Opera for all!
Updated: Jun 7
I grew up with opera, watch it regularly at home, listen to it in my car and seek it out in nearly every city that I visit. However, I do realize that it is not an art form that is sought by many. They may feel that it is outdated, foreign, boring, long, annoying, depressing, too tragic or obscure. While I can easily extol the wonders of opera, it really comes down to personal taste and preference. That being said, I want to make you aware of a fantastic opportunity that exists right now! Recognizing windows of opportunity and taking advantage of them can often lead to wonderful things. In this case, in particular, you have nothing to lose ... for it's free, convenient and in the comfort of your home (no need to get off your pandemic couch). The current pandemic crisis and resultant social distancing maneuvers have unarguably created a massive drought of live performances. Opera, too, was shuttered. Theaters throughout the world have therefore increased their attempt to entertain the masses by streaming performances, free of charge, to households across the world. Music and art soothe the soul; for without ART, EARTH would be ... EH!
The Metropolitan Opera in NYC, in particular, is streaming past performances from their vast library on a daily basis, featuring a different opera every day. They select the opera and make it available for streaming for a set number of hours that day. If you are an opera lover, then sit back and enjoy the treat of the free streamings from the Met's treasure trove of past performances. But, if you are not an opera follower, if even a small part of you has considered dipping your toes into the opera world's waters, then this is an opportune time to dive in, paddle around and explore. I believe that this free streaming of top quality opera is a brilliant way to potentially expose new eyes and ears to an art form that otherwise they may never choose to buy tickets to or physically attend.
It made me start to think of the many advantages of streaming opera.
the synopsis of the story is available alongside the stream
subtitles of translations are shown at the bottom of the screen (available in English, German, Spanish and Italian)
can pause it, stop it or watch it in increments
can repeat a beautiful aria when it moves you, as many times as you want to (which means you can listen to that hunky baritone or romantic tenor over and over again!)
can sit in your comfy clothes, put your feet up, and have a glass of wine (or 2)
If you choose to purchase a monthly or annual subscription to MetOpera OnDemand, then in addition to the above you gain a few added benefits.
you choose which opera you are in the mood to watch ... some are light, others heavy, some comic, some tragic, in others nobody dies, some are in Italian, others in German, French, Russian etc.
you can break it up and watch one opera over several nights ... for example, one act per day (for those who don't have the time or patience to watch an entire opera in one sitting)
All of these benefits make opera more accessible to people who normally don't gravitate to this art form. A currently free option, but otherwise an inexpensive streaming subscription, is a great way to try to overcome the hurdles that puts opera out of site and out of mind for many. If you are interested in accessing the MetOpera streaming, go to their website at www.metopera.org.
For those who are new to opera or are considering trying it, there are certainly ones that are easier to digest. Depending on who you ask, the recommendations may vary slightly. But my suggestion is to start with some Italian operas by either Giuseppe Verdi or Giacomo Puccini. Both composers are musical geniuses who wrote gorgeous, melodic, fluid orchestrations. The Italian language sounds so beautiful when sung (or spoken or even cursed), that even when they are dying, their passion and amore will engulf you. Some of my favorites are La Traviata (top), Rigoletto, Tosca (bottom), La Boheme, ... all of which are sung in Italian with gorgeous melodies.
Other operas that are good for starters:
The Barber of Seville (Rossini) - Italian (middle)
Carmen (Bizet) - French
La Cerentola (Rossini) - Italian
La Fille du Régiment (Donizetti) - French
Cosi Fan Tutte (Mozart) - Italian
The Magic Flute (Mozart) - German
L'Elisir D'Amore (Donizetti) - Italian
Il Trovatore (Verdi) - Italian
Recently I have seen a push by opera companies to make their productions more relevant to our world by maintaining the original libretto and musical score, but setting the story in a modern setting. This is always fun because the music is beautiful and lyrical, but the story, costumes and set design are adapted to fit our recent or current issues, politics or events. It is very interesting to observe that with only minimal modification the moral issues and social problems that they sang about many centuries ago are virtually the same as the ones we face today. I guess, we haven't evolved and smartened up as much as we may have hoped. Some things don't really change!
Finally, I want you to know that just yesterday, April 25th, the Met produced a Live At-Home Gala via Skype in a most ambitious effort to bring the artistry and music of opera to the living rooms of the quarantined world. Top operatic singers, globally, joined this effort singing from their own homes accompanied by a piano, a recorded instrument track and occasionally nothing. Even the choir and the orchestra participated in this phenomenal effort, as noted by their gorgeous rendition of Va, pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Verdi's Nabucco. This 4-hour Gala is also available on the Met website for free streaming. Check it out!