Thursday, May 10, 2007

Opera, tragedy, and a sense of hope

Last night I attended an opera for the first time in my life, and all I can say is, wow! I've always thought that I didn't like opera, which was a mistake, since I've never actually seen an opera. The reality was far different than I expected.

My opportunity to see an opera came about because my son David is singing in the children's chorus for the Baltimore Opera Company production of Tosca. I've seen parts of it throughout the last few weeks at rehearsals, but last night we actually got to see the performance in its full glory. It was simply amazing! It was far, far better than any movie I've seen in recent years. In fact, it makes most modern movies seem bland and insipid.

Tosca has everything you could want in story: love, jealousy, politics, a smarmy villian, torture, personal heroism, and yes, tragedy. Set in Rome against the background of the Napoleonic wars, it tells the story of the painter Cavaradossi and his love, the singer Floria Tosca. Cavaradossi risks his life to help an escaped political prisoner, and finds himself at the mercy of the evil Baron Scarpia, who also desires Tosca and uses the situation to his advantage. You can find a full synopsis of Tosca in Wikipedia. It helped that the Baltimore Opera Company projects English surtitles on a screen above the stage; I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't understood everything that was going on. The principals were outstanding, at least to my uneducated ear and eye, and when Antonello Palombi, who played Cavaradossi, sang the aria in the third act where he is writing his farewell letter to Tosca, it gave me chills.

I wasn't the only one who was enthralled with the performance. Many of the children's chorus parents bought tickets for the kids to see Acts 2 and 3, since the kids are only in the first act. All the children's chorus (mostly preteens) that I could see from where I was sitting were leaning forward in their seats, totally engrossed in the show. To tie this in with children's literature, it brings me back to the discussion about a "sense of hope" in children's literature. Last year, J.L. Bell of Oz and Ends wrote an interesting post in which he questioned the emphasis on a sense of hope in children's literature. Bell asked whether a sense of hope is always necessary or even appropriate in children's books. Watching the kids last night, I would tend to agree. All the kids really seemed to enjoy the show, in spite of (or partly because of?) the tragic nature of the story. Is it really necessary for everything to have a happy ending?

I'm already eyeing the Baltimore Opera Company's schedule for next year, wondering which ones would be good to go to. I'm really proud of David for all the hard work that he's put into this. He and the other children did a great job. Bravo!

9 comments:

Runningflame said...

I, too, was greatly and pleasantly surprised by my first opera. It was Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio, and I was kind of forced into going. ^__^ But I really enjoyed it! Not only did they have the English subtitles, they were also singing in English--the original is in German, so they reasoned that Mozart wrote it for the masses and they should translate it in keeping with that. Like you said, you can probably find a plot synopsis somewhere. There was one scene where the two lovers were thinking they were about to be killed by this big cheese-type guy (lol), and they were singing about that, and it really resonated with me. ^__^

Sheila said...

That sounds great, Runningflame. And what you said about translating it into English makes total sense. I'll bet that Mozart would have approved.

Michele said...

I don't mind listening to the occasional operatic aria, but I've never been keen on going to see a full-scale opera... However, maybe I'll borrow a DVD of one from the library one day...

Sheila said...

If you ever get a chance to see an opera live, you should try it, especially if you can find one that has English subtitles like they did here. I think that part of what made the experience so great was that it's larger than life - the story and the acting are definitely a big part of it - and I can't imagine that it would be as good on a small screen.

Susan said...

Sheila, what a neat experience. I haven't been to the opera very often, but I just love the grandeur of it. We even took the very bouncy Junior (age 7) to a scaled-back version of The Magic Flute. He loved the experience, especially the velvet-covered seats and the subtitle thingies on the backs of the seats.

Michele, do try to see one live. The visuals are amazing--and something that you won't get from a DVD.

Michele said...

Alas, a live performance is out of the question - tickets cost the earth here in Oxford (plus I've nothing to wear to attend opera ! I'm fairly sure they don't let you in wearing jeans ! *grins*)

Sheila said...

Susan, that sounds great. I'm glad Junior enjoyed it.

Michele, I hadn't thought of that, but I can believe that opera tickets in Oxford are pretty expensive! And yes, jeans are not the usual choice for opera-going apparel.

Camille said...

We get to several operas a year and each time I am in awe of the production, the sets, the orchestra and as a mother of a singer, the amazing dedication the performers have to their art. Those magnificent voices soaring through the theater are awe-inspiring.

Opera is like Shakespeare, it should be experienced live! So many folks' only exposure to the Bard is in the classroom, not the stage. No wonder they don't enjoy it.

Sheila said...

I agree completely, Camille!