Opera! There's Nothing Like It -- And A Good Thing, Too!
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Posted: Monday, May 28, 2012
by Octavia Hansen
Recently I attended the opera. Not just any opera. Oh, no, it was only PART of THE OPERA. I'm talking Wagner. Richard Wagner. He wrote what is referred to as The Ring Cycle: four operas where people with minimalist scenery in shabby costumes yell German at the top of their lungs to the audience for four, sometimes five hours . . . EACH. Even with subtitles these take forever. Wagner was banned (though it was considered "unofficial") in Israel since WWII -- I think it was actually because no one had that much time to waste while building a new nation. Any one of these, much less the entire cycle, could knock you off opera forever.
Gilbert and Sullivan at least wrote their operas in English. Most of them are silly, clever word play and have a happy ending, but that was their point. A lot of the melodies are familiar, there have been parodies and remakes since the day the operas were released. I consider one of the downfalls of British tradition was the non-renewal for public funding of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, the original production house for all the Gilbert & Sullivan for more than one hundred years. This institution was one of the few saving graces from the Victorian Era, redeeming the hypocrisy from both crown and commoner. But that's another opera.
In Grand Opera there are only three endings . . . she dies, he dies, they die. Happy ending operas are under other names . . . light opera, operettas, musicals. True classic opera is Italian, sometimes German or French, and have traditional unhappy endings. Maybe it goes along the line that when everything else is tragic, your life doesn't seem so bad.
Operas were commissioned by Kings, Emperors and Monarchs or supported by such and sometimes honored important occasions or holidays. Many European royal houses were swept away with World War I and grand opera took a backseat to world conflicts. Opera was never music for the masses though to show good breeding as music became widespread and recordings improved, opera was always included in a varied collection. The Great Caruso made early recordings, his projection and clarity easily transferred to this early media. He recognized and profited from the wide dispersal and profits from a one-time recorded performance. Others soon followed his example.
Every metropolitan city has a grand opera house, though most are used for other entertainment as well. La Scala, Milan, will probably always be opera central, and the Sydney Opera House, Australia, seems to define the entire continent as a symbol of fine music in a foreign land. The Royal Opera House, London, also has a sister at Covent Garden, still offering classic productions at affordable prices. And the Metropolitan Opera of New York City is any great singer's true aspiration, not Carnegie Hall.
Even as the Old West was settled, an Opera House was always on Main Street next to the Saloon-Gambling Hall, the Hotel, a Cat House and General Store. An Opera House made it more than a settlement or a town, culture was also available. San Francisco, CA, and Denver, CO, have kept their tradition alive since the days of the Gold Rush.
And opera was not just the music, it was THE social occasion, the opera season was the biggest event outside of the Christmas holidays. It was the place to meet someone, dress to the nines, to see and be seen. La Traviata is an opera about going to the opera, a few more elements are thrown in but basically it was a mirror to that time.
My opera requirements are a comfy chair and a notepad to write. I let my mind wander and all sorts of things fall in that I must capture, even if it means writing in the dark. No, I'm not an opera fan but my husband is. We share likes and interests and in the art of being a couple, we go together. Hey, if he were a jockey I'd be reading the racing news and hanging around the track. Yes, dear, I'm coming . . . who's yelling what tonight? . . .
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