Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Back to the Opera

Ah yes, the Opera!

My first opera (operetta) was Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” at the Hippodrome Theatre in Bristol, U.K.   Mr Syd Richards of Coombe Road Junior School took us to this performance.  I was entranced.

(Mum and Dad had a long conversation about whether or not this was suitable event, because by now they had been linked to the fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren.  Thank goodness they allowed me to attend!).

After that I saw a few operas in various towns, “Carmen” in Oxford UK, “Il Travatore” in London U.K., and “Salome” in Boston.

Retirement in 2006 brought me to Sarasota FL, home to the Sarasota Opera, which has a five opera season each year. I decided to subscribe each year, in a way so that I could extend and grow my musical appreciation.

I shared in an elegant “box” seat for a couple of years, but these days I attend the Sunday matinees and sit in the “stalls” with my friend the Revd. Robert Lewis. 

Ever practical, this allows me to attend Church in the morning, come home for a bit of lunch (and to walk with Penne) - and then enjoy a 1:30 p.m. performance, and be back home in time to walk with Penne again and then to have a nice dinner.

One of my dear friends finds it hard to understand why opera could be so enjoyable.  

He asks “why would you listen to something which is written in a language which you do not understand?”  (I have the same question regarding rap music!)

In the case of opera “understanding” is not the best word. 

[Many operatic plots are convoluted and contrived -  (but the same could also be said about television’s “soap operas” or “sitcoms”)].

But I attend opera not to “understand”, but to enjoy.


I enjoy the sets and the costumes.

I enjoy “dressing up” a bit.

I enjoy the slightly snobbish cachet of saying “I’ll be at the Opera this afternoon”.

I enjoy the orchestra as it sings from the “pit”.  (What would opera be without splendid orchestral music?).

Mostly I enjoy the music: the glorious sounds. 

For instance, last Sunday Bob and I were at a performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor” by the 19th C. Italian composer Donizetti.  

At one point the six principal singers engage in a gorgeous mind numbing and body tingling sextet. In this scene, each singer has a different libretto (text) (sung in Italian) so it is impossible to discern what is being said.

But that does not matter!

What matters is the glorious sound.


It’s bit like the songs of birds.  We cannot understand what they are saying. But we can entirely enjoy the sound itself.


Then there is the utter skill of the singers.  

For instance, at last Sunday’s opera the “lead” role of Lucia was sung by a young woman from South Korea.

‘Twas astonishing.   

Here she was, a Korean woman, singing in Italian, and acting in a most convincing way.  

At one time, in the scene in which Lucia goes mad (having stabbed to death the man she had been forced to marry), this singer wonderfully sang forth whilst lying flat on her back on stage.   

Who could not but be in awe of such fabulous skill?

At the Opera I suspend judgment, and simply relax enough to enjoy the music and the skills of the musicians.




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