Friday, April 9, 2010

A Passion for Opera

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? ~ Relyn

I 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 United Arab Emirates, 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 Madame Butterfly 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 Enrico Caruso and Dame Nellie Melba, through to those of Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi right up to the present day with Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko. 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.

But we don’t all have opera houses 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 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.

A night at the opera, there’s nothing quite like it! And to whet your appetite, here’s a You Tube video clip (below) of Leontyne Price singing the aria ‘vissi d’arte’ from Tosca. Enjoy!

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.


Jeanne said...

I enjoyed this post so very much

Lara said...

A friend of mine sent me over, knowing I have my own passion for opera. Such a great post, it made me smile! It also made me ever so slightly jealous to know all the places you've been able to see opera!

The La Boheme poster you feature is hanging in my bathroom, along with Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Otello and Turandot. Can you tell Puccini is my favorite?

To Relyn, what a wonderful idea for blogs this month! I will be back.

Tracy said...

Wonderful series you're starting here, Relyn... Derrick is a man of many talents and interests--love that. And I love opera too. The first I ever heard was "The Barber of Seville", introduced to me be my wonderful French teacher in 9th grade...not my favorite opera, but special as it was the beginnings of a now life-long appreciate of the of opera. Madame Butterfly is my favorite. How I wish I could sing! Happy Weekend ((HUGS))

Suz said...

This was wonderful!

Georgianna said...

Pure delight, Relyn and Derrick! And will definitely be visiting Derrick, especially as the Scottish Borders is one of my favorite places on earth!

Laura said...

I could just weep. This post touches my heart so!!!! Thank you Relyn and Derrick. I am listening to opera clips right now at work on Pandora radio. I have been so lucky to attend operas at the Lyric Opera in Chicago and it is an art form that leaves me feeling more. Just more of everything.

Aida is one of my faves! I cannot even imagine seeing it the way you did Derrick! What a dream come true!

My favorite opera is The Magic Flute; but coming in quickly behind is Rusalka (with Renee Fleming!!!)

love this post!

Derrick said...

Hi Relyn,

Just wanted to thank you again for having me over to chat about opera. It is set out beautifully.

Jeanne - Thank you. Have a wonderful weekend.
Lara - Thanks for dropping in. The posters make such dramatic art don't they and are a constant reminder of great performances.
Tracy - Thank you for your kind words and for popping over to Melrose Musings.
Suz - Thanks to you too.
Georgianna - You're always welcome, I look forward to seeing you.
Laura - Mozart is another wonderful opera composer and manages to inject humour too. Rusalka is a little further along the scale. Song to the moon is beautiful and I agree that Renee has a gorgeous voice.

Jeffrey said...


First, thanks for being such a great part of Relyn's blog. Your comments often provoke great discussion between the two of us.

Second, I am so grateful that you have shared this passion with us. I have loved classical symphony music for many years, but I have only recently developed a love for opera. I am a rank novice in my understanding of the art, but my knowledge and appreciation is growing.

I was horribly bored the only time I went to an opera. I was 21 and the performance was Don Giovani. I would give a lot to have that chance again and view it through a different lens. I will go to another performance of it some day.

Now I really love opera. Much to my joy, our local National Public Radio plays World of Opera on Tuesday evenings.

Anyway, thanks for sharing, and I look forward to exploring some of your favorites.

Dandy said...

I adore musicals (loved Miss Saigon) and have yet to see an opera. But it is definitely on my list!

SE'LAH... said...

How exciting to see a guest blogger here. Nice to meet Derrick. I don't get to listen to opera nearly enough.

Glad I stopped by. one love.

Derrick said...

Jeffrey - Hi! Nice to "meet" you. I'm glad you liked it. Although Mozart wrote beautiful music, Don Giovanni might not be the best for a beginner. I'll admit, some parts can seem slow!! Knowing the story also helps tremendously with any opera. Happy discovering!
Dandy I think modern musicals are becoming more operatic in style, particularly Schonberg & Boublil, Sondheim and Lloyd Webber. Give yourself a treat and give opera a try.
SE'LAH - Hello and thanks!
Make a cuppa, pull up a chair and play some opera!

beth said...

i know nothing about opera, other than the fact that when i hear it, i don't care for it. but honesty is good, right ?
i do know though, that derrick is a wonderful man and so i'm thrilled that he was your guest blogger today.

bekkah said...

Just last night I finished reading Ann Patchett's Bel Canto. A story revolving around an American opera singer. It left me feeling inspired to explore all of the musical references made throughout the story. Then today I discover this post, speaking of the very same ones...a sign, perhaps??? :)

A wonderful guest post, I enjoyed it very much!

Jeffrey said...


Thanks for mentioning Bel Canto. I was just looking at it on Friday. I am going to give it a read now.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Wonderful post, lovely photos and so personal...Passionate, certainly!

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