Saturday, July 18, 2009

Four Operas that make Great Introductions

Here are four operas that would be good for beginners. They are all fairly short and have good tunes, plus easily accessible and understood stories and characters. I have chosen tragedies rather than comedies because comedies have more convoluted plots, and these operas have great death scenes, with glorious music.

A famous English barrister, John Mortimer, creator of the Rumpole of the Bailey series, fell in love with opera because the music conveys emotional subtexts that the words themselves do not. Even though these operas are not in English, subtitles and translations are easily available. Thanks to the popularity of musical videos on TV and now YouTube, more and more people today are finding that they like operatic arias, combined with visuals.

Many movies over the years have incorporated operatic arias and/or orchestral sections into their story lines, including the 1987 The Untouchables, directed by Brian de Palma and starring Robert De Niro as Al Capone, Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness, and Sean Connery as the uncorruptable cop. The next step is putting these arias and orchestral sections into their proper operatic context. The Metropolitan Opera now is broadcasting in HD a number of opera productions to be shown in movie theaters.

1. Carmen by Bizet

A gypsy girl, Carmen, seduces a soldier, Don Jose, in Seville and causes him to desert and join the gypsies. However, when she meets the bull fighter, Escamillo, she falls for him and deserts Don Jose, who kills her.

2. La Boheme by Puccini

A poet, Rudolpho, who lives with other bohemians in Paris, falls in love with Mimi, a seamstress, who eventually dies of TB. The famous musical Rent was based on this story.

3. Tosca by Puccini

Mario, a Roman painter, who loves the famous singer, Floria Tosca, falls afoul of the Roman Chief of Police, Scarpia, who lusts after Tosca. When Mario is arrested for helping a fugitive, Tosca promises to sleep with Scarpia if he spares Mario. She kills Scarpia, but Scarpia has previously arranged for Mario to be shot by a real firing squad instead of a fake one. Tosca jumps off the Castel Sant'Angelo to avoid capture.

4. La Traviata by Verdi.

Based on Dumas' The Lady of the Camellias, the opera is about a high-class courtesan, Violetta, with TB, who attracts the young Alfredo, from a good family. They live together in the country until the father of Alfredo calls on her to give up Alfredo so his sister can marry a nobleman. She agrees, but her TB gets worse after Alfredo denounces her. At the end she and Alfredo are reconciled, but she dies.

List by Helen Roulston,

Illo is from the free image site,

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