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’).
And once sanctification starts you lose the masses. The masses don’t like having to dress up just to go sit in the dark. Maybe some of the theaters should start having “no tie” nights, get the “ra” back in “opera”, something to eject the stodgy atmosphere, and the people that like it, get the t-shirt crowd. The t-shirt crowd is willing to sit through Queensryche playing all of Operation Mindcrime, or Pink Floyd playing The Wall, or The Who playing Tommy or Quadrophenia, they actually can handle the big long musical story thing so long as they can dress comfortably.
Love the music (instrumentation).
Aside from a handful of pieces though, abhor the vocals.
When I lived in NYC, would go to the Philharmonic several times a season and would attend many concerts “in the parks”, but once to the Met was more than enough.
.....and what’s with all those extended, drawn out, seemingly contrived ovations? I just don’t get it.
Oh, that was one of the Ring operas? Didn’t know. Just saw it on the TV and watched. Took a long time for four or five pages of script.
Try Looking up Anna Russel. She does the 20 hours of Wagner’s Ring in 20 minutes. Hysterical (and accurate).
I have a DVD of a skit where a woman holds up paper cutouts on sticks of various opera characters, all the while describing the plots of the operas in which they appear. It is hilarious! I don’t know if it’s the same one, or not. I was just looking on You Tube, but couldn’t find it.
Thanks, ExGeeEye!! I knew you’d sent me the DVD, but I couldn’t remember what the name of the piece was!!
Hating opera is such a natural thing.
I was always afraid to try hard drugs or opera.
I think watching old episodes of Tony Randal as Felix Unger in the Odd couple was mostly responsible for my aversion to opera.
That white jumpsuit and white sneakers...yipes.
Agree that Placido is far better than Luciano (sp). Waaay too much hype over the fatman (altho he has his moments).
The thing is you don’t have to dress up. I go in jeans. I’ve been to the Met in jeans.
Other than the sound of it opera isn’t too bad.
Sometime in the mid 1990s, I got Marriage of Figaro from the library and listened to it in my car to and from work. After about two weeks, I was hooked.
Why Marriage of Figaro? It was featured in the great movie Shawshank Redemption. In the movie, it is the record that Andy chooses to play when he takes over the prison PA system. After watching that movie, I just had to listen to the opera in its entirety and I'm glad I did.
Frasier: Well, it's about Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester in the court of the Duke. He has a daughter, Guilder, who's secretly living with him. But everyone thinks that she's his mistress. In this opening scene, Rigoletto mocks the Duke's enemy, who puts a curse on him.
Martin: A cursed hunchback dating his daughter - well, nothing screwy so far!
You do know tunes like ‘The Flight of the Bumblebee’ and ‘Here Comes the Bride’ comes from operas right?
Thanks for the ping!
Classical Music Ping List ping!
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None of them could touch Bjoerling, Windgassen, or Del Monaco.
The “Bumblebee”, yes, the other, no. Earlier I was putting a twist on, “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”
Actually, what really got me into it was the advice of one of my early piano teachers. he told me if I wanted to acquire a true legato tone and how to shape a phrase, don’t listen to other pianists. Go to the opera house and listen to the singers and pay attention to how they do it.
Not to mention the theme to “The Lone Ranger”.
Introductions: Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, Bizet’s “Carmen” and Puccini’s “Tosca”.
The first two are a little long, but so sublime that it’s difficult not to be moved.
In the 80’s, I had a series subscription to the Ring series in San Francisco. It was a wondrous thing.
LOL! An audiophile society buddy does the same thing, so now I bring my LP of Die Walküre to meetings, just to hear him sing “Kill the wabbit!” He’s commented that whatever familiarity he has with classical music and opera he learned by watching Saturday morning cartoons.
“The Rabbit of Seville” is the cream of the crop.
1 of 3 on YouTube. I have this on LP. It's wonderful!