So I have 2 questions really, none of which are particularly strictly strings related. When it comes to opera, save for seeing it live, what is the best way to hear it? Watch a YouTube video or a recording (Spotify, Apple Music etc.)?
Also, as someone who knows virtually nothing about it, where would you suggest I start with listening?
Thanks in advance!
Personal preference. I like highlights CDs. I can't be bothered with the recitative (bad libretti tediously sung). Others scream when they hear me say that. Go on Amazon and buy the cheapest you can find. Highlights tend to be plentiful and cheap. Get 2 or 3 at random of each of Purcell, Gluck, Mozart, Bizet, Verdi, Puccini, Bellini, Delibes, Massenet: that will last you a while. If you want Wagner, ask someone else, lol! (not that I don't like him, it's just that it's a huge field. In his case the ideal would be continuous streaming of the Ring Cycle - Radio 3 in the UK played it once for 12 hours straight. You could go and make lunch and come back, and it didn't matter what you missed, there was always something else going on)
You might hunt up survey programs. For instance if there is a radio show or podcast talking about performances and history and so on and playing examples. I think this has the highest chance of igniting the flame.
Part 1 is 12 hours, it's longer than I thought!
Verdi La Traviata is always a nice spot to start with. There are also many other great and not too difficult works. Wagner is generally too advanced for the "beginner", though Tannhauser is not difficult at all (I love it myself.)
Gordon, you left out the greatest of all operas, in which a certain composer made the work of German poets of the status of William McGonagall into great drama!
I love seeing live Mozart (/late classical) operas. I couldn't care less for recordings.
I have no idea what you are talking about, John!
Excellent question Jake! Here are a few strategies:
PBS presents operas - almost as good as being there. I have been recording them for myself (DVD) for many years and have accumulated over 100 DVDs (some repeats of operas, but not of the same performers) of the NY Met and the San Francisco Opera Co. That is the best way to gradually build a collection.
I was forgetting Donizetti. I like his arias, but others think they are too lightweight. I had a superb cassette of Pavarotti once singing Donizetti on one side and Verdi on the other. Getting the same compilation nowadays on CD is surprisingly difficult. You'll also want some Callas. But people's preferences for singers is wide and wild. I've never understood the popularity of Domingo - but then I'm sensitive to the way he chews German to pieces.
I was never a big opera fan, but then again, I'd never attended an opera. However, several years ago I was in New York City, and bought a standing room ticket for Fidelio, performed by the Metropolitan Opera, at Lincoln Center. At the time, 1980, standing room tickets were $5. I stood in the third standing room row in the back of the main floor during the entire first act. The opera was so distant from where I was standing, that I was tempted to leave at intermission. It seemed like hours until the house lights came up. I was about to walk out when a man came up to me and said, "Excuse me, but I'm a doctor, and I have to leave. Would you like to use my ticket?" I was grateful, and decided to stay. The ticket was for fifth row, center. This was an entirely different experience. Suddenly, the grandeur seemed both vast and intimate. I was swept away by the experience. For me, opera is only opera when it's live and close.
Until the covid shutdowns I had been going to large screen cinemas to see live simulcasts of the NY Metropolitan Opera. There were theaters all over the world showing the opera live as it happened on the stage in NY. Considering my 2 visits to NYC to see the Met live cost me more and put me high in some 4th balcony, the live HD broadcasts are AWESOME!!! Close ups so you can see the threads on the costumes, the heaving breast of the wailing soprano, the concentration of the pit musicians (during overtures). And during intermissions, we go backstage for interviews with the singers, the set designers and choreographers, etc. I have shown opera to some friends and coworkers and seeing a MET in HD in the cinema is a fabulous way to introduce someone to opera or see your hundredth show.
Of course opera is live on stage, and until you see one (or dozens) live in stage, you haven't fully lived. For this experience, I have often enjoyed smaller opera company productions in smaller halls. Opera is full drama, acted as well as sung, with sets and costumes and humanity of breathing singers in front of you. Don't be afraid to seek out smaller companies in smaller halls near you. They might not have world-famous superstar singers, but the intimacy and live drama always bring me great satisfaction. Examples local to me that always thrill are the New York City Opera (not to be confused with the Met), Heartbeat Opera, Connecticut Opera, Yale Opera, and the Yale Baroque Opera Project. When I was an undergrad at UCONN (mid 1980s), I went to punk band shows in the gymnasium. About 10 years ago I evaded Yale security and went into one of the small auditoriums in a dormitory, where a fully undergraduate production of Dido and Aeneas was performed. My inferiority complex was set that day and still brings me tears and laughter.
I also like the Met Opera simulcasts at the local movie theater. It is a recorded live performance, but the cameras bring you up close, better than a not-so-cheap seat at back of the hall.
Talking about Donizetti, Lucia de Lammermoor is another easy "starter" opera.
Opera is comparable to theater: both are drama. Reading Shakespeare is a treat, like listening to some good opera recordings. But to see the same play or opera onstage is to get it through all the senses for which it was created. You won't get the plot and the full experience of a drama through even the finest stereo speakers. That said, I have a good collection of opera CDs. In my opinion, some carry over to stereo much better than others. I saw a GREAT NY Met simulcast of Wagner's Die Walkure, but when I put it on the stereo a few days later, I found it relentless and boring! Mozart's operas carry over to speakers very much better, because they were a series of discreet numbers, unlike the through-composed concept operas of Wagner. It was a great day when I rolled onto the construction site first thing in the morning with all my windows and sunroof open and blasted the Queen of the Night aria from Magic Flute. My coworkers finally appreciated that opera is SERIOUS SINGING!
Favorite composer = Puccini
Florence - the apotheosis of the amateur! Here's an excellent antidote:
No, Deutekom is the one you want for hairdrying
I personally think that Wagner operas *are* well-suited for a beginner, *provided* that "beginner" already knows a lot about music, just not about opera; I think Jake fits that profile. So Jake, my advice, dive straight into Tristan and Isolde!
My advice would be: If you have access to a well stocked public library: check out opera DVDs. If you want to experience opera you need to watch the whole thing (excerpts are like a concert; only the whole performance is "Musikdrama" as they call it in German sometimes). Live is the best way no doubt but pricey and--depending on where you live--not easy to find.
The San Francisco Opera live performances have translated libretto visible above the stage
"I have only attended one live opera, la Boheme (fortunately a short one - but if you have to sit through a live opera, there is none better than this, I think)"
Opera is a theatrical art form, and you cheat yourself if you just listen to audio excerpts. The best way to experience opera is, in order of most to least preferable:
I watch a lot of opera and I would definitely recommend getting the MET subscription. They have great productions and many to choose from and totally worth the money. You can try the 7 day free trial.
Hey all. Thanks for the responses. I've had a look at the Royal Opera House in London (as its the closest one to me, realistically) and they have performances showing from October at the cinema so I'll see what I can do about attending a showing
Opera never really worked for me. In my school years I was exposed to operas by Mozart, Schubert and Donizetti (actually sang the title role in Don Pasquale!) but didn't become hooked. Aged 18 I decided it was time to take Wagner seriously but found I couldn't keep a straight face. At university I had a great time in the orchestra of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society where you don't need to keep a straight face.
The arias rtc. that I have heard of various things I have liked. But never sat and listened/watched one in its entirety. The closest I have come to that is listening to Handel's Messiah completely
The Theater buildings can also have historical or architectural value.
I think that sounds like a good idea Joel to be honest
In terms of "gateway" operas for people who don't usually listen to opera, I recommend:
Lydia, La Boheme is one of the 2 that will be showed at cinemas so that helps. Thanks
Jake - I hope you have found plenty of leads and a good variety of answers to your two questions. As you are in London, you should also look at the ENO - English National Opera. They are a few minutes' walk from the ROH Covent Garden. They always sing in English I believe, and their exciting productions are generally affordable and more available. 'Messiah' is a good intro to baroque opera, incidentally.
Carmen has been done to death, though. You could go for the Pearl Fishers instead if you feel the the way I do.
There are good reasons everyone loves Carmen and it's done to death: It's got engaging music throughout almost the entire thing. It's got plenty of action on stage; there are no dull moments. And the generalities of the plot are easy to comprehend.
Lydia's list of entres are as good as any. I was surprised by a comment above saying one can't follow the dialogue (sung 99% of the time) because of all the operas I've seen on stage by diverse companies, there were always English subtitles (or supertitles) --even for operas in English.
Gordon, if you read Michael's comment, you'll see which opera I'm talking about! This composer with his music can transform a cardboard villain into a Hitlerian megalomaniac!
I don't think I've ever heard any of Fidelio.
Gordon - you must at least know Beethoven's multiple shots at the overture!
Strictly speaking, yes, I've been a Classical radio listener for nearly 60 years, so I will have heard some of it. I don't listen to the announcers, though.
Yes, Will, subtitles have almost become the standard, at least in the US. But not everywhere. And I suppose the real opera snobs are still strongly objecting to the practice.