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Alan
June 6th, 2014, 04:17 PM
Having posted in a couple of threads, I guess I should introduce myself here, particularly about why I love opera.

I always loved classical music, but wasn't such a dedicated fan of opera until a couple of years ago, for a few reasons:

- I didn't have time to seek out the best performances and recordings as I was too busy with work. I have now retired, and have more spare time, enough to wade through the mediocre performances to find the most exciting ones.

- There were fewer video recordings available before this decade. Now we have many video resources such as Youtube to try out various versions. Then I can buy my favorites in high quality on DVD and Blu-ray. Good video recordings are important to me as I rarely have an opportunity to see live performances.

- I saw a few short Youtube clips of Anna Netrebko. Then I saw her in some full length operas. Then I bought all of her discs, both audio and video. I have now broadened out to enjoying many other singers, but it was Anna who opened my eyes to how wonderful this art form can be.

Sometimes in forums I come across as very opinionated, even argumentative. I don't mean to be. It's just that I'm so enthusiastic about the particular values I enjoy in opera.

For example we discussed in another thread that many people can enjoy audio-only opera recordings more than I can. For me the visuals - sets and costumes and above all the visible acting - are very important, adding to my understanding of what they are singing about.


I think 19th and early 20th century opera developed a very powerful medium for story telling - especially for expressing the emotions of the characters in a story. If it's just music that isn't enhancing a plot I am following, I'd rather listen to Vivaldi or Bach than 19th century music.

Admittedly the story itself may seem silly to us in the 21st century. Within that older value system they explored issues of importance then, such as a young woman being forced by her father to marry a man she doesn't love; or the concept of purity and virginity versus being a "fallen woman" was more important then. And many in the audience personally knew somebody who had died tragically of consumption in the prime of life.

I don't care that those issues seem old fashioned now, as long as they are well told, so we sympathise with each character's reality.

Good directing is important to me.
For example in La Traviata's Sempre libera, most singers only celebrate amoral freedom, with the same carefree feeling all the way through that aria.

In the Salzburg 2005 Traviata with Netrebko and Villazon, she goes through many more feelings... sometimes aggressively reclaiming her freedom, then looking scared of Alfredo's love in the part where she walks backwards from him. I've never seen another Violetta seem so scared and confused by the love she is starting to feel.

It was clever to include Alfredo in her Sempre Libera scene, instead of keeping him outside, so it became a duet rather than a soliloquy. Then she was included in the next scene, which Alfredo usually does alone on stage. Even though she didn't sing a note in that scene, her acting demonstrated what he was telling us - that she had changed from a courtesan to a lover.

But the whole point of opera is that my words just above - or any words - cannot describe the feelings the actual singing and acting portrayed.

I like the total effect of the singing, acting, and direction all coming together to make me feel it's really happening for those characters.
If it is perfectly sung technically, but not really getting the relationships across, nor developing the nuances of each character, it doesn't keep me involved.

So I'm not primarily an opera lover.
Really I'm a drama lover who discovered that opera can (at its best) be the most powerful way to tell a human story in a way that really moves me. Words can name an emotion. Operatic singing IS the emotion made palpable.


That's why I love Anna Netrebko's performances, even on a day when she's not singing as well as she can in a recording studio. She shows us more about each character she creates, including many variations of emotion.

It's like she doesn't want me to be impressed by Anna the diva, she wants me to understand more about Manon and care about her in spite of her faults.

My professional musician friend sometimes points out that she sung a flat note, or missed a note here and there in a coloratura run. But I don't notice that, more aware of how she has used the music (plus her physical acting) to stir me.


Something I have noticed about Anna: She takes longer than other singers to lift from her immersion in the character at the end, and enjoy the curtain calls.
If she had a tragic ending, she can't just drop it and smile immediately, like most singers do. She looks a bit dazed, like somebody who leaves a cinema in daylight and is surprised to see the real world, still half believing the movie was real.

Amfortas
June 6th, 2014, 04:58 PM
I'm not primarily an opera lover.
Really I'm a drama lover who discovered that opera can (at its best) be the most powerful way to tell a human story in a way that really moves me.

A brave admission. If it's any encouragement, I've made a similar statement myself in one of these threads.

The one drawback with such a stance is that you may enjoy a more limited range of operas and performances, favoring only those that meet your standards for the dramatic. But it's still best to be true to your own inclinations.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
June 7th, 2014, 02:24 PM
I think 19th and early 20th century opera developed a very powerful medium for story telling - especially for expressing the emotions of the characters in a story. If it's just music that isn't enhancing a plot I am following, I'd rather listen to Vivaldi or Bach than 19th century music.

(...)

So I'm not primarily an opera lover. Really I'm a drama lover who discovered that opera can (at its best) be the most powerful way to tell a human story in a way that really moves me. Words can name an emotion. Operatic singing IS the emotion made palpable.

Welcome again. We are glad to have you since you are very passionate and articulate. I suspect that you are more of an opera lover than you realize. Typically people approach opera by getting exposed first to the popular and beloved masterpieces of the 19th century, but opera fortunately is a lot more than that. The lack of elaborate orchestration you see in some of these works, while done in purpose (bel canto for example does focus on singing and generally composers wanted to avoid the orchestra getting in the way), is not all that opera can do in terms of sophisticated music. The art form's span is now precisely 417 years, and there are plenty of non-19th century opera with lavish orchestration, not to forget that the 19th century has also produced many orchestration masterpieces (a certain Richard Wagner comes to mind). Also, in your passion for drama, you might want to explore modern and contemporary works which carry a formidable dramatic / theatrical punch; for example, Britten's Peter Grimes.


Something I have noticed about Anna: She takes longer than other singers to lift from her immersion in the character at the end, and enjoy the curtain calls. If she had a tragic ending, she can't just drop it and smile immediately, like most singers do. She looks a bit dazed, like somebody who leaves a cinema in daylight and is surprised to see the real world, still half believing the movie was real.

That's a clever observation. Indeed, I remember her curtain calls in Anna Bolena and she did look like someone who had just had her head chopped off (except for the fact that her very pretty head/face were still sitting pretty on her neck, obviously...). Having met Anna in person four times including in one of them for a long in-person interview, I couldn't agree more. Anna in person is a lively, bubbly, happy bundle of energy, so it must take a lot of acting skills for her to portray a somber character like Anna Bolena, and she probably does take a while to snap out of it, given the total immersion that her fine acting entails.

Anyway, I'm a huge Anna fan so we have this in common! :hifive: