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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Which opera was your first, which made you like the genre ?
Also, do you have stories about operas which worked well for "recruiting" your friends or loved ones, otherwise new to opera ?
And finally, do you have a story about an opera, which renewed your interest after a longer period of time, when you did not care ?
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
My first and beloved opera: The Bartered Bride, by Smetana, at the age of 7.

The opera, which made my friend interested: La Gioconda by Ponchielli. She started to listent to other operas after she became familiar with this one. We were both at our twenties.

After years of not caring much, my renewed interest in opera was reborn due to Bellini's Il Pirata, it happened last year.
 

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For me it was a gradual process. I had been taken to the opera from quite a young age, but it didn't become a passion until I reached my late teens. My father bought a recording of Cavalleria Rusticana (the Varviso recording with Souliotis) which I nearly wore out. We also had the score and I would play the overture and intermezzo on the piano.

I remember, though, a particular night when everything clicked. By this time I was a student at the university in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Glyndebourne Touring Opera were visiting and I tried to get tickets for La Bohème, but it was completely sold out. I didn't know the opera at all, nor did I know anyone else who wanted to go to an opera, so I decided to go down and queue for returns one night. It wasn't looking very hopeful until someone came out and told the queue that there was a box available, so I and others in the queue agreed to share. That night I was totally transported. It was a traditional production with a totally believable young cast (I can't remember the whole cast but Mimi was LInda Esther Gray, who would have been in her early twenties then). I think I started crying in the first act and hardly stopped until the end. From that day on I would see every touring company that came to Newcastle and try and see every opera they brought. This way I got to see a wide range of repertoire, taking in Italian, French, German, Russian and British repertoire, from the Baroque to contemporary.

At about the same time I discovered the voice of Maria Callas and I started collecting all her recordings, most of which had unaccountably been deleted at that time, EMI presumably thinking that they had been superseded by stereo versions. (How wrong they were!). Although I have come to appreciate and love other singers, none has had the effect on me that Callas had, and she remains my touchstone for most of the roles she sang.
 

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I can't really speak for myself as memories go back too far to be certain, but I can give one for a friend of mine ... His first opera was going to a performance of ... <drum roll> ... Gotterdammerung! He loved it so much that he persuaded me to join him in a trip to Seattle to see a complete Ring cycle!
 

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I grew up with Opera in the house, so there was no real 'breakthrough' for me, just a gradual appreciation.

My first 'in theatre' Opera was a production of La Traviata in Birmingham (UK), where I remember my parents being utterly thrilled that a very elderly Tito Gobbi was sitting in one of the boxes. I'd have been 7 or 8 years old at the time, so probably 1978-79. I was far more interested in the music than some old bloke sitting in one of the boxes though!
 

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The last twenty minutes of Tannhäuser, the Decca Solti version, BBC Radio 3 one Saturday evening. It had just been released and BBC were broadcasting excerpts. Caught it by accident and it was a lightbulb moment for me. I never looked back and the world of opera has been a constant joy since that fateful night.
 

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A high school buddy of mine was an opera fanatic and one day he said "I want you to hear a guy sing a really high note and tell me what you think."
He put on "Che gelida manina" from La Boheme and Richard Tucker was Rodolfo . As he began the high note "la speranza" I was absolutely entranced with him and the entire idea of opera (although my mother ws a soprano and constantly sang "Depuis le jour" all around the house.)
By that time Mario Lanza entered my world with The Great Caruso and I was hooked forever.

In trying to inculcate my grandchildren (friends too), I played them a scene, "The Poker Scene" from La fanciulla del west, and their expressions were enough to assure me that I had struck gold. From there Tosca grabbed many of them because of the Scarpia murder scene.

There really was no time that I was ever sick of opera, only sick of hubristic, talentless directors which left me bereft of much opera-going as a result.
 

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I can't remember my first opera, but It probably came via TV in the '50s when there were fine productions made for the medium. I recall vividly how creeped out I was as a teenager by a TV production of Bluebeard's Castle, which eventually became one of my favorite operas. There was never a time when I wasn't absorbed by music, and I loved to sing and listen to great singing, so any opera recording I could find at school or public libraries I listened to.
 

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A single aria from Verdi’s Macbeth caused me to investigate opera while still in my teens. The singer was Maria Callaa and the aria was the Sleepwalking Scene (Una macchia è qui tuttora).
OMG! That same aria had quite an effect on me too. I was already a Callas fan, but the Verdi Arias disc was no longer available and a friend lent it to me. Even knowing Callas as I did, I was staggered and I've never heard anyone else realise that scene with anything like her insight. Verdi's setting itself was quite a revelation, but it was Callas's incredibly detailed interpretation that stunned me. She has a different colour for every single thought that flits through Lady Macbeth's fractured mind. Close inspection of the score reveals that it is all there in Verdi's instructions but how many other singers have carried them out so brilliantly? I can't think of a single one. Part of the miracle is that, even with all the detail she reveals, there is no artifice and the end result sounds totally spontaneous. This really is the art that conceals art and it is one of the arias I would play to friends if they doubted Callas's pre-eminence as a vocal actress.

A friend of the critic John Steane once said to him about Callas, "Of course you had to see her," to which he replied, "Oh, but I can! And I do!" I know exactly what he meant.

 

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IIRC (it was early nineties) it was Puccini's La Boheme - about 7-8 years after I started to explore classical music.

By the end of the nineties I had bought and listened to the major Puccini, Bellini, Donizetti and Britten operas, Wagner's Ring, Mozart's Zauberfloete, Verdi's Aida, Rossini's William Tell, Strauss' Salome, Debussy's P&M, and assorted highlights form the Italians (Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Boito).

In 1999 I was going to move to Singapore for my work, and I decided I would not bring all these opera boxes with me. I found I was not too crazy about the genre anyway, and my nephew showed interest in opera (he was still in university at the time) so I gave him my opera collection.

Around 2010 I started exploring operas again, and much wider than before. Still not my favourite genre (I prefer concertos, chamber music, symphonic works and Lieder), but I enjoy it a lot.
 

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I was wary of opera for a long time and avoided it. Then somewhere in my late teens I started listening to the Met Opera broadcasts. Just listening on the radio with no libretto to a long work sung in a foreign language was tough, although the announcers in that day did a good job of summarizing the plot. The opera that sank in, that made me go out and buy a copy: Richard Strauss Salome. I don't remember who conducted the Met that day, but the power of the music and the grim story was electrifying. The then new Karajan recording I still have.
 

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OMG! That same aria had quite an effect on me too. I was already a Callas fan, but the Verdi Arias disc was no longer available and a friend lent it to me. Even knowing Callas as I did, I was staggered and I've never heard anyone else realise that scene with anything like her insight. Verdi's setting itself was quite a revelation, but it was Callas's incredibly detailed interpretation that stunned me. She has a different colour for every single thought that flits through Lady Macbeth's fractured mind. Close inspection of the score reveals that it is all there in Verdi's instructions but how many other singers have carried them out so brilliantly? I can't think of a single one. Part of the miracle is that, even with all the detail she reveals, there is no artifice and the end result sounds totally spontaneous. This really is the art that conceals art and it is one of the arias I would play to friends if they doubted Callas's pre-eminence as a vocal actress.

A friend of the critic John Steane once said to him about Callas, "Of course you had to see her," to which he replied, "Oh, but I can! And I do!" I know exactly what he meant.

At the time I had no idea of what I was hearing or been capable of recognizing what Callas was doing. I just knew it sounded “right.” It was later that I learned more about her singing and musicianship and how much other singers suffered in comparison. In retrospect, the years that I was learning about opera and attending performances, I was looking for another Callas, in vain.
 

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The last twenty minutes of Tannhäuser, the Decca Solti version, BBC Radio 3 one Saturday evening. It had just been released and BBC were broadcasting excerpts. Caught it by accident and it was a lightbulb moment for me. I never looked back and the world of opera has been a constant joy since that fateful night.
They had me at the Overture! 😂
 

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Others in our group are much more knowledgeable about opera than me but I have been a good witness for opera. I have given at least 15 introduction to opera speeches at Toastmasters and have taken about 10 members of my clubs to their first operas. I did it again this past week with a doctor friend who likes opera but doesn't know much about it. He has a fabulous stereo and I took over my historic vinyl set of Rosa Ponselle, who he had never heard of. In the middle of the second aria he got his notebook and ordered the same vintage lp of hers on Amazon. My best friend liked opera but didn't know much about it. After playing opera for her almost every week for our car rides she has become quite a fan! The Baptist church made me into a great witness. I had one notable failure. I tried to play Callas singing Armida for a young four wheeling jock I saw for a good while and he said can you please turn that off NOW LOL.
 

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I had three Wagner 'bleeding chunks' album in the 1980s which at the time amounted to all the classical I had. Circa 1998 I took the plunge and acquired Solti's Ring cycle, not least because it was massively reduced in price as an inducement to join a mail order company. I enjoy opera but will admit that it is not my favourite genre - maybe buying the Ring in one fell swoop was too much of a good thing for a classical greenhorn like me but at least its sheer scale and awesome reputation didn't intimidate me to the point where it put me off listening to other operas after that.

As regards giving suggestions to others, that is something of a n/a in my case as collecting and listening to my classical music has always been a solitary pastime - a situation I have always been content with.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
At the time I had no idea of what I was hearing or been capable of recognizing what Callas was doing. I just knew it sounded “right.” It was later that I learned more about her singing and musicianship and how much other singers suffered in comparison. In retrospect, the years that I was learning about opera and attending performances, I was looking for another Callas, in vain.
And do you know now, what Callas was doing ? I mean, sure, she apparently thought a lot about what the words and feelings are, and constantly adjusted her singing accordingly - piano or loud, deep or light. But don't many singers try to do it ? I have a favourite singer, she has the vocal range like Callas, and she claims to study the background of every aria, even at concert. But she still is not convincing like Callas. What is the trick ?
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
BTW I am new in Callas fandom. Years ago, in my teens or twenties, she did not strike me as so special. But since cca October last year, I had my opera restart triggered by Bellini, and in his operas, she really shines, especially as Norma.
 

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And do you know now, what Callas was doing ? I mean, sure, she apparently thought a lot about what the words and feelings are, and constantly adjusted her singing accordingly - piano or loud, deep or light. But don't many singers try to do it ? I have a favourite singer, she has the vocal range like Callas, and she claims to study the background of every aria, even at concert. But she still is not convincing like Callas. What is the trick ?
Callas strict adherence to the composer’s markings is surely no “trick.” Another singer claims Callas’s singing is “like taking dictation.” She has the instinctive gift of choosing just the right color to convey the emotions of the words she sings, and her acting is done within the music, not appliquéd to it. For example, she conveys that the Lady is sleepwalking by starting with a somnolent sound in “una macchia è qui tuttora,” then expanding out of it at “via ti dico.” She goes beyond the requirements and is unique in doing so. In “o vergogna” she stresses the words without exaggeration. She makes “Arabia intera” sound plaintive and the following phrase pitiful just by following the rhythm. There are a myriad of details that her musicianship allows her to effect that other singers miss, which is why they are not as convincing. She has genius.
 
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