I love classical music, and I have a lot of it. I know and love a number of classical composers you may never heard of. But I just never “got” the opera. Some of the most interesting people I know love the opera of Verdi, Wagner, and so many others. They can’t get enough of it. Lord knows I’ve tried, but I have always been totally tone deaf to opera as I understood it.
Yet, while I’m not even religious, I love the solemn and devotional church liturgical choral works of Lassus and Tallis.
There are also some decades-old reasons why I should have warmed to opera.
In my youth, I loved Beethoven. In particular, I loved his Ninth Symphony. Now, in the final movement “O Freunde, Nicht Diese Tone!” I found for myself an absolutely spellbinding male and female vocal performance, as stirring as any performance with the human voice I have ever heard.
Similarly, in the second and third movements of Berlioz’s “Romeo et Juliet” I found equally heroic vocals that literally moved me to tears as a youth.
Those are both symphonies or “choral symphonies” of a style popular in centuries past. Yet, put on “Barber of Seville,” and you’ll put me to sleep.
There are some classical opera selections you already know, and probably just don’t know it.
1. If you’re old enough to remember Disneyland (the TV show, 1954-1958), chances are you remember Disney’s animated color spectacular “Wind in the Willows.” The music from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was taken from Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (part of his celebrated Götterdämmerung cycle). This music was also featured in the film score of Apocalypse Now (YouTube HERE).
2. Kohler ran an ad for its bath fixtures starring a singing plumber and an operatic shower. The music is reportedly from Act III of Vincenzo Bellini’s ‘I Puritani. I found a direct link to Kohler’s commercial: HERE (Kohler): . (In a December 11 post last year I incorrectly identified that opera as Lakme.)
3. British Airways ran a “Flower Duet Lakme Commercial” HERE (YouTube) featuring the best-known aria from the opera “Lakme” by Delibes.
4. Perhaps the most famous opera you know (but never heard of) was from Verdi’s “Marcia e ballabile” in his opera “Aida“, HERE (YouTube).
The other day PBS ran a special on the elaborate stage preparations for their epic 15 hour HD production of the complete Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. It promised to be as innovatively staged as anything from Cirque du Soleil. The snippets of music they included were … well, Wagnerian. I thought I was ready for the real deal.
Tonight, PBS hosted the last of the four operas in the Ring cycle, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). It sounded to me like yodeling. I lasted 15 minutes. I guess there’s just no hope for me.
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