Angela and I enjoyed going to the opera, and even though we came from different backgrounds, we somehow arrived at the realization, separately, that opera is a wonderful art form.
Somehow, opera usually gets put into the category of high art, something above the ordinary, but, in my opinion, it’s really not all that different from the other forms of entertainment that we all enjoy, including movies, theater, music both popular and classical, and art and poetry.
Opera was always written for the general public to enjoy; a story set to music. The earliest operas were essentially concerts with set pieces of music presented to advance the story, usually a classical myth or historical event; all very serious and straightforward, looking right at the audience.
At some point during the latter half of the 19th century, opera began to shift to what was then considered a modern format, music that gave meaning to a modern story, and they were very popular with the public.
Verdi’s opera “Nabucco,” written during the days leading to the unification of Italy, had a tremendous impact on the movement, with many Italians using the theme of Va, Pensiero, the chorus of the Hebrew slaves as a rallying cry for a united country.
Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute,” was the “Phantom of the Opera” of its day, wildly popular with ordinary people.
Enough history, why do I like opera anyway? What about it appeals to me and brings me back for more? For me, it represents the quintessential artistic experience - an amalgam of dramatic story, music, and acting all wrapped into a total package. The best examples are seen on stages across the country over and over again.
Living where we do gives us the advantage of being able to enjoy opera at its best at the magnificent Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center in NYC. Going there provides a treat for the senses as you sit in the red-velveted house with crystal chandeliers that are pulled up out of sight just as the golden curtain is about to rise. Of course, on any given day, you are likely to hear some of the most glorious voices in the world being accompanied by the world class Met orchestra. How fortunate we are to have all that just a train ride away. I love to experience the spectacle of a visit there.
Angela and I went as often as we could in the days when you could only see opera live in the opera house, and we always considered ourselves fortunate to have had some extraordinary experiences there.
Sometimes when I listen to some of the music that’s popular today, I realize that both genres share some of the same qualities; highly dramatic content, emotional delivery and beautiful vocal skills. We all remember the time when Aretha filled in for Pavarotti at the Grammys, she sang his aria and did it justice.
I’m now trying to push myself to experience opera in its new modern interpretation, and not just the familiar pieces that I’ve seen many times.
Newly-written pieces that challenge me to accept opera in a contemporary format requires an open minded approach to enjoying opera that looks and sounds different. Angela and I struggled with that, and I remember both of us giving up on a performance of Lulu, shaking our heads as we decided to take an early train home.
Of course, we now have the opportunity to experience opera in the comfort of our local movie house through the Live From the Met telecasts from the stage at Lincoln Center. You get to enjoy the opera from the best seat in the house and eat popcorn too. During intermission, you also get to meet the performers who often reveal a very ordinary persona during the interviews; people who seem happy to be there singing and acting, but who also have real lives at home. They wave to their children and say hello to their parents.
I still struggle a little with going to the opera alone, another pleasant thing we did together that I now do on my own, especially knowing how much Angela enjoyed being there. I’ve met a little group of opera lovers who go to the theater to stake out our seats at the top, and we meet to share the experience.
I notice all the gray heads and wonder if there will be a future for this beautiful form of the performing arts. I hope so, because our world would be so much less beautiful without all those high C’s floating out there.
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