Opera by Gaetano Donizetti with Libretto by Felice Romani
At certain moments, taste in music becomes conversation fodder. I’ve heard the question, “So, what kind of music do you like?” in bars and in housemate interviews. Usually, I gave the same answer that I have heard others use- that neutral “Oh, I like everything.” The urge to avoid offense does tend to trump honesty. Unfortunately, that response prompts a follow up from the truly curious: “Well, is there anything you don’t like?” Since the reason for the earlier all-encompassing answer was avoiding offense, this question can be awkward. Honesty would require “ehh, I just like what I like,” but there always seems to be one answer that most people accept: “opera, definitely opera.”
I had an exceptionally intense music appreciation class while in fifth grade- we read Aaron Copland- that was also the year they neglected to include math in the curriculum, so don’t be too impressed. I lived in Youngstown, Ohio, which still managed to support a quality symphony orchestra, one of the last vestiges of Steel Valley glory from the 1950s. The symphony society staged operas a couple times per year and the music appreciation class hammered those librettos down our throats. We then had to attend the productions with our families, who appreciated the assignment about as much as you might expect. Lets be clear, the spectacle was pretty cool. But there was absolutely no way for an 11 year old boy to enjoy full productions of Carmen or Madame Butterfly in 1970s America. I mean come on! Couldn’t they throw in a little Mozart or even Menotti?
So, yes, I had a bone to pick with opera.
But you live life
and start to notice stuff. You can’t actually like Queen and not like opera just a little. Then, there’s some of these songs which are pretty good. And sometimes they stage productions which are interesting and actually hold your attention. And all the shows are not five hours long. They are not all about the heroine dying, which can be difficult to relate to or be terribly surprised by. And they come with subtitles! Even live, you can get subtitles sometimes.
So, maybe opera isn’t so bad. And you might find yourself on a long drive in a city with more than one NPR station. Remember the NPR stage of life? I’m not talking about listening to Morning Edition while driving to work. I mean that brief time in life when NPR is your station of choice all the time- you hear the interviews and the comedy and the world music and it seems like a good idea at the time because it’s another skin to try on. Well, they broadcast the Metropolitan Opera on weekends.
So, I had been exposed to Verdi and Mozart, which pretty much defined the two extremes of not so much and enjoyable. The thing is that a lot of us need that experience of discovery that we can claim as our own. The Met was staging Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. And it was really good.
Damn it. I really didn’t have a good answer anymore.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 119 more to go.
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