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Thread: Your opera journey

  1. #1
    Senior Member nefigah's Avatar
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    Smile Your opera journey

    Forgive me if such a thread has been posted before--if so, and you've already shared in it, please do link!

    I would be quite curious to learn of others' journey/experiences/progression with regard to opera.

    I think it is fair to say that opera, in contrast to e.g. the symphony, is not something that everyone just instantly likes--at least in our day and age--even among classical aficionados. Certainly such was the case with me for much of my life, and even now I have friends who poke fun at me for enjoying it. As such, I think it would be beneficial to talk about how you came to love it!

    Here are some questions that might help in guiding discussion (though of course feel free to add to or ignore them as needed!):

    Was there a time in your life you didn't care for opera at all? Similarly, was there a time when you were "into" classical music, but not opera per se?

    How important was/(is) live performance attendance to your appreciation of opera? Was a live performance a catalyst for further exploration?

    What specific opera do you first recall loving? What composer "introduced" you to the genre?

    Have your tastes within the genre changed over time? In surprising ways?

    Do you have friends/a spouse (who is hopefully also your friend ) who shares in your enjoyment of opera?

    Are there composers/styles you have yet to explore, are looking forward to exploring, or don't wish to explore?


    And, if you've liked opera for some years:

    Do you have anything to say to those newly embarking on a similar journey?

    I'm looking forward to hearing your responses!

  2. #2
    Super Moderator jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nefigah View Post
    Was there a time in your life you didn't care for opera at all?
    I became an opera fan in the mid-80's. Before that I didn't exactly hate it, I just wasn't interested.

    Similarly, was there a time when you were "into" classical music, but not opera per se?
    No. I got into opera at the almost exact same time as I started to get into classical music as a whole.

    What specific opera do you first recall loving? What composer "introduced" you to the genre?
    First thing I owed was the semi-operatic recording of West Side Story with Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras. Then a few other very accessible ones - Carmen and Porgy & Bess. After that Le Nozze di Figaro. Then I was ready for a bit of 'far out' stuff like Salome and Elektra. But all this happened within the space of just four or five months. I was sold on opera very quickly and I loved practically all the important works I heard, even though they were stylistically very different from one another.

    Have your tastes within the genre changed over time? In surprising ways?
    Not really. I still love what I loved all those years ago, I just love more because I've heard more.

    Do you have friends/a spouse (who is hopefully also your friend ) who shares in your enjoyment of opera?
    I know people who like it, though none love it as much as I do. But (surprisingly maybe) I also know very few people in my circle of 'friends' who actually hate it.

    Do you have anything to say to those newly embarking on a similar journey?
    Yes - always keep in mind that every bird builds a nest, but not everyone can lay an egg. Other than that, I hope that you will enjoy the music as much as I've done for all these years.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Rasa's Avatar
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    Was there a time in your life you didn't care for opera at all? Similarly, was there a time when you were "into" classical music, but not opera per se?
    I've been into classical since I was a kid. both my parents were professional musicians, it's all we listened to. When I was four, I wanted to go see Dido and Aeneas but wasn't allowed to for some weird reason. I went as far as to
    write a letter to the opera director complaining about this He gave me tickets for some musical which blew, and from that point on I was set on getting into an opera preformance

    How important was/(is) live performance attendance to your appreciation of opera? Was a live performance a catalyst for further exploration?
    Not at all, because I wanted to see operas anyways


    What specific opera do you first recall loving? What composer "introduced" you to the genre?
    As said, Dido and Aeneas. I guess this is because when I was little, my Grandfather didn't know any fairy tales, but isntead kept either reciting greek and roman history (I dug it), or myths. that's why an opera on the subject had my attention.

    Have your tastes within the genre changed over time? In surprising ways?

    Do you have friends/a spouse (who is hopefully also your friend ) who shares in your enjoyment of opera?
    When I was fifteen, I asked my mom if she'd buy us season tickets to the opera, and we still go now.

    Are there composers/styles you have yet to explore, are looking forward to exploring, or don't wish to explore?
    After a couple of full season I've seen operas from the beginning of it (saw Incoronazione di Poppea) to the end (Batistini or something, custom made. Man that was boring). I've decided I'll avoid any operas by the second Viennese school, as well as most contemporary compositions.
    And, if you've liked opera for some years:

    Do you have anything to say to those newly embarking on a similar journey?
    It's ok to take a five minute nap in the middle of the piece =D

  4. #4
    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nefigah View Post
    Was there a time in your life you didn't care for opera at all? Similarly, was there a time when you were "into" classical music, but not opera per se?
    Yes, to both. I discovered classical music (Elgar, Sibelius, RVW mostly) at the same time as I discovered the Beatles, but I could only cope with orchestral music. I hated choral music and opera - seriously couldn't bear to listen to it.

    How important was/(is) live performance attendance to your appreciation of opera? Was a live performance a catalyst for further exploration?
    Initially, not at all. Later, yes.

    What specific opera do you first recall loving? What composer "introduced" you to the genre?
    Bought a record of 'highlights' from Gotterdammerung (Rita Hunter as Brunnhilde), just as an experiment, on the basis that since I loved what I might call 'Northern Romantics', surely I ought to get something from Wagner. First impression: 'Ugh!' Neither my wife nor I liked it. But the weird thing is this: we both kept playing it. We found that our normal favourites didn't seem quite as enticing as usual - and we kept playing this record. So after a few weeks we went and bought a record of highlights from Rhinegold. And then we were on the slippery slope.

    Beore long we were saving and scraping every penny to try to afford the whole Ring - and eventually managed to buy the Bohm Bayreuth version. Wagner swamped everything. We played our Ring records every evening. We listened to a complete Ring cycle on the radio. We read books. We went to see a live performance of Gotterdammerung, with Rita Hunter, Reggie Goodall and the ENO, and it was the most overwhelming experience of the kind that I'd ever had - nothing since has quite matched it. It was a hot summer night, we were horribly uncomfortable, but it hardly mattered. It wasn't just us - the audience exploded at the end of this phenomenal performance; we all rose to our feet, and simply wouldn't let them go home.

    Bought a set of Tristan; went to see a performance, found it dull. You win some, you lose some.

    Have your tastes within the genre changed over time? In surprising ways?
    For ages - many years - it was Wagner or nothing as far as opera was concerned. Couldn't hear any tunes in Verdi; couldn't get on with Mozart at all; but then I bought a record of highlights from Rosenkavalier and the roof blew off. No 'getting to know it': it hit me on first listening. Puccini came next. Then no more progress, for years. And years.

    Then I heard Elgar's The Spirit of England. I couldn't bear choral music, remember; so even though I'd always loved Elgar, I still couldn't tolerate his choral stuff. But The Spirit of England proved to be one of those crucial turning points, and down came the barriers. Gerontius, Kingdom, Apostles, Caractacus - suddenly all these things were accessible, and I spent a long time exploring just Elgar's vocal music.

    But it signalled a change - maybe physiological, or maybe it was just that I was emotionally and intellectually and spiritually ready for it; but suddenly all sorts of things were up for grabs. I became deeply involved in French C19th opera - Massenet, Gounod, Thomas etc. Started going to operas again. And now, only last year, came the big breakthrough into French baroque, and more recently Handel. The world of opera has never seemed more limitless than it seems right now.

    Do you have friends/a spouse (who is hopefully also your friend ) who shares in your enjoyment of opera?
    Yes, but she's not as keen as I am.

    Are there composers/styles you have yet to explore, are looking forward to exploring, or don't wish to explore?
    At the moment I can't see an end to my exploration of baroque opera, simply because there's so much of it, and it's proving intensely rewarding.

    Do you have anything to say to those newly embarking on a similar journey?
    Never rule anything out. If someone had told me, twenty years ago, that in the future I'd be spending all my time listening to operas and vocal music by Handel, Lully, Rameau, and Charpentier, I would have thought they were being entirely ridiculous.

  5. #5
    Member Praine's Avatar
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    Was there a time in your life you didn't care for opera at all? Similarly, was there a time when you were "into" classical music, but not opera per se?

    Yeah, definitely. I found operatic vocals very annoying at one time. But this was also at a time that I wasn't huge on classical music in general.

    How important was/(is) live performance attendance to your appreciation of opera? Was a live performance a catalyst for further exploration?

    Didn't have too much of an effect on me. I only saw live opera only 1 or 2 times in my life.

    What specific opera do you first recall loving? What composer "introduced" you to the genre?

    Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz introduced me to the genre and it may just be my favorite. Either that or Gluck's Alceste.

    Have your tastes within the genre changed over time? In surprising ways?

    From completely shunning it to loving it, yeah I would say that my tastes have suprisingly changed.

    Do you have friends/a spouse (who is hopefully also your friend ) who shares in your enjoyment of opera?

    Nope.

    Are there composers/styles you have yet to explore, are looking forward to exploring, or don't wish to explore?

    Really look forward to hearing Umberto Giordano, but I'm having one heck of a time finding any of his works available. I'm also hoping to listen to Ruggero Leoncavallo's works in the near future and maybe some Catalini as well.

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    Senior Member nefigah's Avatar
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    I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to reply so far. So interesting that we already have so many different journeys! From childhood love to conversion after many years, from introduction via West Side Story to Weber and Wagner.

    Anyway, I'm tickled! Don't mind me

  7. #7
    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    Was there a time in your life you didn't care for opera at all? Similarly, was there a time when you were "into" classical music, but not opera per se?
    Yes, most of my life. I have gradually turned a corner on that style of singing, but it took decades. You folks will think me gauche, but the only way I learned to tolerate operatic singing, or almost any classical style of singing (other than very early music with little or no warbling vibrato) was to imagine it as some kind of theremin or synthesizer. Then I could tolerate it. It is still not exactly the most pleasant of sounds.

    How important was/(is) live performance attendance to your appreciation of opera? Was a live performance a catalyst for further exploration?
    No. I have only seen DVD's of operas. I have seen oratorios and other vocal works live however.

    What specific opera do you first recall loving? What composer "introduced" you to the genre?
    I have said in the past it was the complete Ring cycle that I sat down and watched from start to finish, but that was the first opera I saw on DVD. I suppose I heard a Handel opera before that and followed the libretto as it was playing. But now I can't remember which one. Probably Julius Caesar.

    Have your tastes within the genre changed over time? In surprising ways?
    I'm still too new to it.

    Do you have friends/a spouse (who is hopefully also your friend ) who shares in your enjoyment of opera?
    No. In fact my former spouse did not even want to go with me to see a friend perform vocally in The Planets, fearing that it was opera music. I did say former.

    Are there composers/styles you have yet to explore, are looking forward to exploring, or don't wish to explore?
    I know nothing about the big names in Italian opera. I would like to experience an epic Verdi opera and maybe a Puccini.

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    I grew up singing in the boy's choir of a high Episcopal church, and was therefore exposed to classical voice from a very young age -- singing Mozart, Bach, Haydn, etc. What a joy.

    Growing up in Kansas City, I didn't see much opera, but each Saturday I tried to tune into the Met broadcasts. Being a regular boy I had plenty of distractions on Saturday, like riding my bicycle and later, my motorbike. I also squandered much of you youth in a billiard hall, learning to play an excellent game of pool -- I've played in many tournaments and I've also made lots of money batting on my skill. But I often stayed home and lietened to the Saturday Met broadcast, especially if the opera was Verdi, Puccini, or Mozart.

    As a teen I joined a choral group (I was still a tenor then) and we sang Mozart's Requiem, Haydn's Creation, other great choral works. And I also began building a nice stereo and a collection of classical LPs. This was in the 50s-60s.

    First opera I saw live was a local English language production of Carmen. I was also in the chorus, so the first opera I saw was the first opera I performed in. Funny, eh?

    In college I sang in a choral group and also a blues band off campus and I also played electric bass. This was when my voice really changed to baritone. If a young boy is trained as a high boy soprano, during puberty his voice changes slowly, taking years sometimes.

    I gave up singing for several years -- left the church, travelled around the country, bummed about Florida and the southeast, supporting myself with my pool playing (and other things -- heh heh). Soon after I went to work for the government and did some -- ah -- "intersting" work near Green Belt Maryland. During this time I had a TS (top secret) clearance. The things I saw!

    Then I went back to Kansas City, got married and went back to school for my Master's in chemistry, had zero time to sing "seriously".

    After divorce I moved to San Francisco and began to sing in church again, joined a choral group and began to study voice seriously for the first time. I joined a small opera company and began to perform in the chorus, singing in the original languages. After I returned to Houston I took many private singing lessons and became a fairly good amateur baritone, singing in quite a few operas, both chorus and in some small roles. It was hard work but great fun. My normal low is low-E and I can often get down to a low-Eflat. High? I regularly sing a strong G about C and sometimes can get up to A-natural and even B-flat about C. I also have excellent pitch and breath control, and I'm fearless on stage -- unafraid with zero stage fright, do some fun comedic roles like Antonio the Gardner in Nozze.

    During this tiem I did some, ah, "security" work but soon got away from that stuff -- too much pressure and too many people watching each other.

    In the meantime I began to regularly attend Houston Grand Opera and the 3 or 4 opera companies set up in the university music programs here. During this time I found that opera is a genuine "babe magnet" and thoroughly enjoyed dating quite a few singers. I seemed to find mezzos the most fun. Luckily my income has been excellent and that pays my way into most any show I wish to see. And yes, when they come to Houston, I always get floor tickets for the Rolling Stones!

    After my bad legs gave out and needed surgery, I reluctantly gave up stage work and then sang with a large choral society, singing Carmina Burana and so on.

    Nowdays I'm very busy full time at work as an engineering consultant for the oil and gas industry, and occasionally I sing at weddings and such. I have season tickets to the Houston Grand Opera and my girlfriend and I go often. She's a newcomer to classics but she's really enjoying it. Rigoletto blew her away.

    I've also just sent the corrected galley proofs to the publisher for my first novel, a private detective mystery. So I've been very busy. I'm also writing an articla for the NRA about gun safety and I'm working on 3 short stories. I'm also working on finishing my 2nd mystery novel. Whew.

    Later I may get on with more formal singing but that will be perhaps a year later. The Mozart concert aria I'm learning now is Io Ti Lascio.

    First opera I ever loved as Magic Flute! And it's still in my top 5 greatest. These days I have dozens of opera CDs and DVDs and listen/watch them regularly. I listen to opera at work or when driving around in my T-Bird. I still love Mozart the best, Don Giovanni, Magic Flute, and Nozze the best. I also love Verdi and Puccini, some Wagner and others. I also like Philip Glass.

    So, after some active performance in operas, I'm nowdays a spectator only. But that's okay for me, at least for now.

  9. #9
    Senior Member nefigah's Avatar
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    Thanks, Weston, it is good to get perspectives from those of us a bit newer to the genre as well!

    @katdad:

  10. #10
    Member Bgroovy2's Avatar
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    Was there a time in your life you didn't care for opera at all?
    Very much so. Even though as was brought up around and played classical music, I did not care for opera

    How important was/(is) live performance attendance to your appreciation of opera? Was a live performance a catalyst for further exploration?
    The first opera that I attended was "Madam Butterfly." It was an interesting experiance. I began to see opera as an art-form that I needed to further explore. But what really got me to that point was my vocal coach. It was after begining my study of Bel-Canto singing that I really began to see and gain intrest in what these people were doing! At this time, I was in my mid thirties.

    Have your tastes within the genre changed over time? In surprising ways?
    Oh yes; I am now exploring the music of "Boy Sapranos." This falls into the realm of classical singing as well, but not nessesarly opera. I find these young voices to be pure and void of many of the defects that plague the "Professional."


    Do you have friends/a spouse (who is hopefully also your friend ) who shares in your enjoyment of opera?
    My wife, although not a big fan, appreciates this type of music and will go to a show with me!


    Are there composers/styles you have yet to explore, are looking forward to exploring, or don't wish to explore?
    There is always new material and styles to expolore. Right now, I am working on my first Alto arias: Behold a Virgin Shall Conceive, and O Thou that Tellest. These are both from the piece that I consider to be the greatest oritorio ever written, The Messiah. These peices fall well within my tenor vocal range.

    Do you have anything to say to those newly embarking on a similar journey?
    Yes, throw away your 21st century, preconceived idea of what singing is supposed to sound like and listen with and open mind and let your heart feel the emotion of the aria, you will be surprized at what you begin to hear!

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    Oh, yeah. I'm usually a much better speller but I was in a hurry that day. Eeeek!

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    On a side note, although I was into opera even as a young guy, it was my wife who got me interested in dance. She had studied under Eric Bruhn at the National Ballet of Canada and then danced in the corps at the San Francisco Ballet -- so she was pretty good.

    Thanks to her, I've become a big fan of dance. Merce Cunningham is my fave.

  13. #13
    Senior Member David C Coleman's Avatar
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    Yes, I've still got get into opera properly. I like most forms of classical music, and indeed a lot of different types of music, but opera still evades me. I think primarily of the time-span of them. I like highlights and bits and pieces of opera, still got to go the whole hog!!...

  14. #14
    Member Gneiss's Avatar
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    Was there a time in your life you didn't care for opera at all? Similarly, was there a time when you were "into" classical music, but not opera per se?

    My dad used to watch/listen the broadcasts whenever it was on, mostly sung in English in those days - as a child I just found it boring.

    However I was always fascinated by the sopranos, more so from old films with the likes of Deanna Durbin who to this day I adore. Others notable names from film that stand out were Jeannette McDonald, Nelson Eddy and of course Mario Lanza. So I suppose it was that I came to appreaciate the operatic voice rather than opera.

    How important was/(is) live performance attendance to your appreciation of opera? Was a live performance a catalyst for further exploration?

    There is no doubt that the two experiences are entirely different but I’m happy to listen to recorded materiel in the comfort of my out home. It’s fair to say that most theatre seats certainly make you suffer for the art!!

    What specific opera do you first recall loving? What composer "introduced" you to the genre?

    La Traviata has always been my favourite, and I can’t really see that changing.

    Have your tastes within the genre changed over time? In surprising ways?

    Possibly a little, but I don’t think I’ll ever fully appreciate Wagner.

    Do you have friends/a spouse (who is hopefully also your friend ) who shares in your enjoyment of opera?

    My wife isn’t really keen, although she enjoyed La Boheme (the movie) when we went to see it at Warwick Arts centre. And she is coming to see Anna Netrebko live with me…

    Are there composers/styles you have yet to explore, are looking forward to exploring, or don't wish to explore?

    None I would rule out, but I do tend to stick to what I know I like and “discover” others by accident.

    And, if you've liked opera for some years:

    Do you have anything to say to those newly embarking on a similar journey?


    Yes, just follow your nose and go with what YOU enjoy… If you don’t think Maria Callas is the best thing since sliced bread them so be it!
    Last edited by Gneiss; May-09-2009 at 15:24.

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    Assistant Administrator Chi_townPhilly's Avatar
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    Was there a time in your life you didn't care for opera at all? Similarly, was there a time when you were "into" classical music, but not opera per se?
    First, some background... I grew up with "Milton Cross- Stories of the Great Operas" in my house, so I was familiar with a few opera plots fairly early on. From there, I happily absorbed "Opera hits" vinyl selections at about the same time I developed in interest in other 'Classical Pops' pieces. It was a little while, though, before my adolescent attention span was equal to the demands of a complete opera.

    How important was/(is) live performance attendance to your appreciation of opera? Was a live performance a catalyst for further exploration?
    I'm a great believer in the premise that opera is best enjoyed in live performance. The perennial obstacle, of course, is ticket prices. Possibly more important than performance attendance is performance philanthropy. Whether it's Opera or Symphony Orchestra, I try to find one worthy ensemble, and show some generosity to that group.

    What specific opera do you first recall loving? What composer "introduced" you to the genre?
    The first opera I saw live was Verdi's Rigoletto- and I remember the performance with fondness. The second opera I saw was Wagner's Die Meistersinger. My teenaged mental focus was insufficient to fully appreciate it. Verdi's "galley-operas" (Rig/Trav/Tro) were the gateway, along with Bizet's Carmen.

    Have your tastes within the genre changed over time? In surprising ways?
    If someone had told my high-school self that I'd eventually embrace Wagner's lengthy constructs, I don't think I would have been too surprised. If someone had told me that I'd eventually enjoy Puccini... that would have been a surprise.

    Do you have friends/a spouse (who is hopefully also your friend) who shares in your enjoyment of opera?
    Hot_town/Philly doesn't enjoy opera quite as much a I do... but we still take in performances together.

    Are there composers/styles you have yet to explore, are looking forward to exploring, or don't wish to explore?
    Yes, yes... and yes. How's that for ambiguity!

    And, if you've liked opera for some years:
    Do you have anything to say to those newly embarking on a similar journey?

    That old tape-company slogan "because the music matters" is a key thing to consider when beginning to absorb opera. However, having said that, it's now probably more important than ever to have a strong familiarity with the story before viewing an opera, whether live or on DVD. [This goes doubly for viewers of 'Euro-trash' productions.]
    The hardest knife ill us'd doth lose his edge. Shakespeare- Sonnet 95

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