Friday, September 24, 2010

Opera 101—Rock Me Amadeus

From the opening bars of Le Nozze di Figaro (familiar to anyone who has seen Trading Places, another great story of putting one over on an undeserving aristocracy), I was thrilled with my decision to explore the world of opera this year.

In New York, one of my great luxuries was an annual subscription to the New York Philharmonic. So, once my budget here allowed (food and rent are not the only things around here that cost money…), I looked into both the symphony and the ballet. Not thrilled with the programming of either, and seeing that the opera season would include a number of “warhorses,” perfect for a beginner like me, I decided to take the plunge.

Over the years, despite my love of concert music, I have seen only a few classic operas live: La Bohème (it’s an opera), La Traviata, a horrific Carmen in Paris, and a number of productions of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. But these have been few and far between.

So, naturally, I decided that some research was in order. I turned, as I often do, to The Teaching Company, which provides educational courses on CD and DVD. These recordings cover a range of topics, from science to history to literature, and can usually be found at your local library. I can’t recommend them enough. If you have any interest in concert music, I highly recommend Robert Greenberg’s lectures, especially How to Listen to and Understand Great Music (48 CDs) and How to Listen to and Understand Opera (32 CDs).

The Marriage of Figaro is featured prominently in Greenberg’s discussion of opera buffa, or Italian comic opera. It’s a fun opera, easy to follow, and very tuneful. Last night’s production seemed to be a very traditional interpretation, but I highly enjoyed it. I was reasonably impressed with the orchestra and singers, whose acting was particularly strong. The set was appropriately Spanish looking. My only complaint was with the supertitles, which were remarkably inconsistent, and, at times, incomplete. My Italian filled in the gaps, but I feel like they could have been handled much better than they were.

But, all in all, this was a great start to the season.

Looking good, Mozart!

[Note: If you missed the multitude of Trading Places references in this post, get thee to Netflixit's a classic.]


Sarah said...

Good for you venturing into the world of opera. It sounds like you are enjoying yourself.

p.s LOVE the movie Trading Places.

sfmike said...

Mozart operas ("Don Giovanni," in fact) were my first real entry into the realization that "oh, this stuff isn't stupid spectacle for rich people, it's actually great." This was decades ago, so I envy you your many discoveries to come.

Sylvie said...

I love stupid spectacles for rich people! But, yes, it helps that it's great too. My parents had a Bach/Beethoven divide and Mozart didn't get much play, but "The Magic Flute" won me over.

@Sarah -- "Trading Places" is the best Christmas movie ever!

EcoMeg said...

Thank you for including a good recommendation for a crash course in concert music. I am woefully ignorant on the subject!