I am so pleased to introduce you to my first guest blogger in this month of passions. Derrick is a poet, a blogger, a shop owner, and an encouraging friend. He lives and works and curates a mighty collection of art in a small town in Scotland. I've long been impressed with Derrick's wit and his way with words. His blog often features his art collection and his own poetry, which I love. Derrick has also taught me so much about music. It is his passion and that shows. Through Derrick I've discovered so many talented performers I'd never heard of. It's gotten so that I feel a little like I earned a gold star on my paper when I like the music he does. I bet you will too. When you are finished here, won't you stop by Derrick's house to say hello? ~ RelynI was thrilled when Relyn invited me to contribute to her April passion posts. We all have passions but perhaps not so comprehensive a list as Relyn! I decided to take opera from my little pile.Although I remember there being a piano in our home when I was pre-school age, neither of my parents played and music didn’t flow through the house. We had a few vinyl LPs and the one I remember was Mario Lanza singing songs from The Student Prince. My love of the tenor voice (baritone and bass too) obviously lodged in my brain but it didn’t really flower until I was 25, working in Abu Dhabi in the , on the Arabian (or Persian) Gulf. That’s where I discovered opera – playing in a friend’s apartment – an unlikely location for my initiation.
The first recording I bought was Puccini’s Tosca, with the American soprano, Leontyne Price, singing the title role. I really had no idea of who she was or the storyline but from the first hearing I loved it! Despite it being 400 years old as an art form, opera is not divorced from modern life; the majority of characters are real indeed, they have the same strengths and weaknesses, suffer the same hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments, as you and me. And when wonderful voices are paired with sublime scores our response is instinctively emotional.
Just as no-one would recommend Tolstoy’s War and Peace to a new reader, so it would be better for the opera novice to begin with the more lyrical operas, especially those created by Puccini and Verdi. Puccini’s La Boheme, for example, is woven around the lives and loves of poor Parisian students while is the story of an American sailor who marries a fifteen year old Japanese girl. He, of course, is concerned only with his own sexual gratification while she denies her family and her traditions, ultimately giving her life for him. This is such an enduring story that it also inspired the musical Miss Saigon (did I mention that I love musicals too?!). Its relevance still applies.
Having lived and worked in several countries and travelled to many others, I’ve been fortunate to see opera performances in cities around the world; from Athens to Pretoria and New York to Sydney. Holiday plans will always include seeing an opera whenever possible. One of the most memorable was in Egypt in 1987, an open air setting of Verdi’s Aida at the temple in Luxor. It was wonderful to witness such a performance in the country in which it was set, where the palm trees were real and the River Nile was flowing only yards away. It follows the lives of an Ethiopian slave girl whose lover is Radames, captain of the Egyptian guard, who in turn is loved by the Princess Amneris; the eternal love triangle. Radames eventually chooses to die with Aida rather than accept the princess. People often die in opera – and sing while they are doing so! It’s just one of the theatrical conceits that we accept but with many of today’s fine singers it isn’t so difficult to make believe.
Opera recordings are available from across the eras; from early singers such as Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi right up to the present day with Rolando Villazon and . Of course, the amazing Placido Domingo is still singing. The legacy of recordings is extensive and older performances should not automatically be dismissed. You can borrow discs from libraries and view hundreds of clips on You Tube to help find your own favourites.and Dame Nellie Melba, through to those of
But we don’t all have Metropolitan Opera in New York. We are very fortunate that our local cinema receives the broadcasts on various Saturdays during the season and the 1 p.m. start in New York equates to a very civilised 6 p.m. UK time. I wrote about our latest viewing, here.on our doorsteps and attending performances can be an expensive business, especially when international stars feature. So a wonderful innovation, introduced in the last few years, is the series of live matinee broadcasts from the More from Derrick about the images: The first one is my own image of our Tosca poster. The Boheme and Aida posters are taken from Wikipedia and then there are three record sleeve images taken from Amazon. I chose Tosca because it was my first purchase and the Boheme because it is my favourite recording despite being an old one.