Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How To "Do" Opera

If you’re an opera virgin like I am - or was - here are a few tips to get the mood.

Choose an opera you can relate to.

You have to start with something accessible so that your first opera experience will be good.

Perhaps a story resonates with you, or you are familiar with the works of certain opera artists like Luciano Pavarotti or Mozart, or you have read novels that have been turned to opera such as “Little Women”.

If you’re a movie buff and have liked “M Butterfly”, “Moulin Rouge” or “Dead Man Walking”, you may want to watch its opera equivalents which are “Madama Butterfly”, “La Traviata” and “Dead Man Walking”.

You can also choose an opera based on the genre of films you like as opera operates on classic narratives. There is fantasy, romantic comedies, and of course drama.

Finally, choose a lighthearted opera with a simple storyline. Leave the complex, sprawling epics for much later.

Be familiar with the piece.

Read about it. Peruse the synopsis, even the libretto. These are accessible through the Internet. Get a program of the event which includes an outline of the plot.

Attend a pre-show lecture if there is one. This will give you interesting insights about the opera which may prove valuable to your viewing experience.

You may also want to listen to a recording of the opera while reading the libretto. This way your eyes, ears and mind become familiar with the upcoming live experience. You can buy opera recordings in stores or borrow a CD from your local library.

And don’t worry about foreign language libretti. There is usually English supertitles throughout the performance.

Open your vocabulary to the world of opera.

Here are several terms to begin with:
  • Aria - a piece of music or song for solo voice with orchestral accompaniment which expresses the innermost thoughts and feelings of an operatic character.
  • Baritone - most common male voice, lower in range than the tenor and more darkly-hued.
  • Bass Baritone - male voices with a range between that of the baritone and the bass.
  • Bass - the lowest and 'darkest' of the male voices.
  • Bravo - the Italian word for expressing appreciation to a male performer.
  • Brava - the Italian word for expressing appreciation to a female performer.
  • Bravi - the Italian word for expressing appreciation to a group of performers.
  • Contralto - the lowest of the female voice-types.
  • Libretto - the complete text of an opera.
  • Mezzo Soprano - the mezzo is the lower-ranged female voice type.
  • Opera - an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work (opera) which combines text (libretto) and musical score.
  • Soprano - the highest of the female voice types, the soprano has always had a place of prominence in the hierarchy of vocal types.
  • Tenor - the highest of the male voices.
Dress comfortably but appropriately.

These days you can go to an opera in smart casual chic, but dressing for glamour is part of the fun; So, if you have the stuff, go strut it.

Bring a pair of binoculars.

If you are seated way up high in the balcony, a pair of binoculars will help visualize facial expressions and important set pieces which are crucial in opera appreciation.

There you have it. Opera appreciation from a first-timer to opera virgins out there.

It believe it is an acquired taste so let’s be patient. The more we expose ourselves to opera, the clearer its relevance or irrelevance to our lives will be.

So do yourself a favor and explore opera. If you end up not liking it, at least you'll cease wondering what it’s like.

But if we discover we like it, it just might allow us to see the world through a whole different prism.

So...see you at the opera!

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