My First Taste of Opera

 

Last night I went out to the local(ish) symphony, where they were doing what can best be called a “sampler platter” of opera music. A few talented soloists joined the choir and orchestra for this evening. Guided by the conductor with information on what we were about to hear, we glided through about a dozen selections.

I sat next to someone who turned out to be a past professional viola player, and we had some great conversations about the music, opera in general, and culture.

For me, I enjoyed the music thoroughly. The first two pieces brought to mind Bugs Bunny and cartoon factory music, likely because I have been playing those cartoons of my youth for my toddler. The opera pieces were powerful – I was filled with emotion during the duet in one of the pieces – but I imagined that I could have been brought to tears if I only understood Italian. The idea behind opera is enticing and fascinating, but I felt unable to experience it fully.

Yes, it was the language barrier that holds me back from wanting to further explore opera. Missing that connection with what was happening took too much from the experience for me.

Below are the pieces that were played for us. What are your thoughts on orchestral music, opera, and culture in general?

Rossini
Overture from William Tell

Verdi
Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore

Puccini
Humming Chorus from Madama Butterfly

Verdi
“Povero Rigoletto” from Rigoletto

Puccini
“Che gelida manina” from La Bohème

Puccini
“Si, mi chiamano Mimi” from La Bohème

Puccini
“O soave Fanciulla” from La Bohème

Verdi
“Va, pensiero” (Chorus of the Hebrews) from Nabucco

Verdi
Triumphal March from Aida

Mascagni
Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana

Verdi
Prelude to Act III from La Traviata

Verdi
Act II, Scene II from La Traviata

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  1. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    Franco (View Comment):

    I wish I could get my buddy Vince to join. The above is his collection ( partially) of CD’s and books on Opera. He’s a uuge Trump fan and has the same Queens accent, though with a more Italian-looking face. He studied Stage direction ( Regia) at la Scala and lives permanently in Milan. I took a pantomime class from him in the mid- seventies and we became friends and I visited him 18 months ago. It’s really interesting to hear him talk about Opera. Close your eyes and listening to his insights on opera it’s stunning, since he sounds almost exactly like the Donald himself LOL.
    I’m way out of his league when it comes to Opera like kindergarten versus PhD, but my favorite operas are Madame Butterfly and LaBoheme mainly since my father played them on our stereo when I was a child.

    I recently came upon this version of La Boheme on YouTube. As some have said here, Opera is more than just the music. Here the staging ( and the performance) is spectacular.

    Very nice, @Franco.   My aforementioned first date opera happened to be La Boheme.  Neither of us much likes it, though, try as we might for sentimental reasons.  Except this aria.  I can love the opera only if I think of it as the romance between Marcello and Musetta; Mimi and Rodolfo are just too wimpy.  The clip is a perfect example of our Puccini complaint–too much continuo working up to the spectacular flashes.  Nearly 3:30 minutes, in this case.  That flash, though, is quite spectacular.  Thank you for this particular version.  Very nice!

    Sounds like Vince would be a great addition to Ricochet on our good days.  On our not so good days…

    • #31
  2. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    The opera scenes in the film version of Amadeus were excellent. But fairly short.

    Sometime in the 1990’s I was visiting the National Museum of Art in Washington D.C.   I walked past a guy I suddenly recognized and exclaimed “Papageno!”   He didn’t seem to know what I meant at first, but then I said “Weren’t you in the Mozart movie?  I recognized him as the half-man half-bird creature in the Amadeus movie scene about The Magic Flute opera.  He later appeared out of costume in scenes with Mozart.  He thanked me and moved on after a couple pleasantries.

    Incredibly, that night in my hotel room, I turned on the TV and there was Charley Rose or some other boring interviewer, talking to the guy I had just run into at the museum.  I yelled for my mom to come take a look.  She said, “Oh, that’s Simon Callow, a writer.”  She didn’t remember him from the movie, but he surely was in it.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Callow

    • #32
  3. Quickz Member
    Quickz
    @Quickz

    Franco (View Comment):

    I recently came upon this version of La Boheme on YouTube. As some have said here, Opera is more than just the music. Here the staging ( and the performance) is spectacular

    See, this is how I assumed they could look – full stage setup, chorus as surrounding characters, lots of room for gestures and such. It’s great!

    …but now I just want to understand French… It’s missing something without me comprehending the language. Maybe it’s comparable to a symphony with only the strings present. Sure you get an idea of the piece being performed, but it’s missing context from all the other instrument groups being absent.

    • #33
  4. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    My wife played violin and sang in her high school chorus. One of her classmates sang in the Portland Opera chorus. She gave us tickets to all the final dress rehearsals. It was a great experience.

    Sometimes an opera/orchestra concert can be fun.

    https://youtu.be/POZrgvyCJmA

    It ain’t Pavarotti, but as part of Billy Joel’s standard concert set, one of his band members sings that immediately prior to Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.

     

    • #34
  5. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    My wife played violin and sang in her high school chorus. One of her classmates sang in the Portland Opera chorus. She gave us tickets to all the final dress rehearsals. It was a great experience.

    Sometimes an opera/orchestra concert can be fun.

    https://youtu.be/POZrgvyCJmA

    It ain’t Pavarotti, but as part of Billy Joel’s standard concert set, one of his band members sings that immediately prior to Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

    Awesome, and some of the great rock bands had some classical training.

     

    • #35
  6. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    My wife played violin and sang in her high school chorus. One of her classmates sang in the Portland Opera chorus. She gave us tickets to all the final dress rehearsals. It was a great experience.

    Sometimes an opera/orchestra concert can be fun.

    https://youtu.be/POZrgvyCJmA

    It ain’t Pavarotti, but as part of Billy Joel’s standard concert set, one of his band members sings that immediately prior to Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

    Awesome, and some of the great rock bands had some classical training.

     

    Let’s hear it for ELO!

     

     

     

    • #36
  7. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    My wife played violin and sang in her high school chorus. One of her classmates sang in the Portland Opera chorus. She gave us tickets to all the final dress rehearsals. It was a great experience.

    Sometimes an opera/orchestra concert can be fun.

    https://youtu.be/POZrgvyCJmA

    It ain’t Pavarotti, but as part of Billy Joel’s standard concert set, one of his band members sings that immediately prior to Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

    Awesome, and some of the great rock bands had some classical training.

     

    (Really off topic, but…)

    Billy Joel puts on a hell of a show.   And he still sounds like Billy Joel.

    I watched some of Elton John’s farewell concert last night.  It was ok, but his voice is just not the same as it was.  It just sounded….off.

     

     

    • #37
  8. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    And because I can, I will once again post my favorite piece of opera-used-in-a-movie, and my favorite Wagner. The great Siegfried’s Funeral March from Gotterdammerung:

    I nominate this as the best use of Wagner in a movie:

    I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

    • #38
  9. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Never underestimate the power of the classics. When you think, the world has gone to hell there might be someone who has a hidden life, and offers a sublime gift:

    • #39
  10. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Quickz: Yes, it was the language barrier that holds me back from wanting to further explore opera.

    Live performances generally have subtitles so you can figure out what’s going on. So do some recorded performances such as this one of The Marriage of Figaro, which btw is a great celebration of marriage and fidelity.

     

    • #40
  11. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    drlorentz (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    And because I can, I will once again post my favorite piece of opera-used-in-a-movie, and my favorite Wagner. The great Siegfried’s Funeral March from Gotterdammerung:

    I nominate this as the best use of Wagner in a movie:

    I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

    I liked this too, but it was like Coppola was suggesting that Wagner was mostly useful for scaring the s*** out of the g**ks. But undeniably dramatic.

    In Excalibur, they cut the movie to exactly match the changes in the music. For the first five times I saw it I thought it was the most beautiful music written for a movie. Then I saw the Ring Cycle and went Whoa, I recognize that leitmotif!

    But still I can’t hear it without seeing Excalibur flying through the air and being caught by the strange woman lying about in ponds.

    The same way I can never hear O Mio Babbino Caro without hearing “We love to hear Rush Lim…baaaaugh … “

    • #41
  12. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Almost all opera companies have supertitles now.  I remember when they first started to be used at the Met (in the back of the seat in front of you so you don’t see them over the stage), I was attending a performance of Don Carlos, an historical opera with magnificent duets.  It ran almost 4 hours.  I was joking with my father that all of the lyrics that advanced the story could have been fit on a 3 X 5 index card.  The rest of the lyrics involved swearing to heaven about loyalty, honor and love.  

    I loved opera even before I understood the lyrics.  It was due to Bugs Bunny and the Odd Couple that I started to recognize some of the songs and that was all I needed.  But I don’t really like opera recitals, only performed operas, preferably grand opera.  Everyone has their preferences I guess. 

    • #42
  13. Franco Inactive
    Franco
    @Franco

    Caryn (View Comment):

    Franco (View Comment):

    Iwish I could get my buddy Vince to join. The above is his collection ( partially) of CD’s and books on Opera. He’s a uuge Trump fan and has the same Queens accent, though with a more Italian-looking face. He studied Stage direction ( Regia) at 

    I recently came upon this version of La Boheme on YouTube. As some have said here, Opera is more than just the music. Here the staging ( and the performance) is spectacular.

    Very nice, @ Franco. My aforementioned first date opera happened to be La Boheme. Neither of us much likes it, though, try as we might for sentimental reasons. Except this aria. I can love the opera only if I think of it as the romance between Marcello and Musetta; Mimi and Rodolfo are just too wimpy. The clip is a perfect example of our Puccini complaint–too much continuo working up to the spectacular flashes. Nearly 3:30 minutes, in this case. That flash, though, is quite spectacular. Thank you for this particular version. Very nice!

    Sounds like Vince would be a great addition to Ricochet on our good days. On our not so good days…

    I’m going to send him this thread.

    I guess I’m just a sucker for cheap musical tricks. Sometimes I should appreciate my naïveté. And I’m sorry,  I’m not sitting through a live performance of The Ring anytime soon or ever.

    I first got seduced into Opera was Franco Zefferellis La Boheme on PBS. The music was familiar from my childhood but is was no longer stodgy baritones and corpulent stationary sopranos. 
    But, as a performer myself, I have i unfathomable respect for the talent and discipline. 

    • #43
  14. Headedwest Inactive
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    Well, it’s not classical opera. But it is drama that is nearly all sung, and in English.

    It’s Les Miserables. Not classical but a story told in (mostly) song. The music is not Puccini, but it’s quite good. And the libretto is in English (among many other languages). My introduction to it was the 10th anniversary concert  at the BBC. It was astonishingly good.

    Then we went to Broadway (we lived in CT at the time) and saw it live on stage. It was an expensive night but well worth the cost.

    I would say it’s a way to get into opera without all the barriers.

     

    • #44
  15. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Franco (View Comment):

    And I’m sorry, I’m not sitting through a live performance of The Ring anytime soon or ever.

    Every once in a while I feel compelled to play through the entire 16 hours of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” while painting.  I have no idea what they are saying  but I like the music.

    • #45
  16. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    Well, it’s not classical opera. But it is drama that is nearly all sung, and in English.

    It’s Les Miserables. Not classical but a story told in (mostly) song. The music is not Puccini, but it’s quite good. And the libretto is in English (among many other languages). My introduction to it was the 10th anniversary concert at the BBC. It was astonishingly good.

    Then we went to Broadway (we lived in CT at the time) and saw it live on stage. It was an expensive night but well worth the cost.

    I would say it’s a way to get into opera without all the barriers.

    There is no major difference between Les Miserables and classical  opera, even though they may label it as a “musical.”  In fact all musicals have the same basic elements of opera or operetta (a light opera).

    Caryn and I saw Les Miserables on Broadway with her mom in the early 2000’s.  It’s her mother’s favorite musical, and one of my favorites, too.  My absolute favorite is “Sweeney Todd,” a story about a guy who murders his  enemies and feeds them to unknowing restaurant customers(!)

     

    • #46
  17. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    EJHill+ (View Comment):

    As Sylvia Fine Kaye (Mrs. Danny Kaye) once observed about opera, “If you don’t speak Italian you think it’s about something.” For all you know it’s nothing more exciting than talking about taking a walk down to the drugstore to pick up a tube of toothpaste.

    Yes! The first opera I went to was an operatic version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Now I wasn’t expecting  Oh Streetcar from The Simpsons  but I was completely taken aback when I realised they were singing every single line from the play. It was not an enjoyable experience hearing lines like I am ashamed I perspire! My shirt sticks to me!

    Now a few years ago I visited Lviv and as it is easy and cheap to go hear classical music concerts in those Eastern European places my friend and I went. We saw the Merry Widow, I think it was sung in Ukrainian. Didn’t matter. I knew it was about romance somewhere along the way and the music was beautiful. You could figure out who was in love with each other and if we couldn’t understand the cause of the conflict we knew it would get resolved in the end. 

    • #47
  18. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    • #48
  19. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    namlliT noD (View Comment):

    EJHill+ (View Comment):
    For all you know it’s nothing more exciting than talking about taking a walk down to the drugstore to pick up a tube of toothpaste.

    “Honey.”

    “Yes, dearest.”

    “Oh honey.”

    “Yes, dearest”

    “We’re out of toothpaste. We’re out of toothpaste.”

    “Toothpaste?”

    “Toothpaste, toothpaste, toothpaste. We’re ou-ou-ou-ou-out… of toothpaste.”

    “Toothpaste!”

    “Toothpaste! We’re ou-ou-ou-ou-out… of toothpaste.”

    “Did you try to flatten, to flatten, to flatten out the bottom of the tube? Flatten out the bottom of the tube. Tube, tube, tube, tube. Flatten out the bottom of the tube.”

    “Of course. Of course. Of cou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ourse. Of course I flatten out the bottom of the tube.”

    “Flatten out the bottom of the tube.”

    “Tube, tube, tube, tube. Flatten out the bottom of the tube.”

    “Don’t we have a travel toothpaste in the drawer.”

    “A travel toothpaste in the drawer?”

    “A travel toothpaste in the drawer.”

    “Drawer, drawer, drawer, drawer. A travel toothpaste in the drawer.”

     

    Then, to foreshadow the coming tragedy, the chorus adds

    “They should have worn their spectacles.” 

    “If they had only worn their spectacles they would have known.” 

    “The travel toothpaste was really a sample tube of hemorrhoid cream.”

    Of course this is a summary.  The text, as performed, would be approximately 20-30 lines.  

    • #49
  20. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    Yes! The first opera I went to was an operatic version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Now I wasn’t expecting Oh Streetcar from The Simpsons but I was completely taken aback when I realised they were singing every single line from the play. It was not an enjoyable experience hearing lines like I am ashamed I perspire! My shirt sticks to me!

    My wife and I watched about a half-hour of Streetcar Named Desire by Andre Previn on TV, and couldn’t take it anymore.  It was one of the worst operas we’d ever seen.  To this day we joke about the lyrics “Stella, get me a beer!”

    • #50
  21. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I liked your opera. I think I will set it to music.

    — attributed to Ludwig van Beethoven 

    Ludwig was a beast.

    • #51
  22. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    I am also a late student to the glory of opera. I could not recommend to you more highly the lecture series “How to Listen to and Understand Opera” by the incomparable Robert Greenberg. Available at Audible. His lectures on this and all the rest of the glories of concert music will change your life.

    I very much liked this:

    https://www.audible.com/pd/How-to-Listen-to-and-Understand-Great-Music-3rd-Edition-Audiobook/B00DDVQIM2

    … by the same guy.

    • #52
  23. Quickz Member
    Quickz
    @Quickz

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    Well, it’s not classical opera. But it is drama that is nearly all sung, and in English.

    It’s Les Miserables.

    Yes I adore some musicals, and dislike watching those in foreign languages. The broadcasting or otherwise subtitling with English does not cut it for me. Written script is nothing like passionately sung (or spoken) understandable dialect.

    Just means a lot to me to hear and understand when it is sung I guess. I’ll revisit all this after checking out one of these primers on how to understand/enjoy opera.

    • #53
  24. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The William Tell Overture is a great piece.

    The evil Austrian Hapsburgs establish dominion over the Swiss.

    A peaceful, contemplative rustic who is a crossbow marksman travels to the local town and encounters the tyrant set over his people.

    And then the Lone Ranger shows up.

    • #54
  25. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Percival (View Comment):

    The William Tell Overture is a great piece.

    The evil Austrian Hapsburgs establish dominion over the Swiss.

    A peaceful, contemplative rustic who is a crossbow marksman travels to the local town and encounters the tyrant set over his people.

    And then the Lone Ranger shows up.

    Schoen.

    • #55
  26. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    BDB (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    I am also a late student to the glory of opera. I could not recommend to you more highly the lecture series “How to Listen to and Understand Opera” by the incomparable Robert Greenberg. Available at Audible. His lectures on this and all the rest of the glories of concert music will change your life.

    I very much liked this:

    https://www.audible.com/pd/How-to-Listen-to-and-Understand-Great-Music-3rd-Edition-Audiobook/B00DDVQIM2

    … by the same guy.

    I believe we have all of Dr. Greenberg’s courses . . .

    • #56
  27. She Member
    She
    @She

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Have to take this opportunity to promote my niece the opera singer. Currently a Resident Artist with the Pittsburgh Opera.

    I don’t know much about opera, but I’ve seen a few performances she’s been in and it’s always entertaining.

    I saw Emily perform at my community orchestra’s October concert (in Washington, PA)!  A beautiful young woman with a simply gorgeous voice.  Our conductor was keen to have her back for a return performance (“while we can still afford her” he said), and I hope he manages to do so.  A great talent, with a great future, her family must be very proud.  

    • #57
  28. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    She (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Have to take this opportunity to promote my niece the opera singer. Currently a Resident Artist with the Pittsburgh Opera.

    I don’t know much about opera, but I’ve seen a few performances she’s been in and it’s always entertaining.

    I saw Emily perform at my community orchestra’s October concert (in Washington, PA)! A beautiful young woman with a simply gorgeous voice. Our conductor was keen to have her back for a return performance (“while we can still afford her” he said), and I hope he manages to do so. A great talent, with a great future, her family must be very proud.

    That’s fantastic!  I’m going to pass that on to her.

    • #58
  29. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):

    Italian opera is full of bouncy fun. Yes, the stories can be a bit silly, or simple, but they can still be ingenious. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is a crazy romp, maybe silly if you just read the libretto. But the music, what he does with all the parts, is breathtaking.

    Opera is a combining of several (all?) of the major art forms into one unified whole. There is nothing else like it. The story is rarely the point; it is how the story is told, presented.

    I am also a late student to the glory of opera. I could not recommend to you more highly the lecture series “How to Listen to and Understand Opera” by the incomparable Robert Greenberg. Available at Audible. His lectures on this and all the rest of the glories of concert music will change your life.

    Please come back and post about your experience, I would love to hear what you think. I’m not the only one!

    (Also, whew … Wagner. Just sayin.)

    Thank you for your recommendation of Robert Greenberg’s lecture. I look forward to it.

    “Whew…Wagner”, as in, brilliant and epic, or “whew…Wagner” as in, long and grueling?

    Yes.

    • #59
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