At first I found opera amusing and annoying-a bunch of characters screeching to the point of shattering glass, in languages I couldn’t understand.
But then I changed. When was that, exactly, and how did it happen? I’m not sure. It was gradual, a series of small awakenings.
I remember being in New York in the 1990s for a conference for work. My goal was to get tickets to a Broadway show, and I did; a colleague and I went to see a revival of Fiddler on the Roof, which was wonderful.
I’d loved musicals from a young age, ever since my parents took us to see Oklahoma! at a movie theater in downtown Chicago. I’d loved classical music too, from the age of ten when my best friend played Beethoven on the piano. In high school, I had some of my best times in the glee club when we performed Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. I was a lovesick maiden in Patience one year, and the next a sailor in H.M.S. Pinafore. (It was a girls’ school.) I still love that music.
But opera wasn’t my thing, so when two friends at the conference suggested an outing to the Metropolitan Opera, I declined. And I laughed at them when they returned to our hotel room six hours later, exhausted. The opera, one of the Wagnerian epics, lasted forever. I was glad I’d stayed home.
But then came the Three Tenors. I could hardly avoid seeing them on PBS, and I had to admit that their singing was glorious. It was surprisingly fun, too. I bought their cassette tape.
After that, I dug out my soundtrack album of A Clockwork Orange, which had music by Beethoven and Elgar, among others-and also Rossini, from an opera called La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie). I loved it! It was so melodious.
Then I bought an album of arias by Leontyne Price. It must have been advertised by the same music club I bought the Three Tenors and A Clockwork Orange from. Her album was all arias (individual songs without the operas). One in particular by Puccini, “Chi Il Bel Sogno de Doretta,” from the opera La Rondine, was heartbreakingly beautiful. When she reached the highest notes, I didn’t cringe. Far from it; I almost cried.
Maybe I liked opera, after all. I decided to take my young daughter to a local performance of Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. We both loved it-especially me!
Then there was the movie Moonstruck, with Cher and Nicholas Cage going to the Met for a performance of La Boheme. Cher spends the day becoming beautiful. Her deep red dress is stunning under the chandeliers in that glittery hall, and of course, the music is perfect.
I do like opera! On New Year’s Day 2008, I was at my local movie theater for the Met’s Live in HD production of Hansel and Gretel. I didn’t get all dressed up like Cher, but I did get to feel as if I were at the Metropolitan Opera, in the very best seat.
I saw more, in fact, than the audience at the Met did-a close-up view of the orchestra, backstage interviews, and great views of the action and sets onstage.
It’s always an extra treat, when you see an opera, to discover what kind of set has been created for the production. This opera’s scenery was beyond anything I expected-so creative, magical and atmospheric. And the costumes of all the characters, from the whimsical chefs to the family and the ugly old witch-played by a portly grey-haired man in a skirt!–were wonderful.
The music was sublime. My favorite is the “Evening Prayer” in Act 2, so sweet and tender. “When at night I go to sleep. . . .”
Now, whenever opera is showing where I live, either live or on the screen at the movie theater, I try to be there. The stories are engaging, sometimes funny, often profound. I never know what the sets and costumes will be like, but I always know that the music will be beautiful
Suddenly, it seems, I like opera!
Read my article, Coming Soon to a Theater Near You: The Metropolitan Opera, for more information on the Met’s Live in HD series.