April 19, 2014

O Is for Opera

Both my husband and I are opera fans. We love the music, the spectacle, the sense of event — pretty much everything about it. I grew up cleaning house to the Saturday Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, which we listen to now via the Internet. We travel a bit, and unlike theater, you can go to the opera, symphony, or ballet in most urban environments and can enjoy performances with few language issues.

We have seen opera in the U.S. (both coasts), England, France, Vienna, and Budapest. These days, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Prague, and Germany are on the bucket list. So far, Budapest is our favorite opera house, although Vienna runs a pretty close second.

Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest
Photo by Andreas Praefcke
Rebuilt after WWII to a prewar standard, it is a tiny jewel box theater. Sitting there, you feel transported to another time — or at least to a really cool movie set. While the decor is splendid, it is the size of the house that made it special for us. It is so small that you hear the singers — no amplification necessary, no excess straining from the performers, no acoustical tricks to make up for dead areas in a giant house. Just the voices.

If you do go to the smaller opera houses, though, it is good to keep in mind that their supertitles may be only in the language of that particular country. So unless you read, say Hungarian, you might want to forego a comedy or completely unfamiliar work. We picked Tosca, my favorite opera ever. Like most Puccini basics, it is pretty easy to follow even without translations, so we had no trouble.

Beverly Sills in La Traviata
Photo by James Heffernan/
Metropolitan Opera
Interesting side note: Some of the Eastern European performers choose to have local, rather than international careers. Seems as if their voices hold up longer in the smaller houses as they don't have to push them to be heard. Our leads for Tosca certainly fell into this category. I would guess that Tosca and Cavaradossi were close to 50, yet exhibited no reduction in range or quality.

Licia Albanesa as Mimi
in La Boheme
Favorite singers? My all-time favorite soprano was Beverly Sills, who was an amazing actress as well as a top-notch singer. Placido Domingo has always been at the top of my list, as well as Licia Albanese (who I met when I was 15), and the Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao, composer Heitor Villa-Lobos' favorite singer, and whose Mimi in La Boheme set the gold standard.

But the most magical moment for me was sitting in the second row at the Met for Capriccio. To be so close I could actually hear Kiri Te Kanawa's voice in the last scene — pure magic. Click the link to check it out for yourself: Kiri Te Kanawa in Capriccio. The best bits start at about 4:15.

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