Skip to comments.Two diametrically opposed views of an introduction to opera
Posted on 10/01/2012 1:19:06 PM PDT by Borges
Loving opera is such a simple thing. And yet the conventional wisdom seems to strive to make it complicated. Opera, and classical music, are elitist and arcane: This view is held both by people who dont care for them, and by many of those who do. How many fans have you heard using words like passaggio, portamento, tessitura, as if to signal their insider knowledge? Even an innocuous mention of Beethovens Op. 111, which seems like a perfectly reasonable way to refer to that composers final piano sonata, earned me a snort of suppressed laughter from a non-specialist friend the other week during a discussion of whether classical music can ever really rock.
So how do people actually become fans of such off-putting stuff? If you look through a bookstore, you can find an entire literature of classical-music introductions and Opera 101s, most of it at least tacitly based on the idea that you need to grasp this specialized knowledge to enjoy, or even to partake of, this refined fare. Well, you need specialized knowledge to watch a baseball game, too, but people dont generally seek out books called An Introduction to Baseball to understand what theyre supposed to be getting out of a game.
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I’m not a great fan of opera; But there was a great skit on SNL many years back where a terse voiced gal gave a 15 second each synopsis of about a dozen of the best known operas that was hilarious. I’ve tried searching for it but I only get Adam Sandler = Opera Man (whom I find less than funny most of the time) ...but if anyone has that link I referred to, I’d love to capture it.
I must confess I’ve never been able to goad myself into getting “into” opera. I appreciate the great voices as much as anyone could (Placido Domingo is a favorite), but it has taken the charms of Rene Fleming to get my anywhere near opera in recent years.
And I’m waiting for the avant-garde composer who did
NIXON IN CHINA to write one called OBAMA IN CAIRO.
Maybe I’ll give it a go, as a parody.
Love classical and would love to see an opera. Someday. Not too many where I go for peace...besides prayer, rural USA. :)
Sat through my first opera yesterday on the TV. Seigfried at the Met. Big guy carrying on, yelling at the top of his lungs for 10 minutes as to whether he should kiss the girl or not.
Good grief, Dude, she’s not THAT hot. But you look great in golden curls.
Siegfried is not the best of operas to get introduced to the medium with. It’s the least user friendly of the four Ring operas. Try Carmen or La Traviata.
Check the PBS listings for Lincoln Center Live. Usually a couple of times a year, an opera is featured. You’re not there in person, but it’s still great.
The Met is doing a new version of the Ring Cycle next spring.
Last time they did the Cycle, it was televised on PBS. Amazing stuff. Hopefully, it will be carried on PBS again this time.
I have seen all of the Mozart operas. I am listening to “The Abduction from the Seraglio” right now.
“Siegfried is not the best of operas to get introduced to the medium with.”
I concur, its like asking someone who’s never watched baseball to watch and appreciate a bona-fide pitcher’s duel - one of them throwing a no hitter.
Nevertheless, my kids and I sat through all 15+ hours of the Met’s Ring presentation. I had to explain to them that the plotline moves slowly in movies too, but that movies fill the extra time with sub-plots and special effects, etc. In opera, the extra time is filled with great music and performances. Once they got that, they really started enjoying it. By the last night, they were the ones firing up the TV and enthusiastically rounding up Mom and Dad to watch the last 5 hours of Wagner!
I was lucky enough to grow up when the late great soprano Beverly Sills was everywhere on television.
Just one appearance with Johnny Carson, and I was hooked.
She was so anti-diva in her personality and made the thought of high brow opera so normal.....and fun!
She should be everyone’s intoduction to opera.
YouTube has dozens of wonderful Sills performances:
Here she is with the Muppets!:
Here she is with Carol Burnett in a clip from the special Sills and Burnett at the MET from 1976:
While she could cut it up with Johnny Carol Burnett et al, she was a great dramatic singer as well.
Here she is in one of her greatest roles, Elizabeth I in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. (think Bette Davis and Errol Flynn)Hair raising! Now THAT’s opera!
Thank you!! Loved that.
Or Madame Butterfly or La Boheme, or even Turandot.
I think just treating like it’s some big thing people must be “educated” on is what keeps people away. Really, it’s music, with lyrics in a language you don’t speak, constructed into a plot, which is usually actually pretty linear, and is explained in the playbill most of the time. If you get into it there’s a lot of interesting musical intricacies to study, but you don’t have to. Millions of people enjoy dance music every day without having any idea what a reel is even though that’s the core construct most dance music is built around, hell most of the people that make dance music don’t even know that.
Irish tenor??!! You wouldn’t be the ghost of John McCormack would you?
That’s the Ring Cycle from last year. They just showed it on PBS last month. The DVD of the whole thing is already out.
Opera performance used to be extremely populist with the houselights up and people either reading the libretto along with the show or walking around during the performance to talk to their friends. Wagner got the process of sanctification started by insisting that the houselights be down during the performance (and the orchestra hidden in a ‘pit’).
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