast of “La Traviata” –to ripeness, perhaps one of the best known, happy and catchy-as-a-waltz lyrical fragments—to Cavalleria Rusticana’s “Viva el vino spumeggiante”, just as joyous but clearly more common, including the smaller, “Chateaux Margaux”, by Fernández Caballero, a zarzuela that revolves around a drunkenness from that mythical wine.
3. Beer and cocktail. Other cultures, other drinks. Wine might be the king thanks to the pre-eminence of Italy and Germany in classical music, but booze has inspired other effusiveness. Beer leads to a passage of Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride” (that’s why he is the Czech national composer, the country with the highest rate of consumption per person in the world), and there is even an opera that mentions cocktails. In “Madame Butterfly,” the main character is offered a whisky or milk punch, a cocktail from New Orleans documented that has been around since 1634, which contains brandy, bourbon, sugar and vanilla.
4. Pasta alla Norma. Bellini’s opera is, in theory, the origin of the name of this pasta dish from Catania, with eggplant and salted ricotta.
5. Melba. Melba peaches, an old-school dessert by Escoffier, were dedicated to the Australian soprano Nellie Melba when she visited London to sing “Loenghrin”, at the end of the 19th century. Her name is also on the classic dry toast used for hors-d’oeuvres.
6. Breakfast. A small piece by Mozart is called “Bread and Butter,” and upon hearing it, it is impossible not to visualize a knife spreading butter over toasted bread. Bach, all rationality, went for coffee as a subject for one of his cantatas. If you want eggs, you can cook them a la Bizet (in a cocotte, with pickled tongue and artichoke hearts) or a la Berlioz (poached, with duchesse potatoes, truffle and Madeira sauce).
BONUS TRACK. CODA Y FINALE
Listening to “Winterreise” my hunger will pass. I still don’t know that there is a book called “Die Oper kocht” in which the great names tell their family recipes (Jonas Kaufmann’s is pasta with pumpkin and mascarpone). Or that, chance of chances, I will meet the singer one morning in the Athens airport and, far from being able to tell him how beautiful and moving his recital was, I behaved like a forty-something Justin Bieber fan and couldn’t utter a word. Because when music feeds us, silence becomes deeper. Like the one who plays that last note on the piano, just before the Liceu bursts into a long standing ovation.