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Thread: Learning to appreciate opera

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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bravenewworld View Post
    Yes, I can already see the importance of watching and understanding the plot. But wouldn't it be fine to get recordings once you understand the work and perhaps have watched a few different interpretations, insofar as you can then better see where interpreters have 'lifted up' the score?
    It's up to you and whether you are for or against streaming. I think I understood "getting" as "buying" in your reply. I never said such a thing.

    To watch worthy interpretations on video, you could try the Met Opera Streaming service, which has several videos of operas for you to enjoy. Not all are the same. Because you many not find many different productions of the same opera on YouTube with subtitles.

    It could be that we have different goals. I just want to build a library of different genres inside classical music, not only opera and orchestral, and I would like to get the finest (according to my listening experience). If you want to go deeper in theory and meaning, please enjoy. I don't want to bother anyone.

    Quote Originally Posted by bravenewworld View Post
    In terms of time taken, I don't think that will be a problem. Mark Twain has been (perhaps falsely) attributed as saying 'never let schooling interfere with your education', and that's something to which I (try to) hold true. For there isn't much point in schooling, surely, if we leave the education systems as automata with no sense of the beauty of the world and of learning. I find my musical education to be integral to that- I have a desire to learn more, and in so doing I hope I will become a person better able to appreciate life itself and see beauty in the everyday. I think music does that to people. And I think when that is contrasted with that which is taught at school, it shouldn't necessarily get priority, but it should be valued to a similar degree. So I don't really want to pause my developing love of the musical arts. Besides... I'm fairly sure my marks are strong enough anyway to get into the course I want (international law).
    Kudos!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Granate View Post
    It's up to you and whether you are for or against streaming. I think I understood "getting" as "buying" in your reply. I never said such a thing.

    To watch worthy interpretations on video, you could try the Met Opera Streaming service, which has several videos of operas for you to enjoy. Not all are the same. Because you many not find many different productions of the same opera on YouTube with subtitles.

    It could be that we have different goals. I just want to build a library of different genres inside classical music, not only opera and orchestral, and I would like to get the finest (according to my listening experience). If you want to go deeper in theory and meaning, please enjoy. I don't want to bother anyone.
    Perhaps I've misinterpreted you... I do apologise. Thanks also for the recommendation for the Met Opera Streaming Service- I was looking for some performances on YouTube (Giulio Cesare in Egitto in particular) and couldn't find anything with English sub- or sur-titles to help me understand.

    I'm also not entirely sure our goals are as divergent as may seem to be the case. I too am trying to construct a library (CD, but hoping to branch into LPs when I'm older) of the 'finest' classical in all genres. But yes, I would like to learn more about theory and meaning at some point , because I feel perhaps it might enrich my experience. Whether it does do that or simply confuses me remains to be seen. Right now, though, I am simply attempting to listen to the music and sample the pleasures of all these genres. So not entirely different, it seems. And, please, you most certainly aren't bothering me, for one!

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    This thread is interesting to me. I am a novice but enjoyed solti ring cycle greatly. Very powerful music. Thing is I can speak German so I can't understand the singing. Do most of you follow the narrative or just listen to it in a musical sense?

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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    I listen to Wagner Rings both for musical and competitive senses. For enjoying it it was necessary to know and fairly understand the narrative (thanks to video releases). Don't you worry, many members inside and outside Talk Classical rank the Solti Wagner Ring as the best. But I'm not one of them.

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    If this doesn't whet your appetite for more, nothing will.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puQ85aLEc5w

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    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gazzington View Post
    This thread is interesting to me. I am a novice but enjoyed solti ring cycle greatly. Very powerful music. Thing is I can speak German so I can't understand the singing. Do most of you follow the narrative or just listen to it in a musical sense?
    You really need to get a DVD set and watch it a couple of times with English subtitles so that the story gets more familiar and more associated to the music. Then the CDs will be more enjoyable. I recommend the only traditional performance I am aware of on DVD, which is Levine with Siegfried Jerusalem as Siegfried and James Morris as Wotan. Shop around on price and also consider if it can be bought separately (4 operas) cheaper.
    Last edited by Fritz Kobus; Jan-07-2018 at 20:55.
    Necessities of life: food, water, air, shelter, and opera.

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    OP - if you like Rossini, you will definitely like Mozart, Bellini and Donizetti, IMO.

    You should just search operas on YouTube and find out what you like. Baroque opera - which you love, I don't have much of a liking for - not enough ensembles. So, we each have our own preferences. What I'm getting at is everyone has a recommendation, but while you will fall in love with some recommendations, you will not like others. Exploring them on YouTube is a great way to start. When you get a taste of something you like, you can explore it more. When you get a taste of something you don't like, you can move on.

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    I think understanding the libretto makes the music more enjoyable. As for anything pre-modern, I would imagine a lot of recitative in a language you can’t understand might get boring quickly. However, Erwartung (Schoenberg) is one of my fav works ever And I can’t understand a word of it, so who cares. If you think of the human voice as an instrument everything makes sense.

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    I think understanding the libretto makes the music more enjoyable. As for anything pre-modern, I would imagine a lot of recitative in a language you can’t understand might get boring quickly. However, Erwartung (Schoenberg) is one of my fav works ever And I can’t understand a word of it, so who cares. If you think of the human voice as an instrument everything makes sense.

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    Senior Member Pugg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nonchalant View Post
    I think understanding the libretto makes the music more enjoyable. As for anything pre-modern, I would imagine a lot of recitative in a language you can’t understand might get boring quickly. However, Erwartung (Schoenberg) is one of my fav works ever And I can’t understand a word of it, so who cares. If you think of the human voice as an instrument everything makes sense.
    That's the spirit, hope it helps O.P. welcome to Talk Classical by the way.
    First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
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  18. #26
    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nonchalant View Post
    I think understanding the libretto makes the music more enjoyable. As for anything pre-modern, I would imagine a lot of recitative in a language you can’t understand might get boring quickly. However, Erwartung (Schoenberg) is one of my fav works ever And I can’t understand a word of it, so who cares. If you think of the human voice as an instrument everything makes sense.
    Yes, and it can make some of the most beautiful music. So we can listen to a vocal work as an instrumental work with the added instruments of voices. In some vocal works I really don't care what the specific words are, so long as I have the gist of the work in mind. I have many operas that I listen to the same, though it is nice to watch opera on DVD with the subtitles, but even then they don't cover every word.

    For example, right now I am listening to this wonderful sounding vocal work (Gade's Elverskud) and only have a vague idea of the story, but am really enjoying the vocals. It is not an opera, but the singing sounds quite operatic to me.
    Last edited by Fritz Kobus; Jan-13-2018 at 17:35.
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    In my opinion, the best way to get into opera is to first select a canonical work that is easily approachable, e.g. The Magic Flute. Second, find a production that is sung in a language you understand (e.g. English) so that you need not bother with the intermediary of subtitles or a translation of the libretto. To delve straight into recordings made in a foreign language can be off-putting for some. Hearing an opera in one's native language also dispels much of the mystique that can make it intimidating at first. Opera is, after all, not simply music but the wedding of music with drama (i.e. theatre). If you don't understand what's being sung (or you are not accustomed to reading a translation simultaneously), you are missing half the effect. In the old days, Sadler's Wells (now the ENO) and the New York Met, among others, would regularly stage productions in English and there are many recordings in circulation. I would also advise against using modern productions as a template for what to expect. Whether or not it is PC to state this, the simple fact is that standards today are far inferior to that of previous generations (quite apart from the abominations that regietheater has brought us). Precious few performers today can measure up to their forbears. But that is a subject for another thread.
    Last edited by peeknocker; Jan-14-2018 at 02:30.

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    Senior Member ldiat's Avatar
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    this is posted on Met opera on facebook today here is a link: it appears some is free
    https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/inside-opera/2
    Last edited by ldiat; Jan-15-2018 at 20:50.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    OP - if you like Rossini, you will definitely like Mozart, Bellini and Donizetti, IMO.

    You should just search operas on YouTube and find out what you like. Baroque opera - which you love, I don't have much of a liking for - not enough ensembles. So, we each have our own preferences. What I'm getting at is everyone has a recommendation, but while you will fall in love with some recommendations, you will not like others. Exploring them on YouTube is a great way to start. When you get a taste of something you like, you can explore it more. When you get a taste of something you don't like, you can move on.
    Yes, I've been finding that out recently. I think what I'm going to do is imbibe Rossini's best known operas, then move onto Donizetti, then Bellini and then Mozart. Since I first made the thread I've gotten a second recording of Il Barbiere, and I got both a DVD and CD of Tancredi, La Cenerentola and L'Italiana in Algeri. I'm loving all of them so far, except Tancredi, but I'm getting to appreciate it as time goes on. It takes time with these things I suppose. I currently have Guillaume Tell (I went with the French version, but I suppose I'll eventually get the Italian one too) and La Gazza Ladra in the post. I also plan to acquire Semiramide, because I'm aware of just how opera-buffa-heavy my currently opera collection is. I think by then I'll be ready to move on from Rossini .

    At the same time I've been indulging my baroque opera taste. I still can't get over Giulio Cesare. Such wonderful music! I currently have a DVD of Ariodante in the post because I have the recording already.

    Quote Originally Posted by nina foresti View Post
    If this doesn't whet your appetite for more, nothing will.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puQ85aLEc5w
    Well, for Christmas I was actually given a subscription to the Met Opera Streaming Service. And I'm sorry to say but I tried this very production of Carmen before- and I didn't finish it . I just don't think I understood the music. I love the bel canto style right now and it just feels odd to listen to something that doesn't fall within those paradigms.

    In saying that, I find with all famous pieces in classical that if I don't like it then the fault isn't usually with the piece, it's with me. So whilst I found Carmen didn't draw me in, I won't say it's bad. I say I'll fall in love with it when my taste has matured and I've moved on from bel canto into somewhat more modern operatic tastes (as I know will happen).

    In saying that, I did find that clip tremendously powerful. Perhaps I'll appreciate the whole opera sooner, rather than later .

    Quote Originally Posted by peeknocker View Post
    In my opinion, the best way to get into opera is to first select a canonical work that is easily approachable, e.g. The Magic Flute. Second, find a production that is sung in a language you understand (e.g. English) so that you need not bother with the intermediary of subtitles or a translation of the libretto. To delve straight into recordings made in a foreign language can be off-putting for some. Hearing an opera in one's native language also dispels much of the mystique that can make it intimidating at first. Opera is, after all, not simply music but the wedding of music with drama (i.e. theatre). If you don't understand what's being sung (or you are not accustomed to reading a translation simultaneously), you are missing half the effect. In the old days, Sadler's Wells (now the ENO) and the New York Met, among others, would regularly stage productions in English and there are many recordings in circulation. I would also advise against using modern productions as a template for what to expect. Whether or not it is PC to state this, the simple fact is that standards today are far inferior to that of previous generations (quite apart from the abominations that regietheater has brought us). Precious few performers today can measure up to their forbears. But that is a subject for another thread.
    You've touched on a question that's been challenging me... thus far I've steered clear of English recordings, maybe for the same reason that I prefer historical instrumentation in Baroque performances. But I think maybe I will need to bend that rule- it seems a much easier way to get to know a work, synopsis-wise at least. Then I can get back to the music in the original language. On the other hand, I'm growing to love Italian through these operas, and I'm planning on learning it after school. So, maybe in the long-run that won't be a huge issue.

    In terms of theatrical performances: I agree, and I've found that to be the case too. Nonetheless, I love the Met's recent Giulio Cesare, but maybe that's just me. Usually, when I've been selecting DVDs of operas, I've gravitated towards the older performances precisely because of how confusing I find all this postmodernist theatre. But it's still a tragedy to have to deal with the usually very low recording quality for such great works .

    Quote Originally Posted by ldiat View Post
    this is posted on Met opera on facebook today here is a link: it appears some is free
    https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/inside-opera/2
    Thanks! I'll look into it.
    Last edited by bravenewworld; Jan-16-2018 at 05:40.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bravenewworld View Post
    Yes, I've been finding that out recently. I think what I'm going to do is imbibe Rossini's best known operas, then move onto Donizetti, then Bellini and then Mozart. Since I first made the thread I've gotten a second recording of Il Barbiere, and I got both a DVD and CD of Tancredi, La Cenerentola and L'Italiana in Algeri. I'm loving all of them so far, except Tancredi, but I'm getting to appreciate it as time goes on. It takes time with these things I suppose. I currently have Guillaume Tell (I went with the French version, but I suppose I'll eventually get the Italian one too) and La Gazza Ladra in the post. I also plan to acquire Semiramide, because I'm aware of just how opera-buffa-heavy my currently opera collection is. I think by then I'll be ready to move on from Rossini .
    Glad you're enjoying Rossini! He was the second composer I fell in love with, after Mozart. Rossini is wonderful, exhilarating, witty music that's full of life.

    Tancredi’s a very different work from the comedies; it’s opera seria, and, while it’s beautiful, it’s, I think, more formal, more conventional, than the experimental works he wrote for Naples. It has, though, the famous aria “Di tanti palpiti” and one of Rossini’s great Act I finales. These are often my favorite part of a Rossini opera; I love their energy and their ingenuity within a formal structure. The Act I finales - and the ensembles (trios, quartets, &c) - are often the creative highpoints of Italian opera.

    You might only want to listen to a handful of Rossini operas, but you should check out these highlights from his other operas:
    Otello
    o Trio – “Ah vieni, nel tuo sangue”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awENPwf9aEc
    o The willow song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvrPilrCmD8
    Armida
    o Mirror trio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=145PWYNLqpc
    o Amor possente nome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qMyMK25Y1w
    Mosè in Egitto
    o Quartet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05fRHR__N3s
    o Quintet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqYojIxQRxc
    o “Dal tuo stellato soglio” (prayer): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69PIHvzZdq4
    Ricciardo e Zoraide
    o Trio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuyN8wCBpBo
    o Quartet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0Ewr32DCWg
    Ermione
    o Sei vendicata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeMNbZAhB94
    La donna del lago
    o Act I finale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFOEFinC2M4
    o Trio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4rT2djVCUU
    Bianca e Falliero
    o Quartet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXG835MrpFo
    Maometto II
    o Terzettone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BynZTZWnTk
    Matilde di Shabran
    o Quintet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy-qCc8QXHM
    o Sextet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKhun04x3No
    Zelmira
    o Terzetto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEa4...y7LREiHsbQM_kB
    o Terra amica: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPbrgdWG3A
    o Duet “In estasi di gioia”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpbD...bQM_kB&index=5
    o Quintet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wy_Q...bQM_kB&index=6
    Il viaggio a Reims
    o Gran pezzo concertato a 14 voci: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTMNeZqHWxQ

    Many of these tracks were put up by a Rossini fan called Kirill (formerly known as Lindoro). You should check out his channel. He's put up a lot of great tracks from Rossini; he also explains the music.

    If you're going to investigate Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti, you should read Charles Osborne's Bel Canto Operas, which looks in detail at all the operas by each composer: plot synopsis, and critique of the music (not, fortunately, too technical!).

    Denis Forman's Good Opera Guide discusses most of the famous operas; it's opinionated, irreverent, and witty.

    At the same time I've been indulging my baroque opera taste. I still can't get over Giulio Cesare. Such wonderful music! I currently have a DVD of Ariodante in the post because I have the recording already.

    Well, for Christmas I was actually given a subscription to the Met Opera Streaming Service. And I'm sorry to say but I tried this very production of Carmen before- and I didn't finish it . I just don't think I understood the music. I love the bel canto style right now and it just feels odd to listen to something that doesn't fall within those paradigms.

    In saying that, I find with all famous pieces in classical that if I don't like it then the fault isn't usually with the piece, it's with me. So whilst I found Carmen didn't draw me in, I won't say it's bad. I say I'll fall in love with it when my taste has matured and I've moved on from bel canto into somewhat more modern operatic tastes (as I know will happen).

    In saying that, I did find that clip tremendously powerful. Perhaps I'll appreciate the whole opera sooner, rather than later .
    Carmen is from half a century later; it's midway between Offenbach and French opera (both grand and comique) on the one hand, and verismo! on t'other. To get from Rossini to there, maybe you should check out the composers on the way:
    • Meyerbeer, a great composer, revered in his day; his French grand opéras combine Rossinian bel canto with German harmony and instrumentation - he was a big influence on Bizet, Verdi, and Wagner;
    • Gounod's Faust; (Incidentally, this was the first opera I saw live, and I loved it. Swordfights, black magic, and great tunes.)
    • and some Offenbach (probably Les brigands or La Périchole, and Les contes d'Hoffmann).


    You've touched on a question that's been challenging me... thus far I've steered clear of English recordings, maybe for the same reason that I prefer historical instrumentation in Baroque performances. But I think maybe I will need to bend that rule- it seems a much easier way to get to know a work, synopsis-wise at least. Then I can get back to the music in the original language. On the other hand, I'm growing to love Italian through these operas, and I'm planning on learning it after school. So, maybe in the long-run that won't be a huge issue.
    Understanding the libretto is vital; opera is drama through music. Some operas have great tunes, and Italian bel canto is often a vehicle for song; other composers (e.g. Wagner) emphasize the text - and many 20th century composers (even Strauss and Puccini, to a degree) use the music almost like a Hollywood soundtrack, accompanying the text, but not calling attention to itself.

    It's generally best to listen to opera in the original language; the music was written to fit the text, and translating it into another language can often sound awkward. Most productions have subtitles, and most CD booklets have translations. On IMSLP, you can also find scores, often in the original language and English. (I'm bilingual in French, though, and have some German and Italian, so can at least feel my way around the language!)

    Before I listen to an unfamiliar work, I'll listen to a few of the hits to familiarize myself with it, then listen to the whole thing as background music, before listening to it (or, ideally, watching it) properly.


    In terms of theatrical performances: I agree, and I've found that to be the case too. Nonetheless, I love the Met's recent Giulio Cesare, but maybe that's just me. Usually, when I've been selecting DVDs of operas, I've gravitated towards the older performances precisely because of how confusing I find all this postmodernist theatre. But it's still a tragedy to have to deal with the usually very low recording quality for such great works .
    I agree about the postmodern productions; most of them are ugly mockeries of the creators' intent. (Authorial intent? Reactionary!) The Met productions are generally very good. So, too, are Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's films of Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini; and Göran Järvefelt's Mozart is simple and elegant.
    Last edited by NickFuller; Jan-16-2018 at 14:22.

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