My first opera

Over the years I have listened to portions of various operas on the radio or watched them on television, and while I appreciated the artistry involved, I never felt the pull. To me, opera equals pageantry and over-the-top emotion, either dramatic or comedic, and needs to be seen as a whole. So, I decided that if I ever had the chance to see a production in person, I would take it.

The chance came back in January, when I had the opportunity to join a group attending the Metropolitan Opera HD Live broadcast of Tosca at a local movie theater. “Live” may be a relative term in this case, but there are advantages to watching a performance on the large screen where every seat is essentially in the front row. The viewer gets the chance to see all the work that goes into the performance as the HD broadcast offers interviews with singers and production staff such as set and costume designers, and conducts behind-the-curtain tours of the backstage area and broadcast booth.

Given various revelations in the news over the last months, Tosca seemed more topical than a tragic opera written in 1899 might normally be. The villain, Scarpia, imprisons Cavaradossi, Tosca’s lover, then offers to free him if Tosca transfers her affections to him. I had never heard any of the primary singers before—Sonya Yoncheva/Tosca, Vittorio Grigolo/Cavaradossi, or Željko Lucic/Scarpia—but I thought they were marvelous, and the Met audience seemed to agree given the applause at various points during and at the end of the performance.

I enjoyed everything about Tosca. The sets and costumes, designed by John MacFarlane, were stunning. Facades and interiors of actual Roman buildings, such as the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, were reproduced, and if I recall correctly, it was MacFarlane who told the story of a costumer who told him that they put so much into pieces that would never be seen. But now with HD broadcast, details of costumes and scenery that used to be hidden from view are visible to and can be admired by all.

One of my goals in the coming year is to attend a performance of the Lyric Opera in Chicago. But if I can, I will likely attend another Metropolitan Opera HD Live as well. If you enjoy opera, you may enjoy attending a broadcast at a theater near you.



About Kristine Smith

Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and a number of SF and fantasy short stories, and is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She worked as a pharmaceutical process development scientist for 26 years, but now writes full-time. She also writes supernatural thrillers under the name Alex Gordon. Check out her BVC bookshelf


My first opera — 11 Comments

  1. I love opera! Well, not all. I love certain ones. Puccini is right up there with my faves. There are some Russians whose operas are well into the fantastic. Mozart . . . Wagner . . .

  2. My father took me to see Carmen when I was 17. A small theater–the big auditorium wasn’t finished and the old one had been torn down–but there was a sense of intimacy with the story that drew me in, grabbed me by the throat, and wouldn’t let go. A year later we saw the one about the consumtive, can’t recall the title until I’ve had more coffee, in the new Civic Auditorium. Don’t know if it was the story, the music, the singers, or the huge stage and vast seating area (in comparison) but the experience left me cold.

    Dad was tone deaf but he’d started going to operas when still in his teens and in the Navy. The over the top emotion appealed to him. Anywhere he docked he and some buddies would find the local opera house and sit at the very top of the 2nd balcony, but still loved the experience. He listened to opera on PBS every Saturday afternoon.

  3. My folks liked light opera. The Student Prince especially. Mom liked La Boheme. They also enjoyed some Andrew Lloyd Webber. None of that ever moved me, but I would like to give La Boheme another shot. It was one of the operas in the Met HD series, but I had a conflict and couldn’t attend.

  4. I was privileged to be given a ticket to see Nilsson the last time she sang at the Met. First act -where she had a short appearance I was unimpressed -also unimpressed by the staging which was dark and minimalist. Second act; she had more of the action and I started to sit up and take notice. Last act where she was the center of all the action … wow. I was sucked into the music – completely entranced to the point that I almost walked into a lamp post when walking out of Lincoln Center.
    The acoustics of the Met are incredible.

  5. Heh Heh: we always had the radio on, and it was alway set to One Station—the national broadcaster—no matter what was playing (did I mention my father was a bit pedantic that way). In the afternoons, it was invariably classical and opera. I was about three, sitting with my mother as she put the finishing touches on whatever article of clothing she was constructing at the time, watching and listening.

    “Mummy, why is that woman yelling?”

    That pretty much sums up my response to opera. Although, I do like a nice aria every now and again, depending on who it is that’s doing the yelling.

    • Heh.

      I know fans appreciate the singing on its own, but I need to see the whole shebang. The acting/setting/costumes are necessary parts of a whole. I don’t believe any stage production is well served as a vocal recording only, opera or not.

  6. My Dad took me to operas, ballets and symphonies ever since I remember. We loved it. Mom was a classics nut, too, and my childhood pretty much went listening to arguments about Verdi vs Mahler.

    I was 14 when the La Traviata movie by Zeffirelli made its way to our local cinema. (This should be the ‘consumptive’ thing.) I missed a week at school. Amami Alfredo!

    I still enjoy opera in particular and various classics in general. And I still think Mom, with her Mahler and Mendelssohn, never got anywhere near the Verdi and Beethoven my father liked best.

  7. My first opera? My mom took myself and my cousin to a local production of Madam Butterfly back in the town where I was born – no big-name stars, but they were all perfectly glorious singers for all that. I was 7.

    The reactions of the two of us could not have been more different. My cousin was bored and indifferent, and so far as I know she has never acquiored the opera itch. As for myself, I sat rapt, and then in tears, and to this day I can hear Un Bel Di or the Humming CHorus and I feel tears coming to my eyes. I was perhaps just old enough to appreciate, to understand.

    Later, I would go to hear bigger names (I saw Domingo on stage once….) and I would hear recordings of other performances. I began to recgonise names and voices. I loved Callas. I loved Pavarotti. There are a couple of singers perfectly suited to the somewhat darker soprano requirements of Carmen, or the difficult coloratura arias of Norma, or the passion of arias like Tosca’s E Lucevan le Stelle. I saw productions of one-aria operas (you know, the ones where you spend the entire thing waiting for teh ONE PIECE that you know and love – things like Turandot (Nessun Dorma) or Nabucco (the Slave CHorus) ) I saw productions where you know practically every aria in it (the top of that pyramid has to be La Traviata, but La Boheme comes a close second…)

    If I had to pick a composer, though, it would have to be Verdi. And I still feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I hear the story of his funeral, where the crowds came out to stand along the sides of the streets along which his funeral procession wound, and of how those people, unprompted, unhrehearsed, gave him the ultimate tribute – and sang him to his final rest with a Slaves Chorus from Nabucco which is one of those melodies written with an angel dictating it over the composer’s shoulder.

  8. A few years ago a touring company came to the area and did the ‘First’ Butterfly. Both the book and the music were massively revised/rewritten after the initial performance. It sure had a different feel from version 2.
    Being a Gilbert and Sullivan addict the second and better known version always gives me fits of giggles – Mikado is basically a musical sendup of the opera’s music.