Sunday, June 04, 2006

How to Learn Opera

The Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner
Join us in our study of emotional intelligence and music at CLUB VIVO PER LEI/I LIVE FOR MUSIC

Opera is the highest art form and offers experiences commensurate.

Like to know more and don't know where to start? We're here to help.

“Screeching women in helmets” – that’s a lot of people’s impression of opera. I must admit several years ago I wasn’t far from that myself. I’d taken piano for 12 years, and been “exposed” to opera, as my parents called it -- “Madame Butterfly” at a puppet theater, where I was a lot more interested in the buffet. Then my to-be husband took me on our second date to “The Flying Dutchman,” but I was a lot more interested in my husband-to-be.

Fast-forward many years and I meet the next husband-to-be, an Italian pianist who can play Rachmaninoff’s 3rd, and cut his teeth on opera. I get interested – in both – and start learning.

Here’s how:

1. GO to an opera.
An opera is meant to be experienced. And it’s worth saving up so you can buy the best seats, usually referred to as “dress circle.”

2. DON’T start by reading.

A well-meaning client sent me her college textbook on opera. It was worse than useless. It’s like reading a recipe thinking you’ve had cake, instead of tasting and smelling a freshly baked cake.

3. AUGMENT with tapes, books, research, and like-minded people.

While attending operas, I listened to tapes, and read about the operas and composers. I quickly founded Club Vivo Per Lei / I Live for Music and created the website to share the experience. It was a natural since I coach emotional intelligence, and music is so important to our health. My research for the weekly ezine keeps me learning. Membership is international, and has doubled in the past 6 months. (You’re invited to join. It’s fr**.)

I rummaged in the closet and found an old Verdi VD, bought some Puccini CDs and my sister sent me her used Teaching Company’s tape course , “Understanding Opera” with Dr. Robert Greenberg, which is go helpful, I started a second-hand tape store on my website.

4. Italian opera is a good place to start, with Verdi. His work is simple and clear, expresses eternal themes, and has incredible energy. The darling of his nation, and then the world, the man was indomitable. He lost his wife and two babies in the span of a couple of months when he was in his late 20s, and then lived during the Austrian occupation of his homeland. Listen to the resurgent energy in 250,000 people attended his funeral . In 1830, a performance of Auber’s opera “La Muette di Portici” in Brussels sparked off the Belgian Revolution. Liszt had followers the way rock stars do today.

Opera is a powerhouse of emotion, the ultimate artistic experience, providing moments you won’t experience elsewhere. A top-staged opera is an extravaganza, serving up to us our deepest longings, fears, excitements, sadness, and joy, across all time, across all cultures.

As Wagner said, “[’Tristan und Isolde’] speaks not of the passion, love and longing of this or that individual in this or that situation, but of passion, love and longing in themselves.” (Prepare to ache.)

6. Work up to Wagner.

German opera is Wagner, that incomparable genius who composed his own lyrics as well as music. (Other composers had librettists write the words.) Wagner’s operas are so dense they’re almost ordeals, for singers and audience alike. In German opera, the orchestra figures as prominently, or moreso, than the arias (which are LONG).
There is no language problem.

It actually helps that operas aren’t in English. Opera is the music, the words are secondary (just like in real life). You’ll get translations at the opera, and can read librettos on the Internet. Be prepared for stories that sound silly or make no sense. Your senses will ‘get’ the story – through the music.

7. )

8. Watch operas in your sweats at home.

Videos and movies, of course, but also these treasures I discovered on the internet. You don’ t have to dress that much for opera any more, unless you want to, but still you have to put on underwear and get out. Besides they’re expensive. Take it easy, and start with these selections. You get to see the great names, in their primes. After you’ve watched these, you’ll have sampled:

German Opera - Richard Wagner – The Mastersinger, The Flying Dutchman
Italian Opera - Verdi’s Rigoletto and La Traviata; Puccini’s La Boheme and Turandot; Giordano’s Andrea Chenier; and Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Seviglia.

Male singers: Caruso, Mario Lanza, Pavarotti, Robert Merrill, Franco Corelli, Tito Gobbi, Richard Tucker, Jussi Bjorling, Jose Carrera and Placido Domingo.

Women: Maria Callas, Roberta Peters, Renata Tibaldi, Lori Decter, Birgit Nillson, and Jessye Norman.

Now I’ve made it easy for you. Here’s the list:

1. Maria Callas, ” Una Voce” from Il Barbieri di Seviglia

2. Che Gelida Manina from Puccini’s La Boheme. Mario Lanza hits one of the all-time high Cs:

3. Young Pavorotti sings Bella Figlia dell’Amore from Verdi’s Rigoletto:

4. Jose Carrera singing Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s “Turandot”:

5. A real historical find: 1935, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger Prelude including Goebbels saying “heil Hitler” before concert begins.

6. Duet from Verdi’s”La Traviata.” Robert Merrill, Roberta Peters:

7. Bella Figlia dell ‘Amore again, with Roberta Peters, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill and Rise Stevens (1953):

8. Fantastic! Jussi Bjorling sings Puccini’s O Soave Fanciulla from” La Boheme,” with Renata Tebaldi:

9. Classic - The only time Renata Tibaldi and Richard Tucker sang on TV. Final Duet from Giordano’s “Chenier”:

A viewer commented: “I have heard about this clip for ages but never thought I would ever see it.”

10. Tibaldi and Franco Corelli singing Chenier’s “Vicino a Te”:

11. Richard Tucker (1970) sings his favorite role from Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”, ending with a ringing high B:

12. Verdi, Alfredo’s aria from “La Traviata” with Jose Carreras:

13. Franco Corellli sings “Come Un Bel Di Di Maggio” from “Chenier”:

15. The Finale from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” with Tito Gobbi (who died in ____):

16. Wagner, Lori Decter, The Flying Dutchman

17. Richard Tucker sings "E lucevan le stelle" from Verdi’s “Tosca”. 1958.

18. Final scene from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”:

19. Birgit Nilsson singing “Vissi d’Art” from Verdi’s “Tosca”:

20. Purcell’s Dido’s Lament, by Jessye Norman:

21. Incredible find – original recordings of Caruso:

The inspiration for this beautiful music? Emotions, yes, and the words of poets – that was the precise moment when the stars began to shine (“e lucevan le stele”). We include all the arts in our emotional intelligence program, so stay tuned.

AND LAST, BUT NOT LEAST, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG EVER WRITTEN: . (Little boy's voice is dubbed, Mario Lanza is ... as always ... for real.)

©Susan Dunn, MA, Life & EQ Coach, . Coaching for success in life, relationships and career. Stress, transition, career advancement, midlife dating, step-parenting, retirement and more. Internet courses and ebooks. Susan is the author of “RE(de)FINE YOURSELF” about bringing the refinement finesse, meaning and culture into your life you see in those you most admire … and never realized was something they learned (and you can too). It’s more than PERSONAL power, it’s LIFE power. for book and for fr** ezine and visit Club Vivo Per Lei/I Live for Music here:

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