The Opera Experience

Aug 18, 2007 11:58 am
The “experience” of an opera is the pinnacle of what we are looking for. It has to do with time, place, and what you bring to it. What is great for my wife might be so-so for me and vice versa (although we usually agree on most things musical…). However, I seem to be having more and better experiences as time goes on, rather than less. It may have to do with the fact that I have taken a different path than most through operatic geography.

I spent my youth in Nebraska. They have Opera Omaha, a reasonably good regional company, but I had no access to it. It was too expensive, hard to get to, and not well promoted–at least not in any place that I would have noticed. Opera recordings were not well-stocked in local records stores and mail-order just does not compare with the internet. Without the occasional Met broadcast I would have been completely in the dark.

I spent the next decade in Minneapolis. A big improvement, but still the minor leagues. There was a small company and a few semi-professional groups. Recordings were available, but I tended to save my money for occasional trips to Tower Records in Chicago or New York where there was real selection to chose from. Met broadcasts became more regular and meaningful as I developed a better understanding. A subscription to Opera News was a big help, but it described worlds that was utterly alien to me.

The rest of my life has been on the East Coast. Five years in New York were opera heaven. There is the Met, of course, and at that time standing room was about the price of going to a movie—so I went almost every week. Then there was New York City Opera, Opera in the Park, Opera Orchestra of New York, BAM, Amato, The Kitchen and dozens of semi-professional, collegiate and ad hoc groups producing everything from the earliest baroque operas to the latest experimental works-in-progress.

Boston is not quite as exciting but with two major opera companies, Tanglewood, Boston Symphony, Boston Early Music festival and several quality music conservatories with students, teachers and alumni forming an endless number of orchestras, ensembles and chamber groups—we are pretty well covered.

While I still search for that definitive version of Gluck’s Orfeo I find that even though I have hundreds of opera recordings, I spend less and less time with them. I rarely pull them out and usually for just for reference. It is not that I am less engaged, I probably hear more opera than at any other time of my life. In addition to all the live music available locally there are broadcasts on WHRB (Harvard Radio), Sirius and dozens of broadcasts from all over the world every week on the internet. Add to that digital music that is available on services like eMusic… well, there is not even time to hear a tiny fraction of it all.

Are these great experiences? Not all of them, but many of them are. The Met broadcasts on Sirius are very exciting. I hate La Bohème, but heard a performance on Sirius last year with Netrebko and Villazón that was electric and unforgettable. At the moment I am listening to Ruth Ann Swenson singing Puritani from the 1970’s Met archive and this afternoon will hear a recent production from Napoli of Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers broadcast over Italian radio. Are these great? Swenson may not be the best Elvira ever, but I like her interpretation better than the acclaimed versions by Callas and Sutherland. And Henze? It could be a mediocre production and I will still be very excited. I have long been a fan of Henze’s work. This is one his most important operas and I have never heard it. And if I am not sick of opera by this evening I could check out what’s on NPR’s World of Opera. Hard to beat that for an afternoon in the summer off-season.


~ by severalfourmany on August 18, 2007.

2 Responses to “The Opera Experience”

  1. “I still search for that definitive version of Gluck’s Orfeo

    A funny story. I felt the same thing for decades. Went through all the “big name” recordings, then all the new “historically informed” ones before picking up, for a very cheap price ($12), the RCA-BMG reissue of the old 1957 recording with a mezzo I normally could care less about, Rise Stevens.

  2. I think I pretty much have everything I want. I’m still looking for a great stereo (or digital) performance of Die Walküre and Götterdammerung, but always come up disappointed. Otherwise, I’m content with my collection and my memories. New discoveries always seem to be strange older works that are not standard repertoire.

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