2004-03-18 - 5:48 p.m.
I've been listening to Turandot lately. Puccini's last opera, and the last opera to have a mass following. What one might call the last of the Grand Operas.
Turandot is no longer my favorite opera. But it was my first. The one that got under my skin and into my blood. The one where I memorized the whole thing, and could tell exactly what was happening in the plot within about 30 seconds. The one that made me love opera. There's something terribly nostalgic about listening to it. It brings back the excitment of discovering something completely new in myself.
I grew up with opera. When my parents bought our first CD player in the '80s, they bought The Barber of Seville to go along with it. I liked Il Barbiere, but was really too young to fully appreciate it. It wasn't until my mom got Turandot, when I was in high school, that I really discovered my passion for opera. I would listen to it over and over again. From there I went to La Boheme, then Madama Butterfly. I stuck to Puccini for a long time. Then I branched out to Verdi and then Mozart. Every year I love opera more and more; every year I discover some new gem.
What I don't like is how opera is portrayed in pop culture. I've read more barbs about "people running around the stage screaming in Italian" than I can count. To me, it reveals a profound ignorance. Before dismissing opera as a pastime of the elite, maybe people should learn a little bit about it. When I go an opera, I don't go to be seen. I go to be transported. When I hear "E lucevan le stelle," I don't hear someone mouthing off in Italian. I hear a man in true despair, knowing he will die in a few hours, and remembering one sweet night with his lover--"Vanished forever is my dream of love, the hour has fled...and desperately I die. And never have I loved so much in all my life, in all my life!" These are words uttered by a painter, a revolutionary in Italy.
Opera is portrayed as being a rarified art form enjoyed solely by the social elite, and usually by the evil social elite. But tickets often on par with what you'd pay for a rock concert. Even in DC I can get tickets to see legendary singers for $70. And many opera houses have an outreach program for young opera fans who might not be able to afford tickets otherwise. And you can buy these Black Dog opera books for about $20 bucks. They include not only a recording (often with top names) and a complete libretto, but also background information on the composer and the opera itself. I urge you to go buy one. Maybe Carmen or the Barber of Seville. See what opera is all about.
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