Archive for the ‘Opera’ Category

How Opera Won Me Over

October 10th, 2010 3 comments

I don’t know about you, but I always had an attitude about opera. Give me some chamber music, a piano concerto or a symphony and I’m happy to submerge myself into an hour or two of focused listening and experiencing of classical music. But I was very snotty about singers and opera in particular. Most of my fellow woodwind players and I barely considered singers to be “musicians”. I think it was fostered by the attitude that we woodwind players had about everybody else in school. The jocks were the brass players. And the string players were the cattle (there are so many of them in an orchestra). Moo. The percussionists were a fascinating enigma to me, I dated several. The pianists and the guitarists were lone wolves. And then there were the woodwind players. They were the real musicians. They were the ones I felt the intimate connection with when we played together. I married one of those (not my current husband).

It took several experiences for me to change my opinion about singers and later about opera.

First, I had the experience of playing flute in the pit orchestra for some Puccini operas. The music was so heartbreakingly beautiful that I allowed myself to fall in love with it in spite of the singing.

Then a close girlfriend married an opera conductor. When she came to California to visit me, with him in tow, we spent the whole night listening to opera. I tried to have an open mind for her sake, and largely succeeded at least for the night (aided by continuous drinking of cheap French wine and the smoking of cigars while discussing the merits of obscure – to me – opera performances).

Then many years later, as I introduced my current husband, David, to Puccini’s La Boheme, little did I know that it was the beginning of an obsession for him. I, being the musician in the family, had to save face and nod wisely when he exclaimed over a new find.  “I knew that.” “Really.” I came home from work to encounter booming voices and bombastic music ringing throughout the house. He started collecting recordings of Puccini operas. Then it was Mozart. Then it was Verdi, Delibes, and Rossini. When he started playing Wagner’s operas, I knew I had created a monster.  As far as I was concerned, Wagner belonged in the genre of cartoon music composers. His operas were blow-your-brains-out* loud music that lasted an eternity and had a wildly unbelievable storyline.

My attitude about opera (not Wagner – stay with me here) was reversed, finally, when I went to the San Francisco Opera for a live performance. The sets, the orchestra, the costumes, and the soaring rich resonant voices produced a revelatory experience.  I got it. I understood what was so special about opera. It is an encompassing experience that isn’t represented nearly as well in an audio recording as it is at the live “happening” event. From then on, I was in harmony with my husband about going to the opera. Every year we bought tickets for a few operas locally and in San Francisco. But I still didn’t feel  “the love” for Wagner. I really had no patience to listen to any of his music.

Today (ahh, you waited), when David and I attended the performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold streamed LIVE from the New York Metropolitan Opera to a theater  in Sacramento, I lost my aversion to Wagner. To put it in modern terms, it was like the real, the ORIGINAL Lord of the Rings Trilogy for classical music buffs. I completely bought the ludicrous storyline when I thought of it as a fantasy/science fiction story. The sets were magic and the close-ups of the singers made me really buy the emotional content of what they were singing about. I cared. I was completely engaged in a magical story that had music so expressively woven into it (and performed so fabulously) that the music was the setting, the music WAS the story. Wagner made something more than music + costumes + sets + story. The sum of these parts was in a new dimension for me. It was jaw-dropping and utterly absorbing.  The music was loud when it was perfect for it to be loud. The long conversations of the Gods were packed with emotional content and a sense of building suspense.  Art provokes an emotional response, and the new Robert Lepage production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold completely meets that criteria in the most pleasurable way. It has opened up a new world for me to explore. I can’t wait for the next installment in the series! Bravo!!!!

*blow-your-brains-out, this is a flute-player’s jaded perception of orchestral music tutti sections

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Categories: Music, Opera

The Metropolitan Opera’s Das Rheingold in Hi-Def

October 10th, 2010 No comments

This morning one of my music-loving web buddies from New York alerted me that the Metropolitan Opera would present a matinée performance of Das Rheingold at 1:00 pm EST—and that it would also be broadcast in live HD to movie theaters all across America.  Now I’m hardly a big Wagner fan, though I do think he wrote some lovely music.  Even though I keep trying to see what so many admire so much about Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen cycle of “music dramas,” I still think the obnoxious little creep’s reach far exceeded his grasp. Yet I had seen a couple of articles about the ambitious new Robert Lepage Met production and it seemed like much too good an opportunity to pass up.  Happily, my music-loving wife agreed, even though she isn’t particularly fond of Wagner, either!  Google confirmed that several Sacramento cinemas were showing the performance, so we hopped in the car and headed south.

Arriving at Natomas Regal Cinemas, we paid our $48 (a pittance compared to the cost of good seats at the opera house) and entered the theater.  A casually dressed crowd of about 150 was scattered about the plush seats.  All but a few were senior citizens.  None were throwing popcorn or shouting taunts at rivals across the room, yet their excitement was nearly palpable.  Clearly they had been looking forward to this for some time; their enthusiastic chatter reminded me of our kids before the start of a new installment of Star Wars.

The broadcast began with a brief filmed introduction to the Met’s Live HD series, some excerpts from a documentary about the making of the new Ring cycle, and Deborah Voight’s backstage interview with Bryn Terfel (portraying Wotan, CEO of the gods) outside his dressing room.  Then the scene shifted to the Met stage as seen from the dress circle, maestro James Levine entered the orchestra pit, and the magic began.

That’s right, magic . . . for what followed cannot be described as anything other than a bewitching fusion of great music, compelling story, remarkable performances, and extraordinary stagecraft.  Robert Lepage’s production defied and surpassed expectations, creating a mysterious, otherworldly setting that shifted shape seamlessly to support the needs of each scene.  (Read about the technical wizardry behind Lepage’s “Valhalla Machine,” and see images from the production, at .)

From the Rhinemaidens’ first appearance, floating against a watery backdrop high off the stage floor, to the final ascent of the gods to Valhalla, Annie and I were completely captivated.  This was easily the most satisfying production of Das Rheingold among the few I have seen, including the Met’s previous Levine/Large production and the famous Boulez/Chéreau production from Bayreuth, both on DVD.  What made Lepage’s set design work so well was precisely that it did not call attention to itself—at least, not after the initial period of adjustment to the floating, shifting, rotating floor—but effectively vanished in service to the story.  Bravo!

Of course a great set—and equally fine costuming—would hardly suffice to make a great production in the absence of great performances.  No worries—this Das Rheingold abounds with them.  The strong Met orchestra under Levine’s direction is a given in Wagner, as is Bryn Terfel in the role of Wotan.  But virtually all the performers sang and acted their roles to near perfection.

Richard Croft’s Loge was the standout for me.  His acting was fluid and credible despite an awkward costume encumbered with a body harness to pull him backwards up the tilting set, and the beautifully smooth tone of his singing voice was also rich with nuance.  He easily held his own with Zednik and Jerusalem in this role, but played Loge as more clever than crafty, more playful than devious.

Other performances I especially enjoyed included Eric Owens’s Alberich, Gerhard Siegel’s Mime (I’m already rubbing my hands together in anticipation of Siegfried!), Tamara Mumford’s Flosshilde, and Franz-Josef Selig’s Fasolt.  Yet the entire cast was superb and by singling out the foregoing for special mention I do not mean to imply that anyone else was weak.  In short, it was a first-class production in every respect and made as fine a case for Wagner’s magnum opus as we’re ever likely to see.

There will be an encore presentation at most of the same cinemas on Wednesday, Oct 27, at 6:30 pm.  Wagner fans—and even those who aren’t but are still willing to try The Ring under very favorable conditions—are heartily encouraged to attend!  For more info about the Met’s Live HD broadcasts, including links to participating cinemas, see

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Categories: Music, Opera