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(Starting to) Enjoy Opera

Ellen Levitt

Posted on March 3, 2020 21:34

1 user

Of all things cultural and musical and theatrical, I'm starting to enjoy opera.

Since my youth, I have enjoyed a wide variety of musical genres. From rock to rap, jazz to folk, I listen to it all. Rarely do I encounter someone with more expansive tastes in music than mine. It's a bragging point, but I'm earnest in my interest for, and love, of so many styles of music, various performers and so on.

Yet opera has been a hard sell for me. In years past, I did like certain individual arias and overtures from operas. And I've always had a soft spot for Bugs Bunny cartoons that featured opera ("Long-Haired Hare" and "The Rabbit of Seville"). But for the most part, I have not been a fan of opera: frankly, I found it dull, or overwrought, or absurd. 

But in the past several months I have been growing more interested in opera. Actually, a few years ago I became intrigued by the instrumental music of Wagnerian operas, after hearing pieces on a local classical music station, WQXR. (This sat uncomfortably with me because I have long been aware of Wagner's anti-Semitic opinions.) But for the past few months, I've had the opportunity to watch simulcasts of operas staged by the Metropolitan Opera's "HD Live in Schools" program. Specifically, I have sat in the auditorium of my high school alma mater, Edward R. Murrow HS in Brooklyn, on three Saturday afternoons to watch parts of three operas for free: Akhnaten, Porgy and Bess, and Agrippina.

Along with dozens of students and people from the neighborhood, I've sat and watched top-notch opera performances on a movie screen, with an excellent sound system. It's casual entertainment but also exciting and an easy way to indulge in and learn about opera. We have been provided with a no-cost cultural and musical educational experience, in the relative comfort of our own neighborhood school.

Philip Glass's Akhnaten, shown on November 23, was strange and enthralling, mesmerizing but also bizarre. I had never really seen anything quite like it, with the repetitive music and singing, juggling and dramatic costuming, and other elements that I could barely identify. It was wild.

The Gershwin Brothers' Porgy and Bess (February 1) was more familiar to me; I knew a few songs such as the chestnut "Summertime." I found it easier to embrace. In fact, I grew teary-eyed at parts; this opera combines somewhat traditional elements with blues and jazz, and this production was wonderful.

Handel's Agrippina on February 29, particularly this version, was more akin to a "regular" opera, but it was so exaggerated in certain aspects, bawdy and full of dramatic Italian lyrics/subtitles. My friend Sherryl and I enjoyed it but also found it a bit annoying, if still worth watching.

Lately, I've also been going to YouTube and viewing parts of other operas such as The Queen of Spades, and joining a Facebook opera fan group.

By being open-minded and curious, and with minimal exertion, I'm becoming an opera fan. Bravo!

Ellen Levitt

Posted on March 3, 2020 21:34

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Source: ArtForum

In the mid to late 1960s, I spent a couple of years in Frankfurt—a city I wouldn’t recommend for tourism. But the neighboring...

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