Friday, February 26, 2016

Cold Opera

I belong to an online group that follows the HD shows live from the Metropolitan Opera.  One of the members expressed a reluctance to see an opera "cold."  I assume this means without any or possibly extensive preparation.  Currently the members are recommending which films to watch before seeing The Barber of Seville at La Fenice.

I don't prefer preparation.  I think in the context he is arguing I prefer my opera cold.  With my education and background I prefer my opera cold when at all possible.  I like to be surprised.

I am compiling a spreadsheet about the reviewed performances described in this blog.  The list at the end of 2015 is 429 performances of 246 different operas:  1 audio only (only audio remains), 4 seen in movie theaters but not from the Met, 6 from YouTube, 33 live streamed over the internet (this number is surprisingly high), 94 on DVD or VHS, 99 in HD from the Metropolitan Opera, and 181 live.  Thank goodness live is still ahead.

From this list 125 were cold.

Many were pleasant surprises.  Anna Nicole by Turnage was tremendous fun, as was Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini.  I walked very cold into the Rome Opera to a surprisingly wonderful La Leggenda di Sakùntala by Franco Alfano.  Now years later I find that the original score had recently been discovered, and that was the first performance of the original version.  Would it have made any difference if I had known that?  There was a woman with a stand talking, but I don't know enough Italian.

The most shocking cold opera was Satyagraha during the reign of Lotfi Monsouri.  It was my first Philip Glass experience and could simply not be believed.  They emphasized the musical repetitions by using repetitions in movement.  It is a mind experience which simply cannot be duplicated.

Of course, I have actually performed a lot of music by a lot of different composers:  Dallapiccola, Wagner, Williams, Weill, Thomas, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Palestrina, Strauss, Handel, Smetana, Ponchielli, Poulenc, Purcell, Saint-Saëns, Bach, Caccini, Menotti, Liszt, Schubert, Brahms, Fine, Schumann, Offenbach, Ravel, Verdi, Mahler, Berlioz, Lorzing, Janáček, Martinu, Ives....  You get the idea.  I know what the music of each of these composers and styles sounds like before I have heard the specific piece.  Completely cold is simply no longer possible for me.

I might recommend listening to great performances of different operas by the same composer.  Madama Butterfly might be considered preparation for Tosca.  I am trying to train myself to understand the words they are singing.  "Tosca ha l'occhio nero!" is easy Italian for even the earliest student.

I admit this does make it hard for me to know if you would like it.  I will say this, though:  I don't hesitate to see something again even if I wasn't that enthusiastic the first time.  A new production, a new conductor or new singers can transform a work into a different experience.  I remember the ghastly Werther brought to us by the San Francisco Opera.  I would hate the opera if I hadn't seen the wonderful performance in Paris.

This is a long subject which I think possibly cannot be exhausted.  I love opera and am always searching for something I like--a dramatic moment, a particular singer, something.

Unwanted opinion:  I think watching old films done in the old style is not a preparation for the modern world of opera.  You're not going to see productions like that in the modern world.

My life lesson advice, the path I follow myself, is that as I proceed through life, I learn.  My opinion and knowledge changes.  Perhaps you, too, will find that you are a different person today than you were last year.  You change as much as the world of opera changes.

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