Thread: Opera Small Talk

          
   
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  1. #1516
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Clayton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    codswallop?
    I referenced COD (not the Concise Oxford Dictionary but Claytons Odd Diction), which states

    Codswallop (Brit. slang) similar to Bull (US English slang)

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    My favorite Brit term is "gobsmacked" .

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    Senior Member Veteran Member Povero Buoso's Avatar
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    http://www.economist.com/blogs/prosp...sepicoperalulu

    An article that I think will be of interest to many especially those who are big fans of Lulu
    "Non sono in vena" Rodolfo summing up P.B's feelings on his dissertation.

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    OK, I just got a call from my son who wants to... attend an opera with me!

    So, I'm seeing Turandot on January 26th and Les Pêcheurs de Perles on January 27 at the Met with my wife, and he is willing to come from New Haven where he goes to school, with his girlfriend, and these two youngsters are both willing to go to the Met with us.

    Finally! Maybe the seeds I've planted are now blossoming!

    Oh well, it looks like it was the girlfriend's idea. She likes opera.

    Looks like I'll be rooting for this relationship to get going for good. An opera-loving daughter-in-law? Sign me up!

    Here, a picture of my son Mario and his girlfriend Marina. Yep, the names match. Opera loving too? OK, when is the wedding happening?

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    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    All set, we got tickets for them for Les Pêcheurs de Perles on January 27, and also, dinner at Lincoln Ristorante, the gorgeous contemporary Italian cuisine restaurant inside the Lincoln Center. Fun, fun! I'm very excited. I sent to him and her my lecture on Les Pêcheurs de Perles, which I reproduce here:

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    Pre-Opera Talk – Lecture for Opera Carolina patrons on April 13, 2013, on Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers

    Good night. I’m Luiz Gazzola from Opera Lively, a web site and publishing house invested in supporting this art form, and I appreciate Maestro Meena’s invitation to talk to you tonight about one of my favorite operas.

    Georges Bizet was the only child of singing teacher Adolphe Bizet and his wife, accomplished pianist by the maiden name of Aimée Delsarte. Bizet was a child prodigy, won important prizes at a young age, but then went on to being disorganized and starting several projects without finishing them.

    He composed The Pearl Fishers – his sixth opera – in 1863 at age 25, ten years before his Carmen., his last and 15th one if we count all the unfinished and lost ones. It got 18 performances in his first run in Paris; the public liked it but it got dismissed by critics who said that there were no fishermen in the text and no pearls in the music – probably because Berlioz spoke up in favor of it, and the Parisian critics at the time all hated Berlioz in favor of Meyerbeer. It was never done again in Bizet’s life. He was in the habit of getting bashed by critics, since even his Carmen was very poorly received, which contributed to his premature death – he had two heart attacks shortly after his Carmen was picked apart by the critics who called it dull, vulgar, and contemptible, and died within three months probably feeling like a failure, just a few weeks before Carmen was given again to *huge* success that never ended to this day – very ironic and sad – he didn’t live to witness the adoration he has deserved from opera lovers.

    Carmen has been hailed as the first opera of the verismo school, in which sordid and brutal subjects are emphasized, with art reflecting real life of common people. Schonberg surmises that had Bizet lived, he might have revolutionized French opera; as it is, verismo was taken up mainly by Italians, notably Puccini. In a sense Bizet left his promise as a composer unfulfilled.

    But back to The Pearl Fishers, of the 15 operas Bizet composed if we count the incomplete and unperformed ones, only this one and Carmen remained in the standard repertory, although arguably we might include La Jolie Fille de Perth as well and maybe Djamileh, the others being definitely rather obscure. About Fishers, the critics of Bizet’s time were wrong. It is a very good opera, and two of its numbers are among the most famous ever, to the point that the tenor aria Je crois entendre encore was even sung by Pink Floyd’s vocalist David Gilmour and was one of Caruso’s favorites, and the duet Au fond du temple saint was voted by 10,000 opera lovers in Australia as the most beautiful operatic number of all time (maybe a tiny bit of exaggeration, but still). The first complete staging of it by the Met was in 1906 and featured Caruso. The first showing in Sri Lanka, modern-day Ceylon, the land of its setting, was only given in 2008.

    The story is simple and can be summarized in one paragraph. Two friends from a tribe of pearl fishers in the island of Ceylon off the coast of India, used to love the same woman when they were younger, a priestess they saw in a temple. To avoid conflict, one, Nadir, leaves the village; the other, Zurga, stays and eventually becomes the king. Years later Nadir comes back and both men swear that their friendship will last forever and be stronger than their love for a woman. A priestess from their Hinduism faith comes on a boat to bless the village and the fishers. It turns out that she is the same woman they both once loved, Léïla, and as a priestess she is not supposed to get involved with men – but she does engage in an affair with Nadir. Zurga finds it all out from his sidekick Nourabad who is the high priest of Brahma and doesn’t like heresy. Zurga gets really jealous, feels betrayed, and condemns Nadir and Léïla both to death. He does have pangs of guilt and ambivalence over condemning his friend. Then he learns that Léïla was the same veiled woman who once saved his life, by seeing a necklace that he had given to her as a thank you for saving him. He forgives Léïla and Nadir, sets fire to the village to distract the crowd that was coming to execute the two sinners, and allows them to escape by staying behind to fend off the crowd, causing him to perish in the fire – in an alternative version, the crowd stabs him to death.

    So, this opera has love, conflict between love and duty, friendship, betrayal, jealousy, anger, forgiveness, altruism, sacrifice, and death. You know, your usual operatic stuff, the human condition and all. And it is set in an exotic locale, with music that has a general style of French lyricism, sometimes over-romantic, a bit uneven with first act much better than third, a product of a composer who was still young, but undoubtedly very beautiful in various moments. Overall, there is good pace, the music flows very smoothly, and even the recitatives are very pleasant and easily get into bursts of melodious ariosi. The recurring friendship leitmotif is sublime. The opera is compact with 1h45 minutes of music, and only four characters, but sufficiently theatrical. There are opportunities for exotic ballets. What's not to like? I love it.

    Granted, the libretto is not the strongest part of Les pêcheurs de perles, and rumors say that librettists Cormon and Carré were ashamed from considering that they did not do justice to Bizet’s beautiful music. Bizet had only three months to write the score over a summer. However, he was able to go into the soul of the characters, beyond the rather feeble story and pretty average wording.

    Bizet, as other composers at that time, was "accused" of Wagnerism. It is true than he was fond of Tannhäuser and like Wagner in that piece, he used the chorus a lot in The Pearl Fishers. He was also able to use effectively the orchestra to provide some depth to the drama and even present some vocal lines here and there that some people find evocative of Wagner, but actually the true musical references are not to Wagner, but rather to Berlioz, Gounod, or, if we want to go the German way, Weber. Thematically speaking (not musically), Bizet was inspired by Spontini’s La Vestale, and Bellini’s Norma, which are operas that have similar themes of priestesses falling in love when they weren’t supposed to.

    Roles: Léïla is a lyric soprano, with a pure and limpid voice and some coloratura. Nadir, a lyric tenor, is about being expressive and dreamy, but at times heroic, although some people think it should remain dreamy all the time. Zurga is rather high-pitched for a baritone and is very declamatory which can get difficult; the music for Nourabad is also high for a bass. All four roles have their elements of difficulty. We got four very gifted singers here tonight, and the production is very nice, using interesting projections, with a French stage director and a French conductor who both know this piece very well, so we’re in for a treat.

    Let’s talk about what to listen for, in this opera. Act I has a prelude and 12 numbers for 48 minutes; act II only 5 numbers, and act III has 7 so usually II and III are performed without intermission for 58 minutes.

    The prelude is short and serene. This is followed by agitated, exotic music and a lyrical opening chorus that starts energetic but then settles into a peaceful middle-section, sandwiched in between the recurrence of the faster opening with Asian-evoking rhythms. There is a male chorus praising Zurga. Nadir has his entrance aria, which soars to majestic sounds at the end. The chorus resumes the exotic music. After some relatively long recitatives in which Zurga and Nadir dialogue and narrate the facts that happened before the opera starts, we get to the famous duet Au fond du temple saint (In the back of the sacred temple) which is scored for flute and harp to underline the nobility and sanctity of the situation, according to the French convention of the time. Do notice that the orchestration is contrapuntal, offering a different melodic line that blends very well with the vocal music, in a beautiful effect.

    The duet is divided in two parts: the first, in E-flat major, is devoted to the goddess Candhi in Hinduism of whom the priestess is a representative. The second, in F major, is a hymn to friendship. They are linked by an energetic recitative. More often than not, the second part, 'Amitié sante' (sacred friendship), is cut and substituted for a reprise of the goddess lines. This cut was not done by Bizet, but is common practice since the 19th century. The cut – which is what we’re getting tonight - is justified for me since the original second stanza didn't contribute a lot; neither from a dramatic, nor a musical standpoint (I actually find the second stanza quite ugly and am very glad when it is not done).

    With great skill Bizet conjures a mysterious atmosphere using muted strings and singing in perfect fourths: 'Au fond du temple saint'. The action that was frantic up to this point, suddenly freezes; it seems we are in a different, quieter world. Enter the flute and, for the first time in the opera, the harp. When the face of Léïla is revealed, the woodwinds accompany the singers. A crescendo drives us into the recitative and, after the promise 'Jurons de rester amis' (let’s swear that we’ll remain friends) we get either the motif of the goddess again, with the same orchestration, or the second stanza.

    ----------

    NADIR
    Au fond du temple saint
    Paré de fleurs et d'or,
    Une femme apparaît!
    Je crois la voir encore!

    ZURGA
    Une femme apparaît!
    Je crois la voir encore!

    NADIR
    La foule prosternée
    La regarde, etonnée,
    Et murmure tous bas:
    Voyez, c'est la déesse!
    Qui dans l'ombre se dresse
    Et vers nous tend les bras!

    ZURGA
    Son voile se soulève!
    Ô vision! ô rêve!
    La foule est à genoux!

    NADIR et ZURGA
    Oui, c'est elle!
    C'est la déesse plus charmante et plus belle!
    Oui, c'est elle!
    C'est la déesse qui descend parmi nous!
    Son voile se soulève et la foule est à genoux!

    NADIR
    Mais à travers la foule
    Elle s'ouvre un passage!

    ZURGA
    Son long voile déjà
    Nous cache son visage!

    NADIR
    Mon regard, hélas!
    La cherche en vain!

    ZURGA
    Elle fuit!

    NADIR
    Elle fuit!
    Mais dans mon âme soudain
    Quelle étrange ardeur s'allume!

    ZURGA
    Quel feu nouveau me consume!

    NADIR
    Ta main repousse ma main!

    ZURGA
    Ta main repousse ma main!

    NADIR
    De nos cœurs l'amour s'empare
    Et nous change en ennemis!

    ZURGA
    Non, que rien ne nous sépare!

    NADIR
    Non, rien!

    ZURGA et NADIR
    Jurons de rester amis!
    Oh oui, jurons de rester amis!


    REPRISE
    Oui, c'est elle! C'est la déesse!
    En ce jour qui vient nous unir,
    Et fidèle à ma promesse,
    Comme un frère je veux te chérir!
    C'est elle, c'est la déesse
    Qui vient en ce jour nous unir!
    Oui, partageons le même sort,
    Soyons unis jusqu'à la mort!


    or SECOND STANZA
    Amitié sainte
    Unis nos âmes fraternelles!
    Chassons sans retour
    Ce fatal amour,
    Et la main dans la main,
    en compagnons fidéles,
    Jusques à la mort,
    Ayons même sort!
    Qui, la main dans la main,
    En compagnons fideles
    Qui, soyons amis,
    Ah!, soyons amis jusqu'à la mort!.


    The melody from the duet repeats when Léïla enters the stage. Next there are a few exchanges where Zurga dialogues with Léïla in arioso style, very ominous and almost angry warning that she must remain a virgin, and she promises to keep her vows singing out loud, which Nadir hears, attentively. The tension that is mounting is paused in the form of a solemn hymn to Brahma. But then a Nadir lost in his thoughts and having heard Léïla’s voice, finds it very similar to the voice of his beloved and remembers her, and comments upon it in what is the famous aria for tenor "Je crois entendre encore" (I think I can still hear – her voice) which is arguably the most beautiful fragment of Les pêcheurs de perles. It is a romanza (meaning, tender, personal, and introspective).
    First, Nadir engages in a short recitative, energetic when fever and delirium are invoked, accompanied by the strings. The strings here are very halting and loud, evoking Nadir’s internal turmoil. The strings then turn into a sort of tremulousness as he gets more excited, then modulate into a slower tempo as his emotion turn into a dreamy state, which is introduced by the last sentence of the recitative: "J'écoutais ses doux chants emportés dans l'espace" (I listened to her sweet singing projecting into space) in a very efficient preparation for the gorgeous romanza that comes next.

    The romanza is introduced by the English horn, the first time we hear this instrument in the opera. When it finally settles in the introspective tonality of A minor, two cellos accompany the voice in this dreamy trip of the score, while the muted violins double the vocal line. The contrast with the cellos is evocative, haunting.

    In the reprise, "Aux clartés des étoiles" (under the light of the stars) the flute replaces the cellos, which now just decorate the melody. The high B-flats for the tenor are marked pianissimo and should be sung with an ineffable sweetness, ideally in mezza-voce. Traditionally, "charmant souvenir" (charming memory) is repeated at the end so that the tenor can sing a high C, not written in the score.

    NADIR

    À cette voix quel trouble agitait tout mon être?
    Quel fol espoir? Comment ai-je cru reconnaître?
    Hélas! devant mes yeux déjà, pauvre insensé,
    La même vision tant de fois a passé!
    Non, non, c'est le remords, la fièvre, le délire!
    Zurga doit tout savoir, j'aurais tout lui dire!
    Parjure à mon serment, j'ai voulu la revoir!
    J'ai decouvert sa trace, et j'ai suivi ses pas!
    Et caché dans la nuit et soupirant tout bas,
    J'écoutais ses doux chants emportés dans l'espace.

    Romance :

    Je crois entendre encore,
    Caché sous les palmiers,
    Sa voix tendre et sonore
    Comme un chant de ramier!
    O nuit enchanteresse!
    Divin ravissement!
    O souvenir charmant!
    Folle ivresse! doux rêve! rêve d'amour!

    Aux clartés des étoiles,
    Je crois encore la voir,
    Entr'ouvrir ses longs voiles
    Aux vents tièdes du soir!
    O nuit enchanteresse! etc.
    O souvenir charmant!
    Charmant souvenir!


    After Nadir sings it and falls asleep, there is sweet choral music to say that the sky is blue and the sea is calm, but this serenity is clearly interrupted by Léïla’s re-entrance announced in more agitated lines by Nourabad, since she is sort of the disruptive element, after all. Léïla then sings a very ornamented incantation to Siva to conclude act I – this piece, “Dans le ciel sans voile” (In the sky without veil) has a great deal of coloratura and is a good showpiece for the soprano. Nadir responds, half-asleep, and realizes that the priestess and his beloved are the same woman. They sing together, with the chorus joining them, in a very beautiful moment. Léïla ends the act with a bit more coloratura.

    By the way, a word about the music for Léïla: she is supposed to be the character around whom everything revolves: she’s the love interest of both Zurga and Nadir, the priestess that breathes fire into the life of this small community of fishers... but the somewhat less interesting music that Bizet wrote for her, makes the female singer take second place to her male counterparts. The final result is that very few star sopranos have ever tackled the role.

    Act II opens with a very short serene prelude followed by two piccolos over an offstage chorus. The piccolos have a sort of disrupting effect over the initial serenity, anticipating that things will get a bit hairy. A long and dramatic recitative follows, when Léïla tells Nourabad how she once saved a stranger and was given a necklace. Next, after an introduction where she confesses that she is in some turmoil and can’t sleep, Léïla says that her heart feels the presence of Nadir, then she sings a joyful cavatina (that is, a very melodious aria), Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre (like in the past, in the dark night).

    The introduction to it is praised by scholars, with two French horns with a cello background. It has the most common aria structure of the period: A-B-A', finishing with a coda. The evocative parts A and A' are somewhat more restrained, but the most interesting part is the middle one, where Léïla thinks Nadir has been following her, and the voice soars in very compelling and melodious ornamentations, beautifully accompanied by the clarinets and the strings. Then, towards the end, the singer must visit the high zone of her range, and we can hear a very skilful end with the cellos, the woodwinds and the kettledrums.

    LÉÏLA
    Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre,
    Caché sous le feuillage épais,
    Il veille près de moi dans l'ombre,
    Je puis dormir, rêver en paix!

    Il veille près de moi,
    Comme autrefois, comme autrefois
    C'est lui! mes yeux l'ont reconnu!
    C'est lui! mon âme est rassurée!
    O bonheur! Il est venu,
    Il est là près de moi, ah!

    Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre, etc.


    A solo oboé is heard, recovering the theme of Nadir's romanza – he sings off stage in a very pungent and emotional way, she responds “c’est lui” (it’s him!), recognizing his voice; the orchestra punctuates this with loud sounds. He enters the stage, the music accelerates like their heartbeat that must be going fast. The lovers embrace in a halting Allegro, which is continued into an expansive and melodious duet Ton corps n'a pas compris le mien (your body hasn’t understood mine). The lover’s bliss is interrupted by some ominous lighting and thunder, Léïla gets apprehensive with good reason, since Nourabad catches them in the act so to speak (well, it’s not shown, this is still the mid-nineteenth century) which is marked by a loud blow on the drums, and a commotion ensues. The people sing a brief but exuberantly distressed chorus. A dramatic scene ends the act with Zurga's condemnation of Nadir to death, punctuated by very theatrical repetitions as the crowd calls for both the lovers to be put to death. The orchestra following convention engages in lots of brass and drumming. The ambivalence is punctuated by the fact that while Nadir shouts angrily, the friendship leitmotif plays briefly in the orchestra. General yelling and loud orchestration with thunderbolts and bombastic appeals to Brahma close the act.

    Act III opens with Zurga singing tenderly of his guilt and agony, Ô Nadir, tendre ami de mon jeune âge (Oh Nadir, sweet friend of my youth), and then getting louder as his confusion increases, providing the baritone with a good showpiece. A long and tense confrontation between Zurga and Léïla starts softly with a duet that is played again over the friendship leitmotif, followed by some begging parts where Léïla dramatically pleads Nadir’s cause asking Zurga to kill her but free him. It all degenerates into angry exchanges when she says that Nadir is her only love, and Zurga confesses that he also loves her and is very jealous. She calls him a monster and a barbarian, they yell a lot at each other and Zurga reacts by condemning her to death as well, to which she curses him. Léïla confides her necklace to a soldier to give it to her mother once she is dead. She does so at some length, over the exact same music of the friendship duet. Zurga intercepts the necklace and realizes that she was his savior.

    The chorus sings and dances in anticipation of the execution, and a very rhythmic ballet that is quite remarkably lively ensues, punctuated by repetitions of the word Brahma. The ballet is briefly interrupted by Nadir singing a romantic arioso where he professes out loud his love for Léïla and is distressed over her imminent death; then the ballet and chorus resume, and they end with great theatrical effect.

    The orchestra becomes solemn and ominous, as Léïla is brought in to be executed. She and Nadir sing a hymn of love with similar musical lines for him and her, ending in real unison when they sing the same concluding notes, a common musical device to signal that they are really together and in harmony with each other – they say they’ll die happy because they’ll die together. More commotion comes up as Zurga sets the village on fire with much use of chorus, frees the two lovers and they all three sing some farewells, and it all ends with a somewhat anticlimactic finale (unlike the more majestic finale for act II), featuring the repetition of the friendship leitmotif.

    That's it, my friends. Enjoy the opera!
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  10. #1521
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    All set, we got tickets for them for Les Pêcheurs de Perles on January 27, and also, dinner at Lincoln Ristorante, the gorgeous contemporary Italian cuisine restaurant inside the Lincoln Center. Fun, fun! I'm very excited. I sent to him and her my lecture on Les Pêcheurs de Perles, which I reproduce here
    OMG! That will scare them half to death! They're bound to retaliate by inviting you to join them at a concert of, of... Andrea Bocelli or something.

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  12. #1522
    Senior Member Veteran Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    OMG! That will scare them half to death! They're bound to retaliate by inviting you to join them at a concert of, of... Andrea Bocelli or something.
    Or the Il Volo Christmas special: the SO had to watch it last night. It brought to mind that memorable line from The Man Who Came to Dinner: "I may vomit".

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  14. #1523
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    LOL, Bocelli, Il Volo...
    Hopefully not.
    I think they'll love it.
    It's a beautiful opera.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    It appears that the lad had his mother's looks ... and hairline ...

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    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    All set, we got tickets for them for Les Pêcheurs de Perles on January 27, and also, dinner at Lincoln Ristorante, the gorgeous contemporary Italian cuisine restaurant inside the Lincoln Center. Fun, fun! I'm very excited. I sent to him and her my lecture on Les Pêcheurs de Perles, which I reproduce here ...
    As you say, this is fun and while we opera fans would find your lecture interesting and invaluable, a newcomer might be put off. Opera is a visceral thing, the love of which cannot be acquired by reading.
    "The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland."
    Lucy Maud Montgomery

  17. #1526
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sospiro View Post
    As you say, this is fun and while we opera fans would find your lecture interesting and invaluable, a newcomer might be put off. Opera is a visceral thing, the love of which cannot be acquired by reading.
    Well, the girlfriend is not a newcomer. She loves opera, and is a classically trained cello player.
    This will be my son's third trip to the opera. He's seen Madama Butterfly and La Traviata. It's the first time *he* takes the initiative of calling us up and asking for opera tickets although like I said it seems to have been her idea.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  18. #1527
    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Well, the girlfriend is not a newcomer. She loves opera, and is a classically trained cello player.
    This will be my son's third trip to the opera. He's seen Madama Butterfly and La Traviata. It's the first time *he* takes the initiative of calling us up and asking for opera tickets although like I said it seems to have been her idea.
    Ah. I thought neither of them had been before. I hope you all have a wonderful evening.
    "The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland."
    Lucy Maud Montgomery

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  20. #1528
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Florestan's Avatar
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    An interesting fact I saw in this article: "The last actual castrato singer, Alessandro Moreschi, died in 1922."
    Necessities of life: food, water, air, shelter, and opera.

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  22. #1529
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Florestan View Post
    An interesting fact I saw in this article: "The last actual castrato singer, Alessandro Moreschi, died in 1922."
    The last to perform *professionally*.

    Sigh . . . now you've got me all nostalgic, looking back through my scrapbook.

  23. Likes Ann Lander (sospiro) liked this post
  24. #1530
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amfortas View Post
    The last to perform *professionally*.

    Sigh . . . now you've got me all nostalgic, looking back through my scrapbook.
    This is easy to re-create with a little snip or two ...

  25. Likes MAuer, Florestan liked this post

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