Opera is a break from the daily slog; it is like the gift of seeing fireflies or hearing raindrops from a windowsill on a summer’s night. There is no material benefit, just the joy of seeing and listening.
Opera is unique. It is composed of many parts – singers, orchestra, and sets, elaborate details and moving pieces. The characters are never one-dimensional, and they emote passionately and dramatically through their solos, duets, and extravagant gestures. There is never a dull moment: mysterious spells, dreaded illnesses, dancing fairies, ill-advised marriages, magical forests, ice queens, unrealistic fathers, manipulative siblings, overbearing mothers, unexpected deaths, star-crossed lovers.
The costumes and sets are usually over-the-top as well – like eating a sprinkled or chocolate-covered doughnut. But who doesn’t love those? And the orchestras, they are magnificent -- always boisterous and raucous, constantly striving to not be overlooked.
There are so many favorite characters and choruses. To name just a few: Violetta in Verdi's opera La Traviata, the unknown prince in Puccini’s Turandot, and the chorus in Verdi’s Nabucco when they sing “Va, Pensiero,” a haunting and captivating melody that one could also call a popular tune. Italians from all walks of life, as part of Verdi’s funeral procession, spontaneously sang it through the streets of Milan. They adored him, wanted to lament his passing, loved the politics the song represented (Italian unification), and knew great music when they heard it.
When Luciano Pavarotti played the unknown prince in Turandot and sang “Nessun Dorma” at the summit of his powers, there was no one his equal. After listening to him on iTunes, one understands how the audience reacted: Swoon! Bravo! None of the YouTube videos of “Nessun Dorma” sung by the most famous tenors in the last 50 years match Luciano; he was the master.
But iTunes, YouTube, or an iPad do not suffice; the revelation indeed happens when one attends an opera, even in the cheap seats. That visual and auditory experience can only be described as magical, a feast for the senses. It all comes together to cast an enchanting spell, like a fairy tale where the princess goes to the ball. It’s exciting to dress up, drink champagne, people-watch, take your seat in anticipation, and watch the thrilling scenes progress.
Do not listen to opera because it is viewed as sophisticated or for “keeping up appearances.” Listen to opera because it truly has a range, complexity, drama, and beauty that cannot be found anywhere else; it’s kismet! Sure, there is exceptional folk, pop, hip hop, jazz, rap, classical, rock n’ roll, blues, and swing music – all laudable -- but who can pass up a riotous thunderstorm? Plays are amusing; Shakespearean plays, such as Taming of the Shrew, are fantastic. Musicals, besides Phantom of the Opera, can be boring. But opera is the apex. It consists of incredible stories, lots of passionate singing throughout, expansive arm-waving, extravagant costumes, instances of over-acting, and a boisterous orchestra – the whole delicious éclair.
Opera is always surprising and vital, even when it was written two hundred years ago. It is a means of expressing in an exaggerated and intense way what it means to be human – in all its joy, despair, confusion, humor, sweetness, and power. Opera covers the spectrum of emotions in four hours; it can make you sigh, shiver, smile, laugh, guffaw, or weep. One cannot listen to, or see, an opera and not be engaged and transfixed by its sublime nature. To appreciate opera is to see what waits just below the surface of things: truth, understanding, courage, love, sacrifice, anger, perhaps forgiveness – everything that makes life beautiful, all-too-human, and worth living. Don’t miss out on the spectacle.